Revisiting UCC —
"The Role of Science in the Realm of Creativity" with Jason Mayden & Jun Cha
Photos by Christina Choi
Photos by Christina Choi
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 one of the first talks of the day, Eugene Kan moderates a talk between Jayson Mayden, CEO of children’s play company Super Heroic and tattoo and fine artist Jun Cha. Despite seemingly unrelated fields, both have witnessed the unfortunate reality of death at an early age, life-altering moments that have subsequently impacted their outlook on the world around them and how they create. The three discuss the role played by science and structure in the creative process and how it impacts their respective roles.
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.
Eugene: He’s a native of Chicago. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Super Heroic, a company focused on reinventing play for children. If you’re not familiar with him, Jun Cha, many people would consider him to be well on his way to becoming a master in his craft of tattooing. (applause)
So my first question is and this is something that I find really fascinating—I’ll start with Jun, and if you go on Jun’s Instagram, it’s super serious all black and white. But as I get to know him and as I’ve gotten to know him over the years, it seems like it’s a disconnection between that world that he shares and his personality. So my question to you is what do you think someone sees in you or what do they think of you? And what do you think is the reality. How would you describe yourself?
Jun: In terms of what they perceive on social media? And you’re basing your reality off of what you see on your phone. Your question is what is their version of me in reality?
Eugene: Exactly! Or the version they think of you.
Jun: Well, if you get to know me, I just enjoy—I think the problem with social media is you’re painting this fake version of what you think is you or your brand or whatever it is. And, reality is different: you can talk, you can look people in the eye and there’s a whole different thing. So I’m just like everyone else: normal; I’ve got shit to do. (audience laughs)
Eugene: That’s a good point, though, I’ll come back to you. Because I’ll ask Jason the same thing: do you think the reality of what you put yourself out and the world is the same as the person they meet?
Jason: For me I would say, yes, I have to be congruent and consistent in how I show up because I work with kids. And so in order to enable trust and scale trust in my industry for what I’m focused on, like, I can’t be one thing in public and then be a scumbag behind the scenes. It doesn’t allow for transparency and honesty because we do care deeply about who we serve because they’re so little.
Jun: To his point, that just authenticity: if you’re gonna be just you all the time, your social media—everyone’s talking about “brand, brand and branding” all the time so if you’re just authentically do what you do, whether it’s what you create or whatever you’re producing, it reflects when you actually meet people in person. And if you’re really fake, it’s going to come across very easily. So, yeah.
Eugene: But do you find it difficult and do you find it a wear on you to always have to create siloed versions of yourself, because maybe it’s different for you because you’re a “brand” and when people go on your account, they’re looking for Jun Cha the tattoo artist.
Jun: Mm hmm. Well, yeah, I don’t consciously wake up and think “can I make silos of myself?” I just create work and I enjoy share things I do and I try to focus on what is the best work that I can do. And then how did people respond to it, that’s up to them. The more you curate and try to control people’s perceptions of what you think they’re going to take about what you do I think the more as an artist you’re going to get lost in worrying about all that useless energy. For me so for me, my process has to do with what is it that I am thinking about consuming and at the end of the day putting out to the world?
Eugene: And then I guess this is tips into the discussion that I was inspired by is, obviously someone like yourself, Jason, you’re very into the world of science and how do you view the relationship between science and creativity?
Jason: I think they go hand-in-hand when we look at behavioral traits of children and adults. Science is just the act of discovering and measuring these discoveries. Any creativity is an exploration of thought and then you manifest things in the physical world or in the audio world—whatever it is, whatever the output of your creative endeavor. But in the science realm, we have a hypothesis: we’re trying to figure out a problem. It’s the same thing with creativity and great design whether it’s self-expression or innovation. It truly is what is it you’re trying to do. What’s the outcome you hope to achieve and is this scalable and repeatable. If not then what’s the commentary back to the viewer?
