Freehand Life

Freehand Life

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WALL-E loves Ana Log

September 22, 2012 1 Comment

Wall-E’s Polaroid Job Pro II

Strength du Jour

September 20, 2012

Wailea, Maui-September 2012

The Delicate Art of Letter Writing

September 16, 2012

Native American postcard, birch tree pen holder, feathered pen, Italian Il Papiro black ink, fine stationery.

The Moss Metamorphosis and Today’s Redefined Retail Scale

September 15, 2012

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Why should you care that Moss closed its famous New York City gallery store in February 2012?  The global media paid more attention to Borders’ slow shuttering across hundreds of giant bookstores.  The metamorphosis from Moss store to Moss Bureau, a design consultancy, is of equally big news in the design world.  Now approximately six months after Moss & Team moved to their Garment District office, let’s examine how the American Retail Scale has tipped again, and what it means to your buying experience.

Little did I know that my rabid photos from my June 2011 trip would now be treasured personal “antiques” of this former SoHo icon? The concept of turning a retail store into a museum gallery is brilliant! In its venerable 18 years, Moss almost single handedly created retail Environment Design when it wasn’t even a serious term.  There was no cool Apple store or widely accessible design when Moss opened in 1994.

The former actor-turned fashion entrepreneur brought art down from the stratosphere, while also elevating utilitarian product design before anyone dreamed of blending this thriving business formula. Due to the gallery’s own success, the ever-expanding square footage ended up costing $80,000 a month for just the Manhattan rent.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that Moss had been planning the Greene Street closure for three years.  As revolutionary as Moss was, he could not control the struggling global economy, ubiquitous competition, high operating costs, and his own recent Parkinson’s diagnosis.  Moss online still operates with the same sassy product descriptions.

These jostling macro factors turned my mind to draft another model to answer this question: if consumer spending drives 70% of the American economy, what does this mean for today’s Retail Scale?

The Good Old Days

A quasi-balance existed when the store in-store sales kept pace with operational costs (e.g. rent, wages, etc.).  The brick store’s competitive landscape wasn’t too fierce since the offerings had a niche and no one was using disruptive technology.  The brand presence likely comprised of a drywall store and a standard informational website.  The customer experience involved entering, browsing, perhaps purchasing with a bit of chatting with the small staff.

The Virtual Daze

In-store Sales: The modern reality has been decreased in-store sales due to the mainstream online lifestyle. Operational Costs: the overhead of a store’s rent, utilities, insurance, etc. spikes up when in-store sales dip. Several business models compete to blur the traditional customer experience and brand “presence” goes virtual.

  • Online Flash Sales: Fab and Touch of Modern operate on timed online sales from various businesses, creating a questionable sense of scarcity.
  • Web Store Platform: Sites like Ebay and Etsy enable hundreds of shop owners to setup their own online store, further decreasing the barrier to entry for about anyone with a PayPal account.
  • Social Media: Top Shop is an über online clothing store from London. London’s Fashion Week starting on September 16, 2012 marks the first time where viewers can view a live fashion show, simultaneously buy the outfit, tweet about it, vote for their favorite look via Facebook and view the behind the scene shots on Instagram.  No store or in-person attendance at exclusive shows required: just buy, share, and drive sales.
  • Pop-Up Shops: more local stores in my city have been closing their permanent address and moving to pop–up shop models lasting from 1 day to 2 weeks.  The “rent” is less, offers high flexibility, and low inventory commitments.  Perhaps this is one way to adapt in regional markets’ economy.
  • Exhibit Shows: niche retailers may choose to only sale at special trade shows or exhibits geared towards its niche makers.  The annual Dwell Conference is one example where about 23,000 housing & furnishing enthusiasts spent their time and money.

Just as Moss is moving into a design consultancy, the playing field is a blended virtual playing field.  We must wade through all the clutter of stuff and thoughtfully consider the full lifecycle of the products we buy, maintain, and dispose.  Just because it’s easier to buy online does not always mean that we should gorge in retail gluttony.  As business owners, getting to market is just the start.  Perhaps the secret sauce is for those retail owners who can remain nimble in their niche, within the ever-changing retail dance for the long haul.  A special nod goes to how Brooks Brothers endures as America’s oldest clothier (privately held): established in 1818.


Kabat, Jennifer.  “Murray’s Next Act”, Metropolis April 2012.
Retail Info Systems

Postcard From the Edge: Don’t Look for Happiness

September 12, 2012

Original Photo: Lahaina, Maui – September 2012

Kodak + Cracker Jack: Mid-Century & Package Design Sweetness

September 12, 2012

Kodak Brownie 8MM Movie Camera II, f/1.9 lens circa late 1950’s & vintage Cracker Jack packaging.

Thoughtful Thursday ~ “Unfold Your Own Myth”

September 6, 2012 1 Comment

Unfold Your Own Myth

Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet? Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth,

so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams.
Your legs will get heavy
and tired.
Then comes a moment of feeling

the wings you’ve grown,


Ingredients for a Radical Sabbatical

August 29, 2012 1 Comment

Are you burned out?  Has your non-stop schedule run you ragged? Have you been working sooo hard, for sooo long?

