Essays, Thoughts, and Divulgences

My Quest for the Infinite Shape: An Ode to the Mysterious Void of Space and Time

Could there be such a thing as an infinite shape, where boundaries are a mirage and the end simply becomes the beginning again?  If time had form, what shape would it take?  I guess it’s hard for our humble minds to fathom a world beyond three dimensions.  We are bound to three dimensions and we see all shapes as finite, with a definite beginning and end.  The volume of a sphere, the size of a car, and the surface area of a chair are all measurable.  Perhaps if we break outside of the confines of our three dimensions, there is a way to imagine indefinite shapes—like looking into two mirrors set facing each other to reveal an infinite world.

The idea of infinity amazes me.  Couldn’t understanding infinity on a higher level be the key to understanding the universe?  If the universe has an infinite form and the end is the beginning, I could be in two places at once, like a superhero with quantum powers.  The universe could be repeating itself like a fractal for all we know, but a girl can dream.


The Arts Remain Relevant in a Futuristic Society

Stephen Hawking recently predicted that humans will have to leave earth in 1000 years because our actions will create an inhospitable planet.  Never mind that our collective ignorance is leading to the destruction of the only world we have known.  Only time will tell if Hawking’s foreboding is accurate.  With this in mind, Stephen Hawking is not to be ignored.  If the average lifespan is 100 years, it means that we would have about ten generations to figure out how to facilitate one of the greatest human migrations in history.  It would be an undertaking of Interstellar proportions—a task we are currently not equipped to do.  It is heartbreaking to think that a future generation may never know the grandeur of the Roman Colosseum or see the emotion behind Monet’s paintings or feel the excitement of a Puccini finale.  We have made much progress as a species and our collective body of work—the knowledge that we have developed—is our greatest achievement.  Our very survival will depend on it.  Our artistic history is an inherent part of our body of work—our cultural heritage.  It would be a mistake not to bring it with us.  And I believe it will continue to help shape our journey, wherever we end up.  Throughout history, art has played a major role in our cultural identity.  Here are some examples of the arts in action.

Art allows us to connect with our emotions in a healthy and constructive way.  Art21’s Season 8 episode on Chicago showed how the Dorchester Arts District used arts engagement to turn a violent neighborhood around by incorporating shared arts spaces in the community.  Founder Theaster Gates believes that when art and culture are present, it paves the way for new possibilities and changes communities.  The neighborhood has already seen improvements.

There are studies that show how music aids learning development in children, enhancing their ability to understand concepts absorbed in the classroom.  Studies have also shown that dopamine is released when people listen to music, which is why music therapy is so promising.  Non-profit organization Resounding Joy uses music therapy to help veterans and their children cope with PTSD and improve emotional health.  Maintaining emotional health is also important for astronauts.  A BBC news segment showed how space station astronauts actively play music in space; psychiatrists recommend music for them because it is necessary for mental health. When living in what is basically a vacuum for long periods, the isolation can have adverse emotional effects.  In Predictive Analytics, Eric Siegel notes that music helps expedite stroke patient recovery and improves mood.  Memory and attention span are also improved.  Research shows that arts and music help people develop new neurons, which may explain the neurological benefits.  If you want to keep your mind malleable and fluid, learn a new language or pick up a new instrument.

Art spurs creativity, which is what people need to innovate effectively.  Arts engagement helps with creative problem solving, speaking, teamwork, and self-confidence.  IDEO believes that creativity is what keeps organizations ahead in the market.  IDEO leaders explained how employees use improv in team building exercises to spur creativity.  Improv is relevant to IDEO for several reasons: teams are expected to listen, defer judgement, use playacting as a form of prototyping, and be compelling storytellers—all totems of the IDEO method.  Storytelling makes strategy accessible because it engages people.  An increasing number of business schools, like Stanford, are requiring MBA students to learn and apply management techniques through role playing.  Some even record their students in the process, so they can be reviewed and critiqued.  Why the drama?  The most innovative b-schools know that these exercises help strengthen soft skills that senior leaders need to manage successfully.

The arts do not just help with soft skills and creativity, they also have practical applications.  Rocket scientists are looking at origami to find creative ways to fold satellites for transport and unfold them in orbit.  On a smaller scale, the pill robot makers already used origami successfully to develop new non-invasive medical treatments.  A swallowed pill contains a small robot that would unfold itself to perform small procedures inside a patient, eliminating the need for heavy-duty surgery.

