Communication Mediums: Gatekeepers of Trust

   Electronic communication has become a staple of our world. As rising oil prices restrict travel budgets and a globalized hyper-competitive world demands ever more of its workforce’s schedules, the importance of electronic communication grows with every passing day. Marching to the beat of Moore’s Law, electronic communication has become cheaper, more convenient, and accessible. The world is once again flat (Friedman, 2005).

   An explosion of expertise enabled by evaporating barriers to communication pushes knowledge workers to know ever more about less. Specialized researchers facing complex problems increasingly rely on teams ” because no one knows enough to be able to do the experiment by herself” (Hardwig, 1991). Collaboration with others has already become an “inescapable [feature] of much modern knowledge acquisition” (Hardwig, 1991). As industry is transformed by the knowledge economy, academic research foreshadows the collaboration necessary in industry. We must all collaborate.

   Never before have we had so many electronic communication options for collaboration. Two decades ago, options available for real time electronic communication were limited to the telephone, an early form of email, or – if you lived in Europe – text messaging. Today, choosing a communication medium invokes the question: “should I text, message, post in a group, tweet, chat, Snapchat, email, audio call, or video call?” In this paper, I discuss a hidden consequence of choosing a communication medium: the potential to develop trust. I will show how choosing a medium to communicate with others also implies choosing a capacity to trust others.

   Before we may understand the impact of a communication medium in developing trust between individuals, we must understand the conditions of trust between individuals. I will first discover these conditions by reviewing existing literature on the nature of trust. I will then investigate the properties the conditions, and finally show the impact of communication medium bandwidth  on these properties.

The Conditions of Trust

Risk

   While no standard definition of trust exists, scholars of psychology, sociology, and economics agree risk is essential to conceptualizing trust (Rosseau, 1998). As cited by Crease, Gelvin offers “to trust is to risk; the greater the risk the greater the trust” (2004). Others suggest a more precise characterization of risk as individuals risking vulnerability, and indeed, Rosseau found the most frequently cited definition of trust to be “willingness to be vulnerable” proposed by Mayer, Davis, Schoorman (1995).

Confident Expectations

   Existing literature also identifies confident expectations as a condition for trust. Rosseau claims “confident expectations and a willingness to be vulnerable are critical components of all definitions of trust reflected in the articles” and “trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions of behaviour of another”. However, my investigations into risk (below) show that confident expectations also inform our decision to engage in risk. Confident expectations is an optional component of risk, but a necessary condition of trust. Therefore, I have included my inquiry into confident expectations under the umbrella of risk.

While there is no universal definition of trust in existing literature, scholars agree the two necessary conditions are risk and confident expectations.

Investigating Risk

 

If tolerating risk is a pillar of trust, understanding how we evaluate risk will inform how we evaluate when to trust. According to Chiles and McMackin, “Risk is the perceived probability of loss, as interpreted by a decision maker” (Rosseau, 1998). I extend this definition of risk to include willingness to lose.

   Unlike probability of loss, willingness to lose is a factor of risk known to the risk decision maker. If I am deciding whether to trust a coworker to look after my lunch without eating it, I consider the value I place on my lunch. While how and why we ascribe value is beyond the scope of this paper, value is often informed by the availability of alternatives. If less alternatives are available should I lose my lunch (there are no food vendors), or the available alternatives are not desirable (food vendors are expensive), I am less willing to lose my lunch and so am less willing to trust because the cost of loss is greater, regardless of probability. Willingness to lose is known to the decision maker, is influenced by what we value, and does not depend on other individuals.

   Continuing our lunch experiment: if I believe I will lose my lunch should I leave it in the care of my colleague, then I am unlikely to trust my colleague with my lunch. The defining concept in this statement is belief in my colleague’s actions, and Rosseau suggests probability as a framework for believing which action my colleague will take.

I propose the variables in assessing this probability are: reputation for losing previous lunches and confidence to act as expected.

  Perceived confidence to act as expected possesses a unique property not shared by other variables in the risk relation. Willingness to lose, reputation of loss, and possible outcomes may be determined by the risk decision maker without interacting with the individual(s) contending for trust. Perceived confidence to act as expected, however, requires the individual(s) contending for trust to somehow demonstrate their confidence to act as expected in order for the risk decision maker to be capable of perceiving it.

   Investigating the nature of confidence is beyond the scope of this paper. For this paper, I treat confidence as a black box and focus on perception of confidence. I assume the individual(s) contending for trust must demonstrate confidence to the risk decision maker, and demonstration requires the individual(s) contending for trust to communicate with the risk decision maker. This communication must be facilitated by a medium, which prior to the 19th century has been either  face-to-face or written. In the next section, I contribute that properties of the communication medium influence the risk decision maker’s perception of confidence..

Mediums of Confidence

 

  I argue the perception of confidence is dependent upon the constraints of the communication medium used to convey confidence. Caris-Verhallen et al (1999) show that between 55% and 93% of all in-person communication is non-verbal. For the purposes of this paper, I assume all potential uses (expressing joy, sadness, insecurity, confidence, etc) of a communication medium will make full use of the medium. Therefore, I assume communicating confidence is distributed over both verbal and non-verbal communication when interacting with others in-person. For example, casual observation of verbal communication suggests tone and pitch (verbal) to be relevant to the risk decision maker’s perception of confidence as well as eye movement and facial expression (non-verbal).

   Even wIthout considering the myriad of communications mediums available to us within the past two decades, the effects of communication medium on confidence can be observed by comparing telephone communication with in-person communication. The telephone does not permit the risk decision maker to perceive the eye movements and facial expressions of individuals contending for trust. While the relative weight of non-verbal communication compared with verbal communication in establishing trust is beyond the scope of this paper, eye movement and facial expression have a non-zero effect on perception of confidence. Therefore, I propose confidence is a dependent variable of communication medium.

   Mediums may emphasize or deemphasizes indicators of confidence. Particularly, as a medium’s bandwidth approaches zero, the medium enforces a disproportionate emphasis on increasingly poor indicators of confidence; as a medium’s bandwidth decreases, it becomes easier to emit false confidence and falsely interpret confidence. I define a poor indicator of confidence by the ease of which the indicator is falsified, and bandwidth by its technical definition from the discipline of electrical engineering. Table 1.1  lists common communications mediums and the typical bandwidth required to support the medium.

