No more experts please... Where are our Interdisciplinary Thinkers?

Earlier this year, while leading creative workshops in the EU, I received a request from a good friend asking if I was available to help assist in a maker's week in the French Alps. Since the theme was "Make It Playful"---it was right up my ally. Selected MIT students would be spending a week in the EU reimagining everyday objects into more playful, interactive things. Needless to say, I didn't have to asked twice to be cajoled into observing and facilitating however best I could while having fun!


There was truly something uniquely untangible brewing in the air---musical wobbling pens that drew animals in the midnight sky, rocking disco chairs for relaxation, meditation sandboxes and glassroom gardens, doors that could speak, and the list goes on. Upon arrival, I was met with busy hands and minds creating sandboxes filled with led strips, balloons, arduino kits, squishy stress ball innards, everything playful under the sun. The sessions took place in a shared space with neighboring robotics Fab Lab in a room riddled with little bits unimaginable. Anything from colorful gizmos, to battery packs, to wooden block, pieces of string and paints, legos, even blinx---smart tiles that read your mind.  Off to the side were one off rooms converted into hubs including a makeshift woodshop, photography room, and life-size robot smiling from ear to ear, all to the backdrop of snow-capped mountains mere ski-lifts away from the French Alps.

The week was packed with sessions on playful design, building and thinking. The event was hosted by a plush duo, one a former MIT grad and business partner who organized the breakout sessions followed by a three-day hackathon and demo day finale with champagne festivities to follow. Participants presented their once ordinary objects based on teachings around design-thinking and play engineering processes to trigger creative connections across outputs and disciplines to form new, interactive objects that delight in extraordinary ways. Unlike other events I have attended in the past, there was something different happening here. It was as if only the careful combination of the tangible objects met with software know-how and the carefully selected high caliber students, could make such a project come to life.

What set this week apart from others I have had a chance to attend was it's all-encompassing, multidisciplinary approach to an all-too-often insular software-only mentality to product teams, as if the best ideas can only result in software based solutions to problems. Rather than taking a more narrowly-focused approach of a top-down 'expert', these teams benefited from blurring the lines across disciplines and finding more creative solutions through connection and synthesis in problem solving rather than a top down approach. This resulted in more balanced talents and skillsets across teams----artists, engineers, designers, fabricators, programmers working across a unified mission in making an idea come to life. It is precisely this interdisciplinary approach that is heartily lacking in the way we teach in our schools, the way we test in our exams, and the way we celebrate those who choose not to overly-doctorate in degrees in pursuit of knowledge. In the end, the best ideas were the ones that were not executed by software alone, but only by a careful conversation, negotiation and exploration of many disciplines that synthesized a new way of thinking about an otherwise ordinary object. 

In the wake of disruption across all sectors---the future of education, work and the economy, these creative forms of play and collaboration act as momentary lights in a future destined towards automation, data-mining and AI. It is not to say there is not a role or value for the educated expert narrowly siphoned to understand a piece over the whole. However, cultivating learning and opportunity only for the experts over the more non-linear, interdisciplinary thinkers of our day is like draining the last drops of joy and imagination into a desert drain. The best inventions and discoveries come from moments of joy, safe places to play, playgrounds for our daydreamers, where we allow for ourselves to be surprised, to go off path, to stumble, fail, and explore across wide swathes of fields and experiences, so we might create new fields, tools and parachutes in a rapidly changing world brimming with joy, if we let it.



a world of joy and many, many colored pencils

Everyday we are confronted on the news with political instability. Lodged between threats of nuclear war, to gun-violence on our domestic shores, to wildfires in our backyards---it's hard to imagine a world replete with joy.

Which is precisely why our world needs more of it, and many, many colored pencils.

 Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

And I don't mean colored pencils in a literal sense, but in an ephemeral sense---so we might learn how to color our imaginations more, explore a deeper kind of reflection, allowing each other a safe space to scribble outside the lines and form new ways of seeing and being.

For every doctor, nurse, dental hygienist or lab technician encouraged to join the ranks of esteemed society, may our all-too-entrenched institutions and mindsets also not forget that there is just as much a need to cultivate our many other forms of imagination--the rule-breakers, the makers, the entrepreneurs, the trailblazers---who perhaps in their nature do not save lives, but remind us of the very essence for why some of us do, so we remember to live it---in all its joy, in encouragement of others, simply in its delight. 