They’re so intertwined that it’s hard to separate the two. And I think that’s why you don’t see a lot of people getting into the creative arts as much as we used to because they feel like, “what, is it an actual tangible career path? Is it immeasurable? Is it consistent?” But, I mean, this is living proof. We can create different things in different genres, but the reason behind it is always gonna be the same. There’s something inside of us we want to get out into the world. We don’t feel like fitting within the confines of one category and we just create. Living in Silicon Valley, it makes it a little bit weird because everything has to be quantified, but so much of what we do you can’t put a number behind. So that tension I think is necessary to encourage and unlock the next generation of great creatives.
Eugene: And for you, Jun. Would you say that you’ve always had that scientific underpinning to what you do? That’s why I brought this up: before we met, we would talk about stuff, but then suddenly one time, I was like, “hey, you had like a book that you’d been reading and that unlocked in my eyes a different perspective from you.
Jun: Well, I guess curiosity has been a big part about just my not only my process, but just I’ve always had that obsessive curiousity: I just want to know what’s what’s going on. Iust like what you see kids naturally do; they’re curious about everything. And luckily that never left me. So science if you think about it is really just almost the evolution of that whole thought process. And if you think about what science is—people just use that word like a blanket terms—but if you just simplify the scientific method has to do with dissecting the world to understand nature better in terms of how we perceive it as human beings.
Eugene: So nature is the foundation to how you look at science and your interaction with science?
Jun: That train of thought, if you’re going to dissect the world, it’s through defining objective truth, which for me as an artist, is the counterbalance to how I behave as an artist. Creativity is very subjective. As artists, we’re always driven by emotion or creating things off intuition. We got this feeling about a piece of music that we’re gonna create or artwork that we’re going to create, or a shoe we’re gonna design, which is great, but sometimes intuitions are incorrect. Sometimes you’re completely wrong about your muse day and science is kinda like a balance to that. So for me, it’s like the integration between the two.
The more you curate and try to control people's perceptions of what you think they're going to take about what you do I think the more as an artist you're going to get lost in worrying about all that useless energy. For me so for me, my process has to do with what is it that I am thinking about consuming and at the end of the day putting out to the world?
— Jun Cha, on shifting mental energy away from brand perception.
Eugene: And then Jason, you touched upon it about the process. Do you think that—as a creator, as a creative—taking a more regimented process that you see within science and applying it into the lens of creativity, is there value there?
Jason: It depends on a person and the medium. I think for me, coming from an athletic background is the only way I can look at improvement. Because if I don’t know what I did, I couldn’t measure it or I can’t repeat it, I don’t know how to improve it. So I think having process in anything brings discipline in order to do something like what we do, it takes an extreme amount of discipline. You consistently are pulling things from your mind and convincing people to believe it before it’s complete. In my case, it is giving children and parents the belief that by wearing this product, there is some type of behavior change or emotional lift. And then they trust that as they put the product on, they transform into a superhero.
I mean, Jun, where I can imagine it’s probably even more critical to have a process is that people are trusting you with something that’s permanent and represents who they are. So I think process is necessary for you to evolve as an artist.
Jun: Yeah, for me it’s like when I first started tattooing, I knew that obviously, they’re going to carry this with them ’till they die. But now, it’s at a scale where I always have to be conscious of that fact, so the decisions that I make is crucial because you can’t just undo what you do.
So I’m forced to thinking about what is driving this person beyond just consuming this thing. A lot of times it’s actually surprisingly a lot of people don’t think about that! They just think about like, “oh, it looks sick.” And that’s not enough because you’re going to die—like, actually talking about like John’s whole hologram thing. When you fall down, there’s a seed to what I think what he was trying to say, which is really good. If you take that further, that you’re going to die, and suddenly it’s for me and my process, that makes things simple.
Decisions become clearer when you start to really respect that is a scientific term, a first principle about what is actually going to happen to all of us. And so, in a weird way, creatively that has helped me make progress. How do you feel about what you do with shoes and kids? I would imagine kids drive you to think beyond just the trends of what’s going on, right?
Jason: Yeah. Hundred percent. The children we focus on are ages four through 11. They still have a messy hair day and they wear pajamas. You’re fortunate if they even wake up and brush their teeth, so it’s like this perception of style and taste doesn’t kick in. What they really focus on is like comfort and also relatability.
