Paul Jun, Personio
💭 Thoughts on the future of creative teams, video game soundtracks, and materials that replenish the planet.
Thought Enthusiast is an AdHoc Project where we chat with fascinating thought leaders across various facets of music, tech, and culture whose work we admire, simply asking “what’s on your mind?” and “why do you care?” 💭
Paul Jun is a creative director, writer, and photographer who likes building brands, products, and communities. He has worked at places like Mixpanel, COLLINS, CreativeMornings, and with Seth Godin on The altMBA. For fun, he enjoys street photography, cooking, snowboarding, and replaying old video games from his past. Check out his Substack Kimchee & Gabagool here.
🎯 Current focus
Oof. New job, new big project ahead of me with more moving parts and people than I can count. It's a new challenge for me, both leading a huge project and also growing my management skills. I told myself as long as I'm learning, then I'm in the right place.
On the side, well, I am currently in a medical boot because of an Achilles surgery that happened before Thanksgiving. The injury happened two years ago. This is giving me a lot of time at home, allowing me to read deeply, write more, and get lost in all kinds of books: art and design books, philosophy, psychology, and topics that I would never dare to read like economics and politics.
This time is also giving me a moment to look back on seven years of photography work. I've been putting images into specific themes. This is the first time doing this, so there are a lot of ah-ha moments. I love sharing it with friends and other photographers, getting their perspective and seeing what resonates with them. The most interesting insight so far (which is also not surprising): my best work is the kind of stuff that I am most scared to do, which is street photography and capturing moments that make people feel something: joy, laughter, confusion, awe.
🔮 The future of creative teams
I've been thinking about the future of creative teams. I've been thinking about the future of creative careers for designers, writers, photographers, etc. I'm thinking about what's next for the tech industry, since this is the only industry one can work in to have a free house someday, maybe. I’m thinking about the bullshit lies that creative people have been told, the exploitation of talent, from the very same leaders who stand on stages and give talks about leadership and culture.
I’m thinking about the last ten years, the notion that we're leaving the ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Phenomenon) era. In short, the last 10 years, interest rates were low and money was free. This allowed for the world we're in today: tech companies eating the world, mass layoffs when interest rates go up, organizational chaos, and frankly, a famine of real leadership in many companies. Everyone I talk to is feeling it and no one seems to know what the future will look like. It's both scary and exciting, because the tech sector is in dire need of change. I wrote about it recently on my Substack.
We were in a "growth-at-all-costs" mentality and that produced some awful habits, systems, and beliefs. It bloated teams and entire industries. It created a ton of bullshit jobs. It created cultures that will not stand the test of time. I’ve read this essay three times this week by Ed Zitron. It connects the dots on everything that has gone wrong in the last decade. The problem, I think, is a total lack of leadership and vision-setting. If we don’t design this future on purpose, then we’ll inevitably get what we allow.
🎶 📚 Current obsessions…
I am obsessed with the Final Fantasy 7 soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu. I can listen to Ryuichi Sakamoto on repeat, as well as MF Doom "Saffron" on repeat. I love hip-hop, so you'll always hear 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Dipset on blast. Miles Davis and Ella on rainy days and slow mornings.
I just finished reading Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I bought the book only because it won a Pulitzer, and I desperately wanted to understand what kind of book and storytelling would earn an accolade like that. You know a book is good when you finish reading a chapter, close your eyes, and you can literally see the characters in your mind. The most shocking thing to me? Only periods and commas. No fancy grammar, no semi-colons, no em dashes, no long-winded sentences. Just beautiful, crisp writing. I always said I need to read more fiction and the way I devoured that book just shows how famished I had been in absorbing — feeling and tasting — great writing.
⭐️ Endlessly inspiring
So much of my worldview is informed by what Seth Godin teaches. I love him, he's my mentor, and he changed my life. If I lead a life the way Seth does—teaching, building things, writing books, being generous with my earned wisdom—then what a life indeed.
I think every creative person should read Steven Pressfield’s books.
I really admire photographer and essayist, Craig Mod. His independent life as an artist, writer, and photographer is so inspiring. He makes beautiful books. He walks all over Japan and other countries. He writes about it. And he seems to be living the Kevin Kelly "1000 True Fans" mentality.
I admire my friend Jocelyn K. Glei and the world she has built for herself – starting with a podcast (called Hurry Slowly) about burnou – to creating spiritual courses that the world desperately needs.
I look up to my bud Nick Ace, who is the Chief Creative Officer at COLLINS. He inspires me endlessly. He's one of the realest people I've met. A close friend. Someone who is a real design leader, has taste, ideas, and a point of view on the world and his work. I've learned so much from him. I've been able to do some of my best work because of him.
😌 Creating the conditions for others to do their best work
I can't believe I'm typing this but: I feel rested. After my last job, I had a full six weeks off. I’ve never experienced that in my life. I went through waves of guilt, boredom, inspiration, all of it. All that to say: I am ready to go at it with another big project. I want to do even bolder, more beautiful work. And more importantly, I want to create the conditions for others to do their best work. That is what lights me up these days.
🌊 Materials that replenish the planet
My friend Julia Marsh and her partner/co-founder Matt Mayes are building the company Sway that replaces single-use plastics with seaweed. I mean... this is just phenomenal use of resources, human potential, and design. I really believe her company is going to change how —or why— we use plastic.
💸 That’s Money
Cash App’s campaigns are always great. A point of view on the world and what they stand for. They ship amazing projects of all kinds, from editorials to a fashion line. Beautiful branding (shoutout my friend Nick Ace who worked on it). A clear usage of the product and “That’s Money” as the tagline.
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