Revisiting UCC — Opening Remarks by Julia Huang and John Maeda

Unexpected connections are the simplest way of describing creativity. In its most basic form, it’s pattern recognition, and at its most complex, it’s a tangled web that humans have become surprisingly great at deconstructing.

Imprint and MAEKAN: Unexpected Connections is about celebrating those who have embraced new intersections around them in both positive and inventive ways.

Our format invites fascinating people from contrasting disciplines to talk and find an unexpected common ground. How does the tattoo artist connect with the sneaker designer? How can designers of different backgrounds link experience to great work?

Unexpected Connections is about the rich opportunity for exploration when two different vantage points are joined together.

In case you weren’t able to join us at Long Beach, we present select talks from the day, beginning with the event’s opening remarks by Intertrend’s Founder and President Julia Huang and John Maeda, technologist and head of inclusion and computational design at Automattic, WordPress’ parent company. Together the two share the stage and unpack John’s own insights over creativity and how he sees the world after a bad accident.

At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.

Julia: One of the questions that I get asked quite a bit is how do you know this person? How do you know her? How do you know him? And the next question inevitably is that: what do you guys talk about? And I think that that was the reason that I get asked that question quite a bit is because the connection, the relationship, the people that I know seems very random.

Hip-hop artist street artist, Pritzker Award architect, museum executive director, world class designers. So a lot of people are not quite sure why I would know those people. And today, This is actually our 12th year of doing something like this. And this is—the reason that we did this is that we thought that it would be interesting to have luminaries, geniuses, mavericks, creators, disrupters eccentrics—some people might call “crazy people”—nonconformist or just plain curious minds like mine and yours and put them in one room and see what kind of connections and what kind of communication starts to share their experiences and viewpoints. So while we’re not really audacious enough to say, “hey, let’s just throw all of these people in one room and see what happens.” What we are trying to do today is to throw curveballs at you guys because we all know that predictability stifles creativity and we really do not want to stifle creativity, and we are very aware that there are a lot of other conferences, workshops that you could learn stuff and acquire knowledge.

But I’d like to really suggest that you go throughout the day not thinking that you’re going to learn something or to acquire knowledge, but to make connections—connections with people, connections with ideas, connections with point of views. Connections with anything that you see: food, clothing, and just keep an open mind about what you can experience today. “Ichi-go, ichi-e. Is a term used in tea ceremonies. And if you Google it, which is what I did, it means that “every encounter is ephemeral and fleeting.” Which is true but. In all honesty, “ichi-go, ichi-e.” means that all the encounters and all the experiences you make at that moment, you will never be able to reenact that again. You might meet the same people. You might have the same conversation. You might even talk about the same topic. You might come to the same place, but ichi-go, ichi-e means that you will never be able to experience that moment that you made that connection. So what I would like to say is that, please, cherish the ichi-go, ichi-e today. Make that connection and I hope that I could make a connection with you as well.

So before I introduce our next speaker, I’d like to go through some housekeeping issues, so I have a cheat sheet. And this is the housekeeping issue is by the order of importance. First things first: restrooms. Bathrooms. It is outside. And contrary to the real world, it’s easier for the women. And it’s just out there—the female restroom, you just walk out and it’s there. If you’re a guy—tough luck. You have to walk all the way, go straight if you don’t see it, just go walk walk walk and you see it. And with your male instinct, I’m sure that you will find that bathroom (laughter). So lunch will be served and it is going to be catered by Local, which is owned by Roy Choi. It’s going to be fantastic.

You will have to go out downstairs to get that that lunch and apologies in advance is that you will have to go through the security again, but our volunteers will guide you to where you can eat that lunch. And as a reminder, the pin over here: please, guard it with your life because this will get you food I think you also have lunch tickets as well, but it will get you in here and it will also get you booze after this event at Long Beach art museum. If you don’t get this, no booze. So please do not lose it.

Please share your experience. This is a digital world, so we’d love for you to hashtag everything that you post and please hashtag #unexpectedconlb. And I’m just assuming that you’ll know how to spell that. And this is going to be a filmed event. And this is something that our lawyer wrote, but I’m going to make it a little bit shorter in that: by being here you give us an unauthorized right to use your—your picture might be taken. So I hope that’s okay. But it has to be okay. Because you’re here so you know so. So tough luck, again.

