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Posts from the ‘Inspiration’ Category



Along with the buy ban, I’ve been focused on the concept of simplicity lately. The serene, nature-filled days of Tulum brought on a lot of thought and inspiration since returning home around how much more simply I could be living… and how much more space I could be creating in my life for new ideas, new inspiration, new activities… new priorities.

It was hard not to notice the sharp contrast between worlds. Of course things will always be very different on a vacation when compared with every day living. However, there was something about getting power from the sun, water from the rain, getting up with the sun, and getting in tuned with the moon and tidal patterns that are invigorating and pure. Life in the city means a whole other world of thought, decision-making, and priorities. The constant barrage of noise, cues of what’s important, things to buy, and conflicting things competing for your attention and time.

Coming back, I wanted to simplify and maintain some semblance of the connection I felt while I was away to nature, the natural cycles and rhythms of nature, and more space for more inspired thought.

All very conceptual and abstract, so naturally, the first place I started was… my closet.

Why the closet. I see it as a material symbol of how much clutter I have in my life. It’s also something I have to see and make decisions about daily. As a physical, tangible thing, I felt it would be worth attacking as a step towards the larger effort to simplify. Not a shelf, rail, or drawer was left untouched. On average, I purged a third to half of what I had, and the result has been incredibly liberating and eye-opening. I simply haven’t needed all these things – but better yet, someone else may have use for it. So the bag of clothes and other accessories are going to a Mennonite-run clothing drop-off location, whereas I have more space already.


LEGO turns 80: Brand storytelling at its best

LEGO turns 80 this month and in tribute of the occasion, they have created a 17-minute animated short film sharing the history behind their iconic bricks. At 17 minutes, the film is rather long for the typical brand-inspired film, particularly considering the ever-shrinking attention span of the average person. And yet, the video has been watched by well over 2 million people. I don’t know about them, but I watched the entire video. All 17 minutes worth.

The film is a great example of brand storytelling done exceptional. A few of my thoughts on why:

  1. The founder’s story: tying any brand story back to the company’s origins (which are usually humble and involving personal hardship) tends to be interesting, especially when they are tied to a person who endured and persevered through hardships as those overcome by Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of LEGO. A strong founder’s story is inspiring, relatable, and even heart-wrenching. At its best, bringing a founder’s story to life is a powerful tool in strengthening emotional attachment of fans, and establishing a tie with those who are not yet fans. LEGO’s founder is someone that fans can relate to, cheer on and hope does well… even when we know he eventually must, as we know what LEGO is today.
  2. Emotive story themes: Personal difficulty, perseverance, hard work, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to quality – the hallmarks of a brand that every customer can get behind, and ones that not every brand can attest to. LEGO has wrapped layer after layer of their brand story in these elements, making the extra effort to tie their commitment to quality to the craftsman story of the original wooden toys LEGO created. Smart, because carpentry is something a customer can easily relate craftsmanship to. More so than the plastic block.
  3. Personal narration: The film is narrated by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the grandson of Ole Kirk Christiansen. Initially, the narrator is unnoticed as just a voice, but eventually, it’s subtly and then not too subtly revealed that he’s a member of the family. Strong, because with the close familial ties to not only the founder but also LEGO, the narration, founder, and company suddenly become even more relatable and relevant. We’re listening to a man tell the story of his grandfather’s start and slow establishment of his company. Even though Kjeld is no longer the President and CEO of LEGO, it doesn’t matter. It’s still his family’s company, and as fans, we are more closely tied to his story because it is told through his eyes.
  4. Sincerity and authenticity: the story is told in a matter-of-fact sort of way that is approachable, simple, and authentic without any bells and whistles. Not to say that every story should be told in this way, but stories rooted in authenticity further resonate with fans. They are also more believable.
  5. Alignment to brand values: Alongside the story themes, which are compelling, and also selected in close alignment to LEGO’s brand values, the way LEGO’s story is told – methodically without too much excitement or embellishment – is also closely aligned to LEGO’s brand values. A brand story should always be consistent with the brand values and positioning. It seems obvious, but surprising how often it’s not well executed.
  6. Informative: Even for the biggest LEGO fan, the film offers you something new about the company you may not have known before. Did you know that LEGO comes from the Danish words “leg godt” for “play well”? LEGO also means “I put together” in Latin – a lucky, unplanned aspect of the name.

Apart from these aspects, the film is, of course very well executed in a Pixar-style animation. That level of quality in a video always helps.

In any case, happy 80th birthday, LEGO. I hope there are many more years of playing well to come.

3D printed “magic arms” makes arm movement possible for 2-year old, Emma

Little Emma Lavelle was born with a genetic disorder, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), which causes stiff joints and very underdeveloped muscles – meaning Emma would never be strong enough to lift or use her arms.