 

Medium

Bandwidth

Text message

190 bytes

Chat

10kb – 1+Mb

Voice call

9 Kbps – 100Kbps

Video call

300Kbps – 1.5Mbps

 

Table 1.1 – Communication Medium Bandwidth

 

   For example, a teletype machine permitted the most powerful leaders of America and the USSR to quiver behind their boardrooms at the possibility of global nuclear war while presenting each other with confident teletypes demanding the other stand down. It was, in part, a rambling discoherent message from the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis which permitted Robert Kennedy to perceive the confidence of his counterpart may not be what they believed. The arrival of this letter marked a turning point in the standoff, giving him the confidence to begin deescalation.

   The teletype medium afforded more emphasis to the words and their properties as indicators of confidence in place of other indicators, such as non-verbal body language cues and immediacy of the response. While the USSR’s true confidence (which in fairness, was not dissimilar from the US) was ultimately discovered through analysis afforded by the teletype medium, the medium also afforded their confidence to be successfully falsified for most of the crisis. If the negotiation between the superpowers had been conducted via a high bandwidth communication medium such as Google Hangouts, harder to falsify indicators of confidence, such as immediacy of response, may have resulted in faster deescalation.

   However, an accurate indicator of confidence in one medium may not translate as an accurate indicator of confidence in another medium. Consider the immediacy indicator which may have aided deescalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the Google Hangouts medium, and apply it to text messaging. At first, it may appear a long-delayed response to a sensitive question might imply the respondent lacks confidence. However, another property of this medium discredits immediacy as an indicator of confidence: text messaging is not a real-time medium. Unlike the Google Hangouts medium, text messaging does not assume the sole focus of the respondent. The respondent may be driving, cooking, or in an airplane, and any of these activities would be reasonable alternatives explanations for delayed response other than lack of confidence. However, the individual asking a sensitive question is not necessarily aware of this preoccupation, and so immediacy in the low-bandwidth text messaging medium also fits the definition of lower bandwidth mediums encouraging false interpretations of confidence.

   I offer high bandwidth communications mediums afford higher quality indicators of confidence, which then may be used in conjunction with reputation of loss, possible outcomes and willingness to lose to evaluate risk. I will now show how we come to identify certain behaviors as indicators of confidence.

A Library of Correlations

 

  Up to this point I have assumed a risk decision maker evaluating the probability of loss using only information pertaining to either herself or the individual(s) contending for trust. In practice, we are not so rational. We do not need to be. There is an easier method of evaluating risk than deeply analyzing the factors influencing the specific case at hand.

   I argue we create a library of successful correlations – correlation of successful outcomes to the behavior that preceded the successful outcome, and use these correlations to inform future risk decisions. This is consistent with Rosseau’s claim that “risk taking buttresses a sense of trust when the expected behavior materializes.” These successful correlations are the benchmark for evaluating  of what we call confidence; these successful correlations are why we can say we perceive confidence. When we say we are confident in an outcome, we are actually perceiving behavior previously associated with successful outcomes, and on this basis claiming to expect more successful outcomes if we perceive similar behavior.

   However, because correlations depend on properties of the communication medium, the library of successful correlations may only be used to accurately inform future risk decisions of the same communication medium type. As a new communication medium’s properties deviate from the properties of the communication medium responsible for generating our personal library of successful outcome correlations, our ability to predict probability of loss decreases as well.

Conclusions

 

  Within the past twenty years, choosing a communication medium has become a decision facing most of the developed and developing world. As Moore’s law continues to offer us higher bandwidth communication mediums at an accelerating pace, evaluating communication mediums will become a staple of modern existence. Different communication mediums will permit relationships to develop to different strengths. In this paper, I have analyzed the role of the communication medium in establishing trust.

   Specifically, in this paper I have shown not all communications mediums permit the same quantity or quality of confidence indicators. These confidence indicators form an vital component of the risk relationship for evaluating the probability of loss. Since probability of loss is one of two conditions necessary for trust, I have shown that by choosing a communication medium, we also choose our potential to trust others.

    I have also shown that we create libraries correlating behavior to successful outcomes, and use these correlations to create and add credibility to confidence indicators. I have shown these libraries to be medium-specific.

    I believe the primary consequence is simple: choosing a communication medium should be thought of as an extension of the investment in the relationship.

 

References

 

Caris-Verhallen, Wilma M.c.m., Ada Kerkstra, and Jozien M. Bensing. “Non-verbal Behaviour in Nurse-elderly Patient Communication.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 29.4 (1999): 808-18. Web.

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Print.

Hardwig, John. “The Role of Trust in Knowledge.” THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 88.12 (1991): 693-708. Web.

Rousseau, Denise M., Sim B. Sitkin, Ronald S. Burt, and Colin Camerer. “Not So Different After All: A Cross-Discipline View Of Trust.” Academy of Management Review 23.3 (1998): 393-404. Web.

 

Harnessing Bias and Ignorance: An Argument for a Diversity of Perspectives towards Better Collaboration

A Chinese philosopher once proposed that “the participant’s perspectives are clouded while the bystander’s views are clear.” (Unknown) This simple observation captures the core purpose of conducting interdisciplinary research; to leverage unique perspectives towards creating new knowledge at a necessary ever faster pace. However, perception can also be detrimental to research – our past experiences obscuring the implications of evidence perhaps clear to someone else (Chalmers, 1999, p. 7). By discussing the problems and benefits of perceptual bias, different types of expertise, and the notion of triangulation (INTEG220, 2011, p. Oct 27), I will show how an interdisciplinary approach to research can be used to overcome debilitating perceptual biases and how perceptual bias can be positively harnessed.

 
Priming is a phenomenon where previous knowledge skews our perception of reality. Bias is introduced in everything we observe because we are primed by previous experiences (Chalmers, 1999, p. 9), and often, the epistemological framework associated with a discipline. Nothing may be observed in perfect isolation and with complete objectivity. The philosophers Duhem and Quine contest it is impossible to test a single scientific hypothesis in isolation because any given hypothesis relies on background assumptions – other foundational hypothesis (INTEG220, 2011, p. Oct 13). Similarly, any observation also relies on background assumptions – other foundational observations which ultimately came to form an individual’s current state of knowledge. To consider or evaluate an observation in isolation without also considering the background assumptions that enabled or skewed the observation would unearth problems parallel to Popperian falsificationism of hypotheses. Popper’s falsificationism contests it is possible to refute a hypothesis in isolation provided the hypothesis is written in a testable manner, and has largely been superseded by theories that acknowledge the interconnected and multidimensional nature of scientific theories (INTEG220, 2011, p. Oct 13). It is this ‘skewing’ of an observation by background observations or knowledge that creates perceptual bias (Chalmers, 1999, p. 12); it is the sum of our perceptual biases which form our conceptual scheme – a subtly unique perspective formed by our environment, education and upbringing that permeates into our perception of the world (Brodie, 2011). Within the context of a discipline, the set of conceptual schemes carried by members of the community likely will form the discipline’s epistemological framework, or the methods by which the discipline acquires new knowledge.

