The Guide to Creative Change with Dr. Alan James Yu · ShiftWorkPlace

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Ep102 The Guide to Creative Change with Dr. Alan James Yu


How love, leadership and collective soul foster sustainable organizational change

Bio for Dr. Alan James Yu

Dr. Alan James Yu is an inspirational speaker, author, facilitator, retreat leader & coach on love, creativity, and leadership. He aims to help leaders from all walks of life build healthy and lasting organizational, community, and global change. For the last 10 years, Alan has worked in corporate, higher education, and nonprofit sectors as a facilitator. He has lived in places as diverse as Iowa City, Seattle, and San Diego in the United States, Singapore, and, currently, Bali, Indonesia. In 2022, Alan spent a month in Cambodia and began reflecting on his experiences living and working with Balinese communities in rural Bali. He put his thoughts into his first book, On Love, Leadership and the Collective Soul: A Guide to Making Creative Change.

Episode highlight

Alan Yu was born in Iowa, and he is a second-generation Chinese American. Growing up, Alan and his family travelled a lot, and because flights were expensive, they did a lot of driving. The travelling exposed Alan to new places, people and cultures.

When Alan took his doctorate program, he had no idea that Bali would become his home. His interest was to teach leadership. In this captivating episode, Alan takes us on a journey through his unique experiences as an instructional designer, coach, and speaker and shares how he integrates leadership, creativity, and cultural immersion to make a difference in organizations and communities.



  • “We express a lot of our spirituality through art.”
  • “It’s through the power of love that people can they form relationships with each other and support each other’s spiritual growth, and act as mirrors for each other.”


Childhood Incidents

When you grow up in a family that has some Asian history, learning Western classical music is a big deal. Growing Up, Dr. Alan had to learn how to play the piano. It didn’t come naturally for him, and he had to put in a lot of work. Alan recalls a friend from his music class called Andy. He was extremely good at playing the piano, and in recent years, he joined a worldwide piano competition, placing second.

All along, Dr. Alan wished he was less competitive and that his family would encourage him. Even so, his experience with the piano played a massive role in who he is today. It taught him to work towards a goal and achieve it.

As an adolescent, Alan enjoyed great relationships with white people. He and his friends would play together and sleep over at each other’s homes. One day, he was walking into an American fast food in his hometown in Iowa, and an older man pointed him towards a Chinese restaurant that was across the street. It dawned on him that no matter how well he adapted, there would always be something to remind him that he was a foreigner.

Influential Groups

Alan has had opportunities to inform corporate leadership in universities and the social sector, which has shaped the leader he is today. When Alan was taking up his doctorate program, he had a mentor by the name of Rose Martinez. She was teaching leadership creatively with landscape painting, dancing, and cooking, among others. Alan worked with Rose at least four times because he loved her leadership style, and her teaching method resonated with him.

Alan’s fascination with creativity helped him fuse his university and social sector work, and served particularly well when he worked for a centre for social innovation at another university.

Cultural Epiphanies

When Alan was 20 years old, he had the opportunity to live in Harbin in the People’s Republic of China where he perfected his Mandarin. 

While in Harbin, he caught himself making casual remarks to a teacher, not recognizing that there was a hierarchy to be respected. His Japanese friend had to explain to him why his familiar behaviour was considered rude. 

In Bali as he experienced the Balinese unique relationship with nature so intimately connected with spirituality, Alan’s approach to work and life changed. As a result of working with a cultural guide to integrate his multiple cultural experiences, Alan made the decision to live and work in Bali, as a leadership author and speaker on his own terms. Balinese culture informs Alan’s personal values, meditation, and teaching practice and he has integrated Balinese culture into his approach to teaching. 

Soapbox Moment

Alan has a calendar of leadership training offered in Bali. He invites anyone wanting to facilitate creative thinking within their organization to get in touch with him for more information about how to do this with Alan’s coaching in Bali.

News flash! Receive Alan’s FREE guide on How to Spark Creativity and Innovation…Without Banging Your Head Against the Wall for Days…Even if No Fresh Thoughts Are Coming to Mind! Send an email with “Gervais” in the subject line with your name and email address in the body of your email.


Dr. Alan Yu was born to Chinese immigrant parents and grew up in Iowa in the US, travelling around the country as a child to experience different areas of the landscape and culture with his family. As an adult, Alan worked as an instructional designer in multiple industries and different countries. He was deliberate in his efforts to learn Mandarin in Harbin, China, where he could connect more consciously with his culture and expand on his childhood experience with Cantonese. James eventually completed a doctorate that allowed him to do ethnographic research in Bali. This experience transformed him, gave him a new way to see leadership through the lens of art, culture and spirit and became integral to who he is and the values he practices now.


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