Little boxes

20 04 2011

In the absence of time to properly reflect, here is a video that encapsulates my current mental and emotional state. Caroline, a friend, member of the first ever-graduating class and one of the first people I met at Quest, performed this a week or so ago on campus. Maybe it was just my overactive perceptions filter at play, but I found it very relevant. So here it is. And expect a backlog of reflections coming in over the summer, when I have time to properly synthesize my thoughts and ideas. As of late, my learning curve has been steeper than what I can keep up with. Another week or so and I’ll be able to relax, unwind, slow down and be the confused, spontaneous 19-year old that I really am. Until then, I’ll just listen to Pete Seeger and embrace the chaos of planning Dancing Bear Music Festival, finishing my Question plan, and above all, taking care of myself and the people who I love most. Talk about perspective! I wish I had this much clarity and rationality all the time!

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Wisdom from Quest faculty and staff

16 03 2011

Thus far, I have met with many faculty and staff members to discuss and organize my ideas. In the two months prior to Question block, I spoke to many faculty members to varying degrees to organize my ideas as well as brainstorm potential directions. (Check out our faculty bios here..they are pretty spectacular!) In addition, I have also shared some of my preliminary ideas with a few former colleagues and personal contacts. I have deliberately cast this wide net in order to make sure I am gaining diverse perspectives from a range of academic fields as well as personal backgrounds. I feel very fortunate that the faculty is so accessible to students as these meetings (both formal and informal) have been incredibly helpful as I try to find an academic focus of my own.

Most recently, I scheduled meetings with Andre, Jim, Court, Steve as well as a second meeting with Eric. I went into this second round of meetings with much more focus than my preliminary sessions, and was even able to propose possible Questions, such as “How can we facilitate collaboration effectively?”

  1. Focus – What is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth? How can my Question be broad enough to encompass a wide range of curricular and co-curricular interests and to provide adequate flexibility and freedom during my Concentration years? However, my Question needs to be narrow enough to offer sufficient academic focus and direction?
  2. Integration – How can I acquire a well-rounded education that integrates concepts from different disciplines in a meaningful, multidisciplinary way? To what extent is it possible or even desirable to pursue both arts and sciences with equal rigour?

My goals for these meetings were to:

  • Gain perspective on the importance of focus and integration when forming a Question.
  • Receive constructive feedback on the wording of my Question
  • Identify some relevant sources of information that would aid further independent research, such as search words, topics, disciplines and possible readings

During these meetings, I gained a lot of insight about some possible areas that I would like to further explore as well as some specific courses that might be relevant to my anticipated academic journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the meaningful links I was able to identify between seemingly different fields, all occurring within the scope of my Question. For example, Court identified parallels between natural resource management and human resource management. Furthermore, population models used in the life sciences could inform human population models. On the other hand, Andre and Jim highlighted the importance of first defining the terms that I am using, such as management and collaboration, to make sure I mean what I am saying, after all definitions can be subjective. In addition, Andre suggested that I also define the anti-theses of these terms. Rather than strictly thinking about the motivations for collective action, he suggested it might also be useful to look at individualism.

Also, out of pure coincidence, I also began talking to Steve, our new international admission counselor. I described the nature of my Question, and then asked about his academic background. As it turns out, he has an Honours degree in Sociology, a discipline that Eric had directed me to during our meeting a day earlier. Sociology is defined as “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” Steven has also worked in varying capacities within the field of institutional organization. According to Steven, I am destined for a career in human resources. I have fully processed that notion quite yet, but I’ve accepted it for now. Similarly, I learned that Vanessa, our university librarian, is currently undertaking graduate studies in leadership. She is currently writing a strategic plan for the library, which serves both her responsibilities for work as well as one of her courses. Coincidentally, I plan on writing a strategic plan for the Quest Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as experiential learning over the summer, so she will be an incredible resource. Melanie has also been extremely helpful in the past couple months as I attempt to integrate both my curricular and co-curricular activities. Once again, I am completely intrigued by the professional and personal backgrounds of the staff and faculty at Quest, and their willingness to take time out of their daily work to exchange ideas with students.

Also, Eric proposed a few more possible Questions: i) “What is the role of collaboration in political and social organization?”, or more broadly, ii) “How do institutions transform themselves?” Alternatively, in consideration of David’s suggestion, I could merge the two to read, “What is the role of collaboration in institutional transformation?” As you can tell, each of these versions has a slightly different focus. I’ll keep all three for now.

My next step is to start the next round of research, based on the keywords that I received. A long day in the library for me, but luckily, I am so interested and excited about my Question that it won’t even really feel like work. I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first, but I think I’m going to like this whole Question thing after all.





