Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inspired by Ricardo Semler and the Cinnamon Journey

Death is slow and comes in small pieces day after day without you noticing. It can come in an explosive IED, a cancerous cell, a car traveling in the wrong direction driven by a guy who drank too much because he was afraid of life. Death catches up with you one day and then you start to wonder why you hadn’t noticed it and what you can do about it now. Naturally you think you can actually win against death, that somehow you are going to live forever, that you are different from all those others who died before you. So you start to think about what you can do: spend money on expensive cancer treatment, travel to some strange part of China for a homeopathic remedy for that tumor, etcetera and etcetera. You do everything but acknowledge the fact that death is imminent. Over the years, the human race has gotten very good about cheating death for the rich and the privileged. We put air bags in our cars so we can avoid the tough question why we drink and drive and are afraid of life. We research and create toxic treatments to sustain unbearable life with tumorous symbiotics.

Sorry to bust your bubble, but NO ONE escapes death. Sure, you may cheat it by a few seconds, a few days, a few weeks, and if you really live a healthy life and have a good attitude then you can cheat death by a few years if you are lucky. But in the end, everyone dies.

Are you afraid of this blog post yet?

Well, don’t be afraid. If you are afraid then your judgment is skewed and you end up wasting time being counterproductive. You end up spinning your wheels avoiding death and then when you finally accepted its inevitability you spend time being depressed regretting what you could’ve done. Trust me, it’s a waste of time. So the first thing you can do in life is not be afraid of death. From there, you can start to answer the only question that matters: why am I here? But that’s a more complicated question and I leave that to another day.

Photo by Mareta Kusumaningrum @ thecinnamonjourney.blogspot

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Visiting Old Fronts

Mosul is a city of over a million people. It sits in northern of now Iraq on the banks of Tigris. Aptly called the Junction City, Mosul is connected to the Biblical Jonah. Supposedly, Jonah was buried there and it was enshrined by a church turned mosque that was later destroyed by ISIS. Interestingly, Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Why ISIS destroyed it I have no idea.

Mosul is also known for its arts, metalwork, education, and a good mix of other churches and mosques, Christians and Muslims, some of which and whom will not be destroyed by ISIS I hope. Mosul is a kind place. I spent a year there and the city protected me. I received a combat coin there too, in Mosul. It is not a typical army badge or the kind of military thank you hand-shake coins that were issued and said you were at the right place at the right time. It is my battalion coin that said “hey, good job” and was handed out by my commander and his command sergeant major to only the soldiers who tour their duties with the unit that was engaged in combat in that city. I don't remember how many people got one but I hoped it was everyone. I knew everyone should've have gotten one if I had gotten one. I tried to give my combat coin away later to a friend because I felt I did not deserve it, but a token like that is not easily accepted. It still bears the scars of the one who fears taking its responsibility. So I still have my combat coin and it sits quietly in the corner of a display case. Every time I look at it I am reminded that I was in combat once. What does combat mean exactly, who knows.

Guilt is a powerful thing and the only medicine I can find that works for me is the hope that I’d be a tourist one day to stand in the future Mosul’s streets and be happy. I imagined that I would see wind turbines and solar panels forming a networking of self-sustaining energy grid; the sanitation system beneath my feet would be a pipeline to fertilizer production plants on the skirt of the city; the same plants would also extract the water content to feed the drinking water demands of this proud city. There would be bustling markets and residential streets without any evident of the bullet holes that once decorated the city. The streets would be filled with pedestrians, bread shops, spice shops, tool shops and tea houses where people talked politics and religion all day. People would walk freely, women and children, and the only loud noise would no longer ring explosive fear but a new sound of prosperity. I would be a tourist then when I am old and gray and showing my grand kids where I had been and how different the city is in some future time when I am no longer traveling.

