As luck would have it
When UHCL alumnus Kevin Kwan showed up on “Good Morning America” to discuss a new book he had co-authored, “Luck: The Essential Guide,” he seemed to be proof that courting luck with mysterious incantations and special furniture arrangements could cause the stars to align and good fortune to smile. But, as the saying goes, there’s no such luck. The grim reality behind writing a bestseller and being on television to talk about it is as many have feared: Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Kwan may make being a creative genius look easy, but he’s worked hard to build a career as a writer, fine art photographer and creative consultant. His professional accomplishments include projects with Tibor Kalman, Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times as well as work in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Here he shares a few lessons learned about leading, inspiring and being, well, lucky.
Leadership by any other name: As a creative consultant, my clients look to me for guidance. Rather than being a leader in the conventional sense and directing people to a pre-determined outcome, my aim is to be a creative inspirer who leads team members to exceed their own expectations. I am a writer, a photographer and a creative consultant. Most days I feel like a juggler trying to balance my life in these different worlds. I spend a lot of time in design meetings and strategy sessions helping teams to make their projects better, which can include calming people down when they have brought me in to get a challenging project back on track. One client joked that I should get a business card printed up with the job title: “A Calming Presence.”
On the shoulders of giants: True leadership is about breaking new ground and inspiring change. Tibor Kalman was that kind of leader. He was a graphic designer and provocateur who revolutionized the design establishment and influenced a new generation of creative thinkers. I worked for him at M&Co, and he was a great mentor to me. To this day, before I take on any new project, I think of what Tibor would say. Is this worth doing? Or is it just going to end up as landfill?
Road to riches starts in Singapore: My childhood in Singapore provided me with a good foundation. It was a very multicultural society, and I was exposed at a very early age to different peoples and experiences. Moving to America at age 11 was a profoundly life-altering experience, but it taught me how to adapt to a new environment quickly.
College as life-changing experience: UHCL was an awakening. For the first time, I met other students who were actually motivated to learn and to succeed. I met professors like John Gorman, Gloria Morris and Jib Fowles, who really encouraged and challenged me. UHCL also gave me the first opportunity to discover my leadership potential. During my first semester, I also met this dynamo of a student leader named Simone Gers who really pushed me to get involved in student life. Before I knew it, I was the Student Organizations Forum representative for the Literature Club, vice president of the Media Association, and served on the Cultural Arts Advisory Board and the Dean of Students Advisory Board. I realized for the first time that being involved actually made a difference.
|Writer, photographer and creative consultant Kevin Kwan is author of “I Was Cuba” and co-author of “Luck: The Essential Guide.” He graduated from UHCL in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies and can be contacted at www.kevinkwanprojects.com.
Real luck: Running your own business is a constant challenge, but on the whole I feel tremendously lucky. I have been able to work with some of the most amazing and talented people in the world. I feel that we are all capable of being leaders, especially in our own lives. Whenever I’ve had to make any sort of decision, I’ve always chosen the path that’s more challenging, and doing this has always rewarded me. I took a chance by coming to UHCL, by moving to New York on a moment’s notice, by doing the things I have done that have really tested my comfort zones. But I think that is the secret to leadership: You really have to step away from the crowd, take risks and work toward creating the world you want to live in. And you have to believe that you will be lucky!
Major matters: Initially, I had registered for another master’s degree program in education. I was browsing the School of Education Web site when I came across the description of the instructional technology distance program and said to myself, “This is exactly what I want.” I wanted a degree that could take me from the classroom to the office to the field, without any gaps in between. I chose education because I believe there will always be a demand for it. The learning environment may change, but knowledge acquisition and knowledge management are the basis for our survival.