When they show up to school, they want to know are they gonna be accepted? Are they cared for? Is it gonna be fun? So their needs are very basic but critical to how they evolve. So just like when you talk about the temporal component of life, people physically dying, I’m fighting against having imagination and creativity and curiosity die. Modern education is designed to strip those intentions out of our children: curriculums are to build them to take tests instead of ask questions and so I’m trying to protect the seven-year-old Jun and kids where they’re curious.
Jun: Yes, you have to fight for this.
Jason: Yeah, you gotta fight ’em.
Jun: Do you find that—I don’t have kids, I have a lot of friends have kids—but I find the kids, they’re not contaminated yet.
Eugene: “Contaminated” is a good word!
Jun: The curiosity is still there. I don’t know if it’s through your shoes or your designs or your company, how do cultivate that? How do you maintain that?
Jason: A lot of it is that I spend a tremendous amount of time with young children. Like you mentioned, the seven-year-old Jason hasn’t hasn’t died in me either. I think in my case, it was through an extreme circumstance of having a near-death moment in seven. So that part of me is time-stamped and so I always think about my life through the lens of the future, which is what children do; they have a very unique sense of time. They’re thinking about tomorrow. You become an adult, you’re stuck in the present.
So by being with kids, I’m constantly dreaming about “What if? What if? What if?” versus knowing the rules and saying, “well, it’s unrealistic for me to turn a cardboard box into a spaceship.” When we talk with children, they’re like, “No, that is a spaceship.” And you have to jump in and there’s rules and instructions that the way you use your imagination. So it’s great because I get to see the world for the first time every day when I hang out with kids.
Jun: Because they reinforce that whole vibe and train of thought.
Jason: Yeah, so it keeps me sane.
Eugene: One thing that you mentioned was about discipline. So I think that this question is more about breaking down what is the stereotype around creativity where there’s no discipline and you just let things happen. So how do you guys find the balance between a discipline or a regimen or a workflow and allow moments of serendipity or just randomness to occur? Maybe you can start with that, Jason.
Jason: The way my life is regimented, I have to have a structure. Being a parent, being a founder, teaching, traveling. But those moments of wonder, they happen often because I look up. If you spend time with children who are discovering the world for the first time every day, they’re constantly scanning the horizon looking for things to interact with. But adults, you see them walking the streets looking down with text and our phones. So I try to be present and observant of people around me. I spend a lot of time just watching behavioral patterns of people at airports, which is the greatest people watching ever.
Eugene: Why is that?
Jason: Because people are going to something that they’ve dreamed about or coming from something that they need it for restorative reasons. Or it’s just that the reason why people travel is something I’m hyper curious about: you got up, you got on this plane, you’re going somewhere. Why? What’s the story you’re hoping to complete by taking this journey?
We can create different things in different genres, but the reason behind it is always gonna be the same. There's something inside of us we want to get out into the world. We don't feel like fitting within the confines of one category and we just create. Living in Silicon Valley, it makes it a little bit weird because everything has to be quantified, but so much of what we do you can't put a number behind.
— Jason Mayden, on the relationship between science and creativity.
And so I always remember that when I meet new people or interact with new people, they might be going through something, they might be dealing with something, so it makes me more empathic and more understanding by traveling and experiencing life on the ground level.
If I stayed in up here with the people in an academic world or the founding world of startups, it’s not a reality. It’s their reality, but it’s it’s not everyone’s reality. So by interacting at airports, I’m able to touch society in a different way because it’s all walks of life. It’s all ethnicities, all socioeconomic status, is all levels of education in one place together for the same reason: we’re going somewhere. So that’s a hella poetic way of describing I just enjoy people watch. (laughter) That’s the truth.
Jun: That’s the most positive description of an airport I ever heard, you’re awesome. I don’t feel that way about the airport. But your question was about discipline. I think Steven Pressfield said it good in his book War of Art. He called it resistance.
So for me, a lot of people equate the results of what I do as as like, “oh, you just got it all the time” and it’s mostly for me it’s, “you just have to show up.” The muse doesn’t always speak to you, all the time. Sometimes you get a spark of inspiration if it comes to you or you start to discover new things as you go along during the process. But most of the times, in my experiences, you just have to go to whatever it is that you’re doing and most of the time it sucks, actually. Most of times it’s not romantic. Most of the time, it’s like you are stumbling and you have to figure out what this thing is, how to do this, how to do that.
