Learning is a Rewarding Bumpy Ride

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The past year has been a whirlwind: lots of personal and professional change, growth and new experiences. I’m looking forward to sharing some of it. I’ll start off by writing about a subject that looms large and is an important theme in my life: learning.

I’m part of the school of thought that believes you can learn anything – like literally anything and apply the new skill masterfully! I get into arguments with my friends all the time about this. I consistently try to convince them I could make the NBA in 3-5 years if I put in the energy (a man can dream can he?).

Last summer, I stumbled on the TED Talk below by Josh Kaufman. He’s the author of “The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything”. You can watch the TED Talk here. I strongly suggest you do!

In his talk, Kaufman advances the theory that you can attain a certain level of any skill after putting in the first 20 hours of practice. I was skeptical! However, I was excited to know that any skill in world (!) was accessible to anyone at such a low price! The analytical and empirical side of me felt like this theory needed to be tested. And that’s exactly what I did!

My skill of choice: to master the skill of riding a penny board. Mind you, I had ridden on a board only once in my life – about 5 years prior on the Venice Beach, California boardwalk. And it went terribly.

My initial impression: how hard could it be? It’s not like I’m trying to master space walking. Boy was I wrong? I documented the first 12 hours of my experience and wrote down some notes after each hour of practice session (noted H1, H2, etc.). To remind me of my initial struggles, I called the experience Operation Venice.

See for yourself! (I apologize for the poor penmanship)

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  • H1: Everything is looking good. I can stand on my penny board on straight lines and flat surfaces. After Hour 1, I’m thinking: I’m going to master this in no time!
  • H2-H7: DISASTROUS! I start running into minor obstacles like road irregularities, regular turns, stop signs, etc. These next 7 HOURS make me realize that I don’t actually master a thing: I can’t turn, brake or even stand comfortably. These 7 one-hour sessions consist of a lot of frustrations, falls, injuries, googling, youtubing and life-threatening maneuvers in front of moving cars. I remember wanting to quit after the 7th hour of coming home with scratches on my hands and knees. I had to push through to confirm Kaufman’s hypothesis had a basis (and because of personal pride, I’m a sore loser).IMG_6649
  • H8: I experience incremental improvements. I decide to break down the challenges in small tasks instead of wanting to solve everything at once! First task: figure out my balance and stance – basically being comfortable standing on the board. So far, so good!
  • H9: Next step: improve the steering and the control. I went on my first purpose trip: went to get food and back. Alright, it’s going well!
  • H10: False confidence, I hit a wall. I decide to take on tougher challenges all at once. I decide to go on a night ride (low visibility) on irregular hills with traffic. Honestly, super dangerous! I fell in front of a moving car that had to brake. Driver looked at me silly. Lesson: don’t try to skip steps and trust the learning process. I was trying to do too much with too many variables all at once.
  • H11: I decide to go on a 1h30min purpose trip to a yoga session in a park. Along the way, I make minor tweaks to my technique: balance – check, control – check, road irregularities – check.
  • H12: It was time to Beta Test my skills. So far, I had only gone on solo trips. I was ready to rub shoulders with a few close friends who were on bikes and had skateboarded for years. To my surprise – I could easily keep up and even handled a few slopes better than them! Operation Venice beta was a success!

Operation Venice had a few key aspects I consider crucial to learning! First off, I documented everything. It was important for me to write everything down because it allowed me to review the good/bad/ugly with fresh eyes right after they had happened. Secondly, perseverance is essential. I could have easily given up at Hour 7 and thought that I wasn’t made for penny boarding, but I didn’t. Without perseverance, nothing gets done! Finally, make incremental iterative improvements. Measure your skills against your old self regularly. Make small tweaks as you go and keep measuring, measuring, measuring.

I came to one major realization: learning is about believing you can! Sounds corny but it’s true about anything. If you don’t believe your project will take off, it probably won’t. Whether you subscribe to Kaufman’s 20 First Hours theory or even Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, the lesson here is trusting the process and believing you can. Anyone in your circle who you consider skilled, went through the hardships of falling and getting back up.

If you start off with the belief that success is attainable, it suddenly is!

Learning is a Rewarding Bumpy Ride

Your Environment is a Product of You

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Ever since I was a young boy, I have always been a dreamer. I always wondered why I never felt like I completely fit in one set environment. I was the kid that always imagined the world different than my reality – I’m sure that was the case for many kids. I dreamed of a parallel virtual world, similar to the kid’s show Reboot and its game cube.

Growing up, as I got more familiar with the world of entrepreneurship and startups, I realized technology was the answer to not only dream about that world but to create it around yourself. Today, I strongly believe in the power of technology to empower individuals and their dreams. A few years ago, it would have been impossible for the common person to dream up an idea, find the adequate capital (financial, human, etc.) and sell the resulting product to a large scale audience. With the advent of many technological advances, it is now a reality.

For example, let’s take a look at the e-commerce platform! Last year, I made one dream come true thanks to the Shopify platform: giving back to my country of origin of Haiti. I partnered with the Haitian tablet company Surtab to create much needed jobs and promote education in the country. This is definitely the most significant project I ever took on. Although most of the selling activities take place offline, the Shopify platform allowed me to see the power technology has on making love projects a reality.