I was told once that a traveler sees and a tourist tour to see what he wishes to see. I have been a traveler all my life and I am tired. I wish someday, soon, I would rest my feet and be a tourist only to go the distant for the enjoyment of it. But why would I ever stop learning and only sees what I want to see is still a mystery to me. I don’t see myself ever becoming a tourist but my life is full of ironies. Perhaps being a tourist to a city like Mosul is important to me. Then again, Earnest Hemingway did warn once that veterans don’t go back to old fronts to tour again. He said to go tour someone else's front if I must.
 …because the change in everything and the supreme, deadly, lonely dullness, the smooth green of the fields that were once torn up with shell holes and slashed with trenches and wire, will combine against you and make you believe that the places and happenings that had been the really great events to you were only fever dreams or lies you had told to yourself. It’s like going into the empty gloom of a theater where the charwomen are scrubbing.
Well, I fought a war that did not use trenches but the city was filled with shell holes and slashed with wires. I wonder if the gloom of a theater where the charwomen are scrubbing is anything like living in a city where I had left for ten years to go to war and back now to find it not much changed with the exceptions of those changes in me. Gloom is gloom I guess.
"I was here during the war," I ventured. 
"So where many others," she said under her breath, bitterly. 

[The quotes in this blog post came from Hemingway's editorials in The Toronto Star Weekly published in the 1920s.]

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sustainability and Chinese Spiritualism

There are three primary principles to Sustainability: environmental, social, and economical accountability. There are Three Teachings (“三教”) to Chinese spiritualism: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Both “Sustainability” and the “Three Teachings” require harmonious interplay of the useful aspects of each of their own three primary principles. During the Ming Dynasty (arguably one of the greatest era of Chinese history), the Three Teachings were synthesized into one (“三教合一”).

Confucianism is about righteousness, loyalty, and filial piety. For the sake of simplicity and making a point to which I think you will find interesting, I will ignore the aspects of Confucianism that I do not like. Buddhism is about suffering and detachment but that’s the inch-deep selfish understanding. To interpret Buddhism in context without the grandeur of hoping for ultimate enlightenment, it means compassion for others. Again, for the sake of simplicity and discarding that which is not useful for the discussion here, I will ignore what I wish from the teachings of Buddhism. It’s my blog after all.

To explain Taoism and to bridge the gaps to help you see why I have started writing this post, I quote one of my favorite Taoist: Winnie the Pooh.

If you compare the City with the Forest, you may begin to wonder why it's man who goes around classifying himself as The Superior Animal.
Superior to what? asked Pooh.
I don't know, Pooh. I've tried to think of something, but I just can't come up with an answer.
If people were Superior to Animals, they'd take better care of the world, said Pooh.
'That's true, I said. 

- Tao of Pooh 
Let's put the three together shall we? Taoism = Environmental Accountability, Buddhism = Social Accountability, Confucianism = Economic Accountability. Ergo, Sustainability = The Three Teachings.

So you see, the Chinese was onto the principles of Sustainability for over 2000 years now and it was more than 500 years ago that the Chinese harmonized the three principles and experienced one of the greatest era in human history. It was Christopher Columbus who wanted to discover the promise land, its wealth and not its spiritual harmony, that began to kill the Chinese Sustainability Spiritualism. It was then modernization during the last 20 years and the path to wealth for China inspired by the west that further corrupted the world’s sustainable status with respect to a harmonious existence.

So I ask, what makes western "exceptionalism" so exceptional in light of the long and rich history of China’s past? To which my only answer is the hope that we go into tomorrow with this in mind and truly devote to the study of Sustainability in the context of history and not in the simplified understanding,superiority and egoism of today’s science and rhetoric alone.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Breaking Down the Rhetoric

Rhetoric is great isn’t it? It makes us feel angry when needed, makes us feel safe when we want to turn a blind eye, and it makes us feel empowered when we want to do nothing. The Internet is full of rhetoric, isn’t it? Including this little blog you are reading, we too are guilty of perpetuating rhetoric.

 Here’s a good piece of rhetoric from

In this time — the blink of an eye in planetary time — we have achieved many amazing things. We have created unprecedented infrastructure, sanitation and education. We have transformed natural resources into everything from this laptop I am writing on to the sumptuous afternoon cakes we were tempted with at the forum. We have been prolific and imaginative, resourceful and creative.

