How someone organizes their desk can tell you a lot about how they get work done. That’s why we’re stepping into the offices of enviably creative (and productive) people to look at what’s on their desks — pens and notebooks and gadgets, but also décor and tchotchkes. Today, we’ve asked Tom Lehman, co-founder and CEO of Genius, to show and tell.
That doughnut mug was given to me by a coworker as a gift. It’s a joke about math. If you’re a mathematician or a topologist, you consider a coffee cup and a doughnut to be the exact same thing because each of them just has one hole. Topologically, it’s the same thing. He gave that to me to remind me, “Don’t think about too much nerd-math stuff. Coffee cups and doughnuts are different things, don’t be such a nerd.” I’ve always appreciated that.
The monitor risers are intentional in that I did look up — do a Google Image search for “ergonomics,” and if you put out your hand directly in front of yourself, you’re supposed to touch the bottom of the monitor, I read somewhere. I’m sort of in the moderate-ergonomic zone where I’m thinking about it a little bit but not quite ready to take the leap to the standing desk. There are people here who have standing desks, and I’ve got love for them, but I can’t quite go that far in 2018.
Those are the keyboard and mouse I had at my very first job out of college, which was a hedge fund called D.E. Shaw, and everyone was on Dell back in the day. So they gave me this Dell keyboard, that Logitech mouse, and that mouse pad, and throughout my whole experience using computers for work, I always wanted to keep the same keyboard and mouse pad. It’s more comfortable to me. The keyboard has a nice little wrist setup there, the mouse pad has that nice gel thing, but it’s really more about nostalgia and being accustomed to it rather than real ergonomics.
The Hermès Years, that is a book I picked up on a recommendation of a friend who is in fashion. There’s something that’s very powerful to make luxury without pretension. We’re not making clothes at Genius, obviously, but we’re trying to give people the luxury experience of deep connection with music without the pretension of “You’ve got to know a lot about music to really appreciate it.” So luxury without fashion is something I really think about, and I think about Margiela at Hermès. Margiela is also a person who combined art and science in a real way. The technical brilliance with the emotional sensitivity of a poet, that’s what makes him really cool.
Below that is The Death of Ivan Ilych, the Tolstoy short story. I’m not some literary guy, these are pretty on-the-nose titles, but I think it gets at the truth about humanity. What I love about The Death of Ivan Ilych is the extent to which the more you try to maintain a sense of decorum and a sense of chillness in your life, the worse it’s going to be to die. I’m not sure that’s the point, I didn’t take many literature classes in college, but that’s what I take as the point of the book.
The honest truth is that headset probably shouldn’t even be on my desk anymore because I got that to make phone calls, and then …
… I decided it was finally time to do AirPods. That was a very eye-opening experience because beforehand, I was like, AirPods are nerd earphones and they’re not high-quality. But I submitted to the AirPods, and now I use them constantly, for calls, for music. That kind of mirrors the ethos of Genius. AirPods are about convenience, being able to listen to music and talk on the phone the next moment, they’re not about perfect quality. It’s out there in the world. It’s rugged. It’s not in the pristine den where you’re putting on super-hi-fi, delicate headphones. It’s about rolling around in the mud and getting dirty.
My long-time co-worker Mat Brown put me onto Tide to Go about a year and a half ago, and it’s amazing. It really takes the stain out. I think it’s on the upswing; Vetements should do some kind of white garment that has Tide to Go pens built-in. Tide to Go pens are trending right now, and I’m proud to have one.
I like to doodle. I like to fidget. I joggle my leg. Taylor Swift also joggles her leg, so no pressure. But shuffling a deck of cards when I’m looking at the screen, it’s a minor distraction to prevent myself from a major distraction. I love playing these card games, but I am not very good at them, and I’m working on it. Set is very simple, brilliantly designed. I find it very difficult, but it’s cool — and it’s fun to shuffle the cards to distract myself. A fidget spinner, if you will. I used to have a fidget spinner, but that craze ended and you’ve got to move on.
I also like shuffling Magic cards because I think Magic is a fun game to play. It’s a combination of poker and chess. It was designed decades ago by an outsider to game design; it’s still around years and years later, and also, it was the first concept of a collectible card game. Imagine if they were selling an edition of chess, and here’s how it works: The best piece is the queen, and you have to buy it for $1,000. That’s basically how Magic works. If you want the best card, then you have to pay a lot more money for them. I’m not trying to spend a lot of money on Magic cards, but that’s such a brilliant idea: cards that are also currency.
I like Supreme, whatever. I’m not obsessed with Supreme, I think they make cool things. But I’m a big believer in slippers. I always try to make an announcement when the winter starts: “Hey, it’s slipper season.” If you have boots, take off your boots, wear slippers. I’ll go on record as a big proponent of inside shoes.
Editor’s note: Though the North Face slippers with the Supreme bandanna print are very much sold out, you can find some pairs on eBay. However, if you don’t care more about comfort than the print, you can purchase the same style North Face traction mules from Zappos for less than $50, albeit in a more subdued hue.
It’s not like Lacoste is some obscure brand, but to me, it’s almost as good as it gets in terms of embodying the casual, sophisticated, sporty-chic French vibe that I’m always trying to imitate. It’s elegant, fun, but maybe a little unprepared. French nonchalance is something I always admire.
Editor’s note: Since Lehman’s jacket is vintage and was purchased at a Parisian thrift store, we couldn’t find the exact same style. However, this cotton twill jacket has a similar French nonchalance.
Those are shoes that were a big part of my brand for the seven months that I wore them. They were also made by my girlfriend, which, as a maker myself, I love a gift that has a certain personal flair to it. She took white Air Force 1s and dipped them in dye, she read about how to do it on the internet, and they turned out amazing. They turned out like something you could sell at Kith. It was a really great gift to receive, a twist on a classic.
Ceramics is something I love talking about; it’s one of my big passions. I’m a potter on the side. The blue vase on the right is one I made recently. It’s part of my 2018 collection, pieces of pottery inspired by the Majorelle Garden, which I visited in Marrakech this winter. I was very inspired by the Majorelle blue; it’s a really bright-colored blue and matte, and I thought that would be a cool vibe for ceramics, a bunch of bright-colored, matte pots.
Ceramics, to me, is an amazing release because unlike dealing with people and business stuff, you can have a tremendous sense of control because it’s right there. It’s you and the wheel, the clay. But it’s also something that’s impossible to do, though — fundamentally, you keep doing it, you will get better. That is one of my big beliefs in life: There’s no such thing as talent. Just keep doing the thing, and don’t quit.
Editor’s note: The blue vase on Lehman’s desk is not for sale, though Lehman does sell his work through Tom Lehman Ceramics. He says the best pot he has ever made is this one, explaining that it took him two years to get just right, though right now, only his handmade ceramic lamps are available.
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