To this end, Playfull will be embarking on an experiment: spotlighting modern-day-explorers to address society's need for a daily dose of color and many many colored pencils. Stay tuned. <3



Tenacity of an entrepreneurial spirit

 Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn, New York

Experiments are fun---keep shooting arrows into the abyss in search of new shapes and identity. For the last few months, Playfull has lurched as almost all accounts were compromised (email, Facebook, Twitter, website inclusive). Falling prey to identity theft does not help the build, nor does constant travels on the road without a safe space for centering. What cannot be thefted however can be found in process. A good meander, a mighty mountain scramble (or three), perusing a favorite, familiar bookstore---each reminds us what others simply can't take from you: you.

A peripatetic mindset ignites creative solutions for working remotely, a useful skill everyone could benefit from in the 21st century. According to a recent study run by the Freelancer's Union (Forbes 2016), an estimated 50% of American workers are expected to join the independent workforce in less than 3 years time. What this means is that over 53 million freelancers are estimated to leave their full-time jobs to join the "gig economy" by 2020 in search of more flexibility of time to spend with their families or in pursuit of more fulfilling careers while mastering the tight-rope act of work-life balance.

Calling on all entrepreneurs, there is no better time to play to the beat of your own drum than now. Not to mention the world needs you. Just be sure to create a strong vision and be thoroughly rooted in your values as they will without a doubt be challenged.

Lastly, find your tribe---this is key. Those who care and understand your pursuit will help build you up, not tear you down. Find them. There is no time nor energy for naysayers, only time for hope, resilience. On, on!


 Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Here's to a few insights found on the road.

Signed, A free bird.


 Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

In conversation with a taxi driver in Dubai, UAE, an insightful story:

Taxi man: "I don't know why people who come here are so afraid to visit in the summer. When I first came to the Middle East ten years ago from Ethiopia, there was no such thing as air-conditioning. Today so much people come to Dubai because of good air-conditioning. Why? People say they want to stay all day in this A/C thing, and I think [he laughs] these people are very strange. I prefer the sun." 

 Brugge, Belgium

Brugge, Belgium

What goes up, must come down. But don't forget to fasten your seatbelt (just in case).

 Zugspitze, Germany

Zugspitze, Germany

There are many paths to the top, or you can forge your own. Be forewarned, as many will tell you, "It's not recommended."



Intersecting Theatrics & gameplay: might we find ourselves

Sometime last month, I was invited to attend Score for a Lecture, an interactive performance met with elements of dance and experimental theatre. A production created by The Bureau for the Future of Choreography, I entered upon an expansive, cavernous space in lower Manhattan that looked more like a town hall gathering rather than theatre.  As the lights dimmed, two figures stood at opposite sides of the stage before podiums addressing the intimate audience. We were being "debriefed" on our lecture for the evening. One shadow sat center stage ricocheting a drum with wires of clothes hangers. 

Vaguely reminiscent of childhood games, the evening resembled a throwback to memories of "Telephone" I used to play with neighborhood friends. Bare bones and easy to follow, the game's only requirements to play are willing subjects and an ability to follow basic directions. As an audience member, I was asked to follow a prominent line of gaffing tape that weaved throughout the floors of the vast building. The trail stretched weblike into an abyss of hallways, seeping into rehearsal rooms, makeup stations, cafes tucked, and staircases taut that linked them one by one. Keep the faith that we'd find our way back to the main entrance of a lecture hall. The telephone chord led by our feet. Fortunately the rules of the game when I was six still applied. My only duty was to whisper verbatim what I was told by the stranger behind me in line to the stranger in front of me. Otherwise, I'd bide my time waiting for a new message until a full completion of the loop. 