During the session, we reviewed some high level graphs which showed that with the acceleration of many indicators of progress comes a similarly steep acceleration of our draw on our earth’s assets.

While we have pulled millions out of poverty, the global population has grown faster. Millions — in fact, more than 2.2 billion people — lived on less than $2 a day in 2011, according to the World Bank. 

Let’s break this down a bit: Sure, we did create unprecedented infrastructure, sanitation and education. But are they really worth praising? How much resources we have wasted creating unsound and unsustainable infrastructure? How much pollution we have created in the process and how many species we destroyed in that same process? Is our sanitation system really worth mentioning given that it is the exact pipeline that sends our pollution to nature to worsen the natural infrastructure we were given by the planet in the first place? What about our education? Are we teaching our kids the right things or are we breaking them down from their natural curious wisdoms to teach them to be clever and giving them knowledge that will only make things worse?

Yes, we are transforming natural resources to create laptops (including this one I’m using to communicate with you) and creating the “sumptuous afternoon cake” that is so tempting. But are most of our consumer goods really necessary to live a healthy and balanced life? Sure, super connectivity and inter-global collaboration are great, but amassed behavioral patterns can accelerate the good and the bad and that’s why we are in our little unsustainable predicament in the first place isn’t it?

Are we really “prolific and imaginative, resourceful and creative”? Or are we the fool to self-praise for the sake of avoiding our fear that we’ve gotten it wrong in the first place?

I have no answers and these are the questions you must answer for yourselves. I struggle each day to unlearn what I’ve been told to rediscover what are the right things to do while I enjoy my precious time on earth. The hardest part is I can’t do this alone and getting past the rhetoric to the real matter of things is difficult when everyone puts up the facade and conditions the global forum with this rhetoric pollution.

To unquote great Taoist teachings: learning is easy but wisdom is impossible if we do not abandon our perception of “knowledge” first. Unlearn to become a blank page and then adding what nature gives us is beyond the rhetoric of anthropomorphic praises – that is what global conversation about progress forward should really be reflected in our own minds.

To be fair, the above quote came from an article written by Dave Knight titled  "How to finally take science-based goals from rhetoric to reality". I have nothing against the article other than what I have mentioned about unlearning the rhetoric.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday Rant on "Clever People"

I run into a lot of very clever/smart people. People who have been working in a particular field for a number of years and calls themselves professionals. People who pride on their ability to do things correctly, efficiently, and for a lot of money.

These people often make quick judgments about others, about a situation, about a business. For the most part, their judgments are made with good reasoning. Well, if they are charging people $500 to $1000 per hour, I guess it pays to make these rushed judgments. But I always find their judgments lack a certain completeness. It drives me insane. For example, business consultants judge by the projected income on a potential investment; NGO professionals judge by the field of your employment to decide if you are worthy their time to advocate a cause. Lawyers are the worst of offenders. I try to stand against the norm I guess. I like talking to the single mom who is very involved in her community and her kids' schools, who is volunteering to protest, and to canvass neighborhoods to get people to recycle. I like chatting with the homeless even though they will never pay my hourly rates.

I think there are deeper things in each of us that are more than the passing appearances or the sum of our bank accounts. There is the human element that is often left outside the bustle of a commerce. "Cleverness, after all, has its limitations. . . . The thing that makes someone truly different--unique, in fact--is something that Cleverness cannot really understand." - the Tao of Pooh

So stop being clever and starting paying attention to how each of us fits together in this world of ours.

Cheers - Monday Rant by Jin.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
"Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rethink 2.0

You may have seen this around a bit. We started a new social purpose company in Ohio called BrainBox ltd. We started this company back in November and we've been busy since. Today, BrainBox is excited to share our most recent project: "East Price Hill Recycles" Campaign. As you recall, our first social venture was rethink i3. BrainBox is the second evolution of our efforts to become active participants of the new social movement that brings the crowd to social change.

