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What I Learned Traveling With No Money

In early 2014, two friends and I won the journey of a lifetime: We were chosen to compete against 99 other teams from across the world in RedBull’s Can You Make It?. This adventure saw 300 people compete and race their way across Europe. The catch: only use Redbull as currency. No phone, no wallets, no cash, no digital maps. This was most certainly going to be the most difficult challenge I had ever faced.

Now over a year passed, the time to reflect on the week of adventure has been ample, and necessary. Having covered over 3800km in seven nights, across five countries, with just over 100 cans of Redbull total shaped the way we view the world around us, and the people in it.

During the time away, I lost ten pounds, but gained an immeasurable about of experience. We couldn’t buy meals, and weren’t able to book or pay for a room or train ticket along the way. The key takeaways though, were threefold:

  1. Trust people. It may sound crazy but for seven days we were homeless. We didn’t have a roof over our heads, and didn’t have a pantry of food to go home to. We couldn’t stop at a fast food restaurant, and certainly couldn’t get groceries. We were homeless and begging, with sugary, caffeinated beverages as bargaining chips. Looking back now, we were helpless and almost hopeless, but people kept us going. They believed in what we were doing, and what we wanted to accomplish. They kept enough food in our bellies, and occasionally gave us a roof to sleep under, and a bed(!!!!!) to sleep on. People asked for pictures, gave us rides, and encouraged us to keep going. There was no status or hierarchy, judgment or class. When we needed help, the people of Europe came to our aid.
  2. Entrepreneurship is everywhere. Entrepreneurship is generally thought to be the creation of a company or organization of some sort. To be entrepreneurial, some might say that you look for the quickest way to make it ‘to the top’ and even become rich. Our goal was neither; it was simply to stay alive and move onward. Though it took a couple days to learn how to effectively trade a can of Redbull, we eventually did, hiding the French ingredient list and nutrition information while in a German country, and trading people in the marketplace for something that was worth less than the can could sell for. We learned to talk to people who either had children, or were our age, and tried to relate as much as possible. We spoke quick, perfect English to train conductors seconds before departure, only to have them realize we were ticketless when we departed the station. It was ok, at least we were moving until the next stop. Entrepreneurship was everywhere, and it set me on the path to co-found the company I’m still working to build.
  3. If you want it bad enough, it will work out. Too often we read quotes that sound good, but have no context, and quickly lose their meaning. What we found though, is that when we want something bad enough, it will work out. Making it to the next checkpoint was not only our top priority, but in some cases our only priority, meaning that all of our mental capacity was dedication to innovation and finding our way to the next spot. There is truth in this quote, and when tackling my biggest challenges now, I often think back to the supreme focus and attention this trip required, and apply that same dedication to the task at hand.

When all was said and done, we made it. It wasn’t easy, and at times it wasn’t even fun. Looking back now though, this trip helped define who I am now, and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing- not even a can of RedBull.

​UCalgary Speech

Hi. Wow. Thank you so much. Jim, thank you kindly for the introduction, I really do appreciate it. Thank you too to Lindsay Reid and the team and the Alumni Association for giving me a call a few weeks ago and asking me to be here. I say very sincerely that it is a true, true honor to be here.

Being up here in front of you now means a lot to me. I was talking to my mom last week as I was thinking through what this was going to sound like and I had to give her a text. And yes she’s tech-savvy and texts better than most of my friends. I said Mom it really seems like the stars have aligned for this one. I said I was feeling pretty lucky. This is going to sound a bit nerdy perhaps but being here, and actually here specifically has been a dream of mine for quite some time.

In high school I told my parents that I wanted to be a thought-leader and a change maker. Not in the sense that I wanted to have my voice heard, but in that what I said was listened to carefully and valued. Like most people I wanted to make a difference, and I think this is my way of doing it. I mean, I can barely spell my last name and if you look closely at my transcript I had to round up to boast about my 2.6 GPA. As you can guess I’m joking about the boasting part, unfortunately not about the GPA part. Anyways I told them that this was going to be a goal of mine by the time I was 40, then 30, and then when my co-founder Emerson Csorba came along the goal moved to 25. 3 weeks ago I turned 24 and I get to stand here at the school I love, in front of my family who happens to be in town, in front of my friends who I grew up with at this university and shaped me to become who I am today, in front of the professors that I have endless sympathy for, at a school that I care deeply about, doing the ‘job’ that I’ve dreamed about for years. So before we get into the story, I really want to thank you for being here. It really means a lot to me.