It wasn't until I struggled to repeat the increasingly complex 'sequence of speech acts' to the person in front of me, did I begin to realize my role in this spectacled experience. What if my words carried more weight than I gave it credit for? What if my actions altered origins? What were these ephemeral messages anyway? As we filtered through line by line, some profound, some ludicrous---together, we embodied a human chord like an ancient telegraph distilled by the vessels of mouths and ears. Somehow in the process, I had become both messenger and receptacle. Making our way back to center stage where we had once began, podiums present, lecture reassembled to discuss "our findings," soon to adjourn. How did I, unbeknowest to me, become a synecdoche of this larger institution? How did it feel to take part as a smaller group, a whispering pair, a lone messenger?

Arriving at the end of the gaffing tape, we gathered once again as a town hall meeting does, a makeshift human telephone chord reflecting in silence. Without even realizing it, we had somehow become agents of The Bureau---walking, whispering, dancing, choreographing messages that were both botched and profound, accurate and wayward, connected and nonsensical, and simultaneously our own. 



David Bowie, Heroes of Invention

"Age doesn't bother me. So many of my heroes are older guys...I do what I've always wanted to do. I'm a writer. It's the lack of years left that scares me. The having to let go of it all." - David Bowie (2002)

Few people in the world have transcended culture across space and time quite like Bowie. More than a rock star, David Jones was above all a restless innovator who merged wildly eclectic influences across genres. He blended textures with song, fashion with theatre. He made music his muse drawing from a myriad of performative art, composition, design---a true iconoclast of American pop culture. From wildly popular hits like "Heroes" to "Space Oddity" to the resolve of "The Laughing Gnome" to the downright bizarre of "Life on Mars," Bowie drew inspiration from all directions challenging traditional schools of thought that celebrate niche over renaissance. Pulling from the likes of The Velvet Underground to Jacque Brel to American soul, even German minimalism can be traced on his tracks. Releasing his last record just two days before his 69th birthday, it all seemed too perfectly timed. A master of characters and inventions from alien rock star Ziggy Stardust to his latest album Blackstar exploring themes of life and death, Bowie perfected performance. 

We have gained one of our greats.



Sliced Bread & Bananas: visitations to a syrian Refugee Camp

Each new year, Winter acts as a demarcation of time, a gentle reminder of a changing of seasons. After meeting an old friend and former aid worker from our time together in Southeast Asia, we spoke of life in Germany over familiar scents of coffee and cigarettes and caught up on recent news in Europe. Sipping coffee, there was mention of a local refugee camp in the Northeast of the city that could use some extra hands. With the new year upon us, there was no better way to spend our time than meeting the faces of the harrowing stories I had only read about in the paper. The daily ingest of stark images of those fleeing their homes---now reminiscent of piles of rubble---can sometimes lose impact. The need for basic infrastructure, language and culture integration, resource management, job creation, and safety is often overlooked. How do communities live, and how do hearts play amidst sites of conflict and controversy?

According to reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Germany is said to have led initiative in the European Union in accepting the greatest number of asylum seekers into the country at a peak of more than 1.3 million migrants in 2015 alone. It is difficult to imagine a country offering asylum to more refugees in a single year than the US has taken in over the last ten years combined.

Within a fortnight, we found ourselves in a kitchen suiting up and meeting local and international staff at a make-shift tent, a camp servicing beds and hot meals to hundreds of families who had somehow found their way to the tent. We quickly split duties in cooking, cleaning and serving hot meals that typically take place on-site three times a day. I was handed a hot plate of chicken and pasta and instructed to serve two slices of bread and a banana to each person and family passing by. Winter never felt so warm and cold at the same time. Quickly and repeatedly, I shuffled trays to hungry, outstretched hands in front of me. I noticed some smiles and mentions of "danke shon," while others avoided eye contact altogether. My eyes quickly lowering to meet theirs on a plate of pasta in search of common ground. Preparing food and distributing adequate amounts for hundreds, if not thousands of mouths three times a day for seconds and thirds is not easy. It requires planning, resources and seriously sturdy feet.