But within that process is that discipline: the more you do it, the more you stick to it, the more that that you’re going to start to learn, basically. I had two guys I talked to before I came up here and it was almost the same questions about they had a concern about what it is that they want to do, what path they’re going to try to take, and they have so many different options, and they got interested in this and interested in that.
And I think once you clarify what it is that really moves you and drives you to get up in the morning. That’s just the first step. You have to then come back to the task and come back to it and come back to it and come back to it and come back. This is I think The most underrated thing with a lot of people that want to, like, do a thing and they want to get good at it. It’s really that discipline is really going to drive the results.
Eugene: Where’s the fulfillment in that? You just mentioned that it sucks most of the time. Where do you personally derive fulfillment?
Jun: The fulfilment is in that process. Yes, it sucks, but if you have a passion for what drives you that’s bigger than the suck, you can embrace that suck. Ultimately like that analogy with the hologram: you’re gonna fall down. That’s part of that whole journey. And I think a lot of times, we’re so insulated from that reality because you’re staring through your phone and you’re seeing a photo or you’re staring at a shoe, his shoe—you’re not seeing the years of development and probably screw ups and probably all those things that go along with it. I think that’s where the the gold is.
Eugene: And then for you, Jason. When you look at your mission and your goal and this is something that we’ve talked about in the past is that you’re on a path, hopefully creating a solution for something that has no end point; you’re always going to try to improve what it means to be a kid. So how do you approach something that is going to still be around as a challenge when you’re no longer here?
Jason: That’s a great question. I used to have goals that I can complete in a set amount of time because it was more about my ego and being able to say I accomplished this thing; that’s just more of the athlete, the sports mindset. You prepare in the off season, you’re in season and then you compete and you win. Translate that into design for sport. It’s the same mindset: you design for seasons. You win a game, athlete gets a gold medal. You’re good.
The problem we’re trying to solve is a multigenerational problem. It’s a goal that I won’t complete in my lifetime. And I’m fine with that. It separates the ego from my intentions. But for me, I obsess over not being the last. Most of the time in this space that I’m in, I’m the first, whether it be known for my ethnicity or where I come from or whatever, but I obsess over not being the last.
So I’m critical about the foundation. I’m critical, as Jun mentioned, about the process because that’s where you’re going to have discoveries of your own weaknesses and insecurities. But you’ll be able to turn those into strengths because as you grow, you allow other people to see themselves in you. So I’m just trying to be a spark. That’s it. I’m just trying to catalyze this movement to care about our kids again. I’m just trying to figure out ways to preserve childhood imagination and make play something that people take seriously, which sounds funny to say out loud, but I know I won’t complete this in my lifetime. So I’m cool with that.
Eugene: Do you have a way to structure that so that it continues onwards in an upward trajectory?
Jason: Yeah, interaction and early succession planning. I think through who’s going to replace me all the time and I always look for that and in my own children or in other people on me. So I’m in a constant mindset of like, “how do I get people prepared?”
So I try to over explain processes or how I make decisions to people who are directly within my management or adjacent to the company because once they learn how I make decisions, then they can figure out how to say ‘no’ on my behalf. And then eventually, they will be saying ‘no’ on my behalf or the company’s behalf, but is constantly designing myself out of the process essentially.
Eugene: And for you, Jun, do you have like an apprentice, anyone that’s learning under you?
Jun: No. There’s people I help out, but not an official one.
Eugene: Is there a reason why you haven’t gone headfirst and doubled down on creating, as he mentions, a succession plan? Or does that not factor into your thought process?
Jun: The intent of you’re saying about these succession—basically, you’re doing something that’s beyond yourself. All right. Well, that’s the intent behind the whole mission. I think I tell myself the same story to get myself out and get to work. Because at the end of the day, it’s in a weird way your ego has to be involved to want to be able to do a thing, but to do something of value and that’s gonna last, you want to be able to do something that’s way beyond yourself and that’s something that’s really hard to do. So as far as having a succession plan, no I’m not thinking I have one.
