In clay, Kevin Dikdan ’19 discovered intricacies of business

Kevin DikdanPhoto/Mike Lovett

Kevin Dikdan '19 sits at the pottery wheel, where he spends much of his free time while on campus.

For Kevin Dikdan ’19, zoning out at the pottery wheel isn’t just a form of relaxation – it’s a noble exercise that has led him to discovery.

The Houston, Texas native spends much of his free time at Brandeis at the pottery wheel – also known as “throwing” – and can detect almost instantaneously the stiffness, density and water content of the hunks of clay he shapes.

His hours at the wheel have taught Dikdan about more than the texture of clay; the business and anthropology double-major has learned there is no shortcut around focus and experience in practicing a discipline.

In high school, Dikdan apprenticed with a pottery teacher who taught attention to process over product. He didn’t let Dikdan make finished ceramics pieces for months, requiring his apprentice to instead knead clay over and over, then raise it up and put it down on the wheel, repeatedly practicing the elements of the craft before he could complete a piece.

“It was pretty exhausting,” said Dikdan, now an instructor in the Brandeis Pottery Club. “When I came to Brandeis and I started teaching people here ceramics, I tried to speed up that learning process. Then I realized what [my teacher] was teaching me.”

“He wanted you to learn the process holistically,” Dikdan continued. “He wanted you to know the underlying tenets and foundations before jumping ahead. I found that was a great analogy for what I’ve learned about Japan through my business studies. In America, we want instant gratification. But in Japan it’s, about the foundation. When you work in a company in Japan your credentials don’t matter. What matters is how long you’ve been there and how you treat those around you. The Japanese care very much about these foundations.”

Drawing that conclusion was a critical leap for Dikdan, who sees Japan as a leader in business ethics and cultural dexterity. His fascination with Japan has led to him studying Japanese – he is currently in advanced language classes at Brandeis – and to join the Japan Society of Boston.

He sought out the society at the encouragement of International Business School professor Andy Molinsky, an expert in cultural dexterity with whom Dikdan also co-produces a podcast that gives career advice to college students.

Dikdan now hopes to study abroad in Japan next year.

“In America if you put in a dollar it’s all about how much you get back, a return on equity,” Dikdan said. “But, in Japan it’s not about the financial, it’s far more nuanced than that.”

“It’s about ESG – Environment, Social, Governance,” he explained. “Investors and consumers in Japan care about what a company is doing to preserve its longevity by acting sustainably and responsibly. They want to know that the company is invested in having people around in 50 years to buy and enjoy its products.”

Dikdan scoffs at Japanese stereotypes and says there is way more to the country’s contemporary culture than anime and the bright lights of Tokyo. He believes ESG – a business philosophy with which he identifies – is one example.

He plans to see how it works in practice when he hopefully makes his way to the Land of the Rising Sun next year. Though Dikdan is currently unsure of what area of business he wants to pursue in his career, he feels visiting Japan is a critical next step in helping him decide.

Dikdan credits Molinsky for helping pique his interest about Japan and cultural dexterity in business. However, he’s also grateful for the perspective he’s gained from studying anthropology and throwing ceramics.

“As an anthropology and business double-major, I can dissect a culture and I can understand it holistically,” he said. “I can then look at business practices through that lens.”

Categories: Arts, Business, General, Student Life

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