This New Year, I was reminded that sometimes our best contributions manifest in simple honest forms of direct action. It took serving sliced bread and bananas to meet the smiles of the Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian families often overlooked in our media. What if a simple solution to a global crisis could begin in sharing a hot plate of pasta? These life lessons we simply cannot learn siloed in classrooms staring blankly at screens taking our online MOOCs. Don't get me wrong. MOOCs are great and all, but only in conjunction with a learning first rooted in shared human experience. 



encounters with a tiny giant

You'd never guess it by glancing at him on the streets. Standing on stage, Joey Alexander looks like any other ordinary middle school kid. Modest in height no more than waist high wearing moppy black hair. Even Joey's thick, blue rimmed glasses seemed slightly too large for his 12-year old face. A native of Indonesia, Joey grew up with his parents in Bali and Jakarta before moving to New York to pursue music full time. 

Earlier this year, I had the chance to witness this child prodigy in the live at one of New York City's famed jazz halls. Sitting in the front row at a table directly behind the piano of one of New York City's iconic yet intimate performance venues, I couldn't help but notice the swathe of silver-haired couples sitting behind me. The room was filled to the brim with an occasional smattering of other peering, wide-eyed middle schoolers perched beside enthusiastic parents.

At first glance, Joey appears quiet, reticent even. He looks like a neighbor's kid dressed in one of his dad's oversized sweaters. Though once he begins playing the keys, notes flow naturally, familiar standards reeling from his magical fingertips. Joey and the Joey Alexander band performed a half dozen classics to a room full of fresh faces in admiration of this wunderkind. 

Feet tapping feverishly under the ivory black Yamaha piano, what makes Joey unique is hard to pin point---perhaps his natural groove or honest spirit that's virtually impossible to miss. His playing is subtle and precious, a manifestation of someone curious and passionate. What's surprising is that Joey learned how to play tunes simply by listening to discarded records his father had laying around the house in Indonesia. 

Joey's demeanor is unassuming, shy even at times. He notes jazz greats of the likes of Monk, Coltrane, and Hancock as master influencers. In fact it was a youtube video that caught the eyes of Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center which launched his career on the global jazz circuit.  Watching Joey's small hands careen from fast moves to softer, dulcimer ballads sets you in a trance. His pieces catch with giant steps in the making. The irony? If you were to ask his bandmates a good few decades his senior, they'd say that watching Joey play is like witnessing a wise elder emerge while trapped in a kid's suit---a heart that unremittingly knows to follow its bliss. 

Joey played a short, sweet one hour set with his formidable jazz trio consisting of piano, drums and bass followed by a second set to follow. Both audiences were packed door-to-door. And I couldn't help but smile throughout. Some energies go without saying. They're simply contagious. 



Sifting the silence: a sarajevo story

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of a shadowed past. 

From 1992 to 1995, the former Yugoslav Republic witnessed perhaps the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II. An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian conflict in but three years, displacing over 2.2 million people, leaving countless others broken to pick up the pieces.

Despite the tragedy, the Balkans is also home to some of the world's most ethnically diverse populations in the world. A kaleidoscope of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats, few around the world are aware that this same country is also uniquely made up of 4 million constituent peoples.



This Spring, I journeyed to the Balkan states to sift the silence in search of shared story.

My visit was in part to honor the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian war. It was also a way to actively participate in the importance of memory, finding a space for collective healing. I also wanted to find ways to move past simply memories of war and find ways together to celebrate people and place. 

Walking the streets of Sarajevo, I gazed into the distance as I passed a collage of faces, old and young, somber and active and wondered about the memories held within. I passed stories and places I had only read about in books and imagined leaving feetprints along the cobbled paths. 

Our global community is capable of such great heights; constructing safe frameworks where we might find the hope necessary to rebuild together. Time has an honest way of revitalizing our memories. It informs our teaching, while shaping a future inextricably linked. Here in Sarajevo, halfway around the world, I witnessed ordinary people with extraordinary spirits working in tandem to rebuild a community, one step at a time.  

On July 11, 1995, just two decades prior, a designated United Nations safe zone was raided, and over just three days, the lives of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were shattered by the hands of Bosnian armed forces

This year, tens of thousands gathered on July 11, 2015, to memorialize loved ones.

One young man I spoke to during my visit had the courage to share his story.

In violent outbreaks during the war, Ajdin had lost both his parents. With only the slips for shoes on his feet and the clothes on his back, he found himself utterly alone. In a country once full of possibility that he called home, he was confronted by fragments, a place now torn apart .

