Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“Victoria Ward and Her Family” by Frank Ward Hustace III

February 2, 2019

I only knew it as the Neil Blaisdell Center, with its arching ceiling, wide green lawn, and ponds filled with constantly-moving fish. But before it was a concert hall and arena, it was Old Plantation, or Ku‘u home (our beloved home).

In 1881, Old Plantation was a family estate, a natural wilderness with coconut trees and a large loko ku‘i (inland fishpond) fed by icy artesian springs, stocked with ‘ama‘ama, āholehole, and mullet, and ‘auwai from the ocean. It was lined with a row of royal palm trees that welcomed guests and led the way home.

Old Plantation is a strong presence her biography, “Victoria Ward and Her Family: Memories of Old Plantation” (2000), written by Frank Ward Hustace III. Old Plantation really comes to life as a member of the Ward family and a symbol of abundance and hospitality.

Victoria Ward (1846-1935) was the second daughter of James Robinson and Rebecca Kaikilani Previer. She was a private person, independent, and spirited. There are few anecdotes or stories about her in the book, and her personal papers were destroyed after her death, according to kanaka maoli custom. We know that she had a “unique marriage and business partnership” with her husband, Curtis Perry Ward, and we can see her strength, practicality, and business-savvy through her actions.

A widow at age 36, Ward raised seven daughters, managed her own business affairs, and invested in the stock market. She was active in politics, a life-long supporter and friend of kings and queens, and signed the Hui Aloha Aina petition against annexation. She turned Old Plantation into a self-sufficient, income-producing operation. And she had the foresight to create the Victoria Ward Ltd in 1930, which now manages 66 acres of prime real estate.

We don’t learn much about Ward’s siblings, such as her sister Mary Foster, who bequeathed her property to the City as Foster Botanical Gardens; or much about her children, among them Lucy Ward, who championed the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The City of Honolulu purchased Old Plantation in 1958, and Victoria Ward is better known for her legacy of retail, commercial, and residential development.

As I came to the end of the biography, I realized that Old Plantation is a reflection of Hawaii: once natural and bountiful, feeding the body and spirit; today, a place of music and theater named in honor of a Honolulu mayor who advocated construction projects.

What stories do you have of Old Plantation and Neil Blaisdell Center? Where is your ku’u home?


“When” by Daniel H. Pink

January 5, 2019

At one time, my son was really interested in social experiments. He didn’t run any experiments on me (I think), but he did make me watch some episodes of Daniel Pink’s “Crowd Control.” We watched Pink try to reduce speeding by creating a musical highway or give away prizes. Not long after that, Pink’s book “When” caught my curiosity at just the right time, when I was thinking about making a career change but was still unsure of what I wanted to do.

“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” (2018) by author Daniel H. Pink is a book about timing. Specifically, the science of timing, based on more than 700 studies. With an engaging tone and all of that research in bite-sized pieces “When” is thoroughly readable and gave me a lot to think about.

The book is divided into increments of time (day, beginnings, midpoints, and endings), with a “Time Hacker’s Handbook” section at the end of each chapter that is filled with tools, exercises, and tips. One of the most useful tips he shares is to identify personally meaningful days to create a “fresh start effect” – whether it’s the start of the week or month, a birthday, an anniversary, or ordinary day that you make meaningful (Star Wars fans might consider May 4).

The Day. Morning larks, night owls, and third birds. Our moods follow a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a recovery. For night-owls, this pattern is reversed: recovery, trough, then peak. This pattern has a big impact on problem solving, creativity, and even morality. Pink suggests that we perform analytical tasks at optimal times, and perform creative tasks at low times. In between, we should take frequent, short, restorative breaks (moving around, talking with others, going outside, or taking a nap).

Beginnings. Beginnings matter, and Pink points out two beginnings that we might want to re-think. For example, when you start your day has a big impact on the rest of your day. For teenagers, an early start could negatively impact learning. Pink recommends starting the school day later, after 8:30 am. And when you graduate and enter the job market – whether it’s a strong economy or a weak one – has a lifelong impact on your career and wealth.