 
A fundamental goal of science is to attain objectivity; to discover what actually is, what actually occurs. (INTEG220, 2011, p. Oct 27) If even observations – never mind analysis – are fundamentally prone to bias, how can we return to some semblance of objectivity? It seems considering an observation from multiple perspectives would be inherently valuable – perhaps to arrive at a mean in the set possibilities, or perhaps to simply have a path to a larger dataset on which to perform analysis. Someone who could temporarily suspend their own context and replace it with another would achieve some form of this – what we might refer to as ‘walking a mile in another’s shoes’ is a powerful tool. But to purposefully decide to switch contexts remains a cognitive decision, still limited by a fundamental bias-skewing observation. Will someone who is colour blind ever observe the world as someone who is not – or even as someone colour blind to a different degree or in a different way? Even our ability to consider alternate contexts is limited because of the very thing responsible for generating them: our past experiences and knowledge, which are not easily switched off. The first of several continuums I will introduce is concerned with the different degrees of interdisciplinary collaboration. Considering the difficulty in enabling, disabling or swapping our own contextual biases selectively and in an on-demand fashion, collaborating with others – fully acknowledging and welcoming biases based on their own unique set of experiences and knowledge – is perhaps the next best thing. Not all collaboration is created equal, however, and the degree of interdisciplinary collaboration will certainly define what will be possible to achieve. At one extreme is multidisciplinary – which perhaps should not even be considered a form of a collaboration. This is the case where many people from many backgrounds work on solving a single problem, but in complete insolation. By far the most common form bears the populist namesake interdisciplinary collaboration and is characterized by its ‘black-box nature’, where a project is subdivided into pieces and individuals take responsibility for the components – only concerned with the output required of themselves and the inputs required of other people. Transdisciplinary collaboration is the ideal form of collaborative teamwork. It transcends the core questions to involve contributors in defining the goals and outcomes of a project; specialists in other disciplines are not simply considered functional on-demand black-box resources to be engaged and disengaged as needed, but their expertise is incorporated as a primary concern at the earliest planning stages of research or a project. (INTEG220, 2011, p. Nov 3; Miller, 2008, p. Disciplinarities) It is within the space of transdisciplinary collaboration that the methods outlined in this paper will be most effective; it is within the context of transdiciplinary collaboration that perceptual bias may be best harnessed when conducting research in teams, especially teams involving people with limited domain expertise.
Perceptual bias is most effectively harnessed in a collaborative setting, with people from varying disciplines, and consequently depths of expertise in a particular matter. People at every depth of expertise can almost always contribute, though those contributing with little specialized knowledge in the field add value in significantly different ways than those with ten thousand hours of training. Specifically, those with contributory expertise add value stemming from their intimate knowledge of the domain at hand. This is different from how those with interactional expertise – knowing the language, jargon and terms – add value, which is likewise different from how those with primary source, popular understanding, or ‘beer-mat’ expertise may add value (Harry Collins, 2007, p. 14). Essentially a continuum – with contributory expertise mapping to our typical understanding of an expert, someone with doctoral credentials, to someone with ‘beer-mat’ expertise essentially having read a summary – each level of ‘expert’ has the potential to bring something valuable to an exchange, even if it is ignorance. Ignorance can be a powerful tool to force reanalysis of assumptions and justification of actions taken that otherwise would not likely have occurred. This reanalysis often results in alternative means to an end, and an awareness of alternatives is exceptionally important when making decisions – for the simple reason of otherwise being unable to choose the optimal path. An economics professor was once asked by a charitable foundation to help them decide, of all the possible requests for funding before them, which projects would best allocate their resources to benefit society. In touring the lab of a preeminent cancer researcher, it came upon the professor to ask if the researcher had considered any alternatives to his current approach, considering the significant amount of money requested. Economics being primarily concerned with the best possible allocation of resources to benefit society, it was natural for him to ask “Was there a better way to do this that would not cost as much?” The researcher responded that there was only one possible method. Again, the professor asked he had considered any alternatives – to which the researcher became quite agitated and the answer clear (Smith, 2011). Cancer research was a field the economics professor had a popular understanding of – knowledge from the media and consumer magazines, perhaps. Nonetheless, expertise from an entirely different domain enabled the economics professor to unearth a potentially fatal flaw in the cancer researcher’s approach to solving a very important problem – he had not considered alternative means to accomplishing his research objective. Alternatives posed by less than contributory experts are, in decreasing succession, less susceptible to thinking in ways confined by the epistemological framework – or conceptual scheme – attached to a discipline. Thus, the benefits of epistemological pluralism – where the epistemological approaches of disparate disciplines are recognized as being valuable – result from welcoming contribution from all disciplines and heights of expertise (INTEG220, 2011, p. Nov 3; Miller, 2008, p. Conclusion) staged within the context of transdisciplinary collaboration. While this alone will increase the effectiveness of research, we can also vary the design of the study itself to attain new perspectives.

 
Triangulation extends the concept of epistemological pluralism and builds on its benefits by intentionally varying the path to discoveries: the design of the study itself. Comparable to the divergent brainstorming process, triangulation acknowledges the existence of a continuum of study designs and advocates conducting multiple studies on a single research topic in anticipation of converging on the same conclusions, greatly strengthening the research position. This continuum contains manipulative studies at one extreme, through partial manipulation and natural experiments to observational surveys at the other end (Scheiner, 2004, p. 55). Manipulative studies allow the researcher control over all variables, granting the freedom to choose values to modify while maintaining controls. Partial manipulation and natural experiments simply acknowledge that some variables simply may not be contained and will likely vary naturally over the course of experimentation. While the defined goal of triangulation largely rests on corroboration of results, I contest there exists additional benefits to varying the study design in the path to arriving at conclusions. Just as the process of involving individuals from distinct backgrounds and significantly varying expertise results in novel approaches to problem solving, the subtle differences of study designs each will prompt different questions based on the nature of their processes. The activities involved with an observational study are much different from the activities required by manipulative or even natural designs, and it is these dissimilar activities which will prompt dissimilar questions about the same topic. A likeness to the benefits of epistemological pluralism becomes apparent, though arrived to by different means. If the method of thinking – or epistemological framework – normally affects which study design to employ, there could be significant value in decoupling the method of thinking from the study implementation, an almost certain inevitability when engaging triangulation. Conducting complimentary studies of multiple designs not only creates more rigorous conclusions, but encourages variance in the path to arriving at conclusions; it is this variance – the small details, the pieces that don’t quite mesh – which lead to larger questions and even more profound discoveries.