I'm fighting against having imagination and creativity and curiosity die. Modern education is designed to strip those intentions out of our children: curriculums are to build them to take tests instead of ask questions and so I'm trying to protect the seven-year-old Jun and kids where they're curious.
— Jason Mayden, on the aims behind Superheroic.
Eugene: Is just because as a tattoo artist or as artists, it’s just a different—
Jun: I know I like to help and try to empower other artists or people that just want to find out what they do. It’s weird, I had this conversation. I keep having this conversation with a lot of my clients. Most of my clients, the majority of them are men between like 20 to 50, but I get like a crazy spectrum of manhood.
Like Monday, they’re single; Tuesday, they’re married; Wednesday, they’re divorced, and it’s like you get a whole view of the stages, but no matter what and no matter where you come, from they all seem to want to find out what they want to do like what their passion is.
Because a lot of people they find themselves in this momentum of work, of life, of I guess, society and they don’t really ask themselves really simple basic questions like, “Do I like what I do? Am I doing what I love? Why am I doing this thing? And surprisingly, a lot of people just don’t think about it.
So in other words, I like to help that kind of thing ’cause I got really lucky, I think. I found that out very early on.
Eugene: So do you guys think that what you guys are doing now, as you mentioned, you think you’re lucky? Do you think there’s a there’s a difference between stumbling into it by virtue of luck versus actually going through the rigor of determining a passion?
Jun: Both. This is an argument I had, but it’s like you can’t—it’s like the whole “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell approach, but then there’s like—what was her name? Duckworth. She said you need both of those things. So yes, you can have some genetics. You can be born in the right place at the right time, but you also need to work and outwork everyone else in a ridiculous way. If you can align those things and one of those you can’t really control. You can get amazing results. If you look at any successful person or whatever, if you measure success by just their peak performance, they all have this same combination: you have the “luck,” this serendipitous or whatever you want to call it. At the same time, they all grinded really really hard.
Jason: Yeah I think to Jun’s point, preparation and greatness appear to be luck when you don’t see everything that went into that moment. Since we live in a culture that celebrates highlights instead of lowlights, it’s easy to assume—y’know to go down the LeBron track—that he was born that way. But I know a lot of tall dudes that work at Safeway! (laughter) So it’s like they were born with the same body type, but for whatever reason, you didn’t use it. They didn’t work out as it is.
Jun: It didn’t work out. They probbly came from the same neighborhood.
Jason: Same neighborhood, yeah. So it’s not always the conditions you’re born with, it’s is what you use. Because technically, if what I was born with determined my outcome, then I would probably had been an engineer or someone who—it would been a completely different path for me. But it’s preparation, you create those conditions, you attract what you put out into the world so when you’re in motion, other people in motion tend to respect you more and opportunities happen.
So it looks like luck, but it’s 99 percent preparation, man. And keeping this obsessive mindset over where you’re trying to go, like, you have to obsess like, “I’m gonna be this thing. I’m gonna get there. I don’t care who’s in front of me. I’m going to run through ’em, run around them.” So it’s not just like, “oh, you had a hard day, throw it away.” Every day is gonna be hard. You just have to be willing to sign up for it. You have to be willing to persist in ambiguous moments and you have to be willing to be honest with yourself about when you feel down and when you feel great and trying to make sure you take account of those moments and keep pushing.
Eugene: Between both you, I would definitely consider you guys super humble and is that’s something innate. Or have you guys personally doubled down on that humility aspect? Because knowing both of you, like I said, that everything you’ve done. Obviously you’re on a selfless path. And Jun, as long as I’ve known him, has always felt as though he needs to do more and there’s certain things that he’s willing to put aside to achieve that.
So how do you guys embrace that humility because I think that self-awareness thing is critical towards anyone’s path towards success. But I think today, everyone has an inflated sense—not everyone—but there’s an inflated sense of my capabilities.
