Difficult, yet Rewarding


George Wolff

This Sunday’s New York times featured a terrific article about an exciting and popular new class offered at Yale University, “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness.”

‘Psychology and the Good Life’ taught by Yale professor Laurie Santos, “tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life,” according to the article by David Shimer. The course was so well received, it had to be moved to a larger location to accommodate the crowds or registrants.

Santos fights the mischaracterization of what many assume will be a fluff course. She surmises that Yale students ‘reprioritized’ their own happiness in high school to attain ivy league acceptance. Hmmmm. And while that seems like a typical response to this millennial generation, she also thinks hers is the “hardest class at Yale.”

Really? Happiness is the toughest course at Yale? 

She goes on to explain that the social pressures of taking a course with friends that calls students to be held accountable for their actions and their habits is truly unique and challenging.

My entire college experience was that course.

Though I studied music performance in my undergrad, I did so at a small, liberal arts college that encouraged proficiency across all aspects of academia. Music theory, performance studies, and aural skills may have been the focus of my degree, but the cornerstone of my education lay in the core curriculum and understanding of art, literature, religion and the sciences.

Though a liberal arts education isn’t for everyone, I found the value of my focused degree in the variable academia across campus. And, perhaps because it was a smaller college, my ‘general studies’ professors always encouraged my featured major in their individual concentrations.

I recall being in a literature course where my professor called me to study, in depth, the texts of the music I had been studying. Cracking into Voltaire as I studied Bernstein’s Candide, and discovering the text of Shubert’s Winterreise. But it went beyond these obvious illustrations.

During my sophomore year, my roommate was killed in a van accident. He was one of three friends who lost their lives while on our university choir tour. It was difficult for all of us, but I took it especially hard. My older, resident-director roommate had become a mentor to me, and I looked up to him.

With him gone, I expected I would be alone. I was wrong.

Instead, I found a campus (what seemed like an entire campus) that was now stepping in, ready to support me in my college career: professors, students, staff. The entire community was there to support me and help me cross the finish line– well.

Because of this tragedy, I assumed it was all for me. I assumed these fine people were investing in me because I had experienced some great tragedy. I am happy to say the was not the case.

My conversations with other graduates of my fine college tell a virtually identical story of their experience: professors inviting them to their homes for family dinners; one-on-one meetings to discuss life and all its complexities; and random phone calls to “check-in” on them. Apparently, our professors had collectively decided to ‘not give up’ on us.

Perhaps this happens at every college. Perhaps not.

My undergraduate experience was an eye-opening, challenging, stretching venture into the world of who I would become. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the men and women who devoted their lives to their knowledge and skill and craft, and chose to invest in my life.

And, while I may have never taken a course entitled ‘Happiness,‘ I feel as if my undergraduate experience did provide such an experience.


Read David Shimer’s article here



More, From Less

MUJI as inspiration for our work

I’ve been toting around the most recent Harvard Business Review since it landed in my office several weeks ago– I kept meaning to get to it. Mainly, I wanted to be sure to take adequate time to digest “How I Did It” by Masaaki Kanai, chairman of Ryohin Keikaku– parent company of MUJI.

Now, you may have no idea what MUJI is, but trust me- you will.

MUJI is a line of sustainably designed, inexpensive, nondescript, non-branded  housewares and clothing, launched in 1980. Chances are, unless you live near a booming university town or a major metropolitan area, you’ve never stepped foot inside a MUJI store. And you certainly haven’t seen their advertisements, because they don’t believe in them.

I first discovered MUJI when I was living in Brooklyn Heights, outside New York. I stepped into their Manhattan store and immediately was taken by their minimalist concept. And anyone who knows me knows that I am anything but a minimalist.

But MUJI was different. It was so decidedly practical, and, well– necessary. Every item I saw, I thought I needed. Including their fashion. On that first visit alone, I purchased $300 in tee shirts, socks, a toothbrush holder and travel gear, a sweater for my wife, poncho, and two scarves that had been conveniently shrink-wrapped to the size of a Rubik’s cube.

As I strolled the store that day, I never realized that that my overpriced suit and shoes and topcoat and briefcase were the height of contradiction. I longed for the MUJI simplicity, and I decided to partake in all they had to offer.

Kanai credits the store’s universal (and now global) success to this concept, I like to say that MUJI goods should be like water: of universal appeal.” He also credits the adherence to a “uniform vision and execution” as key to MUJI’s success.

Kanai goes on to say, “Our aim is not to grow as large as we can. It is to be tenacious in our quest to deliver on the MUJI promise and to be of use in the lives of people around the world.” (Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2018)

How are we doing?

It got me to thinking: how are you doing in this area? Are you delivering on your company’s promises, and are you helpful to people around the world? Regardless of your product or sales category, your quest is to make an impact in the world, but primarily, in an individual’s life. In one life.

Kanai’s challenge is a good one, and I hope the simple concept of MUJI can inspire you to discover anew your mission and then, go boldly (or in MUJI’s case, simply) in the direction of your purpose.


You can read “How I Did It” by clicking here: https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-chairman-of-ryohin-keikaku-on-charting-mujis-global-expansion

Fearless? Really?

Creatives: don’t buy the “be fearless” hype! In her exceptional book, Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert distinguishes between ‘the fear you need and the fear you don’t need.’

“If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you’re already on the wrong path, because the only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were straight up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds – and those aren’t good role models for anyone.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Big Magic

Don’t ignore it

George Wolff, 989Group Partner, Creative Director


Dad, What are You Doing?

Last Saturday, while I waited in front of the soccer arena to pick up my son, I lay across the gear shift in my car, pointing my phone up at this beautiful series of color and patterns and light and shadow coming from my sunroof.

First looking over his shoulder to see who else might have noticed this, he said, “Dad- what are you doing?”

It’s Right There

Sometimes, I stop and stare at an object, a shadow or a light beam, and I cannot take my eyes off it. If I have my camera (phone) with me, I will snap a quick image, with the intent of returning to it later-– all to discover what about this image captivated me.

But, on those very rare occasions, when I am without my phone (camera), I am forced to stop and absorb what exactly it is that has come into view. That’s difficult to do. It means pressing ‘pause’ on whatever it was I was supposed to be doing so I can focus on this interesting, odd or beautiful thing that has stopped me in my tracks.

I may have been on my way to the copy machine, or coffee pot, or to tell Adam or Brian about a really great idea. And I have to stop.

Stop and Smell the Roses

To me, this phrase always meant, “make time for things that make you happy.” And, perhaps that is part of it. I love that idea. But, let’s not ignore the seismic impact acknowledging the beauty and majesty and wonder around us could have on us. These roses (and thorns, perhaps) are meant to be noticed along the path.

The shadow in a coffee cup, the puddle from snow-heavy boots, the leaves tossed across a brick path, or the light fighting to break through a car’s sunroof– they are all there to be noticed. They may not all be significant, but they are not to be ignored.

It’s What I Do

My work with 989Group allows me the luxury to stop and notice the details. Whether staring at a photo or layout spread or collaborating on the best word or phrase for an article, my job is to notice the details.

Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, it’s important to notice the details.

My son didn’t notice the ripples of light emerging from the vented opening in my sunroof, nor did he think much of it when I pointed it out to him. But then I snapped a picture and showed him.

“Wow- pretty cool.” He looked up at it again, and tried to see it the way I had captured it on my phone.

An extra set of eyes, seeing what we may not see, can sometimes make all the difference.