What I’ve Learned: Peter Ngai

What I’ve Learned: Peter Ngai

Posted 6/23/2018


Lighting Industry Pioneer

Aim high. When I was young, my father taught me to always set goals beyond what was comfortable for me to achieve. He said that goals should tax your mind, stress your strength and challenge you beyond what you think you can achieve. Only then is it a deserving goal.

Lighting is not just mathematics, science, engineering or technology. A few decades ago, I was a student at UC Berkeley majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. During my senior year, I took a course in Illuminating Engineering and Lighting. I discovered that lighting is also art, architecture, psychology, physiology, ergonomics and economics. Indeed, lighting design encompasses our entire human experience. I was so captivated by lighting that I took every lighting course that Berkeley offered at that time [laughs]! By the time I graduated, I decided to devote myself to lighting, and I never looked back.

Keep promises and honor commitments. This is what integrity is all about. A promise given is a promise kept. It rewards the one who delivers and the one who received. It is the bond that cements human and commerce relationships alike.

In lighting design, light is no longer an electromagnetic wave. It is the stone to a sculpture, bricks to a bridge, or fabric to a garment. Lighting does not complement the space, it transforms it.

Keep an open mind. When I was little, I was taught an old Chinese saying, “In a company of three people, I can always find my teacher among them.” This has helped me tremendously throughout my life. You can always learn something from another person, but you have to be humble and respectful to hear it.

If you think you are brilliant, don’t let it go to your head. That is when you stop being brilliant. In lighting, genius is overrated—passion trumps everything.

Learn from the learned. Being naïve is highly advantageous. I’ve learned to not be shy of learning from the very best and the very experienced. When I started in lighting, I sought out knowledge and advice from the very best in the field. My experience was that they were more than eager to help; they were willing to give me the shirts off their backs.

I’ve learned that being afraid of failure is probably the greatest impediment to success—to think it through thoroughly and move ahead with courage. You may win, or you may lose, but you will never say ‘I wish I had tried’ when you’re on your deathbed.

Give back. I’ve learned that the dividend of giving comes back to me one thousand-fold.

Lighting is not rocket science. Nothing in lighting is too difficult to comprehend. Lighting fuses design, function and emotion. They are inseparable. Light is magic, and the lighting designer is the magician.

My father gave me advice that I always remember—‘No matter what your aspiration is, it is better to be a leader at the head of a pack of chickens than a follower behind a herd of water buffalos.’ He taught me the importance of being a leader at whatever you do.


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