On a more innate level, art is the direct representation of the human ability to create.  Creativity is the essence of human intelligence.  Being creative is part of who we are as people—it is in our DNA.  And art fosters creativity, allowing us to develop our minds and engage with the world on a higher level.  That is why art is so fundamental to our existence.  It was the first humans that exercised their creative abilities to realize the power of toolmaking, using those tools to hunt, gather, and defend.  Early humans used art and music to hold a society together.  This developed their ability to create and innovate: they conveyed complex ideas in a way the Neanderthals could never communicate, sharing stories and ideas.  Coordinating and engaging.  This creativity helped human civilizations around the world rise.  Anthropologists believe that without these advanced forms of social communication, Neanderthals fell behind and became extinct.

We preserve our cultural identity through various art forms.  Keeping tradition alive through art is one of the most powerful ways art remains significant.  Countless cultural traditions, like artisanship, language, and customs have remained relevant because its art is still alive.  The resulting art form is not only a symbol of cultural tradition, it is a clue to the history of our past—just as song connects us to the moods and stories of the past.  Relics from cultures that are long gone continue to tell the story of their people, whether they are educating the public in museums or studied in detail by researchers.  It is amazing what an old vase can tell us about how the people lived by answering questions like what kind of paints were used, what was it used to hold, and what was the social status of its owner.  The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene recognizes that culture can survive through art and is proactively using theater to preserve the Yiddish language.


Powerful Messages Are Conveyed Through Art

Though the arts can be considered ancillary, its absence can be deeply felt because it is so ingrained into the fabric of our humanity.  We do not need it to survive, but we all know that just surviving isn’t really living.  It is not a STEM discipline—though some art forms, like light and space, require a mix of all those.  It is the piece sitting squarely atop the pyramid that represents an elevated sense of fulfillment which rounds out our lives.  Without it, we cannot thrive.





“Aesthetic force,” not rational thought, has created some of the most powerful changes.

Some of the world’s most powerful messages have been conveyed through art.

“art offers a glimpse into the minds and imaginations of the people who create it.”

The Mystique of Japanese Practices: Wisdom From My Studies Abroad


There is always that sense of hectic craze when one travels.  And when the trip is for a prestigious study abroad program, there is the added burden of trekking with school supplies and business suits.  For the record, school supplies include a too-heavy-for-travel laptop.  The symptoms are unmistakable: the heated rush of stressed travelers already overburdened by the weight of their possessions after the first ten minutes, heavy and hurried footsteps that crescendo with every arrival and departure, the nonverbal complaints expressed at the sight of security lines, the distant hums of aircraft which add to the predictable cacophony of the airport, and the growing excitement of fellow fliers at every mention of the destination.   Travel is a lot of work, but why we travel has much to do with our innate curiosity about the world.  We travel to experience something outside of the norm of our daily lives.  We travel to learn about other places and people.  We travel to explore other customs and traditions.  And when we travel for school, we get the added bonus of seeing the other side of the world through a special lens that zooms in on local business customs, professional practices, and social issues.

This time, I landed in Tokyo with my Corporate Governance class.  Our class had the privilege of gaining insights from local leaders that normal travelers would never access.  After all our company visits, I learned three important things about business in Japan: public opinion is a big component of legal cases, continuous innovation is a necessity even at the most archetypical companies, and external influence is a challenge in an increasingly global world.

At Nagashima Ohno, & Tsunematsu law firm, partner Akihisa Shiozaki discussed the Olympus accounting scandal as one of the lawyers involved in the case.  The most poignant takeaway from his discussion was that public opinion can make or break a case.  This was why his client, the former CEO of Olympus, went to the press about the fraud.  In Japan, suits have to win in the courts and in public opinion, or all effort is lost.  This is an interesting feature of the legal landscape in Japan and differs from the US legal system, where legality is more black and white.  The public opinion requirement adds a human dimension to legal cases that can represent an extra challenge for firms.  Laws can be easy to interpret, but people can be hard to convince given all their biases and perceptions.

At Toyota, one of the most archetypical companies, and creator of some of the most iconic business practices like Just-in-Time production, we learned about Toyota’s need and philosophy for continuous improvement.  The team shared with us their belief that innovation is the key to continuous improvement.  This idea embodies the Japanese idea of kaizen and it permeates every aspect of business at Toyota.  To achieve this, the company looks at core building blocks of products to find ways to simplify processes and add value for customers.  Each new model becomes the base for later models, with improvement sought at each new iteration of a product.  For example, the increased use of laser welding has made the new Prius body more responsive, which feels sportier to the driver.  Continuous improvement like this allows Toyota to stay relevant and keep making cars that are fun to drive.


