Where Are We, and Where Are We Going?
Why I went to Japan to go to Korea to come back to Los Angeles.
I just got back from my trip to Korea + Japan. We spent 5 days in Japan. 2 nights in Tokyo, 2 nights in Kyoto, 3 hours in Osaka, and one week in South Korea. I do not recommend that itinerary, but I do have plenty of recommendations for you if you yourself were to ever go.
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The trip was part honeymoon, but also part research assignment.
You see, I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis about creating “content”. Which is ironic because I’m able to deploy multi-million marketing budgets with ease by telling companies to focus and niche down, consult executive and artists alike, and synthesize marketing and product strategies for trillion dollar companies, but when it comes to creating content about myself, I’m paralyzed. I know too much.
The problem is that I’m a very private person, and it’s in my nature to be be interested in how everything is connected, but that’s not necessarily interesting to everyone. This runs counter to the game of content and social media which is to:
Define a narrow topic.
Become an avatar of yourself to associate yourself with that niche.
Build an audience with consistency.
I’m not niching down, but this year, and for the foreseeable future, I am going to focus on a singular thesis. And the thesis is this:
The Future is Asian-American.
What do I mean by that?
During the pandemic most small and retail businesses shuttered and closed. There were only two things that had a line out the door.
Louis Vuitton and 2. Boba Tea.
In the digital world two things reached unprecedented heights 1. Gaming and 2. TikTok.
This is anecdotal, and isolated to coastal cities like Los Angeles, but it’s clear to me that anything in the middle is getting destroyed, while goods and services on the low-end and high-end of the market are still alive and well. I was able to confirm this during visits to other cities as well.
During the pandemic, all of the brands you see here below went bankrupt. Some have restructured their debts, but are pretty much walking zombies at this point.
Why is this Happening?
If you live in the United States, take a look around your downtown area. In LA where I live, the city streets, bus stops, and metro resemble slums, and the retail areas of DTLA, Beverly Hills, and even Pasadena are pretty much dead, for lease, or for sale.
Large real estate investments funds are struggling and looking to niche down, but have no idea what to fill it with. It turns out that spending 40% of venture capital money on Facebook and Google ads is not sustainable enough to keep your retail store fronts viable for your DTC, Instagram brand. And as I’ve mentioned before, having a Blue Bottle and Aesop next to each other doesn’t necessarily make a city sing.
There’s actually a profoundly simple answer for why all of this is happening.
The one thing that I believe more than anything is that Eastern and Western societies are synchronizing, and the things that are going to fill the hallowed out middle are going to be inherently Asian.
The Soft-Power of Asia
Demographics is Destiny:
Collecting people equals collecting power. Asia’s population is now five times larger than the US and the European Union combined—and Asian powers command the latest technologies as well. Western societies, then, will continue losing their economic advantage to Asia unless they replenish their populations–most likely with Asians.
- Parag Khanna
Value Creation & Productivity
Indian Americans are 1% of the US population but contribute 6% of US taxes. The CEOs of IBM, Google, Microsoft, Mastercard, Nokia, Novartis, Adobe, FedEx, Chanel, Barclays, Gap, Starbucks, and Deloitte are all Indian.
I’ve been dancing around this thesis for the last year, and it’s been staring at me in the face this entire time. I’m excited to explore what all of this means for the future of our culture, strategy, product, marketing, retail through this lens.
This doesn’t mean we’re all going to be eating kimchi, taking our shoes off at home and bowing to our neighbors, but it does mean that core asian values like caring, courage, and trust will be coming to the fore as our economy evolves. Especially with the advent of AI. Success metrics of business and design will also be come more soft and meaningful like enthusiasm, engagement, and resonance.
Still, even with all of this relative “success”, Asians, Asian-Americans, and Asian culture is underpriced, under-appreciated, and undervalued. And just because this insight is now clear and obvious, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be integrated correctly. Translation is bi-directional. Just because a concept is successful in Asia, doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful in other markets, and vice-versa. Form, presentation, structure, and context is key.
You may have noticed some design changes around here. That’s because I’m relaunching this newsletter, and renaming it Cultural Software, to better represent it as an extension of my thinking around this thesis.
I’ve always approached my work as somewhat of real-time strategy game. I have a loosely held working model of how the world works in my head, but I’m always updating that model with patch notes. You can think of each post from this newsletter as your personal iOS software update.
Have a beautiful week, and Happy New Years!
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