There are thousands of emerging tools today that allow you to get things done for yourself, your community or society at large – see 3D printing, virtual reality, AI, social media, solar energy to name a few. In my opinion, the answer is in tech products and services. Their reach, scale and impact is like nothing we’ve experienced before.

We all have a thing or two we’d love to get done in our lifetime. Now is the best time to do so!

Needless to say: today, I dream lucid!

Your Environment is a Product of You

The Need Paradox

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I have this tendency to doubt everything that I’m too convinced of. Whenever I feel like I know everything about a certain subject or situation, I get this uncomfortable feeling and I start researching as many different perspectives as possible. Why? I simply have this need to either disprove or solidify my current belief.

That is why, back in November, when I was offered to visit my country of origin I absolutely had to go. I had a very set-in-stone and slightly gloomy opinion about the country. Having only been once when I was younger, the only information I had was shaped by the media and the occasional family stories. And even the latter is heavily tainted by the media.

I needed my own opinion. And so I went.

As soon as I landed, my opinion of the country changed for the better- literally as soon as I landed. I find this incredible! You mean to tell me that more than two dozen years of information-feeding can be overruled by just 20 minutes of personal experience? Does this not make you doubt everything you know, but haven’t experienced first-hand? The rich culture of the country was well on display and the people were welcoming – both aspects not getting enough attention in the media unfortunately.

On the other hand, a few things were confirmed. There are diverse and countless needs. Issues include lack of widespread access to education, measly job opportunities, little urban maintenance and safety measures, low Internet adoption, etc. The variety and multitude of needs in the country are huge.

This is one example. If you’ve been to any developing country in the world, there are thousands if not millions these needs around the globe.

Now turn your attention to what’s happening in “rich” countries. With the startup culture in full force in North America, financial, brain and human capital abound. Did you know that the #1 reason most venture-backed startups fail is because of “no market need”? That’s right. Almost half of startups that fail do so because in the end, not enough people want the thing or service they were producing.

There are many reasons why this is. I’m going to name a few that come to mind. #1: The glorification in the media of useless businesses that make money. I’m looking at the first-person “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” game app. Combined with the disappointing coverage of great and useful businesses like Decode Global’s first-person Get Water game, it makes it more appealing to start the former venture than the latter. #2: The separation in types of businesses of non-profit organizations and profit-raking businesses. This odd separation in types of businesses unconsciously makes it seem like you can’t do social good AND be a real money-making business. Look at Tesla Motors, sûrtab and Reaction Housing. #3: Capitalism. Since people in developing countries don’t have loads of disposable income, their needs are not considered important. We should be able to create a business model around things that actually matter.

There is something that’s clear in my mind – something that doesn’t need solidifying or a second opinion. A new definition of “market need” is necessary. The current version only includes less than 10% of the world population’s needs. Most startups today unfortunately aim to solve the needs of a subsection of the population in pursuit of money and fame…but end up failing. It’s a shame with the amount of media attention, financial and brain capital available to the tech industry today that real needs aren’t being focused on.

If we all put our energy towards helping one another, instead of working tirelessly to find ways to make more money, we could all tear down all of the principles this society was built on and create a better version of what we live in. Hard ball capitalism has run its course and will be retooled over the next 100 years. A new meritocracy can emerge where “integrity” and “good will” would be the new currency. It would be a society where people who help others the most would be the richest.

A man can dream, can he?

The Need Paradox

This Side Up

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It’s not easy to detach yourself from all of the prescribed “norms” that are thrown your way from birth. It starts off with your family as a kid, then your friends, your teachers, your coworkers and the media. I believe knowing yourself outside of all this outside noise is absolutely critical to your happiness and that it can change the way you see and experience life.

Sometimes, these prescribed norms come from people close to you and it’s not easy to digest the messages objectively unfortunately.

 

I was told to be safe. Medical, law and engineering schools were the institutions I was supposed to attend coming out of high school. From a young age, my parents preached a safe career path that would guarantee myself a safe financial situation than the one they grew up in. I won’t be safe. I decided to go the entrepreneur route. According to multiple sources, more than 95% of startups fail. I bet that failing rate is down to 0% if  you’re willing to do anything (late nights, stress, mental fatigue, etc.) and work excessively hard to fill your venture’s purpose. I read a quote recently that said: “There’s no reward in life without risk”. I’m willing to take the risk.

 

I was told to be realistic. Recently, I had a conversation where I was explaining my views on life, describing a life where I would solely give importance to its positive aspects and where I would be grateful for every single gesture made towards me and others – regardless of their magnitude. I got the following response: “This is utopia”. I won’t be realistic. I believe you have sole control of your happiness by the way you decide to see and react to aspects of your life. Happiness comes from the inside and shouldn’t be a product of outside forces. Do and focus on the things you love.

