Exiting the Silo

Week 5

This week in Creative Leadership, we understand what it means to be linked to community.  

Talented colleagues in my course have had insightful perspectives regarding their connection to the world, and so far it has been a privilege to understand how interconnected we are to a variety of different modes of thinking.  

Mark Chamberlain’s Week 4 post regarding Scott Belsky’s “Making Ideas Happen” provided some valuable insight into the inner workings of in-house design teams. Mark’s insights around the power of an introspective approach when confronted with the myriad responsibilities one has within an organization revealed the importance of knowing yourself before being able to push change from within. While Belsky affirms multiple times in his novel that creatives posses the qualifications to lead, and to organize, teams of people, I appreciate Mark’s honesty in expressing discomfort in this role, in part from whole-heartedly relating to experiences in my own practice. Managing teams of designers, I have found, is the most uncomfortable hat I have had to wear. And yet, of all the validation-seeking and self-marketing tactics I have striven to adopt, this “leadership potential” feels like the least obnoxious hat to wear.

Olivia Pederson, in her expose on three blogs, unpacks transparency within organizations. While I am familiar with understanding social media within context of … well, social situations, I had not fully grasped the capability for it to work as a feedback loop within communications systems in an organization. Her notes on the power of the consumer to influence a company’s stance and production power gives me hope, and affirms that local organizations in town that are tackling the achievement gap are on the right track.  

In fact, in related trends, I’m inspired by social justice organizations that are fighting the good fight. For those who are interested in learning more of this social transparency and diversity, Reve Academy and TheBrandLab are two organizations that are doing amazing work in Minneapolis.

In applying what I’ve learned from Belsky to these two perspectives, I find that my personal reality lies in a multitude of factors, stemming from a disjoint from what I have within, and how to relate to without. What I have appreciated about Zen Habits, both the blog and the book, is this perpetual emphasis of the internal workings of your process. By thoroughly watching what the inner life is doing to sabotage the ability to learn from external sources, and by continually shying away from weakness, the creative professional gets nowhere, fast.

I’m reminded in this moment about a yoga practice called ‘jnana yoga’, or “The Yoga of Wisdom”, which addresses the path of the mind used to inquire into its own nature and to transcend the mind’s identification with its thoughts and ego. And while this may be a turn off for the more logical-minded folks, what has been most helpful in this practice is the fairly straightforward comparison between stretching and fear. I find that my mind has a tendency to get lost in the confusion fear brings. If I use fear as just an indicator, things like growth tend to be less scary. It is your mind’s job to create fear to let you know you might get hurt. The same thing is true for stretching. In my creative pursuits, fear then becomes a form of stretching. Into these things – leadership, organization, self-discovery – I, therefore, lean.

Leadership, Feminism, and Radical Acceptance

Week 1

If there is one thing you should know about my leadership journey, it is that I have always existed in some strange non-world between gender, race, and purpose. I am Asian-American, and what that means is that, culturally, I’m too different looking to be totally white and on the flip side, I am too white to be anything Asian. My family had a term for us half bloods – hapa. Half. Neither here, nor there. So racially ambiguous that I pass for Latina, South American, brown of any denomination except for my motherland, and the only Asian-American woman in my all-Vietnamese/Chinese familial age group. For this reason, I’ve found myself occupying that coveted position I’ve read that leaders are cultivated in – that space, that “other”, the place where I thought could observe the intricate workings of cultural norms from without. 

Here’s the thing, I’ve always in some capacity felt like I’ve been breaking molds wherever I have landed. It was as if my very existence was a strange puzzle piece in the wrong puzzle box. Asian-American, yes. Woman, yes. Add fabricator, maker, tinkerer, inventor, and a mean suspicion of authority, and you had…well, me. My mother had no idea what to do with me, and neither did the field I struck out into. With rampant sexism in theatrical arts, in some industrial design fields, and in trade markets, I found myself simultaneously discriminated against for being an “incompetent” woman, and fetishized for being exotic.

The story is old, and it’s insidious. I know, deep down, I’m a natural leader from the simple fact that leaders are defined as trail blazers, establishing new ideals, creating space for others to follow in their footsteps, and empathetic. But I have problems remembering that I am skilled in my trade, after years of having my male counterparts redo my work in front of me, question my expertise, or undermine me in public. Remembering that I am able to derive my power from anything other than my looks or body when I'm in the thick of a freelance project is tough at best. I can’t remember when I haven’t hid my gender under several layers of work clothing, avoided the color pink, or skipped the make-up on my way into work.

But the thing is, I can be a product designer, sculptor, fabricator, and architect if I simply remember that my interests, passions, and convictions have gotten me here. I successfully lead teams of students in an all-female staffed shop, in no small part due to my role at MCAD. I provide an example to my female students here that furniture design isn’t gender specific. I also provide a voice through my volunteer work with Mu Performing Arts, an organization dedicated to telling the Asian American story.

If there is one thing that I’m looking to remember, it is my complex capability to lead. My journey is two pronged – I wish to rekindle my leadership convictions from the inside, where my intuition resides, as well as the outside in re-engaging with my field with confidence.