At several of our company visits, we learned that it is difficult being an outsider in Japan.  It can be difficult to understand this, given the US culture of a melting pot society.  US organizations are more accepting of diverse opinions and outside influences.  In Japan, this is not so.  External board members are supposed to represent the independent voice in the corporations they serve, but are often disregarded.  Foreign executives often find they have little leverage in their companies because employees are loyal to certain Japanese leaders.  Foreign residents may never fit in or secure a future in Japan unless they speak the language.  Because of these obstacles, outsiders may find it difficult to do business successfully in Japan.

Despite all of the challenges in Japan, there are abundant opportunities.  Japanese ingenuity will pave the way for future growth.  Tokyo is such a strong financial center, with amazing industry, life, and energy.  I’ve only witnessed a slice of Japanese life, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever return to see the rest of it, I bring home a bit of Tokyo with me in the experiences I have gained.

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What I appreciate about the Japanese:
-Japanese efficiency and innovation
-Adherence to values and tradition
-Hospitality and respect
-Public toilets that actually invite you to sit down

Returning back home after all the hubbub of travel always requires an adjustment.  I re-learn to settle back in to the rhythm of my daily life—and the work that is waiting for me.  I catch up on my life, and, if I’m lucky, pick up right where I left off.  Of course, I am comforted to return to my loved ones and the life that I left behind.  After every trip, I always return appreciating home a bit more—grateful for the life that I lead, the people I share it with, and the opportunities I have seized.  And when that travel bug gets me again, I will be seizing the next opportunity to journey abroad once more.


The Mondragon Experience


Originally written July 20, 2015

The study abroad program in Mondragon was a great way to see firsthand how a cooperative model works.  Being overseas in Spain and learning from locals in the Mondragon cooperatives is the best way to see how business with a purpose can succeed globally.  It was eye-opening to see the strides that Mondragon has made with its employee-centered initiatives.  It was even better learning that they became successful enough to scale globally and now have operations all over the world.

The Mondragon model is an interesting one because it is imbued into the fabric of the entire community.  Mondragon is not just one company, but an entire network of cooperatives working together to achieve the same goal.  The overarching mission of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is to create and retain jobs.  All of their strategies and developments center around this one mission.  They achieve this by forming a strong network of cooperatives where each one supports another.  It is the interlocking of dependency and cooperation that gives Mondragon cooperatives their resiliency.  If one cooperative is struggling, there are resources available from the others to keep it afloat.  If one factory is closed, workers can be relocated to other cooperatives.

This concept of pooling and sharing resources should be the main takeaway for American businesses.  Not only is it a great way to weather downturns, but it can be a powerful tool for sharing best practices and making the entire community better.  It makes an organization more resilient.  It also has the potential to extend the reach of an organization.  Each organization’s impact is limited to its individual capacity.  But when organizations team up, the collective impact will always be bigger than each individual member’s impact alone.  The power of pooling is an amazing phenomenon that Mondragon has mastered well and American organizations can try to borrow some of the same ideas to become more efficient.


See the Ahler’s Center version (published 4/4/16) of my post here and see all my pretty pictures:
Ignore their changes (errors included)


Adventure Japan


It was day two here in Tokyo.  What a bustling and interesting city–with so many people, so many lights, and so many places to see.  It was a crazy last 24 hours for me.  I did so much, from staying in my first capsule hotel, having breakfast overlooking the river, doing a peaceful and highly frigid morning river walk, to cycling around the Imperial Palace, to cruising on the beautiful Sumida River to Odaiba, to getting a little bit lost, to hauling my luggage up and down several flights of stairs, to missing the ferry and ending up changing my plans… I’m tired and it is a fantastic feeling.  There is still so much more to see.  The city is enormous and it is hard to imagine the enormity until you get here.  The symptoms are unmistakable: constantly underestimating walking times, thinking areas on maps are closer than they really are, REALLY TIRED FEET, aches and pains, sweating, being reminded of Vegas when the feet start hurting…

I could go on, but I’m just going to sleep. Peace. Out.

A Walk in the Park

“It was a beautiful, spring-like day when I arrived at the meeting site to start the guided walk.”

Read more in my Sway presentation below.