Although America’s upcoming Labor Day on September 3, 2012 celebrates the hard worker by creating one national day of rest, this writer dares the tired and the weak to go further by a taking radical sabbatical.

A sabbatical is taking a break from your usual grind to simply do whatever your whims inspire.  Travel!  Sit by the lake and meditate.  Go work on an oyster farm. Volunteer in Tibet.

No, you don’t have to be rich.  Yes, you can resume the “real world” of school and a standard job again.  Yes, you can take a sabbatical with your kids.  Some companies like Intel have a formal program where employees can receive 8 weeks of a paid sabbatical after 7 years of full time employment.  University professors take sabbaticals as part of their professional development to deeply research and learn another area of study.  Many Europeans take a gap year in between university, a popular practice originating the United Kingdom since the 196o’s.

Just ponder how much money people around the world spend on counseling and anti-depressant drugs to merely keep up in this hyper-connected world.  Compare this cost to boldly embracing a sabbatical to deeply rejuvenate in any way you please.

It was easy in the Middle Ages when most peasants passed away by their thirties.  With the average American life span now at 79.4 years, that’s a lot of hustling through school/promotions/openings/launches/kids, etc.

After fortunately indulging in two sabbaticals, below is my recipe for whipping up your own Radical Sabbatical.

Radical Sabbatical

Serves 1 or many

You will need:

  • 1 Adventurous Spirit
  • 1 Open Mind
  • 1 Grateful Heart
  • 1-3 goals
  • 1 Rough Outline/Plan
  • A chunk of savings

Preparation: Quiet and Rouse

Quiet your fears (ying).  Rev up that innate adventurous spirit (yang).  Remember when everything was possible as a kid vs. everything becoming a “trade off” as an adult?   Dig deep into your inner strength.  You should certainly assess the risks, but this can be a time to make a change based more on the opportunities.

Goal Creation: Commit and Document

Fully commit and document 1-3, attainable goals for your break.  Goals are important for sabbaticals for one’s self-accountability and continued alignment to any bigger, long-term life goals.  What will you be proud of at the end of the sabbatical? Is it to unplug? Perhaps it’s an educational sabbatical to learn something.  To work at your dream business or apprentice for a complete new field?  Wipe away those cob webs in the recess of your mind, and reintroduce yourself to hibernating dreams.

I combined travel and educational goals for both sabbaticals for 4 months internationally and 7 months domestically.

Piggy Bank: Determine and Build

Figure out the necessary financial enablement cash rate (ECR) for yourself or any other Sabbatical Side Kicks.  How will your lifestyle change as you need to save up for the sabbatical or how you will live during the break? Build in buffer money for emergencies or that last minute train ride on the opposite track.

Outline: Whisk Together

Combine your goals with the ECR into one outline, sprinkled with logistics and a schedule.   Adjust for transportation and lodgings for local, national, or international travel.   The land, air, and sea can be your playground!  Imagine enjoying a Vermont farm, Mexican hacienda, Tuscan studio, or Thai bungalow on the beach.  No, you don’t have to replicate Eat Pray Love to trek across three countries in about one year.

If you have kids at an appropriate age, schedule the sabbatical during their school break (summer or year-round). The unglamorous “Life Administration” is part of standard responsibilities.   Setup online bill payments.  Adjust insurance to your new needs.  Turn your static, plan-as a-noun into a constant verb by planning. Depending on your level of control needed, create an outline for an overall structure at a minimum.  Let go and leave the unimportant details to serendipity. Simplify.

Fortify: Sail Forth

Fortify your determined verve!  Your mind, heart, and finances are now organized.  Things will change, but you can figure it out along the way.  Just ask.  Wave a hearty “Tootles!” to your current work/school/constant commitment(s).  Don’t burn bridges.  Know your rights and have a clear understanding of your commitments to the institution, if applicable.  One of my prior employers allowed unpaid sabbaticals for up to 12 months, while people still maintained employee status.  Your true friends will still be there when you return and you’ll certainly make new friends or lovers.

One of my favorite quotes is

Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.

Nothing is guaranteed on sabbaticals.  What is certain, however, is that your purposeful break from the blah routine will reinvigorate your senses in new ways never imagined.  Whether it is one month or one year, you won’t notice the difference until you’ve stepped away from the old environment for an extended period of time.  Write. Draw. Bike. Cook.  Sleep. Do as many things opposite to your old life.

Epiphanies and escapades will pop up like gophers.  Allow your heart to be enveloped by gratitude.  The transformation is like a flower finally being allowed to unfurl into its full grandeur.  That’s not so radical after all, is it?  Sabbaticals are simply natural.

A spectacular David vs. Goliath Open Letter: Dear Mark Zuckerberg”

August 19, 2012

Mind Map: 5.5 Books for Unorthodox Thinking and Working

August 12, 2012 2 Comments

Creating my first mind map proved more interesting than another boring list of entrepreneurial thinking books. A textual “Top # List” tends to be easy, but also linear and one-dimensional.  Employing a mind map hopefully shows a relational map of how one book fuels another book, which links to another book, for a richer connection.  Mind maps transform the intellectual straight line into a full, 3-D amble.  A mind map can be used as another visual thinking tool that can reveal previously disconnected or subconscious thoughts.