So let me tell you how this is going to work. I was asked to come and talk about ‘my story’, and although I’m going to do that, I also want to tell you about the lessons I’m learning along the way, and the ‘why’ behind what I’m doing, and what it means for my intended, and I’ll admit, always changing future. I do have to catch a flight back to Vancouver this event but after I’ll be around to answer any questions you may have. If you don’t want to say hi, but have a question, I’ve also left a stack of cards over there. Please feel free to take one on your way out. I’m always happy to connect and learn from new people whether you think I’m wrong and completely disagree with what I’m saying, or want to talk more about it.

My story starts in Crnabrook British Columbia and since we’re in Calgary and most people don’t make it past Invermere and Panorama, Cranbrook is about 1.5 hours south in Invermere, and takes about 4 hours to get to by car. In Cranbrook, things are a little different than they are here. The main industry is forestry by a long shot and the closest tie we have to oil is the price of gas that we put in our car. Cranbrook has a population of about 20,000 and that is where mom and dad decided to raise us.

My brother Joel and I had a very comfortable upbringing. Mom dedicated 21 (and counting) very key years of her life to raising us, and dad worked incredibly hard to ensure we could live a financially sustainable life. We didn’t have the fancy cars or the pool dug out in the front yard, but we did have a rink to play hockey on and a trampoline that was underground which was pretty cool and prevented a few strained necks, I’m sure.

As I get a little older and start to understand the dynamic of the city now, I think the decision to raise us in a small town with the support of grandparents close by and in a neighborhood that was calm and safe was a good idea. See, the thing about cranbrook is that ‘success’ is viewed a little bit different than it might be in the city and honestly, I think we’re going to see a slight shift in the trends of cities to something that mirrors this. Maybe not to the same degree, but in the same direction.

In Cranbrook, success is viewed more around how happy someone is than how much they’ve acquired. It isn’t necessarily about how big the house is or what car you drive, it is about living the life you want to live. Sure, I mean not all of the jobs are glamorous, and nor are they here, but after work people can go to the lake 5 minutes away, hike the Rocky Mountains which are 30, or just escape into the wilderness and be connected to the world around them. I know I’m sounding a bit like a hippie here and that life certainly isn’t for everyone, but the further I get away from Cranbrook and the more I understand the values of a small town, the more I appreciate my parents for making the decision to raise us there.

And this leads to my Dad. My Dad is sitting right there and although I’ve never told him yet, I suppose this would be a good time to let him know I appreciate what he’s done. He taught me that they work that we do can be bigger than just going into the office and punching out at the end of the day. He’s an entrepreneur and has such a crystal clear understanding of what his values are and what makes him happy. He needs his family, his fulfilling work (markets aside) and the connection to his friends and the outdoors to make him feel happy. He found someone that made him happy and together they’re sitting with my brother watching me tell them things I’ve never said before. As I work on a company, a book, and a speaking career, in a way, I want to have the same understanding of myself as I do my Dad and so Dad, thank you.

Fast forward now to grade 6ish. By this time I had skipped a grade and was about as wide as I was tall. I had started a business that was called beading sensations and sold jewelry at a farmers market on the weekend. I didn’t know it at the time but I suppose this was entrepreneurship, which we’ll get into a bit later. By grade 6 due to my size and lack of confidence, I was bullied quite a bit. I didn’t say much to anyone except for my dog, but learned a lot from the more difficult years of my admittedly short life. I talked very little, listened a lot, and learned very quickly that I wanted to make lives better, not worse, whenever I decided what it was I wanted to do.

Moving into highschool, things got a little better. I learned how to play the guitar, grew up a bit, and made a few friends that I really appreciate today. Ryan, in the back, is a perfect example. Thanks for coming friend.

During the summers I worked in the Northwest Territories for my Dad and flew to work in a helicopter every day and slept in a one person tent for 88 days. I think. Things got a little foggy up there. I mean, for example, on day 2 I ran into a grizzly bear that barked at me like a dog, was stalked by a wolf, and had a wolverine scratch at my tent. Yes, these were terrifying, but, some say character building too.