In spite of circumstance, Ajdin, like many others affected by senseless acts of hatred, chose strength and resilience of spirit, and endured by embarking on a better life.

When I met this young man who might as well have been my peer, I couldn't help but notice the truth in his smile and his simultaneous trace of pain. Ajdin exemplifies a unique generation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He represents both survivor returning visitor within the confines of his own country. He is but one of many young people who has witnessed tragedy and yet found ways and reasons to persevere.

After the war, Ajdin chose to leave Bosnia like many of his peers in search of work abroad and has since spent time both in Canada and the US. He began working in construction only to find satisfaction in working with his hands and since then has never stopped building.

His dream is to create a construction business of his own so that one day he too may return home.

It is hard to imagine the meaning of loss in a place that has witnessed tragedy on such a magnitude of scale.

When I asked Ajdin how the past has influenced his outlook on life, he looked up at me and said, "I have chosen to live a simply life."

I came to learn Ajdin's definition of a simple life simply means prioritizing the things that matter most. 

"What's important?" he asked, "To live each day as if it might be the last. Because it just might."

This time, I looked away and started pacing, carefully listening.

"You never know what's going to happen tomorrow, " he said, "So live each day." 


Feetprints R Us: Road tripping Across the American Outback


Feetprints R Us: Road tripping Across the American Outback

Wendell Barry, a poet, cultural critic and farmer reminds us of our shared humanity. His poems, deeply rooted in a living appreciation of the land, is a celebration of a place together we inhabit. Sometime last summer, Wendell and his life's work came up in conversation reflecting on an interconnectedness of people and place.

     Shortly thereafter, a&nbsp;pact was made---a revelry of&nbsp;pies, pumpernickel&nbsp;and resilient&nbsp;communities. It was time to grease&nbsp;the tires of the Playfull caravan. So we&nbsp;hit&nbsp;the road across Americana landscapes in search of&nbsp;wildebeest and mountain lions. In search of a common&nbsp;fabric of this&nbsp;place we call&nbsp;home, bound&nbsp;by the singularity and&nbsp;freedom of the&nbsp;road, we leapt---into the wild.


Shortly thereafter, a pact was made---a revelry of pies, pumpernickel and resilient communities. It was time to grease the tires of the Playfull caravan. So we hit the road across Americana landscapes in search of wildebeest and mountain lions. In search of a common fabric of this place we call home, bound by the singularity and freedom of the road, we leapt---into the wild.

     Our journey began&nbsp;in&nbsp;New York City, amplifying the&nbsp;brilliant and banal of America's best, paying homage to&nbsp;Jack Kerouac's free spirited beat nation of the 1960s. His scribbles still whisper:  There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.


Our journey began in New York City, amplifying the brilliant and banal of America's best, paying homage to Jack Kerouac's free spirited beat nation of the 1960s. His scribbles still whisper: There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.

From the New England East, to the deep foraging South, to the mountainous West, to the coastal tips of the Pacific, we barreled across a dozen States, two dozen cities and countless faces. Engaging with our neighbors and hearing about their daily lives, we were honoring Wendell's example while paying credence to our own. 

     All we could hope for was to&nbsp;engage openly&nbsp;with&nbsp;perfect strangers in common curiosity and kind compassion: What is&nbsp;your life's work?&nbsp;And how do you play? Our neighbors' responses, we&nbsp;came to learn, were surprisingly simple. Refreshing odes to ordinary lives&nbsp;of extraordinary spirits. Our wheels drew a momentary breath&nbsp;in a shared pause of path before barreling onwards into the wind.&nbsp;


All we could hope for was to engage openly with perfect strangers in common curiosity and kind compassion: What is your life's work? And how do you play? Our neighbors' responses, we came to learn, were surprisingly simple. Refreshing odes to ordinary lives of extraordinary spirits. Our wheels drew a momentary breath in a shared pause of path before barreling onwards into the wind. 

