5 Life Lessons With Justin Chen, CEO of Arcc Spaces
More life lessons from some of the business world’s greatest minds.
If you are interested in design and architecture then ladies and gents, this is your lucky day. Today we are talking to Justin Chen, CEO of Arcc Spaces about his transition from designing Apple stores to building some of Asia’s earliest flexible workplaces.
Find your Grounding
I’ve been reflecting on what is sustainable and how to centre myself as a person to better serve others. I’ve become conscious of trying to be more grounded in life and realised that before I can help others, I need to help myself.
About two years ago I was at a stage of burnout, constantly trying to juggle the demands of work, family responsibilities and external expectations of me. I felt responsible to try and meet the obligations I had in each sphere of my life, but in doing so I was in fact compromising all the areas. I was caught in a spiral being swept along by just trying to fire fight and solve the problems as they were emerging.
It took a conscious effort to be clear about my priorities and finding a more balanced work routine and focusing on wellness. This has meant getting the body fit, decluttering, giving myself dedicated time for meditation and journaling, and being clear on blocking out time for people and travel.
This has also translated in us working to get the foundations of our business in the right place. By taking the time to revisit our purpose, creating better clarity for all our teams, and aligning the organizational outcomes across all departments and roles.
The world is moving at such a rapid pace, yet ironically social media and technology have all helped to reinforce these bubbles of similar views on us. Recommendations engines feed us news and topics that align with our world view.
Having lived all over the world has made me appreciate a global perspective and it shaped my outlook on society and my own personal identity. A defining feature of our human species is our capacity for learning and I believe it is important to take advantage of an attitude of lifelong learning and growth.
We have to be intentional about exposing ourselves to different thoughts and views, and not to remain content with what we know. Be willing to put aside preconceived notions and refrain from judgement.
As leaders, we are constantly challenged to present a strong front to those around us. But people can tell if they are being marketed to.
I’ve learnt that there is power in being comfortable with being vulnerable with those around you. Open communication builds trust, your team wants to know that they can rely and trust on you as much as you do them. Consistency and clear values are something a team wants to relate to and connect with.
This extends to building connections with our customers. They want to know that we genuinely care and want to support their businesses, that we are not just selling a product.
Recognize the value of relationships
Life is not just about career and work and we realise this as we get older. It’s more about connections, relationships, and doing good to others. That’s been key to me. Investing in others, giving back. This is why I want to have a more humane and bespoke approach to business, design, and architecture.
It’s important to surround yourself with people who not only inspire you but who can also challenge and hold you accountable. The power of community is that everyone needs a support network – humans are social creatures that cannot live in isolation. I’m quite involved in the church community in Shanghai, where I found a local Christian community to root myself in and connect to.
In our business, so much of what we do is about building long term partnerships that are mutually beneficial. This interconnectedness is allowing us to grow our networks and access talent much faster than if we were to do so on our own.
Don’t forget your roots
Finally, I think a formative experience for me was our family coming from humble beginnings. Growing up, I spent my first few years in Mali where my family was operating an enamelware factory. We were frugal in terms of expenses when we were growing up, reinvesting everything back into the business. I saw daily the struggle of my parent’s generation, who gave up their best years of their life to be in Africa where they saw opportunity.
My Chinese grandmother passed away a couple years ago, she was Shanghainese. At that time, I think my family began to question its identity and whether it had lost its roots from that generation. My journey to Shanghai brought with it a reconnection also to understanding the trails that the family had gone through.
This serves to remind me constantly to keep a heart of gratitude in life. A big part of my philosophy is appreciation for the small things, taking time to slow down, speaking with humility, and being present for other people.
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