Come the end of grade 12 I had a 90% ish average and had a decision to make. Obviously it is clear which decision I went with, and I cant be more happy as a result.

Coming to the University of Calgary was a bit of a culture shock though. As I’m more interested in giving a transparent and honest story than a fabricated one, I’ll say now that I’m not overly proud of my first years here, but am thankful they made me who I am today.

In year one I moved into Kananaskis Hall. I don’t need to get into the details of residence for people to know how fun it can be, which is why you’ll understand how difficult it could be for a 17 year old from cranbrook who didn’t get out much too. By the end of my first year I had dropped one course, passed another by the exact percent needed, and gained 25 pounds. Yes. Actually 25. Freshman 25. As I rolled back up to the NWT I didn’t really relax from the draining year and started working probably 105 out of the 120 days of the summer, only to come back to a more fun, 4 bedroom residence after being isolated with 4 other people at least 5 years my senior for a full summer. Thinking back this was a recipe for disaster.

In residence again, cascade this time, I lived with 3 other people who were way too fun. Best friends from the disaster that was first year we had the party room. This basically meant that Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and sometimes Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, we had people over and a hangover the next morning. Again, I’m not proud of this, but it is a key part in the story. After dropping another accounting class and sitting a little uneasy with a 2.1 GPA, I decided I needed to step back and evaluate why I was at school and what I wanted with my life. Maybe not in a concrete way, but at least have a better idea than the one I was going in with. After my third semester here, I dropped out. I didn’t think I was going to make it- at least not at that point in time.

Home I went. Tickets were booked to the east coast of Australia to meet my cousin and I was going to figure out who I was and what I was going to do and be. Here I learned a lot, but not at all what I expected to learn.

See, I traveled not to go to, but to get away from, and I think this can be a little dangerous in that I didn’t know what I wanted to go to. I just knew I couldn’t be here at that time any longer. When I got there though, I had scheduled 8 weeks, and only lasted 3 I think. Honestly I didn’t like it. I wanted to be doing something, making progress, learning, and feeling like I was making steps in the right direction. In a country so huge with options and things to do that were endless, I felt trapped and claustrophobic, to the point that I wanted to get back. I wanted to be making improvements, and I wanted to use the skills I was starting to identify.

What I think is interesting about traveling is that I think it has a different value than what people give it credit for. Or perhaps maybe they do feel different but let me share this with you. Eleanor Roosevelt said that ‘Small minds talk people, average minds talk events, and great minds talk ideas.’ The more I thought about it , that was what travel was. Travel forces us to talk ideas, especially when we have little money and don’t have a clue where we are going. We can’t talk about people because we don’t have anyone in common with the people around us. We can’t talk events because we likely don’t have any (or many) in common, and so we have to talk ideas. Where can we get cheap food, where is a fun place to go next, and will you go with me. We can gain the trust of the people around us so quickly because we talk about ideas and learn about who people truly are and what they truly value. Most people are there because they want to be there. They love the idea of the adventure, the chase, the uncertainty and insecurity. I found that I wanted that too, but not here. I needed to get back and get on track again. Note I didn’t say there is a right track, I said MY track, because only for me do I think the path I’m on is the right one.

Getting back to school, I wanted to be more focused on the social side of things rather than just the academic side. I knew that I wasn’t a good test-taker, and that I had a better chance of learning in a informal education kind of way. Upon arriving back to school I joined one of the business clubs, and joined JDCW which means jeux du commerce or business games. This, on top of a part time job and full class schedule made the days very long, but left little time for the lifestyle I was living before. I found myself meeting many, many more people and actually seeing my grades go up. Yay!

That summer I managed to get a full time job as a mining analyst downtown and learn about the corporate culture of the city. I was fortunate to have a great employer that once said ‘I pay you for what you produce, not the time you put in. If you give me good work and do it in good time, I’ll give some paid time off.’ This was a great way to incentivize a kid who was living a summer in Calgary if you ask me.

And so as I enter year 3.5, I hang onto my job and drop down to part time throughout the school year while still taking a full course load. This, like the year before proved to be a fairly good balance as I was juggling work, a full course load, and a new promotion as VP of the business club.