 
Perceptual bias and susceptibility to priming are unilaterally considered negative attributes within the objective world of science. I speculate that the notion of non-contributory individuals making meaningful contributions to a field is considered similarly absurd. However, ridding ourselves completely of perceptual bias is near, if not, impossible and expertise is a continuum that includes those without PhDs. I have argued that a biased perception can become an incredible asset if harnessed, and consequently demonstrated how even someone of limited knowledge can make valuable contributions to a specialist field. Further, by suggesting choice of study design itself lends to a particular perspective, I argued conducting multiple studies of varying design surrounding a single research topic delivers similar benefits. Granted, to implement a multi-study design approach to research – or even to intentionally involve non-contributory experts would imply significant change to the status quo. The financial burden of triangulation would be great; many would see it as simply replicating results and decry it as a waste of scarce resources. The time commitment required interacting and sharing with non-contributory experts is not insignificant, and requires noteworthy humility to acknowledge that someone of perhaps beer-mat knowledge could offer anything of value to highly specialized research. However, as the pace of research and innovation ever accelerates due to increasing accessibility to education and worldwide competitive pressures rise, we cannot simply maintain our current methods if we wish globally competitive. We must innovate how we come about innovations.

Much formatting  was  lost in translation. The full paper with references may be found here.

Athgo Global Innovation Forum: Day 2

I am participating in the ATHGO Innovation forum, hosted at the World Bank in DC from August 13-15. This short series is an account of what occurred; of reflections and takeaways.

My first full day in DC begins with the usual stroll past the IMF, and down the (apparently) famed Pennsylvania Avenue towards World Bank HQ. Queue security; check ID; “Step right through”, and we’re finally inside.

Today’s opening panel on team building and networking is quite lively. John Shegerian of Electronic Recyclers International is moderating, with Ivo Ivanovski (Minister of Information Society, Macedonia), William Saito (Intecur), and Navneet Singh Narula (nBrilliance) as panellists.

John has a long history of building companies, though most recently took on the formidable task of turning Electronic Recyclers International around in the early 2000s. It was a task and a half, but today ERI is the largest electronics recycling firm in the US. John had much to say about entrepreneurship and his experiences, here are some of those sentiments:

“I didn’t want to do any more businesses just for money – I knew I had to make a profit, but everything I do has to have bottom line social value… You have to make a profit – have to have a sustainable business model – before you can go out and change the world.”

“Build it and they will come” is field-of-dreams entrepreneurship. It doesn’t work that way.” (surmised)

“Technology has democratized the world like never before, but face to face is now even more important…I remind our sales team: ‘You close [deals] nose-to-nose’.”

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve” – Dr. King

This was perhaps the first time the larger idea of “constructive’ entrepreneurship came into focus at the forum. The idea of not just building another iPhone app or launching a new web service, but of solving real, core societal needs. Essentially, directing human effort towards problems of great concern. (Dustin Walper over at myplanetdigital wrote a related piece a few months ago describing Canada’s current position in tech entrepreneurship and where we need to go.)

William’s mission over the last six years has been to “appeal to the younger generation to be more entrepreneurial,” though, before that he developed technology critical to bio-authentication devices (such as fingerprint readers) and proceeded to count Microsoft amongst its numerous licensees. Currently teaching at three Japanese universities and aiding the Japanese government, I can’t help but liken him to Steve Blank. Some insights from William:

“To succeed in life you really need to do what you’re passionate about”

“It’s not about the money – if it were about the money, there are many, many easier ways of making money”

“The opposite of success is not failure, it’s not trying”

“Spend time out of your comfort zone”

“It’s not the plan that’s so important, but that person’s passion. You may not eat that day, but will you get back up and try again?”

“Half of the world lives on less than $2 per day, but it’s doubled in five years”

“Most successful entrepreneurial organizations are started with multiple people”

“Universities tend to be focused on very specific disciplines, and in countries like Japan it’s worse. Diversity of background and diversity of skills are essential”

“[Only] when you come so close to failure, you know what your weaknesses are”

“Everyone should have 500-1000 dollars in the stock market, if for no other reason to understand your own emotional response to risk” and thus be better prepared to handle a situation when significant risks are on the table.

ATHGO Global Innovation Forum: Day 1

I am participating in the ATHGO Global Innovation forum, hosted at the World Bank in DC from August 13-15. This short series is an account of what occurred; of reflections, and takeaways.

I arrived into DC this morning with less than 2 hours of sleep under my belt, having left for Toronto Pearson Airport at 3:20 AM and – through an inexorable tendency to underestimate packing time – turned in seemingly mere minutes before. I suppose a first reflection would be our amazing ability to adequately function on minute resources.

(Side note: one convenience present in Washington soon to come to Toronto is light rail interfacing the airport with the entire Metro system, releasing one from ever having to acquire the services of a taxi to travel to Pearson).

Walking through the more peripheral streets of Washington, en route to our venue from the nearest Metro station, one can’t help but notice an incredible assortment of world-recognized organizations. I would walk by the International Monetary Fund and marvel simply that I was nonchalantly striding by a group key to 20th century stability we so extensively discussed in History 12.

The World Bank was a bit of a pandora at first: what was it exactly? I reconstructed a fuzzy image from History class – was it a UN aid group? A political manipulation tool borne out of the cold war? A US agency? Eventual inquiry led my current understanding: it is a bank funded by the financially capable nations of the world, whose purpose is to lend money  – for the purposes of development  – to economically emerging nations in the interests of international stability (My, my – back to Keynes again). Yes, it was used as a Cold War political tool, and apparently had a dubious ethical track record at some point.

I soon learned one rarely enters a building in Washington without undergoing the common airport ritual of depleting pockets and person of all electric and metallic objects and submitting them to an XRAY machine;  yourself to a metal detector, and the World Bank went the extra mile to issue barcoded photo identification.

Inside, the complex was a for all purposes a habitat missing only sleeping quarters – it was a small city, with a vast, open indoor atrium and a formidable suite of cafés, restaurants, and a cafeteria. The restaurants were closed for the summer, though the ‘cafeteria’ more than made up for any perceived loss when it became apparent there were no less than 15 different genres of food portals, from, of course, all over the world. My notion of what a Cafeteria could be was certainly extended.