Jun: That’s what social media cause is structured to promote. Going back to science. Science has really been a big anchor for me for that because when you really get down and go deep into the fundamentals of what makes up reality. Even the most intelligent people, you just you have to be able to understand that you don’t know shit. And if you accept that as just like a a basis of everything, it actually allows you to be able to be more open and perceive things in a way that if you had gone into something with a preconceived notion, you’re already tainted: You have this idea of what you think a situation is and whether that’s in business or in art or whatever it is, you’re coming in with baggage. We talked about this many times, the process of unlearning. You have to balance about all the things to be able to get to the next level.
I just remember this because—if you look at it like fighters and they train you to be able to condition yourself to perfect a certain technique over and over and over again, but they do that with the intent so that when you’re in the fight. You can forget all that. Because in reality, that doesn’t happen that way. So I think the same thing goes for humility, you have to do it genuinely as a process to be able to want to learn more and I think that’s a problem. Because actually you see a lot of people today almost use humility as another form of ego: the humble brag. You almost have to treat it as a as something really objective if you want to be able to grow.
Eugene: What’s your take on it Jason?
Jason: I completely agree. I think the concept of a humble brag has made being a humble person difficult. But I just—once again and it always goes back to sports—for me, if I’m if I feel that there is nothing I can learn, if someone is doing it better than me then I’m going to lose. So that beginner’s mindset allows me to be open to new ways of doing what I’m doing. New ways of growing and pushing the boundaries of manufacturing or brand positioning, whatever it is, just being open to the fact that, like you mentioned Jun, that we don’t know everything. We can’t know everything. The moment I decide that I’ve reached this level there’s nothing else I can learn, I feel like that’s what I’m going to fall off. So I try to appreciate the process of becoming, rather than worrying about the outcome of what I’m becoming.
So yes, you can have some genetics. You can be born in the right place at the right time, but you also need to work and outwork everyone else in a ridiculous way. If you can align those things and one of those you can't really control. You can get amazing results. If you look at any successful person or whatever, if you measure success by just their peak performance, they all have this same combination: you have the "luck," this serendipitous or whatever you want to call it. At the same time, they all grinded really really hard.
— Jun Cha, on the stumbling into and working towards success.
Jun: It’s interesting too, ’cause again kids have that ingrained in them. They start out curious and that curiosity stems out of that humility just because they just genuinely want to find out what’s going on here. I think like get droned out of us as we get older. You’ve got to fight to protect that within yourself and hold onto that.
Eugene: We have about 10 minutes left and there’s some Q and A questions that I wanted to ask you guys starting with
Jason: How did religion or spirituality play a factor in your drive to be where you are? This is by “A Jazzy Creation.”.
Jason: That is a great name. I would say 100 percent before you do it, you have to have faith that it’s possible for you to even do it. And in my family, in the way I was raised, we all have a very good faith base and having no evidence of an outcome but being hopeful for that outcome was part of what allowed me to believe it was possible to get ourselves out of Chicago.
I’m just like, “well, why not me? Why can’t I go out and do these things? That was critical and also to help me to navigate this landscape ethically: realizing that I will be held accountable by a higher power for my decisions and behaviors and in a startup culture, definitely in a culture that’s driven through a lot of intellectual people who don’t have the same connection to human emotion as I do.
It’s easy for people just not to realize like, “I said this thing. I made this person feel this way.” I’m constantly obsessing over that: I did this thing. I put this energy out into the world. Was it representative of my true intentions? Did that I offend someone because I didn’t take the time to really listen to what they were saying to me or did I show up in a way that’s misleading to children that may take them down a different path than I intended? So I think the faith keeps me humble, keeps me reliant upon a higher power and holds me accountable to doing things in a way that are positive. And so that’s 100 percent of how I go about conducting myself in real life.
Eugene: And this next question is for you, Jun. How do you deal with hitting creative walls? What do you do to reset and move forward? And this is from Emerfather (?).
Jun: Well, it goes back to the whole idea of discipline. That’s the suck right there. Those walls. And you can’t hack your way through it, especially with engineers and lots of tech people, like they have this iteration mentality of pivoting your way to a solution. Yes, that there’s context to that. But sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes there’s no way out. but going through it. And a lot of times creativity is not something you can necessarily force, but you can show up and at least put in the work and put in the effort to try to do the research or do the one thing, the one step that can lead—
Eugene: Well, one thing you do every Sunday is go running, right? In the outdoors. How does that—
Jun: Nature. That’s the thing. (laughter).
