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The Power of Conversation

In a world becoming increasingly integrated with technology, conversation is becoming a thing of the wayside. Relationships that were based on conversation in the past are now virtual, to the point that we may feel we know people as well as some of our good friends having never met them.

When we speak to each other, we speak in sarcasm, metaphors, and idioms. We personify, hyperbolize, and stretch the truth to create lively conversation. This figures of speech spark emotions and reactions that build trust, depth, and value in a relationship in ways reading text simply can’t. And so when we strip verbal, face-to-face communication and replace it with text and virtual learning, we simply can’t get as much out of our relationships and friendships as we could in the past.

The number one cause of mental illness in Canadian Universities in 2013 was loneliness. I can only assume that this is caused from the false representation of ourselves on social media, and the lack of traditional communication. The way we post about our daily lives isn’t a proper reflection on the days we live, but more of a highlight reel that shows our followers who we are and how we live.

When it comes to education, the most powerful exercises are those where young students have the opportunity to talk and learn with each other. The problem solving that occurs during this time of action and reaction simple can’t be matched. As one student makes a mistake, calculations are being made and expressions are read from the other people in the group that may teach them more than the teacher ever could. This experience, conversation and interaction is invaluable and cant be replaced.

Too often we hear about a shift in technology to be more focused on an ipad format, where students can grow and learn at their own pace. Though this is very valuable, the interaction between students proves to be incredibly important in the development of social skills.

As students move from the younger grades and into high school and university, it becomes less about the conventional learning, and more about the development of friendships. A recent study by has revealed that the average person spends 90 minutes a day on their phone, which may not seem like too much, but when we think about it closely, it means that over 10% of a typical day would be looking at the screen. Thinking back 10-15 years ago, these phones didn’t exist and we had 10% of not only our day, but our year back as well. This suddenly becomes a staggering statistic all of the sudden.

What is scarier, is that these statistics are now considered old. While the U.S. did not lead global markets in terms of amount of time spent on social media networks, it was far and away the highest consumer of monthly data, spending the most time per day on their phones with a staggering 4.7 hours. Considering that the average American is awake for just over 15 hours a day (seeing as we sleep for an average of eight hours and 42 minutes), this means that we spend approximately a third of our time on our phones. Sure, using your smartphone isn’t mutually exclusive with completing other activities, but still, 4.7 hours is a significant chunk of the day.

Conversations can’t be replaced. We’re losing the way we communicate and people are suffering as a result. Yes, the cat video was hilarious, but was it worth losing (or failing to make) a friend over?

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The Necessity of Learning

Ask any surgeon and they’ll tell you that 25% of the blood that is pumped from the heart goes to our heads. The effort it takes to think and learn is actually much more than we think. No, it might not quite be the same as going for a run or stopping by the gym for a quick post-work workout, but learning takes a lot of time and energy. Maybe that is why so often we hear ‘When I come home, I can’t wait to watch my favourite show. Hell, I may even watch five or six episodes and fall asleep to it!’. Watching primetime TV doesn’t make us think much. It is easy watching and at the end of the day, doesn’t challenge us much.

When we read a book or have an intellectual conversation, we are challenged in how we think and why we think it. Conversing always puts us in a bit of a spotlight that forces us to be a better version of ourselves. We don’t want to look silly, uneducated, dumbfounded, or anything that has the other person think any less of us.

I’ve found though, and this isn’t something that is shared just with me, is that the more I know, the more I realize I have to know and the hungrier I am for knowledge and information. Coming from a small town in interior Canada, there are limited experiences, people, and conversations based on where people have been and what they have seen. Then, moving to a city that is usually viewed as a single industry town, the conversation very rarely strayed from the hand that fed the majority of people there. Now having moved to a costal city that has a diverse economy, but a lifestyle that is much more laid back and relaxed, I’ve found again that the lifestyle is different and the people of the city have yet another way of viewing the way they live and the why behind it.

When we are cooped up in our houses and glued to the computer or yet another episode of our favourite Netflix show, it is becoming more and more clear that the world we live in is less and less hungry for information despite having more and more of it at the tip of our fingertips. As a result, we see the rise of ‘experiences’ that don’t require us to leave our couches, and a society that is getting increasingly apathetic.

