blurred photo asian american man

What is life like for the Asian American man in 2015?

I didn’t really think much about how my own race/ethnicity affected my life until 2011, when I read the ludicriously long piece in New York Magazine. It was called Paper Tigers, with the subtitle: “What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?” and it covered issues I had discussed occasionally with friends but rarely saw elsewhere.

Questions like how come Asians are rarely in leadership positions despite being “so smart”? Or is it possible to maintain traditional Asian values like being humble in a loud, show-off-to-get-ahead world? Or why the hell was dating so damn hard?

I thought Wesley Yang’s article was going to lead to a national conversation about these issues, given that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua had been all over the media for months. But it didn’t happen. It’s understandable in some respects because he admits that he is “in most respects devoid of Asian characteristics”. While born to Korean parents, he does not: speak Korean, believe in Asian values, date Korean women or have any Korean friends. Maybe this was all he wanted to say about being an Asian man.

And yet, there’s more to our story.

Asians are the fastest growing minority group in America, while in sheer number are far fewer than blacks or latinos. a far smaller minority group compared with blacks and latinos, but are also growing faster than either. We often get lumped into the same category as whites in tech diversity reports, but when it comes it executive leadership, Asians are 2.5x less likely to be in an executive role compared to whites.

I was having some conversations with an old friend of mine, who’s Chinese, and who has been grappling with these issues both at work (he’s a resident at a hospital in NYC) and in his dating life (where he’s single again after a 3 year relationship). He encouraged me to write more about this topic, and I decided that if I were to do that, I’d need a lot more than a few stories from my own life and from my friends.

So I’m collecting some data via a side project called The Asian American Man Survey.


Already, over 100 East, South, and Southeast Asian men living in the United States have taken the study, sharing their perspectives on how they’re treated compared to whites, and non-Asian minorities, how they feel their race affects their opportunities at work, and how it plays a role in who they date and who they settle down with.

If you’re are an Asian man living in America or you know some who might be interested in this, I’d love if you could share this study with them.

I’ll be closing results on November 30th and sharing results sometime in December.

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee


The Rise and Fall of Product Lines

I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to the growth of certain popular products — both physical and media [1]. The pattern looks like this:

Company develops a breakthrough product

A unique product hits the market. It looks or operates in a way that feels distinct in an important way. It’s aggressively different from other things on the market.

  • iPod: bigger, heavier and more expensive than the tiny mp3 players on the market, but has a solid battery life and a massive amount of storage
  • Vibrams: shoes that look like gorilla feet, but some people swear it gets rid of their knee pain / plantar fasciitis
  • Marvel’s X-Men: a fictional team of superheros who are ordinary people with mutant abilities – depicted in comic books, tv shows, video games and movies

Continue reading…


The Difference Between Having Connections and Having Conversations

When I was in DC working as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, one of our objectives was to drive adoption for President Obama’s Executive Order to make all government information open, freely accessible, and machine-readable as the new default. That EO was backed up by a memo from the Office of Management and Budget known as M-13-13. Broadly this entire initiative was known as the Federal Open Data mandate. Continue reading…


“This Book Could Have Been a Long Magazine Article”

A claim leveled against business books sometimes is that the book repeats the same concept over and over again and could have been better served as a long magazine article.

And indeed many books start out as long magazine articles. Hoffman, Yeh, & Casnocha published a 4.5k word article: “Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Contract” in Harvard Business Review in June of 2013. A little over a year later, the 224 page book, The Alliance (my reading notes on that), was published. The article lays out the primary ideas behind the book:

  1. Engage employees on a “tour of duty” basis
  2. Support, and even fund the development of your employee’s networks
  3. Foster alumni networks for former employees

The same thing is true for Amabile & Kramer’s Progress Principle: HBR Article (2011) and Book (2013). So what’s the need for the book then if you can “just” read the magazine article? Heres why:

The goal of a book is not to inform, it is to persuade.

Because a book is longer, you are spending more time thinking about the idea. Because a book is physical (most of the time) you see it on your table, on your shelf. Maybe people ask you about it. As you go through example after example and additional data points around the ideas, you start to notice how those ideas fit into your world and you start imagining how you might implement those ideas in your life.

That’s why book summaries and even magazine articles are good if you want to “get the gist” of it. But the value of an idea is not in knowing it, but in acting on it. Books are more likely to drive action.

[1] Props to Seth Godin because I’m almost positive I got this idea from him somewhere, even though I couldn’t find it while doing research for this article