After checking in at the Preston Auditorium, I arrived in time for the 2:00 afternoon panel. Being somewhat of a last minute applicant, flight availability required that I miss the morning introduction and group discussion. After selecting a seat near what I suspected to be floor mounted power receptacles, an Australian student directly to my left greeted me and brought me up to cruising speed on the morning’s overview. The forum was constructed around three pillars, based on the research of Dr. Armed Orujyan, Athgo’s founder; Innovation, Network, and Resource. These pillars would play an important role throughout, as various concepts were explored in this context.

The first panel assembled, consisting of Mr. John White (CEERT), Mr. Paul Manson (Sea Breeze Power), and Mr. Jonathan Blitz (Utility Scale Solar) and moderated by Mr. Jeff Werner (Daimier) – they were to discuss solutions to problems in renewable energy.

Paul Manson and his wind power generation company happen to be based out of BC, with several installations on northern Vancouver Island and the central interior. They’ve installed BC’s first HVDC transmission line – connecting Vancouver Island with Washington State, opening up the Global Innovation Forum Day 1green energy to the US market. As of last month, the northern Vancouver Island farm is generating 98 MW of energy. He made some comments on entrepreneurship, considering perseverance to be the most important attribute of an entrepreneur and an incredible team the most important asset.

At the conclusion of the panel, approximately half an hour was slotted for informal discussion with additional presenters. I stood with the group surrounding Mr. Evan Bailyn of Good Media Co, who spoke extensively on organic search engine optimization and social media marketing strategies. Evan has created and sold several companies built from his ability to rise in search rankings, and recently wrote a book,  Outsmarting Google, that I plan to read if I ever get through my current book-backlog.

Five O’Clock marked the beginning of our first development session, where I met with our assigned team members to begin brainstorming ideas for the project we were to present in 48 hours time. We identify an area where there seems to be potential (designing for kids to encourage positive eco-behaviour, solving a specific problem, and making it fun), and with the framework in place proceed to the busses at six o’clock that will shuttle us to the finnish embassy for the evening’s reception.

The embassy was not an incredibly new building, yet was LEED Gold certified. A metal exoskeleton separated by 3 feet from the structure itself composing of interwoven vines shielded the building from direct sunlight, and automatic systems controlled window shades to optimize HVAC. Of course, the typical security ritual is performed flawlessly as all hundred-plus of us march through screening. We are greeted with booklets of information on Finland gracing a table, and I take one.  My Australian friend pointed out that the opening paragraph contained an explicit reference to Knowledge Integration being of vital importance to Finland’s current and future green economy – this being the first time I’ve heard the specific term be referenced outside the context of the KI program at UW, I rounded up another copy to bring back to CKI for posterity. The reception offered the opportunity to talk at length with Paul Manson, where we exchanged stories and he explained more of Sea Breeze’s operations.

In a day of such pace – in a day where effort is required simply to keep abreast of the the current happenings (certainly not aided by a lack of sleep) – it can be difficult or near impossible to maintain a reflective perspective; to consider the implications of the past while processing the moment.

It would seem there are two subtle purposes underpinning such events as Athgo’s Global Innovation Forum: primarily, it’s to allow us the opportunity to develop a net-benefit peer and mentor network. Like Shad (though to a decidedly lesser extent, three days versus a month), the forum brings together students of similar passions and exposes them to each other. Second, it allows us to exercise the brainstorming-to-product process, refining and improving with each iteration.

Update: Open Letter to the President’s Office

Several months ago I published “An Open Letter to the President’s Office” in response to a request for students to participate in the Student Engagement Survey. The survey request was sent at a time when I noticed a considerable amount of conversations related to improving how we learn occurring around me, and  the issue being one I am intensely interested in, I couldn’t bear the idea of these conversations ending in the hypothetical.

In a spur of naïve passion, I wrote to the president’s office offering to share some suggestions on how to improve learning – borne of these conversations – with President Hamdullahpur. This morning that conversation happened, with Sean Van Koughnett (Director of the Student Success Office), Bud Walker (Associate Provost, Student) and Feridun Hamdullahpur – the goal of the discussion was to cross-pollinate the ideas of students to improve learning with UW leadership’s vision and vice versa. I would argue the most important part of any conversation is listening, and this post aims to be a fruit of that endeavor – outlining commentary on the discussion’s themes: improving how we learn innovation, improving how we learn from each other, and improving how we learn from professors.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

It seemed appropriate to stage the most intriguing questions that beset the students conversations to this group, and so the format generally followed a pattern of asking a question, everyone adding supporting content and their opinions, comparing with student consensus points, and finally segueing to an ‘actionable suggestion’ from student conversations. Like you might imagine, the ‘actionable suggestions’ are as they sound: a fairly concrete opinion on how to solve the problem brought to light in each discussion question, posed as one possible solution. In reality, frameworks for conversations are a last resort and rarely used. A healthy conversation will be very agile, with different people’s opinions bringing the current topic far from anything that could be planned, so please forgive the absence of commentary within some topics.

(Improving how we learn innovation) We talk a lot about the need for innovation in the workplace – its importance in transitioning Canada to a knowledge-based economy, in keeping Canada globally competitive – but specifically, what does innovative behavior look like?

The discussion begins with an illustration of the University’s founding ethos with respect to innovation. When the University was founded in 1957, it’s innovative genesis was in the unique opportunity it afforded motivated and intelligent individuals who could not necessarily otherwise afford to study at university without the Co-op program. The founding students were those intrinsically motivated to progress towards a better life, and possessed a certain motivation to make such happen. It reminds me of Keynes’s animal spirits.

The anecdote leads naturally into the role of motivation within learning, and strategies for teaching underlying behavior requisite to innovation. We mark the role of professors in this process, and discuss UW’s requirement of hiring professors who excel at both research and teaching. Dr. Hamdullahpur outlines a vision for exceptional researchers using classroom time for scenario based learning, inspiring students by linking what’s being taught to specific examples of application. MIT is brought up as an example of a university where ten years ago, the focus was extremely biased towards research. MIT and many other American universities today recognize the importance of placing equal priority on teaching and research, as does UW.

It’s an incredible direction. A direction that will admittedly take time – but the excitement in the room was tangible, and the vision contagious.

(Improving how we learn from professors) How do we kindle a motivation to teach within professors primarily concerned with research? Or a desire to improve within professors who have no reason to attempt to?

UW has some great researchers, and it’s hardly a secret that some professors much prefer their research to teaching. UW has a well regarded Centre for Teaching Excellence with many resources available to help professors become more comfortable and interactive with their classes, though as previous conversations with some of my professors indicated, the Centre tends to be of most value to those who are already good communicators wishing to improve. The real issue is one level deeper – it’s the motivation to improve – and how can we kindle motivation?