The City of Cincinnati, in partnership with Rumpke Recycling, Green Umbrella, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, and Metro is launching an integrated recycling campaign in the neighborhood of East Price Hill in Cincinnati.

The campaign will on March 16th. We will be canvassing the 5,000 or so residential homes in Cincinnati's East Price Hill (EPH). Our primary goal is to increase and sustain curbside recycling participation in EPH. Our secondary goals are (1) identify barriers and benefits of recycling for the EPH community, (2) test the idea that the availability of interior bin for a household resolves a major barrier for sustained recycling behavior, and (3) raise awareness of recycling in general and specific challenges Rumpke Recycling faces and the community can assist. (For example, plastic bags can't be recycled and they jam a $32 million dollars Rumpke recycling operation.)

Businesses, schools, and community organizations will also be targeted, for a fully integrated approach.

Cincinnati's current curbside recycling participation rate averages 70%, making it a leader in the Mid-West. The city has a goal of becoming a national leader. It plans to targeted all 50 neighborhoods over the next 10-15 years. We hope to continue to gather important recycling data along the way.

While the commitment to sustainability and curbside recycling is very common in other cities, very few have the infrastructure necessary to measure the impact of such an undertaking. The City of Cincinnati has been lucky enough to incorporate Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID Tags) on all Rumpke recycling trucks. All recycling carts are given a specific Tag Identification Number. This allows the city to track every cart and to know when each specific cart is tipped by the recycling truck. This type of infrastructure is new in the world of curbside recycling and Cincinnati is one of the few cities in the country that has it giving city the measurement tools necessary to take on such a large effort. BrainBox is excited to be able to document its success and help continuously improve.

BrainBox ltd is a social purpose company dedicated to serving other social purpose companies and projects through our process management abilities and our understanding of social impact and collective actions and behavioral changes for the better. For more information about the company, please visit

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Chinese “Quality” Problem.

It is always dangerous to simplify a problem down to one root cause but sometimes you just have to take that risk and make a point.

I recently over heard some Chinese business people say they are not too concerned with the legal details or what will happen in some future date. They just want to get the contract signed now and get started working the deal and make money. These statements are made to answer questions I had about mitigating their risks down the road and helping them structure the best deal possible to anticipate what potential problems. Working in an American law firm has made me appreciate the small stuff, the tiny details and the seemingly not so important risks. The large firm experience taught me that something so small now can and will hurt you down the road. In fact, the Chinese business people came to me precisely because they didn’t care about the details in some distant past and just wanted to get started making money. So now they are having problems that they themselves caused and I’m trying to sort those out.

Unrelated to their legal issues are also quality problems of their products. Well, in this messy all connected world, their quality problem is also part of their current messy legal problem, but going into those details won’t matter to the point I’m trying to make here. What I think needs to be said is this: Chinese are not stupid, not lazy, not less than any other people. But somewhere in our history, we accepted the mentality that letting the details fall is not so important. This is also not prevalent in all aspects of the Chinese experience. In fact, growing up in China I recall how much I have to pay attention to the details in math classes. Getting a 99% was unacceptable. But somewhere between that demanding math education and the way Chinese do business and treat the rule of law, details become less important. Money now is what drives Chinese companies, not quality of product and doing things right for the long term.

So how is this a quality problem? Well, because the Chinese business people don’t think details are all that important, and are willing to sacrifice the few dollars now to avoid having to think through everything, they are not capitalizing the quality of product—legal or otherwise. And with this mentality carried over to the manufacturing production side, well you see the problem: why spend money fixing this small detail about this particular screw now when we can just roll this vehicle off the production line and count the income on our books? Same line of thinking as: why spend money now fixing this one word about this particular sentence because of this seemingly non-existence risk now when we can just move on with the adverse party and count the money in our pockets?

The Chinese quality problem, as I come to see it, is a lack of care for what the final product is. Money is what drives their decisions. Whatever happened to the old Chinese saying: 天道酬勤?