Fahrenheit 212’s people are the best and brightest innovators in the world. We hail from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and industries, but are connected by a shared passion to make things better and to make better things. Voices of Fahrenheit is a series that shares perspectives from the individuals behind the innovations at Fahrenheit 212 to give you a glimpse into their days and what makes them tick.
This week, we interview Alex Li, Senior Associate on the Commercial Strategy team at Fahrenheit 212.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am a Senior Associate on the Commercial Strategy team at Fahrenheit, which means I’m responsible for helping shape our strategies and ensuring our solutions make it to market, and make money. Throughout projects, I assist with research, developing strategy, and am always balancing creativity with commercial rigor.
Where do you feel most creative?
I get inspiration from being around people, whether that be friends, family, out in the city, or around strangers. But when it comes to actually being creative, I need to be alone. Solitude allows my thoughts to flow freely at the early stages of creation when ideas are most fragile.
Do you have any rituals for the innovation process?
Walking. There is something about the juxtaposition between the internal calmness of walking and the external chaos of New York City that really helps me think clearly.
Where do you call home?
Home is more who than where for me. My family is very international — I’m half French and half Chinese — so my family is spread across the world in many different cities. As a result, home is more about being with people I love than in a specific location. To me, home is in Paris, New York, Boston, London...or rather with my family and my close friends.
What do you never leave home without?
Lately, my Citibike key. There’s no better way to see a city, and I bike literally everywhere. The sound of the city, the visual stimulation, moving through the crowds and the cars, there’s nothing like it.
What is the first thing you do every morning? The last thing at the end of every day?
Coffee. Coffee is life. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I’m a huge coffee fiend and I love the industry. I’ve been spending the last few years figuring out how to brew high quality coffee and espresso. But that’s only a small part of the coffee lifecycle. To get closer to the other parts of the cycle, I’ve started as a coffee apprentice at a roastery where I help roast coffee from greens. It’s been amazing. Ultimately, my goal is to work in the coffee industry in some way and this is a step in that direction. I could talk about coffee all day.
Last thing at the end of the day — writing. I try to end every day with writing either a poem or continuing my short stories. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and I am always writing poems.
When did you first get into the field of innovation?
Fahrenheit is my first foray into the field, at least officially. I think innovating and creativity in general is a practice. I’m lucky to be paid for that practice now, but I’ve always had an exploratory mind and learned, tested, and created constantly.
What is your favorite innovation from the last decade?
Though we haven’t seen it in the mass market yet, driverless cars. I’m incredibly excited to see how driverless cars fundamentally change our society in the next 10 years. There are implications across every sector. But for me, the more exciting implications are around the big changes we’ll be seeing in the fundamental fabric of society — the way we structure our cities, the way we structure our lives, the way we view ownership, even our conception of the American dream (a white picket fence and a car), though maybe not for much longer.
What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation?
That’s tough to say. From the perspective of what needs to change, I’d say airlines. That’s an industry where consumer satisfaction is low and change has been slow.
From the perspective of what is changing and where we see tons of innovation, I’d say grocery stores. There’s been lots of innovation in adjacent retail industries like online shopping, new in-store experiences, and introduction of delivery services. But no one has cracked the problem yet (though Amazon is close). No one has created a comprehensive solution that brings convenience, price, online options, digital, and physical into the right mix. I suspect grocery shopping of the future to be some mix between Amazon Prime, Amazon Fresh, and their new brick and mortar offering all seamlessly integrated to get you cheap, fresh groceries fast.
What are some of your interests outside of innovation?
Besides the already mentioned coffee, writing, poetry, I’d add in boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and Latin dance especially bachata.
What is your go-to reading source?
My Mama — she has an endless supply of amazing books.
What is your greatest life hack?
Don’t take anything too seriously. The moment you stop having fun, the end is near. That’s not to say there aren’t times when you need to be more serious than not. I believe everything can be done with a smile, and you can always find something to make you laugh. Always find those things and hold on to them even if no one else is laughing.
Cook everything from scratch. It’s better and you learn more. Mixes are for suckers.
Related to that — learn how to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Girlfriends love chocolate chip cookies.
What is your must-read book?
To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway. For a great short story — "Kilifi Creek", by Lionel Shriver.
What is your favorite app?
Whatsapp? I don’t use my phone for much, to be honest. Whatsapp allows me to talk to my friends and family around the world, so that’s probably my most used app.
What is your favorite quotation?
Charles Bukowski’s poem on style.
Also, “As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.” - George Bernard Shaw.