I went to the Yanaka Cemetery this morning to explore the resting place of the last shogun. The cemetery is in the middle of a lovely neighborhood, almost untouched by World War II. While wandering around I discovered this.


A playground in the middle of a cemetery. I had look twice to believe my eyes: Indeed, a playground smack-dab in the middle of a cemetery. I don’t know the Japanese culture well enough to understand the reason behind this placement but it hit me immediately: What a great idea. What a brilliant way to connect life and death. What an easy way to make your pilgrimage to visit your dead loved ones an enjoyable experience for your kids. What an innovative way to make grieving part of our human experience, not something we want to box up nicely and put away.

I never thought of it because we’re all slaves of accepted norms

My parents died 2 years ago and I’ve visited their graves a few times together with my daughter. I tend to just spend a few minutes at the cemetery since there’s nothing to do for my daughter, and I want her life to be filled with unicorns not memories of dead people. The cemetery my parents found their resting place in is a very solemn place. You barely want to breathe. I often wished cemeteries could be a celebration of lives lived well. But I never thought of reserving a place inside the cemetery for a playground. Somebody else did. Why?

At the minimum, the cultural norms in Japan might be different and death might be more accepted than in the Western culture where we tend to put grieving into a ghetto. At best, the people who came up with this idea thought outside of accepted norms. Outside of the system that tells us what to think. How things should be. These norms turn people into conforming machines. These norms turn companies into lifeless corporations.

As I wrote before, we’re in the middle of a revolution. It’s the opportunity of our lifetime. To make this world a better place, we need to fight the urge to stay within accepted norms.

The egg and the system

Haruki Murakami gave an inspiring speech last year where he spoke about our constant struggle as fragile beings to confront the wall aka the system:

“Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.” (…)

“We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong – and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.”

We created all these accepted norms. We all did. Who says we can’t change them constantly to live a more human, loving and connected life? All these social technologies can help us humanize the marketplace, the interactions between people brands, work and life. Let’s not waste that opportunity by staying within accepted norms.