The actionable suggestion for this question was to to create a system of peer-mentorship for professors,  such that professors are cross-exposed to other styles of communicating and engaging with a class.

The system for student evaluations of courses and their professors is explained and ideas are brought up for where it could go in the future. Mr. Walker explores differences between teaching and learning, and comments how professors not comfortable in a “50-1″ learning environment may be exceptional one-to-one. This leads into a discussion on integrating research into undergraduate education, bringing the “learning is experience” mantra of Co-op full circle into the formal learning experience.

This is an exciting possibility for the future of UW: tightly integrating experiential learning into all facets of education. Once again the room was charged, and a twinkle adorned an eye or two.

How can we motivate students to take charge of their own learning and create an environment where there are opportunities to take risks and learn leadership?

I tend to far underestimate timelines when planning content for discussions or presentations, and on suspicion I verbally noted I wanted to be When you teach you learnmindful of everyone’s time, as I was not sure how much had passed. We had indeed fared well beyond the 1/2 hr tentatively booked, and it is only a testament to the politeness of the group that no one had mentioned it.

There seemed to be an interest in this topic, however, and we agreed to take a couple minutes to wrap up with discussing the actionable suggestion of creating a formal system of peer-learning, where students would teach each other. Such a system would not only partially meet the challenge of the first question mentioned (on developing skills requisite to innovation, such as risk-management and the ability to think across silos) but encourage leadership and develop communication skills. In order to teach something well, you have to understand it at a deeper level than pure memorization. To this end, peer-teaching encourages mastery of material as opposed to regurgitation.

It is a subtle area of passion for me, and I was surprised to hear Mr. Van Koughnett talk of the concept being within the realizable vision of Office of Student Success, and how UW’s living / learning communities are a step towards such a direction. Dr. Hamdullahpur followed with a story of such practices being employed in a trial at his previous institution, where the class rose by seventeen percent.

Within a supported context that ensures students experience success in teaching others, there is significant potential for students to develop confidence in themselves and their abilities. I believe there is compelling reason t0 correlate confidence in one’s abilities with the ability to further one’s abilities.

“When you teach, you learn” – Helen Suzman

The conversation left me excited for UW’s future –  I have substantial confidence in the the administration to execute a vision to bring the university to an experiential, research intensive, student focused learning environment of tomorrow.

 

Project 2047: The Social Experiment

The following is an account of events that actually took place. In the words of Charlie Wilson, “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world…” (well, they changed our highschool).

New technology is often by nature disruptive; I’ve always found it fascinating to observe budding disruptions and consider their possible long-term implications. I would also contest that revolution is most often borne of frustration, as the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt Lybia, Syria (and, well, the rest of history…) indicate.

So my good friend Fraser Parlane and I were treading on fertile ground in our Grade 12 year when the student WiFi was being repeatedly switched off as the content filtering system was continually  breached. Even on the best of days though, internet staples such as youtube, gmail, and Google image search were outright blocked. Considering the UN’s recent resolution (PDF) that internet access is a fundamental human right, these restrictions were bemoaned by many – especially those who used these services for school purposes.

Roughly a year earlier, Rogers had enabled internet tethering on the iPhone – a feature I often employed to ensure I always had uninterrupted and unimpeded access to the internet. I could keep the iPhone in my pocket, entirely out of sight and within school regulations, and activate Bluetooth tethering from my computer. Being quite passionate about mobile wireless broadband – attending the CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industry Association) conference and trade show several times in Las Vegas, the future of the industry was often at the forefront of my thoughts. We are speeding towards an era where all electronic devices will have an internet connection of some form or another, and certainly towards an era where mobile devices such as cellphones, laptops and tablets will be internet enabled anywhere. What then, will schools do to filter content when every laptop in the classroom has its own independent internet connection?

There are only a few options should schools continue to desire to gate-keep the internet. The most imminent solution would likely be to ban personal laptops in the classroom as schools currently ban cellphones. This would hardly be moving education towards the electronics-based future we all know awaits it, and the only option for moving forward in this case would have the school provide every student with a laptop or tablet as a replacement. Giving students laptops has been met with mixed results – with some districts finding success while others see students using their laptops as toboggans – even without considering the extreme cost.

Because mobile broadband operates over frequencies licensed to telecommunications companies by the federal government, under the oversight of Industry Canada, mobile broadband cannot simply be blocked. To do so would be a federal offense, as these frequencies are also responsible for access to essential services such as 911. The only partial solution would be to design buildings to impede certain frequencies – much like a Faraday cage – which is also prohibitively expensive and unlikely.

While at the time every mobile device certainly did not have a mobile broadband connection, most if not all had WiFi. My iPhone happened to have a six gigabyte data plan, courtesy of a Rogers panic attack when over 60,000 people signed the ‘ruinediphone.com’ petition back when the iPhone was originally introduced in Canada. Fraser happened to have a locker he never used and an old spare laptop. I had a few spare Meraki gateways lying around from projects I had done through Wioka. Add a power inverter and a car battery, and ‘project 2047′ was live (2047 was the number of the locker our station was housed).

The exact configuration had the iPhone USB tethered to the laptop, which was connected to the Meraki access point through a Cat5 crossover cable. The USB Ethernet emulator interface from the iPhone was simply bridged with laptop’s standard Ethernet port. The iPhone assigned the laptop an IP address from Rogers, and the laptop assigned an IP address to the Meraki access point, which was configured to act as a ‘captive portal’, explaining the purpose of the network and requesting users to accept a terms of service before gaining access. It was beautiful – we even had an old cheap webcam monitoring the LED voltage readout on the power inverter, uploading stills every 30 seconds or so to an external site through FTP to ensure we would never drain the battery.

The battery would last about a week on a single charge, though unfortunately once the power inverter detected the battery was at 11 volts it would emit a shrieking alarm (presumably to ensure you’re always able to start your vehicle). This caused a precarious situation right before lunch one day, when I checked the voltage readout from the webcam feed in the library. I don’t remember what the charge was that morning, but I do remember expecting to be in the clear for at least another few days – not so, according to the image that was greeting me with a stomach-churning 10.9 V. That could only mean the alarm was sounding right now. Sure enough, just as I entered the upstairs hallway that contained the locker project 1147 was housed, a unmistakeable alternating warble could be plainly heard. Unfortunately, a few seconds later the lunch bell rang and students spilled out of the classroom en masse.