I’ve distilled each book’s main point for a one-page “Summary Map” (clickable for an enlarged version):

1. “A Whole New Mind” – Daniel Pink (Riverhead Trade, 2006)

This foundational book sets the reading hike’s trail head because Pink’s thesis is well argued, fresh and left a memorable impression in 2008.  Although Pink received his J.D. from Yale Law School, this author never practiced as an attorney. Perhaps it’s Pinks lawyer training help shaped his writing style: a thesis followed by “evidence.” Pink contends that we’re now in a Conceptual Age (after the Information Age) where most jobs can be automated, completed more cheaply overseas, or its demand waned due to an over abundance of options.  It’s not enough to only be the analytical, detail-driven left brainer.   The creative right brain must also synthesize the emotion and play for humanity’s nuanced, more compelling picture.  A “Whole New Mind” was the first book where I unlearned years of the logic-driven norms, reinforced by broader societal values.  This book also differed in that the end of each section offers resources to apply the concept, but not like the typical self-help manual.

2. “Carve Your Own Road” – Jennifer & Joe Remling (Career Press, 2009)

The path veers left to this do-your-own-thing in about 200 pages by a husband and wife team (an architect & former human resources executive).  The Remlings accomplished their ever hip project of traveling around the U.S. in a sponsored, pimped out new Airstream interviewing how different people generated entrepreneurship within their companies or built heir own business.  Po Bronson finished a similar feat earlier in a stripped own, solo version in his “What Should I do With My Life” published in 2005.  Ms. Remling accomplished her goal by building a career bridge from a full time HR employee, to HR Consultant, to this self-funded project.  I took away the concept of writing a Belief Plan: an essay of one’s values and priorities for a business.  It’s not a bad book recommendation from a television segment.

3. “The 4-Hour Workweek” – Timothy Ferriss (Crown Publishers, 2007)

Finishing “Carve Your Own Road” led me to a more extreme DIY version via “The Four-Hour Workweek.” Mr. Ferriss sets his tenets, explains how he created his liberating work model, and offers resources for readers to replicate the methodology.  Although the Princeton graduate figured out the revenue game by devising his own “New Rich” rules, it’s anyone’s guess if achieving his goal brings sustained happiness and meaning.  Ferriss does make it clear that his book’s objective is not to find meaningful work; rather, it’s to reap the biggest yield from the least effort.  Reader-submitted videos on his blog show that a minority group accomplished a similar feat, but readers may feel like the book is like buying an infomercial product without the warranty.   Taking away the book’s “lifestyle design” concept did help fuel my autonomous work style.

4. “Drive”: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel Pink (Riverhead Trade, 2009)

After two books saturated about working, I wondered about the entire point of working at all.  An Internet browse revealed that Daniel Pink released a new book 3 years later about what motivates most people to work.  Pink employs his usual method, yet this case proved just alright, not as resounding as “A Whole New Mind.”  My favorite passage graphically compares mastery to an asymptote, implying that one can never reach 100% mastery (“a straight line that a curve approaches, but never quiet reaches”).

5. “Different”: Escaping the Competitive Herd – Youngme Moon (Crown Business, 2010)

About this time, Ms. Moon’s writes “Different,” whose one-word title simply stands out.  As a marketing professor at Harvard, Ms. Moon quickly eschews linear thinking in the Introduction, and offers “sideway connections” in her book instead.  One of the pillars of all businesses is to offer something unique from competitors, and “Different” creates a collage of some things that make companies different.  Ms. Moon never offers a direct recipe; she only brings out a display and describes each dish. I did pick up word nuggets like “meaningful grooves of separation”, “breakaway positioning strategy”, and “consumption posture.” After years of conformity, some readers may almost want to tattoo “Be different” on their upper arm.

5.5 “Imagine”: How Creativity Works- Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

“Imagine” is another one-word title book by an East Coast Ivy Leaguer. It was an up and coming book published in March weaving the brain’s physiology (gamma waves) to outstanding individuals (Bob Dylan), and to different companies (3M and Pixar).  However, the trail ends 4 months later because Mr. Lehrer confessed to making up quotes by Bob Dylan in his book’s first chapter.  This 31 year-old former Rhodes scholar resigned his prestigious writer role at the New Yorker at the end of July 2012.  Although the publisher pulled the physical books, halted ebooks, and is offering refunds, I’m keeping my hardcover copy as a reminder of poetic justice. Coincidentally, Time and CNN suspended omnipresent writer and show host, Fareed Zakaria, around August 10th due to plagiarism (he received PhD from Harvard).

My beta mind map turned out more like a constellation map, but that’s part of the fun.  Embrace the different! Use your entire brain to build your own autonomous, meaningful work, and don’t make up quotes by popular dead people whose hardcore fans will double-check your work.