How to Transform Frustration into Willpower

Discover out how Hyper Island alumnus Eric Lee turned his frustration into Yangon’s first design school in this, the first in our new PTMA Transformational Stories series.

“Find a problem that frustrates you so bad that you want to change and improve the system. Once the anger outweighs the fear, you will have the courage to be foolish enough to drive the change that you want to make.”

Eric Lee is a designer-turned-entrepreneur that identifies as a ‘scientist’ because of his inventive spirit, innate curiosity, and insatiable desire to try out new things. He ran design agency Refruit in Yangon, Myanmar, and Singapore for four years before joining Hyper Island’s part-time MA in Digital Management (previously Digital Media Management) in 2014.

Since graduating from the MA program, Eric has chosen a path of self-discovery, by reflecting and understanding his strengths and passions. Eric has used this, combined with a vision and the courage to experiment, to do something remarkable for the local community in Yangon. Frustrated by the quality of education and the lack of creative talent, Eric decided to tackle the challenge head-on by starting the city’s first design school, SuperCampus.

Let’s hear more about his journey…

Eric Lee, far right (w/ glasses); Rizal Yatim, far left, are Hyper Island alumni running SuperCampus in Yangon.

Q: We love what you’re doing at SuperCampus. Can you tell us how it started?

Eric: “At Hyper Island, we learned a lot about digital disruption and Myanmar was in an interesting phase at that time because businesses and the mobile industry was making a digital leapfrog. Because of exponential growth, talent became a key challenge. There was no proper design school to answer the talent shortage of the creative industry. So, for four years, I was waiting for someone to initiate one. Nobody came up with anything. It became an itch that I had to scratch and I became very frustrated. I decided to start this school within a few months.”

Q: True to the Hyper Island spirit, you “Lead the Change”, what were some of your biggest challenges in this journey?

Eric: “Although I’ve been an educator for a while, I’d never started a school before. I had a rough idea of how it should be but executing it was the main challenge. The logistics, marketing…I thought, would it be too expensive? Would they understand English? Where can we find the teachers? On top of that, we gave ourselves just three months to launch the first course. It was a very tight deadline. It felt like we were building the plane while flying it at the same time. But, I have to say that we manage to get a lot of friends to support and help during the setting-up phase. Some of the clients I work with helped, too. Without their support, we could never have gotten it set up in such a short period of time.”

Q: What have been the biggest rewards so far? 

Eric: “Just like at Hyper Island, we try to do a reflection at the end of every day. Our students say things like, “Thank you for starting this.” I don’t know how to put it in words, but it gives me and the rest of the team this sense of accomplishment. We are part of their change. We are proud and happy with what we have done so far. On the other hand, we also think: ”Shucks, what have we done? Now we have to keep the ball rolling!”

Q: How has the concept of ‘learning by doing’ played a role in this?

Eric: “I have a lot of ‘What ifs…’ – ‘What if I create a series of creative hub in the ASEAN region where everyone can share creative ideas or collaborate, if everyone is moving towards machine learning, should somebody focus on creative learning?

Having a school is an interesting platform for me to experiment. For example, we started to accept cryptocurrency because I wanted to know how small businesses could benefit from it. I want to learn how to tackle the problems and maybe, I can adapt it to Singapore. For me, experimentation is the fastest way to learn when nobody has the answer.

What I also learned about community building is that it does need not to be perfect. It has to be imperfect so that the community can be involved in building it. Some kind of ownership I supposed. Collecting design and art books is the first step, next will be a materials library and design archive. Very big hairy audacious goal but one small step at a time.”

Q: You mentioned building a library, can you tell us more about it?

Eric: “Resources are hard to come by in Yangon, especially when it comes to the price and accessibility to design books. I discussed the problem with Rizal Yatim, who was my classmate at Hyper Island and he suggested a book donation drive. I didn’t have much expectation initially and mainly did a Facebook banner and asked friends within my network. Somehow, the response was much better than I had expected. So we are setting up the SuperCampus Design Library in the corner of the school. I believe it will help the local community have access to creative resources.”

Q: How can the Hyper Island community help?

Eric: “If you have any design or creative books and magazines to donate, we would be happy to collect them from you. We are also very open to the idea of collaborating with Hypers who would like to help work on a project or collaborations like giving a talk in Yangon. Lastly, this is a long shot, but, if you know anyone in Yangon who can help give us a small space to build a design village like the Baan Kang Wat in Chiangmai, let me know!” (You can connect with Eric and SuperCampus here: eric.lee@hyperisland.sg)

Q: Do you have a message for people who are also looking to drive change in their careers or society in general?

Eric: “That would depend on the context, but I have a personal motto: ‘Priority changes once you know your expiry date.’ This helped me answer the questions with regards to what can and can’t wait. Focus on what you really want to do and everything else can wait. And if you’re scared, be angry. Anger and frustration can be useful change agents.

Most people would know what Steve Jobs’ famous line, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”, means, but I feel that being foolish alone does not help us overcome the fear of challenging the status quo. It misses the phrase “A hungry man is an angry man”. Only an angry man can do foolish stuff.

Find a problem that frustrates you so bad that you want to change and improve the system. Once the anger outweighs the fear, you will have the courage to be foolish enough to drive the change that you want to make.