Perhaps I should try and qualify this and be a little more specific. In Canada, more and more people are getting an education, and are ‘smarter’ as a result. But with this increase in technology and ease to sit in our living rooms and ‘get updated’ via twitter or whatever media we choose to use, we physically experiences less that we did in the past. Less people are going out, being social doesn’t have the same connection with being out in the community as it did before, and our experiences, those things that really challenge us, happen in a different way than they did before.

In a presentation to a university co-op group, my co-founder Emerson Csorba talked at length about community and the curiosity needed for people to be learning and the best version of themselves. He spoke about membership to philanthropic or charitable groups be financial only, so that people could say they were a part of something bigger, but still not have to leave the comfort and safety of their homes to actually participate. To build the resume, people don’t have to disclose the hours they may have been social and present, just the hours they helped, which may not have to be in person at all. This is slightly worrisome as the actual interaction of people is dwindling.

There is a necessity to learn, to experience, and to be scared. In a time where job tenure and happiness is falling, we read and see on TV what a job might look like, but forget this studio portrayal isn’t real. It isn’t what we live and we become anxious as a result.

Experiencing life and learning must increase. Failure has to actually be embraced as a part of life and viewed part of the experience. People have to get off of the treadmill and into the park to see new things, smell new smells, and learn about the community and the people in it.

The Irony of Success and What We Can Do About It

Oprah, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Branson: My heroes. Ok, well that might be a little dramatic but if I listed Dominic Barton (Mckinsey), Jim Turley (EY), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Richard David (US Bank), you (like me) would probably wonder who these people were.

We’ve come to glorify and exemplify the CEOs of ‘unicorn’ start-ups to be the pinnacle of success.

What do they all have in common? They’re all founders and entrepreneurs, sparking a high interest in starting a company and setting an alternate standard of what it means to be successful.

To add to this, classes teaching entrepreneurship have gone up some 20x since 1985. We’re programmed to think that we need to work in that remote office, ‘hustle’, and be a part of that ‘start-up grind’. Why not? We all want to be successful.

If that is the case though, why is it that entrepreneurship is at a 40-year low? According to the US Census that just over 450,000 firms were founded in 2014, which is way less than the 500,000 to 600,000 new companies founded every year from the late ‘70s to the the time of the Census.

Success is hard to find in entrepreneurship. Consider being 20-something kid that wants to start a small tech shop rather than being a consultant for a major firm after spending four years, racking up an average of $37,000 student debt. The data shows that it takes just over three years to be profitable and statistically, they have a 1 in 10 shot at making a sustainable living at all. The bottom line? Making a living in entrepreneurship is tough, and being among the Zuckerbergs is, well, nearly out of the question.

And hey, it isn’t limited starting a tech company, this is entrepreneurship as a whole. Perhaps that is why the idea of a side-hustle is on the rise too. Forbes reports that more than 1/3 of Millennials are working a side job. But is it possible to fully commit? Well, given the difficulty of becoming not only profitable, but also to make a sustainable living, not likely; well not right away at least.

A fun side-hobby? Sure. Lucrative, maybe, but not likely.

But then comes a new problem: Automation, which is something widely talked about, but perhaps not enough when it comes to entrepreneurship. Time said that ‘Jobs with predictable activities in structured environments are the easiest to replicate with robots, a process known as automation. McKinsey estimates that 51% of all job-related activities in the U.S. economy fit this description, largely in manufacturing, food service and retail trade sectors.’ What does this include? Insurance underwriters, Banking clerks, Accounting technicians and bookeepers. Funny, those are among some of the jobs we in society deem to be among the ones that make us more successful.

The irony in the situation is that some of the jobs that we thought were those that were going to be safe and lucrative in the long-haul are going to be the ones to go, and entrepreneurship, though difficult to make full living off of, isn’t what gets us the most support out of the gate.

So what do we do moving forward?

Well, I predict that there will be a spike in Liberal Arts education so that we can solve problems better. The reality is that the world is moving faster than any of us can keep up with and the definition of success is changing along with it.

What we need to be doing is filtering the ‘noise’ of what society (or Instagram followers) tells us to be successful and learn to understand ourselves and what makes us happy. Try disconnecting for a weekend. See what it is you gravitate to when there isn’t the ‘busyness’ of life.

Success doesn’t look like it used to. It isn’t about the American Dream, so much as it is about the dreams of over 300 million Americans, which all look different. Defining what we need to live a sustainable, happy life is the first key step to determining what success looks like to us. Next step: chase it and don’t look back.

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