As January 2013 (3 years ago) came around, I began to crave change. I wanted something new and I wanted to stir things up a bit. I could try for president of one of the business clubs, or I could try something big and that I knew nothing about. So of course, I chose the latter and decided I was going to run for VP Operations and Finance of the SU here at the UofC on a slate with Conner Brown.

Looking back now I thank whatever it was that deterred other candidates from running because I didn’t have a clue what it was that I was getting in to. My platform has items that the SU has no jurisdiction on and my motivations were all wrong. I knew that if I was going to get a job in the booming city of Calgary, I had better supplement my terrible, unrecoverable GPA with a resume that was impressive.

But, obviously I won, and thankfully unopposed. I was not responsible for 17 business units, the fees of 25,000 undergrads, the conference and events centre, MacHall, and well, at the end of the day an 18 million dollar budget. That was a shocker, let me tell you. This was the challenge I was looking for though, and it hit me hard.

The year of the SU was a transformational year though, to say the very least. It was at a conference in June of 2013 that I went on a walk with another student leader in Hamilton Ontario where I was asked questions that I had never been asked before. She asked what difference I wanted to make. How people would describe me in three years, and how I was going to be the person I wanted to be. I up until this point I wanted to be a career, and not a person. I think this conversation really changed the rest of my life. I had a new outlook and a new desire. I wanted to be a person, and not a position.

As an aside, when people ask me about goals now, this is the answer I default to. Sure, I have goals, but I would rather be a person than a position. At the same time though, I want the position to influence but not limit the person I want to be. For example, if I want to be a consultant for one of the big four, which I did, and didn’t get the job, then I would see myself as having failed. The alternative though, if I wanted to do and learn thing X and Y, I could find any opportunity that comes long the way, take it, and still be the person I wanted to be based on the skills, values, and experiences I wanted to acquire. This was a great realization for me.

The rest of the year was pretty powerful, and even though I hate the word busy, it was just that. As VP or President of the SU, we are required to take one course to maintain student status. This is reasonable considering we worked 40 hours a week in the office, but also sat on 3 board, 10 committees, and had events on a weekly basis. At the time I was over school and wanted to get it finished so despite strong recommendations against it, I think I managed to set a record by taking 9 courses that year. Not only did I not miss work, but saw an increased GPA again, and didn’t miss work aside from being an ambassador for a national leadership conference across the country. I made some great friends, learned more from the staff at the SU than I could have ever imagined, and started to learn more about how I wanted to live and focused less on what I wanted to do.

As 2014 started, I was chosen as Class Ambassador and now viewed as one of the top 5 graduates of 2014. This is where I started to see that things had really turned around. I had gone from near dropout to Class Ambassador, and all of the experiences that shaped me along the way were to thank for the change in who I had become.

In April 2014, a representative from Redbull had approached the VP’s and asked if we could submit an application for this off Redbull experience they were trying to promote. If course, we said yes. To give you a bit of an idea, this competition was a trip from London to Berlin using only Redbull as currency, and competing against 100 teams from around the world. The competitors weren’t allowed money, phones, or technology or communication with people we knew of any kind. Not having a clue what we were going to get into, we eagerly applied and won a chance to represent Canada in this global ‘Amazing Race’ style competition across a continent we had never been to, languages we didn’t speak, with no money or phones for 7 nights. I wont tell you the whole story, but I will tell you to not trust a police officer in London to give you directions when you’re trying to find a way out of the city. He’ll send you on a wild goose chase only to end up at a gay strip club having killed half a day and gone nowhere.

The story gets increasingly better from there, to the point that we traded our way across a continent, made it to Berlin in 5 days and managed to catch free trains to Prague and Paris for the day, respectively. I lost 10 pounds and gained one heck of an experience, let me tell you.

Upon my arrival home I had a call from my soon-to-be co-founder Emerson Csorba. He thought that the competition was very entrepreneurial and that based on my experience and network at the university, I might be a good fit to be a co-founder of Gen Y Inc., a company he had just started a few months before. Obviously I didn’t tell him my GPA and wanted to know a little more information about the work he was doing so one day, he bussed down from Edmonton (where he was formerly VP for the UofA SU) so we could talk about it. I liked where he was going with things, but thought there could be a slight pivot in the model. He agreed and we went for it.