     Besides&nbsp;it&nbsp;being a more practical&nbsp;way to transport goods&nbsp;from one coast to another, our time on the road was&nbsp;an&nbsp;opportunity to&nbsp;explore a place&nbsp;that&nbsp;has offered comfort for our&nbsp;growing pains, held refuge for our complex,&nbsp;evolving identities, and helped&nbsp;mold&nbsp;determined spirits in&nbsp;consciously choosing&nbsp;how to live each day.&nbsp;


Besides it being a more practical way to transport goods from one coast to another, our time on the road was an opportunity to explore a place that has offered comfort for our growing pains, held refuge for our complex, evolving identities, and helped mold determined spirits in consciously choosing how to live each day. 

     Our&nbsp;journey lunged&nbsp;us&nbsp;forwards&nbsp;and backwards. At times we found ourselves in tight&nbsp;tent quarters, or sprawled across wide desert plains, clambering up rock face,&nbsp;souls floating into the whitest and brightest of&nbsp;skies. We let our spirits catch&nbsp;fire and quietly drift&nbsp;into an&nbsp;evening of sloth-face&nbsp;from a&nbsp;long day's drive. Life&nbsp;is a dance&nbsp;and infinitely more rewarding when we practice caring for others, hands&nbsp;planted,&nbsp;forever free.&nbsp;


Our journey lunged us forwards and backwards. At times we found ourselves in tight tent quarters, or sprawled across wide desert plains, clambering up rock face, souls floating into the whitest and brightest of skies. We let our spirits catch fire and quietly drift into an evening of sloth-face from a long day's drive. Life is a dance and infinitely more rewarding when we practice caring for others, hands planted, forever free. 

     The miles on our maps and apps&nbsp;were reinvigorated by&nbsp;geography of&nbsp;place and face. From New York to New Haven, to&nbsp;West Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, to&nbsp;Beale Street and sweet tunes of Nashville, Tennessee, across&nbsp;Indian Reservations lining Oklahoma plains, we road forwards. Humming&nbsp;to the tune of Oh, Shenandoah,&nbsp;our noses led us&nbsp;to spicy green chilly peppers roasting&nbsp;at the Santa Fe&nbsp;farmer's market in&nbsp;New Mexico. Saluting&nbsp;the&nbsp;Rocky Mountains with a wink,&nbsp;dusk teased progress&nbsp;forward to&nbsp;the Californian coast.


The miles on our maps and apps were reinvigorated by geography of place and face. From New York to New Haven, to West Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Beale Street and sweet tunes of Nashville, Tennessee, across Indian Reservations lining Oklahoma plains, we road forwards. Humming to the tune of Oh, Shenandoah, our noses led us to spicy green chilly peppers roasting at the Santa Fe farmer's market in New Mexico. Saluting the Rocky Mountains with a wink, dusk teased progress forward to the Californian coast.


If nothing else, time on the road is a reminder of the brevity of our days. No matter how long or how brief, our participation is proof that we are powerfully connected.  The USA is a vast, glorious, behemoth of a land mass, an astounding container of hope and strife if we remain open to it. We're not too different from one another in fact, in our wants and aspirations. All around us, people are hard at work, simply in want of more time to spend with those they love. 

     Besides, who among us doesn't want to log roll across grassy knolls of&nbsp;wonder?&nbsp;Whether working, retired, care-taking, or being cared for, our Playfull caravanning&nbsp;was less a discovery of the  whats &nbsp;  and  hows &nbsp;  and&nbsp;rather a revelation of the  whys   . All it took was a country-stretch of&nbsp;pitstops, refueling, and caffeinating at&nbsp;quickie marts&nbsp;to&nbsp;arrive at&nbsp;a shared&nbsp;rhythm and wisdom of the&nbsp;tumbleweed.&nbsp;


Besides, who among us doesn't want to log roll across grassy knolls of wonder? Whether working, retired, care-taking, or being cared for, our Playfull caravanning was less a discovery of the whats and hows and rather a revelation of the whys. All it took was a country-stretch of pitstops, refueling, and caffeinating at quickie marts to arrive at a shared rhythm and wisdom of the tumbleweed. 

     Perhaps all it takes is a greater appreciation of the poetry that lilts us forward. Closer to each other.&nbsp;    I guess that Wendell's onto something.&nbsp;


Perhaps all it takes is a greater appreciation of the poetry that lilts us forward. Closer to each other. 

I guess that Wendell's onto something.