Also, you will see people wearing this kurogo. And this means that they should be able to answer any questions pertaining to this event. So please make sure that you seek them out. And then there is also a few people that are wearing custom t-shirts by David Choe, Amy Sol and Daigo Daikoku, which—just a little bit of advertising—you can purchase online an unexpected connection. But for the people that are wearing that today, please if you have any questions any questions pertaining to this event please seek them out and they’ll be able to help you as well. I think that’s it in terms of—I’ll have to introduce our next speaker Our first speaker for the day. (Music Break)

"Ichi-go, ichi-e." means that all the encounters and all the experiences you make at that moment, you will never be able to reenact that again. You might meet the same people. You might have the same conversation. You might even talk about the same topic. You might come to the same place, you will never be able to experience that moment that you made that connection.

So John Maeda is really one of the the people that I get asked just a lot. Why do I know John Maeda? He’s a technologist, he’s an academic,he’s a scientist. He’s a designer. He’s a content developer. He’s a venture capitalist. One of his reports, a white paper—it’s called Design in Tech—that he used to write during his tenure at Kleiner Perkins was one of the most anticipated reports on design and technology while he was there. So I’m going to have him come onstage, but there is one thing that I’m sorry. There is a couple of things about the housekeeping that I forgot is that phones: if you’re going to use flash because you could see that it’s very dark here. Please don’t use flash. Basically don’t use flash when you’re taking taking a picture because it might distract the speakers. And also if you could start to put your phone on mute because it’s it’s really kind of embarrassing—(radio interference) Sorry. (more radio interference)

Hello? John what you were supposed to be in Long Beach. Yeah. It’s now. What? You’re not gonna be here. But you’re gonna be coming as—what? (John Maeda’s hologram appears)

John: I made it. Here I am!

Julia: Okay. I guess this is better than nothing, John. You said that you were gonna share something with us that happened to you for people to expand.

John: Well, I hope they can realize what I’ve realized is that everything that happens to you can be turned into a new kind of energy. For instance, I tripped in the Silicon Valley area and I landed on my face and elbow. I shattered it. And I was lying there I thought I wasn’t in a good situation to be in you know when it’s broken and bleeding, you’re on the ground you’re just like a bag of flesh.

And so I realize nothing I did ever mattered. And so I had to find a way back to my Air BnB because all my technology wasn’t working. So what I did is I—every time I got up, I would like pass out. So like a Mars Rover, I got up and passed out steps and steps and went ten blocks and finally got to a hospital. And then when I got there, I realized that the person said I have to fill out the forms. I broke my arm. I can’t fill anything out. So I filled it out. Finally, the doctor comes in. Doctor says to me, “you look terrible.” And I said, “oh yeah. Thanks.” And he said, “but, can you move your neck?” And I can move my neck.

And when I moved my neck, I thought I’m so lucky that my neck moved a half hour later nurse comes to my office and says: “You look terrible. What were you doing.? And I said, “I was exercising.” And he said, “you shouldn’t exercise. That’s bad for your health.” And then he said, “were you wearing a reflective vest? And I said ‘no.’ He said, “you couldv’e been hit by a car.”

When he said that, I thought, “I’m so lucky I wasn’t hit by a car. My neck is okay. As I was being carted to surgery, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was I’m an Asian man. And when I realized I’m an Asian person I realized there was something here that I had to do. I found a connection. And that’s why I’m so focused on inclusion these days.

A holographic John Maeda.

Julia: Oh my God, John. I’m so glad you’re doing okay. Okay. I got the part about you being Asian man, and don’t exercise to be healthy And to wear a reflective vest. But I still don’t get that connection between this event and—

John: Oh, well, I like discovery. By discovering that I was Asian I realized I’m kind of a Type O minority as an Asian man. I can go anywhere. I can hang out with women I’ve been de-sexualized as an Asian man. I can hang out with Caucasian people African-American people. I’m okay everywhere because I’m a Type O blood minority. Because of this ability to go across, I can make many connections and in doing, so I discover new things about how the world is created. We can all take that energy into our work whether you’re a finance person, or a designer or a musician. And I find that by accepting the moment I’m going across and feeling uncomfortable. That’s when magic happens.