Now, it may seem like I rushed through that part a bit, but the truth is, that is how it happened. I had 2 spring classes left and no interviews lined up. I had a little money saved and at 22, I thought I had a lot of time to try something crazy with a lot to gain and nothing but time and a little money to lose. Yes this was maybe a little foolish, but I was going to go for it and dive right in.

I suppose this is where the transition happened from school to the working world. My transition wasn’t like most though, as this entrepreneurial thing kinda got in the way. I was working on Gen Y while finishing my term as VP, while doing Class Ambassador events, while taking classes, and trying to maintain a bit of a social life. I think looking back, there are both pros and cons to the transition I had.

A pro to the path I took is that the transition wasn’t too much of a shock. I went from full time at the SU, to full time as an entrepreneur the next day. I was still taking classes into the summer, and I didn’t have to graduate until November convocation, which was 6 months away. The downside is that we boot-strapped Gen Y and never did an investment round. We didn’t build a product, and were selling ideas and a new way of looking at and doing things. This meant that money was going out faster than it was coming in at the start, and that we had to figure it out quickly. As a quick thank-you, the UofC was one of our first clients. They believed in what we were doing and it is yet another reason why I think this is such as great school.

I think one of the hardest things about the transition though was that we as students left a place that we called home for so long. This campus was home away from home for so long and the relationships and friendships created here are truly life long. It is safe to say that this would be an empty room if you didn’t feel the same connection to this place as I do, and I’m happy to see that the feeling isn’t going away from you. Leaving this place is like getting kicked out of the nest. The funny thing, I think, is that we use this term a lot. This time though, it is for real. We’re out in the real world and it is either sink or swim. We all have the tools to swim quite well, but there is no one helping us from this point on. Its up to us.

And so going back to entrepreneurship and the path I decided to take, it was sink or swim to the highest degree. No, we wouldn’t get fired, but we would have to quit something we were passionate about and find a career that we could only hope would have as much autonomy creative capacity, and flexibility as the one we were creating. But what is Gen Y Inc.? Where did it come from and why did we decide to go for it?

Gen Y Inc. was a result of the work we had done and the things we had learned while in office and talking to the thousands of students we represented. Between the two of us, we had a 28 million dollar budget, represented almost 60,000 students, and by virtue of my conference ambassador position, I visited representatives of 45 post secondary school and something like 1.5 million students. What we found though it that every time we opened the paper we say that this Millennial generation was narcissistic, job-hopping generation that didn’t know how to work, lived in their parents basement, and watched Netflix all day. Right? This was a hard pill to swallow as I was watching Friends again at mom and dad’s house while I didn’t have a job prospect and prayed dinner would be ready soon. Joking.

This disconnect though wasn’t the really (in our opinion) anyone’s fault though. It was simply a lack of conversation that was happening in the workplace, and recruitment that was happening in the wrong way.

Let me dive into this for a second. The world we are living in today is so technologically integrated. We can see a posting for a job in Sweden just as easily as we can down the street, and we can be aware of workplace practice in company A because technology allows for transparency like we’ve never seen before. We are so interested in efficiency and productivity that we lose some of they essential relationship building that is required both in and out of the workplace. Something I hear often is that the meeting didn’t have to be a meeting; it could have been a conference call. And if not a conference call, it could have been an email. And if not an email, a text. Each time we get further and futher away from personal interaction and taking the time to develop people in a personal way, I think the workplace sacrifices a bit.

So we set out to change the workplace. I’ll skip the first steps and fast forward to what I have been working with for the past year or so now. We set out to develop a tool that quantifies culture and help people be attracted to jobs based on fit instead of salary or brand. We set up an Emerging Leaders Network of hundreds of people across the country that we could showcase, consult, connect, and understand, and we talked to professors, business leaders, and employees to see what it was that was important to them with respect to culture.

The difficult thing now, is to try and tell you how the last year to 16 months have gone. Simply put it has been a bigger blur than I could possibly imagine. The amount I’ve learned has been huge, and the work to keep things fresh and relevant has been, well, a little bit of a struggle. See, most entrepreneurs have the story when you don’t sleep, don’t make money, work terribly long hours, and do all you can to make the company work. My story isn’t any different. We were growing and tweaking, growing and tweaking, and growing and tweaking until we thought we had it right. As soon as that happened though, we would have a conversation with someone that would change the way we thought about something just enough to go back to thinking about how we could make the company bigger and stronger.

