Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last Words

Because tomorrow is my last day of internship and this post will also be my last post, I thought that I should end this blog with something profound....

or poetic....

or both......

and I realized that that's easier said than done (well).

So, I decided to save everyone from unnecessary literary superciliousness and end my blog with a subtle and tasteful advertisement:


And I think that's sufficiently profound and loudly poetic. :)

Thank you everyone at Berrett-Koehlers for being absolutely wonderful through and through!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


There are a lot of popular self-help books about finding your talent or your innate potential to be successful. But, I've always thought that talent was an elusive thing, which makes me question whether these books about talent really work. You can't really measure the talent that you have, because at least for me, I am not sure what's considered talent or what's considered "just being decent" at something. I guess the standards also depend on your arrogance or self-expectation level, but I always feel a little conceited to say, "Yes, my talent is...."  The problem is that I feel as if I am lying to myself if I say "My talent is...," as if I am so sure. Because, I am not sure at all, and it's a bit sad to think that I am fooling myself.

This is not a "boo-hoo-i-am-doubting-myself" post, especially because I don't usually doubt myself. It's just that I always think the words "find your talent" is a bit simplistic. Perhaps, it's motivational and inspiring, and just the right kind of consolation for someone who is really doubting their capacity, but just how useful are those words except for getting someone out of an emotional rut? And, do we really want all our self-help books to just be a momentary emotional relief, even if they are bestsellers?  I would appreciate the book more if I could keep it with me and use its advices for my entire life. It is possible that "go find your talent" type of books are just disposable commodity, something that one might read and feel good, but never think of reading the book again. Then, we just get new, find-your-talent books that appeal to other self-doubting people and the vicious cycle continues.

Maybe, instead of looking for your talent, you should just try everything without getting caught up on getting the desired results. And if you fail, you fail. Like Beckett said, "Try again, fail again, fail better." Being good at failing is ironically kind of awesome, because you are good at something that most people don't admit that they are good at. Then, at least you will be one of a kind :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Seeking Company in Books

On, Bob Stein brings up an interesting idea about the ideal future of books. To him, the utopia for the future of books is as follows:

"I've become interested in how context informs the reading experience, whereas a few years ago I was more focused on content. I'm interested by how context comes from different places, how it is shaped by different factors. During the Golden Notebook Project [a late 2008 "experiment in close-reading" that featured an ongoing conversation between seven readers that took place in the margins of the novel] I learned a huge amount just watching them read and debate the text. You can bring in various different glosses on a document. It is a richer experience with these different framing devices readily available, being able to see multiple perspectives and points of view at once. In the digital era context is what matters."

Reading a book is no longer only a solo adventure, a time for solitary reflection. Now, the discussion of a book, which we used to only associate with classrooms and book clubs can become an immediate part of a reading experience. However, I don't believe that this can work nicely with any genre. It would be pretty easy to work with fiction, because the beauty of fiction is that it's open to interpretation. Even in non-fiction, perspectives of different people can enrich self-help books, especially when that particular self-help book is about exploring one's personal experiences. (This probably comes up a lot in healing books). If different people shared their own difficulties right at the margin of the book's pages, the content of the book would probably become more inspiring. In other words, the context will enrich the content. However, I don't really see this "perspectives" thing working too smoothly in business books, maybe because business books tend to give solutions or methods that the reader should follow.

Regardless of whether the development of this new context will work or not, it seems like people have the tendency to want to discuss things and share their opinions. No wonder blogs and forums are so popular, right? I see this tendency as another attempt to create a community with other people who are interested in the same thing as yourself, or at least sharing the same experience as you at that moment in time (that is, the experience of reading that same book). More and more, people are losing the ability to do things alone. They feel awkward if they are alone, or at least more secure with other people. I am sure such feeling is not a new, modern phenomenon or anything, because people are anthropologically gregarious creatures.  But, I ask this, are we getting more gregarious, or are we simply getting more lonely so we find ourselves seeking company?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leaders Make the Future 2nd Ed. Author's Day: Reciprocity

One of the things Bob emphasized during his luncheon presentation was reciprocity in commons- creating. That is, giving something away (such as your intellectual property) and expecting to get something better in return. He did say that this type of commons-creating was more visible in the artistic field than in corporate settings, and I am trying to figure out if I actually understand this whole concept. So, maybe I should try applying this to an artistic common that I've seen.

I kind of see Improv. Everywhere as a common, because not only is it open to participation in all of its events, but it's performances are actually international (like the no-pants-in-public-places day). In a way, the group is giving their creative idea away for free to the public. Then, what are they getting in return?

Well, I guess participation of other ordinary people in their performances and maybe new improv. ideas. But, what is the "better" thing that they are getting in return?

It's hard to define the "better" return in terms of monetary value or profit. In a corporate field, maybe the return could be a better, more improved idea. But, as for comical performances like the ones done by Improv. Everywhere, the return doesn't just come to the group. Instead, it's a better return to everyone who's involved or has watched the performances, because the best return for the group's sharing their humorous creativity is laughter. A return that everyone partakes. Maybe, this is too fuzzy, but I think a similar concept could be applied to non-profits as well.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Information

This comes from another conversation I had with Jeevan when Amanda came during Author's Day. According to Jeevan, long time ago, people bought something either because they were loyal to the brand or a friend or family recommended it. But, now we make our decisions based on opinions of complete strangers, a prime example being Yelp. I also use Yelp a lot, especially when I am looking for new restaurants to try. It also never fails to amuse me that people yelp about pretty much...anything. You can even yelp a hiking trail behind UC Berkeley. I think examples like Yelp show that perhaps the influence on our decisions has become more democratic. That is, we gear toward things that a majority of public likes, even if the public is a faceless mass with which we are not personally acquainted. When I use Yelp, I usually base my decisions on the overall rating and recommendations that a lot of reviewers agree on, without really caring too much about the individual reviews. I would hate to say that this act is about going mainstream or anything, but there is an appeal in following an agreement made by a majority of people. A sense of security comes with it.