Enter the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), created by Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. The device was a combination of hinged metal bars and resistance bands that together could prop up the underdeveloped arms of children like Emma. The benefit? The WREX would allow children to finally be able to hold up and move their arms independently. Playtime and feeding were now possible. As luck would have it, Emma’s mom was present at a conference where members of the research and design team were giving a presentation, demonstrating its uses. In the demonstration, a boy with underdeveloped arms was able to use his arms with the support of the WREX.

Could this be the solution they were looking for?

However, after discussing and meeting Emma and her parents, the Nemours team found that their WREX device was far too big and heavy for the small, two year old girl. It was also designed for use with a wheelchair, and Emma could walk on her own.

The solution: their Stratasys 3D printer. They normally used the printer to make prototypes of their designs, this time, the printer would be used to make the real thing. And what a success! Not only could the parts be customized for Emma’s size, but the new WREX was now light enough for Emma to walk around with and to use. Playtime and feeding became possible, and most of all, she could now hug her mom.

Bringing light into some of the poorest parts of the Philippines

They call him “Solar Demi”. The man known in their community as the god-send who is illuminating their homes. Demi is a volunteer who is a part of the Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Litre of Light) project.

The latest brainchild of Illac Diaz of the MyShelter Foundation, Isang Litrong Liwanag is a project that aims to bring sustainable lighting to some of the poorest communities in the Philippines. The concept, designed and developed by students at MIT, is surprisingly simple. Filtered water and a few tablespoons of bleach are placed into a 1L plastic bottle and a metal sheet is affixed around the bottle with a sealant to seal the seams. A hole the circumference of the bottle is then punched into the metal sheet roof of the home, and the bottle is placed through the hole and attached to the roof. The result: a previously dark home that relied heavily on electrical connections, that can be faulty and present fire hazards, can now be illuminated with free, and clean solar light during the day.

Each eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulb transmits the equivalent of approximately 55-60 watts of light from the sun, and can last up to 5 years. The bleach in the filtered water prevent algae from building up in the bottle, extending the life of the simple bulb.

As of this year, over 10,000 bottle lights have been installed in underprivileged homes across Manila and the nearby province of Laguna. Isang Litrong Liwanag and MyShelter Foundation aim to install bulbs to light up a million homes by 2012.

To make a donation, or to volunteer for this amazing cause, go to Isang Litron Liwanag.

reCAPTCHA: tiny acts towards big social impact

If you’ve ever purchased or subscribed to something online, chances are you’ve come across CAPTCHA: A series of graphically distorted letters that you need to type into a box to prove you’re not a spambot. A necessary nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless.

Enter Luis von Ahn, one of the minds behind the original CAPTCHA. After finding out that approximately 200 million CAPTCHAs are typed in every day, with about 10 seconds used per entry, meaning humanity as a whole is generally wasting 500 thousand hours every day on filling out CAPTCHAs, Luis decided to do something about it. He created reCAPTCHA.

The significance of reCAPTCHA is that leverages the authentication process people are already completing to help digitize books one word at a time. Many online vendors and companies have switched to using reCAPTCHA in the last few years, so much so that as many as 100 million words are being digitized daily by you and I. How’s that for a tiny contribution towards big social impact? Pretty impressive.

But Luis himself speaks to all of this far better than I. Watch his TEDx talk on reCAPTCHA in the video below.

Girl Effect


The Girl Effect was created by The Nike Foundation in collaboration with partners like the United Nations Foundation and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. Since then, there have been a number of initiatives and organizations that have taken on the movement with their own campaigns that focus on girls in combating poverty and illiteracy.

You might ask – why the focus on girls? Here’s a short explanation by USAID that I think says it best.

Assume this initial condition: A 13 year old girl stands at a crossroads with two choices before her: school or child marriage. The problem is it’s not usually a choice.Married, she is more likely to die from childbirth at an early age; she is more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases; she is more prone to become a victim of partner violence; she never receives an education; and she is unable to contribute to society in a way that has a larger social impact and helps to push the human race forward.With an education she marries later in life—to someone she chooses. She decides the timing of her children and is in a position to make decisions about her own health. She invests money in her children’s health and education, and is able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Other people recognize her value and contributions, and begin to understand that all girls have value.Multiply that scenario by the 600 million girls in the developing world and it’s easy to comprehend how a small change in an initial condition is capable of determining the course of humanity. That is powerful.The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart.

That’s a powerful message – and the brilliant design and execution of this campaign make the message even more powerful.

For more information about the girl effect and/or to contribute to the cause, go to

Table for Two

I said “see you soon” to a dear friend today. The prospect of the future feels full of hope and potential, but I can’t help but also feel the pull of a past flooded with good memory and friendship.

I thought this picture was the perfect representation of both.

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