Financially, it was a huge stress as well. There was a time last year where I had moved into my friend’s basement that was pink, had no windows, and no heat. He gave me a great deal and it turned out to be a great spot to crash for a few months, but it was all part of the journey. I don’t remember the date but I remember looking at my account and seeing it read $7.31. No, I hadn’t maxed out my cards but I’m sure you can imagine the stress that was associated with a very unpredictable future and very little cash in the account. There were times where resume’s were ready to go out, and there were times where I was ready to quit. Again, a big thanks to Mom and Dad who got me out of a sticky situation, but it was a little boost that covered rent and gas that got us through to the next engagement, and then to the next one.

If I can though, I’m going to talk about the way I wanted to build this company. The difficult part about not having a product, and being 22 and trying to tell people you know what you’re taking about is, well, everything. So, to get the trust of the people around us, we had to be doing things that were bigger than us, and forced us to think out of the proverbial box. It was late 2014 that I was asked to join the Canadian G20 delegation in Australia. Again, a thanks to Kim Newtens and her team at the Hunter Centre for supporting one of their students to go on a journey of a lifetime, but that just shows again and again the support of this school and what it does for the students who really make the extra effort, and ask the questions that needed to be asked to get the job done.

While in Australia though, I met with some amazing people from 20 countries across the world, and still keep in touch with them on a regular basis. As an aside, I will be going to Beijing this year to represent Canada at the summit in August. Pretty cool stuff.

In addition to the G20 though, I worked with Emerson to get onto the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community here in Calgary, and then went on to host the continents largest Global Shapers conference in Calgary and Banff last summer. Yes, these experiences are good on the resume and flash fancy titles, but there are many more reasons that these types of experiences are so valuable. When I look at experience now, I try and see how many people I can learn from, not necessarily how many skills I can acquire. Truth is, I don’t know what sort of job will ever be the best fit for me, and I think trying to guess and check until we get it right isn’t the best thing to do either.

Downtown is a guy named Rollin Stanley. He came to speak at the Global Shapers conference in Calgary and he said that the next generation that is graduating out of school will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38. Pair that with some of the research we had done and we found our that the cost to train and recruit young people is between 25 and 50 thousand dollars. Each. And so if this holds true, we could take a company of 1000 people and see that on average, 170 people would turnover and cost the company a insane 6.125 million dollars. Gross.

But going back to the experiences, it was because we talked to these people, found out what they were doing and what they loved, that allowed us to better talk abut the values and future experiences of work instead of the skills and requirement it took to do the job. And as an aside, I thought this was interesting , I was speaking to the Associate Deputy Minister of Jobs Skills Tourism and Labour in Vancouver last week and he said there was no correlation between grades and salary. I thought that was interesting (and helpful) considering I’m delicately carrying my 2.6 around in my back pocket for the rest of my life.

The other important thing for us was staying relevant. We write for the globe and mail, WEF agenda, telegraph, and other media sources. I believe I spoke at 40-50 events last year and met quite literally thousand of people that shaped who we are and what our message is. This has proven to be invaluable both from a content perspective, but also from a personal perspective in better understanding exactly what it is I want to do as the years progress and the company gets stronger.

But it was these experiences that allowed us to meet more people and have a better understanding of the future of work and what workplace culture really meant. We moved from more of a dollars and cents type sales pitch to one that includes that, for sure, but one that is more social as well. Now, when I talk about the company, I talk about our mission being to make peoples lives better at work. Because if we can make people’s lives better at work, we can make people’s lives better, right? I mean, work is the thing we do more than anything else in the day and if we can make people happy at work and attracted to jobs that they like, then I think we’re doing the right thing and we can go home and rest easy at the end of the day.

And so I suppose this brings us to the last few months now. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with organizations from the Bank of England to Coca Cola in Atlanta. We’re doing some pretty cool government work in BC right now, and non-profit work in Toronto. We have great partnerships built in cities across the country, and really look forward to what is to come.

Just last month I bought out my co-founder, Emerson Csorba, as he is now perusing more of a higher-ed consulting style of work in Edmonton and the UK, and I’ve focused more on the thought leadership side of things. As I mentioned, I have now signed with the national speakers bureau and get to travel across the country to talk more about workplace culture, the future of work, generations in the workplace, and to work with students of all ages on how to find a career path that suits them.