But, what about individual food or restaurant review blogs? (Oh, I go to a lot of those...a lot...) It's definitely the opinions of a single person, but I find myself going back to the same blog and really reading each entry if I like the public persona of the blogger. And this persona tends to come out in their writing style and even the format of the blog. Strangely, it seems easier to trust a public image that I infer from a piece of writing than a real person that I meet. I guess when I meet a person in reality, there are so much more information about them (impression, body language, facial expressions etc.) that I get a little insecure about what kind of person they really are. Too much complexity... wonderful but befuddling :) Regardless, the blogger has managed to market him/herself through the writing, which influences what decisions I make.

Everything does seem to come down to marketing...and if it does, then Yelp could also be a marketing tool, a tool that uses the power of information, even if the information might be what types of dishes are on the restaurant menu. Nowadays, persuasion just won't cut it, because getting information is just as important to the consumers. For example, now that so many people are health conscious, the transparency of the ingredients in food product is crucial. Just the fact that the food product has all natural ingredients is enough to make me want to buy it, even if what the company did was to just list all the ingredients on the product label. If the label was rather secretive (although I am sure that illegal now), I would be a bit skeptical. Who know, I might be chugging down preservatives without knowing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making Negative Titles Work

I learned today that one of the common pitfalls of negative titles is that they usually only express a complaint or identify a problem without offering a solution. And people want solution; they are not going to read pages of some stranger's complaint that doesn't necessarily change their lives. I guess such titles could be categorized as "Anti-" titles, where they do not always contain the word "anti-," but their overall message is simply "I-hate-...the government, the institution, my boss, my next door neighbor etc."

But, of course not all negative titles put off customers. One of the examples that Jeevan gave me was Leadership and Self-Deception, which did very well despite the negative tone of the title. But, I have a feeling that this title probably worked, precisely because it was not an "Anti-something" title, but brought up an idea about the human mind. That is, self-deception describes the mind's act of unconsciously deceiving itself. Despite the possibility that the direct link between "leadership" and "self-deception" might painfully pinch the leader egos, you just can't say that the title is anti something. It definitely isn't anti-leadership (at least, judging from the title alone) and what, anti-ego? Oh please, don't let your ego become so vulnerable that it shudders at the mere word "self-deception." And some modesty never hurts in this world.

Anyways, my feeling might be totally skewed because I admit that not everyone is interested in the workings of the human mind as much as I am, but I have observed a trend in which the public's interest in applicable psychology seems to be growing. At least, for a big number of people in my generation, we don't find an appeal in something that's completely superficial, pre-digested, overdone, or kitsch. When novelty on the surface of things becomes hard to find, we dig deeper in order to probe our thinking in ways that haven't been done before. That's why I believe that the movie Inception garnered its popularity partly for the plot's complex psychological concept (other than the fact that it's directed by the awesome Christopher Nolan and stars Leonardo Di Caprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both of whom are absolutely dreamy....but I won't go there and save you some major eye rolling).

Well, to summarize, I think negative titles work when it's smart about its negativity. The negativity needs to refer to a bigger and deeper concept that is just waiting to be spilled out by the book's content, instead of just showing an opposition to something that already exists.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Deshoda listed the 100 most beautiful words in the English language, and guess what the first word is. Ailurophile, which means, a cat-lover! Yes! Now I just want to put myself in a situation where I can say, "Oh yes, I am an ailurophile." But then, most people probably won't know what I am talking about, because it's such an obscure word. As I was going through the rest of the list though, I noticed that a lot of the words sounded French, like "chatoyant" (I don't know French, so maybe that doesn't sound French at all, but to me it did), "denouement" (which I know for sure is derived from French) and "dulcet." This means that the person who put the list together must have been somewhat fond of the sound of French. I myself think French is a beautiful language and I absolutely love hearing it, but I've always wondered why French is such a popular language. A lot of people say it sounds beautiful, but is there a certain sound in French that is anthropologically appealing to the human ears, or are we conditioned to like French because of France's cultural prestige?

If the latter is true, it means that we have been culturally conditioned to like French. This idea sheds some light on the role of myth-breaking when it comes to book content. Books that break commonly believed ideas and throw the society into delicious controversy prevent us from being conditioned by a certain idea that limits our imagination into a tiny little box created by some guy in a suit. It's a necessary buffer from the invisible ignorance that we put over ourselves, invisible precisely because we think we know exactly what the circumstances are, but we fail to find other equally valid perspectives. And, myth-breaking books are popular, because people hate being conditioned despite the fact that they are tremendously vulnerable to conditioning. We seem to be in a constant struggle against the information that is thrown to us; we swallow them like ravenous kids, but at the same time, we want to throw it all back up and say that we are adults who can resist that tempting, but ultimately boring food. But, let me by cynical here and say that we are still eating without really thinking, and our desire to resist being conditioned by a certain idea is smothered by our too easy belief in what the masses believe.

But, going back to French, even if this is cultural conditioning at work, I still love the sound of it. I will just accept that I am being conditioned, despite the fact that this acceptance might make my previous paragraph hypocritical or invalid :)  But, every time I think that French is beautiful, I can't stop myself from thinking about what I've just discussed.