Of course, the first thing students do at lunch is head to their lockers to deposit their books and retrieve their lunch. An elaborate scheme ensued that saw Fraser and myself  frantically trying to open the locker to rip off the power inverter’s leads attached to the car battery, blocked by a few others  ‘in-the-know’ surrounding the locker. A shrieking alarm tends to become louder when the locker that contains it is opened, and this was no exception. Despite our efforts several people gained a glimpse at project 2047 that lunch – though it was the custodian who observed Fraser and I removing the battery for recharging after school that day who ultimately spelled the project’s demise.

Removing the battery for recharging was quite a process (one I liked to imagine was not unlike changing fuel rods on a nuclear reactor). Like most car batteries, it contained a significant amount of lead. Lead, for the uninitiated, is quite heavy. Project 2047 was on the second floor – and this this thing was not going to fit in a backpack. The solution we settled on was to use a suitcase to transport the dead battery in and out of the school to an awaiting vehicle. We would as inconspicuously as possible use the suitcase to block as much of the locker as possible, remove the battery from the locker and proceed to make our getaway. It was during this short process that our school’s new custodian made his way down the hallway, his eyes pausing curiously on this locker full of wires and antennas. Without saying a word he continued on his way.

Should he have been at KCS for a while, he probably would have thought nothing of the strange sight. Fraser and I could often be seen at the school at all times of day and night, often busy with potentially much more dangerous projects and activities (that usually involved scaffolding and ladders). He was new, though, and probably felt compelled let administration know of this odd situation.

Our vice principal the next day casually asked Fraser if he had a car battery in his locker, to which, of course, Fraser replied that he had. I understand a slight pause emerged – the obvious question of ‘why’ hanging in the air – before our VP commented that it could be a potential fire hazard.

And so ended The Social Experiment. What surprised us most was that people were actually using it, and that the Meraki’s 200 mW radio was strong enough to cover the entire west wing of the school – despite being fully enclosed in a metal locker.

We apologize to our locker-neighbors for any fear of microwave-radiation contaminated lunches, though we have it on high authority that death or illness is unlikely. We apologize to KCS for disrupting the paradigm of internet filtering – we certainly understand the potential for abuse and the danger of inappropriate content. You were just using technology not up to the task of filtering modern internet services. For the record, we channeled all traffic through Open DNS’ free service – with content filter settings set appropriately.

I am happy to comment that KCS has now partially implemented Open DNS on its network.

On Innovation and Horizontal Knowledge

The events I describe in this post comprise one chapter in a series of events which I would describe as formative experiences. Occurring over the past year, these milestones have collectively set me on the path I currently travel.

It’s fall 2010. I’m a brand new student at the University of Waterloo, staring wide-eyed at a hall full of kiosks, noise, and demonstrations. It was clubs day – the two days of each term where the student clubs on campus all clamor for new recruits. It reminded me of a conference, or mini trade-show. When reading the small posters plastered around campus informing everyone of the upcoming showcase, it never quite occurred to me that there would be hundreds of student clubs – covering quite practically everything. To someone with diverse interests, it was a ‘kid and candy store’ moment.

After signing away my email address at seemingly every other booth (essentially agreeing to spam-for-life), I happened upon a table that was a little bit different from the others. It was backdropped by a large pull-up banner instead of folded cardboard -  the kind you see in actual tradeshows – that read ‘IMPACT’ in large white letters set against an orange and yellow texture. Eric Ho would go on to explain exactly what Impact was: a national organization dedicated to student entrepreneurship. To someone raised with the silent expectation to ‘invent’ things – a phenomenon in retrospect that could be considered a self-fulfilling prophesy – the mere existence of such an organization was elating. That Impact was holding an expo the following weekend was even better.

The format was conference-typical; keynotes, workshops, sponsor showcases, and a twitter wall. The people that filled in this framework were all but typical. I first met Albert Lai behind his Kontagent booth at Impact Expo (after asking if he was a Co-op student with Kontagent). It was also the first time I chatted with Kunal Gupta after his workshop on Polar Mobile about inflo. I would later learn he was a Shad Valley alum, and was Impact’s founder and Chair. Larry Smith gave the closing keynote; several months later I would sit in his macroeconomics class, and we would discuss strategy and market research during office hours.

 

But it was Evan Koslow’s opening keynote that would keep me awake at night. The man owns a company you’ve never heard of and never will – unless it’s too late and they’ve already taken over your market. They have expertise in almost everything. from power plants in Bangladesh to chemical processing and encryption algorithms. Koslow holds 50 patents and has 70 pending. Their headquarters is  housed in an entirely unassuming building in an industrial zone of Waterloo. Their website has lots of pictures of smiling people that will fundamentally tell you nothing of what they do – it’s the perfect stealth operation.

Koslow essentially described an established concept for a fuzzy philosophy on education I had long held. For the first time I had a label – a term – for a set of loosely coupled ideas and theories on education, innovation, and learning I had half-wittedly developed over the course of my high-school career. My conundrum is best surmised with a graph:

Right / Left brain bellcurve distribution

That is, as we travel to either extreme of stereotypical ‘left’ or ‘right’ brained activities, my interest generally dwindles as time spent exclusively on those activities increases. I become most passionate (take the y axis to be ‘excitement’, if you will) with activities that require employing thought processes typical to both seemingly polar mindsets, and what I busied myself with during high school reflected this.

By definition this goes against the grain of specialization. In balancing down the middle, I was refuting the general post-secondary ethos of ‘you shall become an expert in building bridges’ or ‘you shall become an expert in creative writing’. Granted, I surely understand that near every profession requires the capacity to be creative and logical at some level, though the focus is almost always slanted to one or the other.

Koslow spoke to this effect, insisting that the structure of higher education was entirely unconducive to serial innovation. He described higher education as a hole you start digging with your undergraduate degree, and continue to dig deeper with your masters – digging deeper still with your PhD – until finally, one day (if you’re exceptionally good), you dig the hole a little deeper than anyone else and you’re the world’s foremost expert in something. Something very small. This is all fine, it is the process by which much of knowledge we consider now consider ‘boilerplate’ that contributed to our standard of living eventually came to be. However, it hardly allows one to think across boundaries and disciplines – which, when you think of, is somewhat fundamental to innovation.

I define innovation to be the creative correlation of previously unrelated ideas. In this case, it somewhat helps to have a lot of unrelated ideas to draw from.