To give you a little idea on the content side of things though, I thought I’d share something with you that I’ve been working on for a bit, if that’s ok. Hang tight because it is a bit out there.

When we talk about generations, there are three ways we typically do it. The first is describing a period of time, say, the generation of flight, harry potter, colour tv, etc. The second is the time it takes for an offspring to reproduce. Historically this has been 15-30 years, but now would be extended to at least 40, I’d say. And the third is this weird generational box we put on people. Call it generation X, Y, or Z. These generations typically last about 15 years, and no one really knows for sure which year they span and who they encompass.

This is a bit of a problem though because everyone who talks about generation might not be totally right, but they cant be wrong etiher. Lets say, for example, a flying car was introduced in 1995. This would be called the generation of the flying car, right? And so there would be a huge window for these people would be right. Now, when I talk about generation Y, I say they were born from 1980-1995 ish. And Generation Z is maybe 1995-2010.. I’m not concrete on these years, they’re just the ones I’ve decided to go and stick with. So, if this new flyung car was introduced in 1995, there would be a 30 year span for people to be right when talking about how people react to it, and that isn’t right. Ok? Got that?

Now, let me introduce the idea of Buckminister’s Knowledge Doubling Curve. This obviously ins’t mine, but it essentially states that before 1900- knowledge (not on an individual basis, but on a humankind kind of scale) doubled about every 100 years. Post 1900 though, it started to exponentially double. So by 1950, everything doubled, 1975, again, 1988, again, to the point that the amount of information and data we have access to now is doubing every 13 months. Crazy right?

So in practice, we would expect that the conversations when it comes to technology would be changing at an exponential rate, and this holds true. For example, if you were to talk to your grandparents, or your grandparents grandparents, they would be able to have a more level playing field when they talked about technology and its integration into society because it was happening at a slower rate. Now, we talk to someone who is three years older or younger and they’re talking about a new email app, way to get in a car and go across town, or how to be connected with the world around them.

So my theory is that the timespan a generation (if that is the word we want to use) has to decrease at the same rate the amount of data and information doubles. Of course, this is a very isolated theory and doesn’t include things like class, region, access to tech, or lifestyle, but it would help de-classify a group of people that I think are being unfairly generalized.

One more example would be if we were to take someone who is 20, 30, and 40, the amount of information accessible between the 30 and 40 year old would be x and the amount of information integrated into the world we are living in between 20 and 30 would be much great than x. To have the two being equal, the amount of time of the ‘generation’ between the 20 and 30 year old would have to be much shorter.

According to this theory we would hit limits, and theoretically have a new generation be born seconds after the one before us. Crazy enough though, IBM is saying that due to the Internet of Things, the amount of knowledge the world has will double every 13 hours sometime in the future. Societal restrictions and implementation will prevent data from being integrated that quicky, but what I’m getting at is that things are going to be changing very quickly, and so what does this mean for work?

I’m calling for a declassification of generations as a result.

According to recent updated charts, the total number of people on the planet is quickly approaching 7.4 billion. Home to these people is one world but viewed in 7.4 billion ways. This means that the world is viewed 7.4 billion different ways and not seen as the same to two different people.

Much like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two people are the same. They don’t share the exact same value set, have the exact same interests or hobbies, and don’t go about their day with the same routine as anyone else that lives on the planet we call home. But yet, we try to generalize, categorize, and simplify in the interest of trying to get things right, save time and money. What if, though, we stopped talking about generations based on age and starting grouping people based on the values they had and the experiences they wanted to feel? What if we were able to talk more about the way people liked to learn and communicate instead of just the year they were born and what arbitrary group they fit in.

Currently when we talk about work, we group people in generations that span about 15 years. We talk about groups of people that like to be engaged a certain way, that talk a certain way, work a certain way, and think a certain way. Sure, these people may specifically do something some way different than others, but then may not fit in the same statistical category in whatever else is being discussed. And still, we’re reducing 15 years of Canadians- 7.5 million Canadians - to their most negative generalizations. And no, this isn’t just about the next generation that is labeled as a narcissistic, job hopping, disloyal generation that lives in their parents’ basements and don’t know how to work.