Idea generator: “Learn to Love the Revolution”

14 03 2011

I’m proud to say that I came across my second “idea generator” without the use of the conventional Google search, or the internet at all. After a wet and snowy morning of skiing, I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Also, about this time, I started to feel guilty about not starting my Question homework, so I stopped by the magazine racks on my way to the café. “How hard can it be to find an article that relates to my broad Question on collaboration?” As I suspected, it was pretty easy and after reading a handful of headlines, I found this one in TIME and it seemed to fit. This particular headline caught my eye because I have always had this obsession with the idea of revolution, from childhood tantrums to reading Animal Farm in grade 10 to listening to learning about the hippies of my parents’ generation to teenage rebellion to my present, slightly more sophistically political charge. And of course it relates to my Question. Isn’t revolution a form of collaboration? Although much different than Botsman’s exchange of goods and services, revolutions are another form of people coming together to address a common concern.

In this TIME article, the author identifies five persuasive reasons why the recent revolution in the Arab Middle East should not evoke international panic or concern. In summary:

  1. Inadequate provision is the common and justifiable motive for all revolutions.
  2. Despite this constant, the history of colonial rule, international relations and culture characterizes each revolution as unique, making generalizations very difficult to make.
  3. This complex interplay of factors takes time to study and understand, so patience becomes invaluable.
  4. A sense of “state power”, which often comes in the form of political institutions, is important because Twitter and Facebook cannot govern a country…yet.
  5. The West does not have the answers, nor should we impose our theoretical solutions. A revolution is a way for local people to respond to the eminent problems themselves.

TIME Magazine’s large colour photos and minimalist margins highly restricted my side notes while reading this article. Similar to Botsman’s talk, it uncovered a wide range of possible fields of study that I am deeply interested in, but I hadn’t previously been considered integrating into my Question plan, such as history and religious studies. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to draw parallels between this article and previous courses I’ve taken, such as Communities and Conservation and the Great Bear Rainforest. International conflict demonstrates the significance of multi-stakeholder collaboration as well as the ability to work across different levels and scales, from local to global.

Above all, I am naturally intrigued by the complexity of the situation and the opportunity to understand the political situation entices me. This level of complexity provokes an endless stream of questions, but to name a few:

a) Can we apply lessons across different scales and contexts? To what extent can we do so while being judicious about generalizations?

b) How can we practically and efficiently facilitate collaboration on this scale? What are the limits of informal mediums of collaboration, such as Twitter and Facebook? Do they offer more promise of peace and stability than nation states?





Idea generator: collaborative consumption

14 03 2011

To borrow a phrase from a eloquent Quest 4th year, Rachel Botsman is the “physical embodiment of my Question”. Botsman simple thesis persuasively argues that humans are evolutionarily wired to share and cooperate, despite the man-made capitalistic, egotistical culture that has emerged in the past century. Furthermore, tribes and “smart mobs” are emerging now more than ever (Seth Godin explains this phenomenon here). “Collaborative consumption” responds to the idea that we don’t actually want to own more “stuff”, we just want the services and experiences each “thing” provides. For example, rather than a CD, we want the music and entertainment of a CD. She proposes that ownership is an outdated concept. Botsman identifies four societal events that have catalyzed the emergence of this new consumption trend:

  1. Ÿ  A renewed belief in the importance of community
  2. Ÿ  Peer-to-peer social networks and real-time technology
  3. Ÿ  An increased awareness of environmental concerns
  4. Ÿ  A global recession to shock consumer behaviour

I did not choose this TED talk as my “idea generator” purely because it was one of the first hits when you search “TED” and “collaboration”. This TED talk connects many different academic disciplines and societal phenomena, such as the environment, science and technology, human psychology, economics. Like many of the TED talks, Botsman’s lecture epitomizes the interdisciplinary study that all Quest students should aspire. In addition, collaborative consumption offers a very useful application of collaboration that serves as strong evidence for relevance of my Question.

This TED talk gave me a lot of clarity on a wide range of topics, but a couple questions remain:

a) Does collaborative consumption suggest a dramatic shift in our economic system, from a monetary-based economy to a reputation-based economy that recognizes the Earth’s limits? Does collaborative consumption support economic “degrowth”?

b) How can we reverse the deeply engrained culture of egotism and individualism? To what extent is this possible? To what extent is self-interest in our human nature?

c) What are the limits to collaborative consumption? Would it be possible to eventually make private property an obsolete concept? What would be the political implications of this type of economic reform?