Eugene: How does that filter into you or your process then? ‘Cause I look at that like you going every Monday morning when I’m in the office in Hong Kong, I can go on my Instagram Stories and it’s Jun posting the same photo from the outdoors.
The problem we're trying to solve is a multigenerational problem. It's a goal that I won't complete in my lifetime. And I'm fine with that. It separates the ego from my intentions.
— Jason Mayden, on his succession plan.
Jun: That’s an accumulation of everyday training as well. So I had this theory because I had this unconscious rhythm trying where I’m just going and working and going about the same routine. But my theory was that if I get my body and my health in check, my mind would work better and if my mind’s working better, that I can create in a way that I haven’t been creating before.
And so this is a long process of trying to just get my shit together, basically. And you can find out what you’re really capable of physically when you really push yourself. And so running in the mountains just helped me one, disconnect from all this and then two, I try to forced myself to go past what would I think I can do. And it sucks. It’s at 4:00 in the morning. Everyone’s asleep, it’s cold. It’s terrifying because you’re like a little human surrounded by a bunch of mountains and there’s probably lions there that’s hungry, but once you push past that actual wall that’s like another version of the creative wall.
You get used to going through that struggle, and you find out that one, that it’s not that crazy. And then two, that you can do it, but you just have to keep on almost conditioning yourself to face that. And it translates directly to, not just art but business to science. There’s the same dynamics that exist in everything.
Eugene: I think we have time for maybe one more question. This is for you Jason. How do you look at you being based in the Silicon Valley and balancing your peers who are arguably more on a capitalistic slant versus you trying to do something that is more selfless and more for community, let’s say?
Jason: Definitely not easy. It’s easy to get tempted by the Tesla culture. Everybody drives a Tesla, does the same thing over. He goes to the same wineries for vacation. It’s crazy. (laughter) Here’s the most innovative place in the world and they all do the same thing. So I think the reality is that when you have money and you’re highly educated, your most precious resource and asset is time.
And the company that I’ve created stands in contrast of using time for the benefit of others. So in a lot of ways, I have very unique strategic advantage because I get to hear these very affluent performance-driven people share stories about how they wished they can spend more time with their kids. How they wish they had the ability to leave their high-paying jobs at Google and just be with their children and go to a play or spending time getting to know them by going outside and riding bikes.
So I get to hear a lot of confessions, honestly, of what concerns parents in a highly performative environment. I know what’s happening in the inner city where parents are afraid of being on the other side of the spectrum and hearing what’s happening in affluent communities. I have a great sense of purpose knowing look, we all want the same things. We want our children to thrive. We want them to go further than we do. Some of us, our problem is that we’re on a hamster wheel that can’t get off because of financial and personal career aspirations. Other people have no resources. But at the end of the day, we all desire to do more with our kids. So being in the Silicon Valley, I get a lot of great meetings because people feel guilty. (laughter) Guilt is a great motivator for investment when you raise money for a children’s company.
But more importantly, access to information and resources and technology and seem like okay what’s going to happen with automation and how can I prepare children for that when it comes. So this is like, deep research on the future. And if I can have our pedagogical model get our children prepared physically, emotionally and developmentally for what’s going to happen in 20 years for the rest of the world, then it’s worth it.
I don’t get invited to a lot of the cool events because I’m not doing a cool self-driving car, but I can care less because I’m at E3 and Comicon. I read videogame manuals and play Fortnight with a bunch of kids. Like, that’s cool to me. The Apple conferences and stuff are great but, I’d much rather hang out with the little ones and learn about what they’re into and because that’s who we’re designing for.
Eugene: I hope you guys really enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. This was awesome. (applause)
It's terrifying because you're like a little human surrounded by a bunch of mountains and there's probably lions there that's hungry, but once you push past that actual wall that's like another version of the creative wall. You get used to going through that struggle, and you find out that one, that it's not that crazy. And then two, that you can do it, but you just have to keep on almost conditioning yourself to face that. And it translates directly to, not just art but business to science. There's the same dynamics that exist in everything.
— Jun Cha, on connecting physical struggle with challenges in other fields.