Midpoints. Happiness tends to climb high in early adulthood, slides down in the late 30s and early 40s, dips in the 50s, and begins climbing again in the 60s. In everyday life, Pink suggests that we use midpoints in a project, competition, or calendar to motivate us. We can set interim goals and then publicly commit to those interim goals. Ernest Hemingway would stop writing in mid-sentence to keep his productivity flowing.

Endings. Endings shape our behavior by energizing us – we want to do something significant. We’re more likely to do something challenging or meaningful right before we reach an age milestone, such as age 30, 40, 50 or more. In a few years, I’ll reach one of those decade milestones (I won’t say which one), and I’ll let you know if I come up with something significant – or wild.

There’s more about the power of when – like secrets to group timing, ways to make the present more meaningful, and how we can change our perception of time. You can read more about “When” and watch an author interview on Pink’s website at

Are you a morning lark, a night owl, or a third bird? What beginnings and endings stand out in your memory?

Best books of 2018

December 18, 2018

This year has been filled with changes and opportunities that challenged me to move out of my comfort zone. I was drawn to books about coping with adversity, leadership, and finding meaning at work.

Here are 10 of the best books that I’ve read in 2018:

* “The Tower of Dawn” by Sarah J. Maas – about confronting your fears and prejudice, learning that ‘love cannot exist without trust,’ being seen as you really are, self-forgiveness, and the power of kindness.

* “Lake Silence” by Anne Bishop – about rebuilding self-esteem, being friendly but not a friend, finding where you belong, and being a bridge between worlds.

* “Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” by Sara Ackerman – about the effects of war, the anxiety of keeping secrets, taking a stand against racial prejudice, and allowing yourself to feel alive.

* “The Forbidden Door” by Dean Koontz – about facing the truth vs. living in denial, recognizing that evil is real, loyalty, and choosing not to live in fear.

* “All Systems Red” (novella) by Martha Wells – about what it means to be human, self-identity, free will, and making your own decisions – basically, saving people so you can go back to watching entertainment videos.

* “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” (2009) by Simon Sinek – because people are drawn to why you it, not what you do.

* “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” (2018) by Daniel H. Pink – about hacking your time to boost your performance and energize yourself.

* “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” Second Edition (2012) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzlerl – teaching us how to confidently tackling conversations that have opposing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions

* “Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World” (2003) by Kent M. Keith – about accepting that life is unfair and living as if you can make it fair.

* “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” (2018) by Daniel Coyle – about building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose.

Which books have entertained you, challenged you, or inspired you? Which books would you recommend ?

Happy reading and happy new year!

“Citizen 13660” by Miné Okubo

December 1, 2018

Last year, I learned that my maternal great-grandfather was arrested and spent the war at an internment camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He returned to Hawaii four years later, before my mother was born.

She didn’t talk about her family’s experience during World War II, and I never thought to ask. Even in school, the Japanese internment seemed distant. We didn’t spend a lot of time learning about it. It wasn’t until I read artist Miné Okubo’s account of her Japanese internment experience that it became real.

“Citizen 13660” (1946) is an autobiographical account of camp life at Tanforan and Topax during World War II. It was originally drawn and written for Okubo’s “many friends who faithfully sent letters and packages to let us know we were not forgotten.” Since cameras and video cameras were not allowed in the camps, her drawings offer a first-hand view of “what happens to people when reduced to one status and condition.”

“My family name was reduced to No. 13660.” After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, Okubo and her younger brother scrambled to make sure that their property was stored and they were packed for evacuation. “We tagged our baggage with the family number, 13660, and pinned the personal tags on ourselves.”

Art by Miné Okubo

Tanforan. In May 1942, Okubo arrived at Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California, originally a race track. Her home for four and a half months was Barrack 16, Room 50, a 20’x9’ stall divided into two rooms. “To discourage visitors, I nailed a quarantine sign on my door,” Okubo admits in a flash of humor. “We were close to freedom and yet far from it,” separated from the rest of the world by barbed wire, guard towers, and armed guards. There was no privacy, a curfew, roll call, a post office, churches, and even jobs – Okubo was an art instructor, working 44 hours a week and earning $16 per month. People kept busy, trying to make a home, and creating beauty even in a prison. The most inspirational story is about a group of Japanese landscape architects who transformed a wet spot into a miniature aquatic park with a bridge, promenade, and islands. Ironically, Okubo writes that “Letters from my European friends told me how lucky I was to be free and safe at home.”