 

I was told there was no hope. A few months ago, I took vacation from work and went back to my mother land. I spent the bulk of my 7-day stay reading about history and riding around poor residential neighbourhoods discussing the reality and the mindset of its habitant. A conversation I had with my aunt struck a cord. She’s been a first-grade teacher for 6-7 years now and I was curious to know how it was to teach these kids. She said: “I don’t enjoy it”. Ignorant as I was, I asked: “Why don’t you do what you like and achieve the things you’re passionate about?”. She replied: “For what? There’s no point to hope. Nothing ever happens anyways”. My heart sunk to my stomache. What saddened me the most is the fact she doesn’t realize the influential power she has over the kids she teaches. They pick up on this negative energy, perpetuating the cycle of hopelessness. There is hope. I don’t have the solution to this huge developing country issue right now but it’ll come with time and I won’t let it go.

 

This life has taught me to get out of this box that prescribes a direction to it. Knowing your inner self and applying your strengths to make things happen around you will lead to a fulfilling existence.

 

Turn the box on its head.

This Side Up

Let innovation be

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The use of the words “innovation” and “disruption” should be taken more seriously from now on. Here’s why.

 

For tens of thousands of years before the 1700s, I could probably count on both of my hands the innovations that have truly affected the development of humanity and its principles. The evolution of women and men had followed a pretty direct line of progression since the time of the homo sapiens. All of this until the industrial revolution that started with the invention and refinement of the steam engine in the latter part of the 18th century. A few hundred years later came the burgeoning of the digital revolution with the conceptualization of antiquated calculators in the mid-1800s.

 

Since then, a lot of cool stuff has happened such as electricity, TVs, radio, telephones, video games, etc. To me, most of these latter inventions are only tiny steps towards what is going to happen to humanity in the next few years thanks to the emergence of the Internet a.k.a. the only other impactful innovation of the past one hundred years.

 

So when I hear the word innovation or disruption associated to products like the newest video game consoles, bigger screens on smartphones, voice controlled devices, cordless headphones, 99% of social networking apps, I cringe. Literally. I call death to the overuse of these two words. Let’s have respect for the creations that often take hundreds of years to reach consumers and hundreds of collaborating creators to refine.

Let innovation be

Our generation is making history

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I feel lucky to be a part of this generation and this time period. We are in a pivotal moment in the history of the world! This period in history is equivalent to the widespread use of tools by the early human, to the invention of printing by the Chinese in year 220, to the cusp of the industrial revolution in 1800’s, to the first conceptualization of the digital revolution in the 1800’s by Ada Lovelace. We’re currently building the tools of the 21st century and beyond!

 

I recently read a quote from the founding executive editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly that read as follows:

“If we were sent back with a time machine, even 20 years, and reported to people what we have right now and describe what we were going to get in this device in our pocket — we’d have this free encyclopedia, and we’d have street maps to most of the cities of the world, and we’d have box scores in real time and stock quotes and weather reports, PDFs for every manual in the world … You would simply be declared insane,” Kelly said.

“But the next 20 years are going to make this last 20 years just pale,” he continued. “We’re just at the beginning of the beginning of all these kind of changes. There’s a sense that all the big things have happened, but relatively speaking, nothing big has happened yet. In 20 years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘Well, nothing really happened in the last 20 years.” [Business Insider]

 

I believe this with the bottom of my heart. In the past 100 years, we’ve had to wait for the parallel developments of small but powerful enough microchips, a programming language, a functional operating system, a world wide network, an intuitive browsing interface for us to finally tap into the Internet as we know it today. But it’s just the beginning!

 

With the maturity of tech trends such as social networks, wearables, internet of things, mobile payments, etc., we’re slowly introducing the building blocks to a grander connected world. Technology is currently giving all of us very powerful tools to impact the world and change its course. And this generation and the next are the ones currently doing it!

Our generation is making history

METRIC Launches An Interactive App To Promote Synthetica

After Björk’s Biophilia and Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, it’s now METRIC’s turn to release its app-as-an-album concept. The band hopes to give fans the total mobile experience of the band’s newest musical release called Synthetica. In theory, the Synthetica app provides fans with a tool to mold and create their own interpretation of the music on the album by playing with the multiple sounds used to create it.

“The METRIC Synthetica app’s eleven interactive song experiences visually remix, filter, and sequence songs from Synthetica and Synthetica Reflections. In half the experiences, fans remix songs by painting pattern samples into sequencers embedded within the app’s 3D landscapes. Fans can change the instruments and their speeds, and turn tracks on and off to create their own METRIC-like songs and samples.

In the other experiences, fans remix songs directly through sliding finger gestures over warping surreal scenery, choosing audio effects from a palette that appears under their fingertip, and sliding their fingers around the screen to adjust the filters. Multiple finger gestures at the same time apply simultaneous effects.

The design of the app was inspired by the work of Superstudio, a late-1960s Italian architecture collective spearheaded by Cristiano Toraldo and Adolfo Natalini whose conceptual architecture promoted the harmony of people, nature and technology. METRIC was heavily inspired by Superstudio imagery during the writing of the Synthetica album.

This app is a collaboration between METRIC and award-winning app developer Snibbe Studio whose credits boast numerous interactive-visual-music apps including app albums for Björk’s Biophilia and the Philip Glass/Beck collaboration REWORK_.”

METRIC Launches An Interactive App To Promote Synthetica