When talking about groups of people, or the jobs that they work in, I’m calling for a change in the language that is used. Sure, getting into the skills and requirements are necessary in ensuring the individual can do the job, but what if they can’t feel the work they are doing? How effective can someone really be if the style of work they are doing doesn’t fit the type of person they are? It would seem as though a more effective way to do things would be to better understand how someone will do the job required and why, and then talk about what the job really is.

We get lost in generalizations. We point fingers at people who don’t ‘fit the description’ by virtue of the year they were born and what demographic they fit in. We don’t put enough emphasis and value on who the individual is and don’t put enough resources into the way we articulate the heart behind the job and what keeps us there and being our best.

Work doesn’t just have to be about making a salary and keeping food on the table. Work can be a passion project and a way to express ourselves. It can be a way of exposing our talents and taking full advantage of who we are. But if we base work just on skills and requirements, and the generalization of a 15 year category, there isn’t any way that we can truly experience the power of the individual and allow them to be the very best (and happiest) they can be.

And so here we are today. I’m 24 and learning more and more every day. It is a true honour to be back here at my school and talking to family and friends, and people who care about this place and their future as much as I do. It has been wonderful to share some thoughts and ideas with you, and I can only hope that whatever career you choose down the road is one that helps you live the life you want to lead, and isn’t just because of a sexy brand or salary. Again, thank you to the UCalgary team for bringing me here, my friends for being here and dealing with a an entrepreneur, and most importantly for my family, who has showing undying support for the last 24 years.

Thank you.

Why My Lunch Will Never Be Better Than Great

I first wrote this short piece as a joke, but then realized that I was so guilty of overusing powerful words that it wasn’t a joke at all.

Yesterday when I went to my favorite restaurant, I ordered my favorite meal, and had the highest expectations of what it was going to be. It wasn’t life changing. It wasn’t unbelievable, and it wasn’t incredible.

It was great.

It did what my meal was supposed to do. I was full and didn’t have to eat for another 5 hours at least!

Sounds like a typical lunch right? That time of the day where we need to be full again, so we stuff our face until we don’t have that feeling anymore. Where is the problem?

Well, I didn’t say my lunch was great. What I said was that my lunch was phenomenal. I may have even said that it was ‘amazing’ or ‘outstanding’.

Eric. Its lunch. Relax. Holy.

Because what happened next is that I checked my social feed to see that a friend who had been trying to get pregnant for two years finally did.


After that, I got an invitation to a wedding of two friends who had been dating for years and finally decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. The rest of their lives.

To find that? Incredible. So happy for them.

Then I found out that I had been scouted for a second TEDx – one much bigger than before. Again, no audition. Straight to the stage.

I find that unbelievable.

But lunch. Come on.

When our server comes by and asks how our meal is, I will now say that it is great, thank them, and be satisfied knowing that I used a word that still bought me room to describe something potentially much bigger and important than a kale salad that I forgot about 20 minutes later.

Too often I hear myself and the people around me tell me how incredible things are. I hear that the coffee they are drinking is the best coffee in the world and that last night was the best time EVER.

But was it?

Not for a second would I suggest that the night (or coffee) wasn’t great, but what happens when the truly amazing things happen? How can I understand the difference between a good coffee and the feeling of something that will actually have significant positive impact on our lives if we use the same words to describe them?

And when we apply this to the work we are doing and we tell people things are as good as they could be, are we hiding what is really happening? Are we fearful of being vulnerable and exposed? Talking from experience I’ve found it easy for people to avoid questioning things when I tell them things are amazing, right? What can they possibly ask? Why? Well, I’d reply that things are moving along, that they are busy (another hated buzz word of mine), and that everything is just great.

Are they though?

Is the conversation really of any substance if that is the case?

Do you really get to know what is going on in my life? Do I know what is going on in yours?

Probably not, because there isn’t anything wrong. That can’t be.

So when I wake up tomorrow and am asked how my day is going so far, I’ll probably tell you that its great.

Things are going really well, thanks for asking.

That I’m happy having not ran into the corner of the coffee table and bruised my thigh (yet).

That life and work are going just fine.

But unless things are incredible, amazing, the absolute BEST, phenomenal or unbelievable, just know that my vocabulary isn’t big enough to use those words on something that doesn’t quite warrant them.

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