Topaz. Okubo spent the rest of her internment near Delta, Utah at the Topaz War Relocation Center. After a long train ride, her new home was Block 7, Barrack 11, Room F. Topaz was dusty, windy, muddy in the spring, hot in the summer, with annoying insects and poor alkaline soil. There were sparse conditions and rationing. “The birth rate in the center was high,” Okubo comments dryly. Though there was still barbed wire and prison guards, there were slightly less restrictions. Okubo worked at a newspaper, Topaz Times for $19 a month. Hawaii connection: 230 Hawaii evacuees were transferred to Topaz. Okubo left Topaz in January 1944, 7 months after her younger brother left, admitting that “fear had chained me to the camp.”

Aftermath. Okubo doesn’t tell us what happened next in her life – it ends with her leaving Topax and looking to the future.

Okubo’s account is matter-of-fact, honest, and factual. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, angry, or bitter. She lets her words and drawings speak for the injustice of the forced incarceration.

While Okubo was interned at Tanforan and Topaz, Japanese nationals and citizens were also interned at the Honouliuli Internment Camp, now a national monument. The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH) in Honolulu has a Honouliuli Education Center with photos, artifacts, oral history videos, and virtual tours. Admission to the education center is free and open to the public.

“The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle

November 3, 2018

Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

Daniel Coyle invested four years of research attempting to answer this question. He studied eight successful groups and their top-performing cultures, and shares the results of his research in “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” (2018).

Working at a company with multiple locations, where many of my co-workers don’t come to the main office at the same time, I was motivated to find out how we can become a stronger team. I wanted to learn how we can build a successful team and a successful culture.

“The Culture Code” is an engaging, easy to read guide with real-world examples of culture-building.  Coyle begins by defining culture as “a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” Then he focuses on individuals (leaders) who built the organization’s culture from the top-down.

The first thing that I found compelling is the attention that successful organizations spend to find the right people. For example, Zappos offers a $2,000 bonus to trainees if they quit, which encourage people who don’t fit with the organization to self-identify and leave, while ensuring that the people who do accept the job are motivated to be there.

The second thing that resonated with me is that having a clear vision of a group’s purpose guides the way that the group responds to situations. Johnson & Johnson’s Credo, written by former chairman Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, helped them respond purposefully to the Tylenol tampering crisis in 1982. The Credo shaped their responses, so they could take action quickly, decisively, and ethically.

Successful groups master three crucial skills:

Skill #1: Build Safety. Are we safe? Are we connected? Do we share a future? Successful groups continually refresh and reinforce “belonging” cues such as energy, individualization, and future orientation. Three things that organizations can do: spotlight fallibility early on, so people know that it’s okay to make mistakes; embrace the messenger who shares bad news or gives tough feedback; and be painstaking in the hiring process.

Skill #2: Share Vulnerability. There is a strong link between vulnerability and cooperation – it creates a feeling of safety and connection. Three things organizations can do: make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often, becoming a role model for everyone else; overcommunicate expectations; and when forming new groups, focus on two critical moments – the first vulnerability and the first disagreement.

Skill #3: Establish Purpose. “Stories guide group behavior.” Successful groups create simple beacons that focus attention and engagement on the shared goal (purpose). They see ways to tell and retell their story. They highlight “Here is where we are” and “Here is where we want to go,” while identifying areas of high-proficiency and high-creativity. Three things organizations can do: name and rank your priorities; be 10 times as clear about your priorities as you think you should be; and figure out where your group aims for proficiency and where it aims for creativity.

Does your group or organization have a culture that makes you feel safe, connected, and engaged? What practices strengthen your group? What do you think are the best companies to work for?

“Searching for Mary Foster” by Patricia Lee Masters

October 6, 2018

Buddhist scholar and teacher Patricia Lee Masters traveled half-way around the world, from Honolulu and Ceylon to India and Chicago, to find Mary Foster, granddaughter of a Native Hawaiian chief and British shipbuilder.

In “Searching for Mary Foster: Nineteenth-Century Native Hawaiian Buddhist, Philanthropist, and Social Activist” (2017), Masters narrates her journey of discovery about the lives of Mary Foster of Honolulu and Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka.