Julia: Okay. I think I got it a little bit better. So what you’re saying is that we should allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, be flexible in our thinking and think out of the box. Is there any.

John: Oh really falling down was amazing, because when I fell down, the neat thing when you fall down, Like, I’m sure some of you have fallen down, but when you’re falling down in a really bad situation, your mind sort of goes in super slow-mo. And so I could see myself falling and I knew it was bad and dangerous, but something about that just triggered a kind of a joy to be alive. And I think that the joy to be alive creates a kind of sense that you have to do something with your life. And so that moment forced me to ask: “Who are the kind of people I haven’t met before?” Maybe I should go to Detroit, inner city. Meet people I never met or maybe I should go to Appalachia, West Virginia to meet people who are the coal mining people. And so I’m meeting all these kinds of people I’ve been able to triangulate something kind of sad. And the sad thing is that technology connects us all, but only those who are privileged. And this is a huge problem today.

Julia: Well, I’m really glad that you’re doing okay, but leave it up to you, John, to use a traumatic unexpected incident to make a connection to how you want to view the world. Is there anything else more that you think that you want to?

John: Oh my gosh, like, I’m so glad I fell down. It was so awesome and terrible at the same time. I think for any of you to feel physical trauma and are lucky to recover from it, it’s a good luck moment in your life. Not only that it gives you perspective because for a long time I have been in my thirties, I worked with AARP, which is an organization that looks at when you get older. And in doing that in my 30s I knew I would get older someday. And I think at my age now, I’m 50 something, I realize that, but by getting in such a painful bad situation, I can project forward to how I’m going to feel all the time in 20 years from now. Like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to get moving.

Julia: You know, I don’t think you should equate getting old to an painful and bad experience. I think you’re going to scare half the people here away. But can you explain a little bit more or maybe tell us a little bit more what kind of connections you want to make in your 30s, in your 40s, in your 20s or even.

John: Well, I’m really hopeful that I can get to meet more people. I think that I’ve had the luxury of meeting people from all over the world but also don’t know many people inside the United States. I hope to meet all kinds of people and knowing them. Know their different kinds of—I don’t know if it sounds right—but knowing how they suffer in ways I have not suffered, know how they’ve been happy in ways I’ve not been happy. And in doing so I think for all creative people knowing more kinds of people just makes you more creative.

I hope I fall down again actually. Actually not. But I hope for more of these kinds of collisions that hurt because to that pain, you find something brand new.

Julia: Well I certainly hope you don’t have to hurt yourself to get another epiphany. John, as you know you are actually opening up or kicking off the day of Unexpected Connections. What do you think you could tell the people over here what to expect, what not to expect, what to plan, what not to plan. And do you have any sage advice or anything that you could tell them?

John: Definitely. First of all, I hope all of you talk with people you don’t know because when you’re in a big gathering, you hang out with your friends. And the reality is that your friends know you, so that’s all set. But knowing new people is key. The second thing is notice all the actors in the background: people who are making the event happen. People are taking care of the dining. I think when you connect to everyone who’s there and you treat them as a full member of the event you’re in, the event changes it becomes more personal, it becomes more Interesting and ultimately more memorable.

Julia: Well that’s perfect.

John : I’m ready to be beamed up into whatever form I was put in to get here!

Julia: (laughs) Okay, bye John. Bye bye!

I hope to meet all kinds of people and knowing them. Know their different kinds of—I don't know if it sounds right—but knowing how they suffer in ways I have not suffered, know how they've been happy in ways I've not been happy. And in doing so I think for all creative people knowing more kinds of people just makes you more creative.
  1. Opening Remarks
  2. “Future of Creativity”
  3. “The Role of Science in the Realm of Creativity”
  4. “Unscripted”
  5. “Today & Tomorrow: The Evolution of a Digital Creator”
  6. “Creating Culture, Communities, and Movements”
  7. “Building Communities and Constantly Reinventing the Tried and True”
  8. “Pushing for Truth in Storytelling and Narratives that Inspire Action”
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