I Hate Batteries

I hate batteries.  They have a limited life and cannot be repurposed or recycled, unless they are the more coveted cellphone and laptop batteries.  Even then, who knows what really happens with those.  Most e-recycling drives almost never accept good old alkaline batteries and some only do for a fee.  Most batteries then end up in landfills, albeit illegally in most places.  In an increasingly digital world, the reliance on batteries will only increase, so companies try to build better and better batteries, knowing the end user will ultimately discard the product.  A true cradle to grave experience.  We’re not talking about throwing away rice paper here.  Batteries are not made of simple, renewable materials.  A battery is an odd concoction of metals and toxic chemicals–of poisons and rare earth.  Spent batteries are not empty; they still contain precious metals and harmful materials. Burying them in landfills leaks chemicals into the environment, poisoning soil and ground water.  Incinerating them pollutes the atmosphere, spewing carcinogens and irritants into the air we breathe.  Burning them can also cause dangerous explosions.  Trying to recycle them may be naive, for breaking them down into their respective elements to reuse the metals or chemicals is a tedious and toxic process.

I’d like to see a world where batteries become irrelevant to our everyday lives.  There has to be a way to store and use energy without batteries.  Let’s explore the properties of kinetic and potential energy and exploit that relationship to create something we’ve never seen before.  Let’s push boundaries, come up with crazy ideas, be creative, and turn ideas into practical solutions that help develop a more sustainable future.  Perhaps we need to look to nature and figure out how plants, animals, and even humans do a better job of storing energy organically than batteries do.  We are only beginning to scratch the surface of biomimicry and I believe it will do great things for us.  True, in the grander scheme of things, batteries may not be eliminated entirely.  We may always need batteries for backup generators, defibrillators, Tesla cars, or even homes.  But drastically lessening our reliance on them would be one small step for mankind in maintaining a sustainable way of life.  Even great breakthroughs like solar energy cannot be called 100% sustainable until the energy storage problem is resolved.  Currently, excess energy can either be stored in a battery or be used.  There has to be a better way.

The Last Cent


I spent all of my euros except for a penny.  How curious that my last cent is a 2015 Espana coin.  I think I’ll keep it for good.  This trip was a great one and it was a study abroad experience I’ll remember fondly.  I enjoyed the talks we had and the visits we got to do.  We had class in a castle and excellent lunches there.  I’ll think about the people I got to know and about the themes of companionship and community, which occurred inside and outside of the classroom.  The Mondragon life and its worker cooperatives was a great subject and going there to see it in action was like observing a live case study.  My next challenge is figuring out how to bring the cooperative ideals we learned into practice not just for my paper, but for my work as well.  Studying abroad in a foreign place makes me appreciate how hard it is to live in a language that is not my own and I have new respect for those who have worked hard to become fluent in a language that is not their own.  I don’t know how the international students in my program do it.

As for now, I will be thinking about that paper I have to write.  I am glad to be home doing normal everyday things.  Travel is exhausting and it is good just to wind down.  Being in my bed, doing my laundry, and eating home-cooked food are what I look forward to when coming home.  Ah…the domestic life.  But of course, the next destination will always be in mind, so I have language tips for the adventurous.

Travel Phrases to know in every language:
-Hello, thank you
-Do you speak English?
-Where are restrooms?
-How much does it cost?
-The check/bill please
-Where is?/What is?
-Numbers 1-10
-I need water/food/the menu/tickets

Mercury Rising As We Go Further South


View from train

It is 6:56pm and I am on a train. I left the beautiful and temperate Basque Country three and a half hours ago. The weather shows the difference.  This sun-scorched part of Spain reminds me of home…or parts of western Australia, except barren and immaculate. There’s something about being rocked in a train for a few hours that gives me the urge to break into song.  But I settle for humming quietly to myself while I stare out the window onto the captivating landscape. There’s the feeling that this part of the trip is over-extended and that I should be flying home instead.  I know it’ summer here, but somehow, summer just isn’t summer without the SoCal sun and surf. #BestCoastAir

But I’ll just take it easy. Sleep a lot. And think about my 20-page paper I’ll be coming back to.

To the next town

I can’t describe the feeling I am getting this time around during my last night in Bilbao.  It is like homesickness…or a feeling of missing something or someone, but I don’t know who or what. Wanting. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way while travelling–maybe this is the first.  I leave this beautiful  city fully appreciative of an awesome introduction to Spanish culture–and cuisine.  Bilbao couldn’t be a better place to kick off Spain travel.  I am also glad that I made it in one piece and that I leave fulfilled and ready for the next destination.  That bittersweet sentiment of parting with a place I have grown to love tinkers in the background of my consciousness, but somehow I think the thought of home lingers with me more.