This slim volume is as much a reflection on spirituality and shared values that connect different people and cultures, as it is a biography about a single individual.

We learn a brief history of Buddhism in India; the impact of Anagarika Dharmapala on restoring the birthplace of Buddha, Bodh Gaya, to Buddhists; and Mary Foster’s influence on Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Hawaii.

Just one chapter is dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster (1844-1930), who was the older sister of Victoria Ward, and a childhood friend to both Lydia Paki, who became Queen Lili‘uokalani, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop. We learn that Mary Foster was a strong-willed woman with a “horrible temper,” a fierce intellectual curiosity and a need to know more about spiritual ideas other than Christianity. She wrote, “My hunger for understanding remains unquenched, and I long for some way to better understand the world, God, and myself.”

She had both the passion and wealth to champion the causes she believed in: Buddhism and the Native Hawaiian people. Her dual passions may seem contradictory, one looking inward for meaning and one focused outward on society, but both reflect her generosity of spirit and dedication to helping others.

Mary Foster supported Anagarika Dharmapala’s quest to restore Bodh Gaya (the site of Buddha’s awakening). She also generously supported the Maha Bodhi Society, Foster Seminary for Seinhalese monks and nuns, and Foster Home (an orphanage in Colombo). In fact, a cutting from the Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka was planted at Foster Estate in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was also critical in supporting Buddhism in Hawaii, donating land and funds to build Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu.

In Hawaii Mary Foster is perhaps best remembered for her legacy of Foster Botanical Garden. She also founded scholarships for Native Hawaiians to attend Kamehameha Schools and bought hospital beds for the needy at Kapiolani Hospital and Kapiolani Home (later Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children). She was a determined activist, creating petitions protesting the annexation of Hawaii in 1893 and fighting to protect native trees and water rights in Kahana Valley on Oahu.

With her tremendous impact in Hawaii and Sri Lanka, it is inexplicable that Mary Foster’s life and work have largely been forgotten. It was frustrating to realize that, as Masters admits, “We will never know the real reasons for the family’s dismissal and silencing of the story of her life.”

“The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

September 1, 2018

Recently, I attended my first annual conference with other affiliated members. I was tired from traveling, I was nervous about meeting new people, I was distracted about being away from my family, and I was worried about the work that was accumulating at the office. And yet, looking back, it was a wonderful and energizing experience. It was a beginning for me, the first time I felt grounded in my role at work.

Beginnings and endings. The peaks, the pits, and the transitions. These are the defining moments in our lives – “meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory.”

Exactly why brief experiences can be so memorable, and how we create defining moments, is the subject of Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book, “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact” (2017).

Short and engaging, focusing more on personal stories than research, the book examines defining moments and common traits.

The authors identify four common elements of a defining moment, breaking them down into what makes them so remarkable:

  1. Elevation. They rise above the everyday. To create elevation, we should boost sensory appeal, raise the stakes, and break the script. For example, we might create a memorable First Day Experience to welcome new employees with a personal greeting, mentor, welcome gift, small group lunch, and email from CEO.
  2. Insight. They rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. To create insight, we should dramatize a problem and let people discover the truth for themselves.
  3. Pride. They capture moments of achievement or courage. To create pride, we should identify milestones that motivate us and practice possible responses or actions. For example, we might create academic projects like mock trials and exhibitions, and present them to an audience. “An act of courage can bolster the resolve of others.”
  4. Connection. They are social. To create connection, we should share big moments in person, communicate shared meaning, ask people what matters, and show responsiveness.

Each chapter offers a whirlwind review and clinics that demonstrate how to solve real-world problems.

Of all the moments, Doug Dietz’s defining moment resonated with me. As an industrial designer at General Electric, he designed a new MRI machine and had defining moment in which he saw that MRI machine through the eyes of children. Instead of a technology marvel, he began to see it as something scary and intimidating. So he re-imagined the MRI machine as an adventure, creating jungle, pirate, and cable car experiences that fired their imaginations. Are there experiences in our lives that we can transform with creativity and imagination?

What is one defining moment that you experienced recently? Have you helped create defining moments for new neighbors, new co-workers, or new customers?