Koslow went on to speak of Horizontal Knowledge – that instead of resolute knowledge of one hole, a framework knowledge of a thousand holes is better suited to spontaneous innovation and the era we live in. In the not too distant past, should one not be able to recall offhand critical information specific to one’s field, he or she might spend a week in the library hunting down the required piece of missing information. Efficiency dictated memorization king. Today, with quality information (such as scientific journals and references) is instantly available and searchable, we are far better suited to concentrate on the supporting framework and infrastructure of understanding and intuition than mere information.

In the context of Entrepreneurship, horizontal knowledge is especially important. Due to the multifaceted and ambiguous nature of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs need to be well versed and capable – at the very lest competent – in a wide and varying set of often hard to define skills and abilities.

I now had an established concept under which to gather my thoughts on education and learning. My theories was in some way validated – I had a basis to build from.

For three continuous hours after his keynote ended, a fluctuating group of about 20 people continued to talk with Evan as he touched on his adventures in bringing down billion dollar companies, in contracting himself to companies to ‘innovate on the spot’ and – what intrigued me most – in developing a system of extremely efficient learning with a college friend.

There is more to come. Far more to come.

 

An Open Letter to the the President’s Office

A letter composed to the office of the President of the University of Waterloo, urging  discussion on methods of innovating teaching and learning itself.

I’m contacting you on behalf of a group of students who have begun a conversation – begun to think and brainstorm – on how the University of Waterloo could improve and innovate the learning process itself, sparked by President Hamdullahpur’s request for students to write the National Survey of Student Engagement.

This conversation I’ve observed occurs all the time. Students often sit together for lunch, after or in between class, and think of strategies that could help us master material. There is often a surprising consensus. I drop into these conversations whenever I hear them, and now offer to do the one thing that seems not to have occurred to anyone else: respectfully and cooperatively include the President of the University. The one individual, who perhaps more than anyone else would not only be interested in the subject, but have the desire and ability to effect positive change.

We do not claim to be experts – to know the latest in pedagogy research – but we do offer an opportunity to see inside the minds of your students, information which could perhaps be used in conjunction with experts’ theories when making decisions to push the University to the forefront of innovation.

We are passionate about innovation – we identify with the University of Waterloo; many of us chose this institution “in the spirit of Why Not”? We’ve surmised many of the common, recurring themes and write today to request an opportunity to discuss these with President Hamdullahpur. Please allow us to help you in your quest to innovate learning itself.

 

Moving from Prototype to Production

Why do projects rarely turn into products?

Living at VeloCity for the past term, and being involved with a few side projects myself (for the record, inflo is not a side project, it’s a startup), I’ve noticed a general trend: lots of stuff gets built, very little is ever used.

Projects often remain just that – projects – built for the joy and satisfaction of building something. Which is fine – I can say with confidence, at least in my experience, that the most effective way to learn something is often to dive in and immerse yourself – to get in way under your head, and then crawl your way back to the surface with the support of others. If learning is the objective, it’s a great approach. If building something useful is the objective, it’s backwards.

The mentality is multi-fold:

  • To build something useful requires you  to solve a problem people actually care about. It’s fairly unlikely that this is the case if you never consulted your target audience in designing the prototype, as hypothesis of what people want are almost never entirely correct. Projects are often spawned out of people wanting to build stuff for their own use.
  • Turning prototype code into production code is hard and boring. Sure, building something that works is one thing. Building something that’s secure, bug-free, looks nice, and will scale well is entirely something else, and  just isn’t glamorous. Features and flashy are much more exciting.
  • “Patience is a virtue, posses it if you can. Seldom found in women, and never found in man.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Facebook or Google. Just because something doesn’t gain traction in a few days doesn’t mean it’s time to move onto the next thing. Sure, iteration is key, but give the thing a chance at life by at least spending as much time buzz-generating and blogging as building.

I am most interested in building things to solve real world problems – to bring something valuable to others. To do so requires a 180 degree shift in the way we typically approach building things: it starts with the customer.

“Would you like to buy some Chocolate for Kare for Kids International?”

I am currently enjoying the relative  high speed internet (compared to iPhone tethering) of Second Cup coffee house trying to plan out the upcoming week and take a moment to catch up with my thoughts. There’s a lot of truth in Steven Johnson’s TED talk, with respect to coffee shops being a place of thought and idea-meshing – though today for me is more a time of thought and reflection (fertile ground for blog post creation, I might add).

I was lost in a drifting, wayward, thought when a jolt of energy bursted from my immediate left. A kid no older than 11 was blurting at something approaching light speed. To be sure, I was slightly taken aback – I might have muttered “what?” as I struggled to switch context.

Still unable to contain himself, he repeated,”would you like to buy some chocolate for Kare for Kids International?” A millisecond pause as he inhaled at a similar speed. “It would be really helpful. Only $10 dollars for three boxes.”

In stark contrast to his lighting-speak, I slowly explained that I had no cash on me, and had spent more of the day than I wanted to spend hunting for transit ticket dispensers that accepted debit. His eyes started darting around. He was losing interest. But I implored him for details  - “what is this organization? What do you do?” After all, this was a young person doing something out of the ordinary, something I love to see and am keenly interested in.

At this point another kid – whom I shall refer to as kid2 – emerged from behind the kid. Somewhat taller and of a slighter build, he didn’t say much – or anything, rather – he simply handed me a thickly laminated (though somehow water stained) information sheet that explained K4K International and what they did. By this time the kid became fixated on the next target somewhere behind me. I took my time and read both sides, eventually handing the material back to kid2 along with a few words of encouragement. He uttered “thanks” along with a slight smite and then reassumed his place trailing the kid.

I would have really liked to have bought their chocolate. Even more though, I  really would have  loved to offer both of them a few tips in pitching, persuasion, and building good arguments. My few suggestions would have been to focus on building relationships and connecting with people at a deeper level than simply what you are trying to achieve. In essence, treat people as people and not as objectives. Strike up conversation, figure out what their experiences have been with similar organizations. Have they ever encountered poverty or felt the need to do anything about it? Get people excited. Young people doing incredible things have an amazing capacity to do exactly that.

My eyes followed the kid as he progressed towards the door – kid2 in tow – abruptly stopping at each table en route to repeat the same offer he gave me, each time being turned down by some barely legible mumble escaping the mouths of people too consumed to care.

They were a team of two extremes – of fire and ice – the go getter and the strong and silent. But kid knew persistence, and kid2 was ever vigilant – ready and waiting when the time was right. They’ll do well. They’re getting an early introduction to a skillset gleaned through context and practice, not from a textbook, and have lots of time to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn’t. Reminds me of Cameron Herold’s TED Talk.

I only wish I could have helped them learn a little faster.