The Power of the Timeless

5 Reflections from SHAD|5

By: Hamoon Ekhtiari

Sometimes impactful experiences in life happen from choosing Yes even when your mind and body are advocating against it.

Earlier this fall, I made a last minute decision, despite a tough week, to attend a seemingly garden variety alum event hosted by an organization I was last connected to back in high school. A blast from the past for me, SHAD|Five welcomed over 200 participants, alumni, supporters, and friends to hear the powerful stories of 5 influencers, entrepreneurs, and innovators

Lately, perhaps because I spend so much of my time in innovation / change / transformation circles, I have been in search of the timeless — the things that don’t change with a click, the things that won’t disappear in a blink, the things that we shouldn’t disrupt tomorrow.

Interestingly enough, even though all the speakers had stories careers of being innovators, change makers, and disruptors, almost all of their most salient points were about that which is timeless.

David Chilton reminded us “people deal with people they like and people they trust, so be those kinds of people. Sharon Avery shared with us that the Future of Philanthropy is built on three pillars: relentless curiosity, rigorous compassion, and radical generosity. Richard Harris gave us his secret recipe to entrepreneurial success in “experience is greater than money. The team is more important than the idea… And good is more important than perfect.” Carol Leaman showed us how to get through the tough patches “you succeed when you always believe in yourself, even when others do not.” Gabrielle Scrimshaw helped us see that the difference between success and failure can simply be choosing to “be brave, stand up and say ‘I have an idea.’”

Maybe I had coloured glasses on but the inspiration for the timeless went beyond the speakers’ messages — here are the 5 timeless gems I found at SHAD|5 that are probably as true today as they were when I went to SHAD all those years ago:

  1. The Power of Relationships: Tim Jackson, the SHAD CEO whose vision is taking the organization to the next level, used to be a Vice President at my university when I was there and was then my boss at MaRS. I also ran into someone I had gone to SHAD with all those years ago and we are now both back in the same city. Relationships last far longer than work ever does and it is easy to forget that when we are deep in the middle of a high-pressure project or a tricky personal situation. Our future selves will thank us for that reminder in the midst of our most heated moments.
  2. The Power of Storytelling: Experts believe we can hold approximately seven items in short-term memory for about 20 to 30 seconds. That’s it. Stories, however, are the key to encoding the transient into long-term memory. The details of a speaker and their message may and do fade, but if the narrative is gripping, you will never forget its essence. This was evident particularly in Bruce’s talk, a seasoned public speaker, and a reminder of why investing in developing that skill beyond ‘pretty good’ to ‘exceptional’ can pay off. His words carried a momentum which enchanted the audience. Leaving us hanging on every word, feeling like we were a part of his tale.
  3. The Real Power of Young People: Too often, young people are discounted though we have become exceptionally good at sugarcoating it on the surface by paying lip service to them. Society is not only doing them a disservice, but we also hurting our collective future by not seriously confronting ageism — why aren’t a proportionate number of young people on corporate boards? In real seats of power? And not just the tokenized youth rep roles? Spend enough time in the belly of trying for true, big change and it is easy to become at least partly jaded and call it being reasonable or having perspective. Yet their real power was so evident on stage when 5 of this year’s SHAD graduates introduced each of the speakers with only this instruction: don’t read out the formal bio. From spoken word to personal stories of struggle to visions for the future, they were articulate, on-point, original, and commanding, and would have my vote without hesitation.
  4. The Power of Leading from the Back: I had known of Gabrielle’s work for a long time and also known Richard Wiltshire for a number of years. What I did not know was the story that connected them. Gabrielle shared the story of how APAC, arguably her greatest professional success so far and what she is most known for publicly, only happened because when they were both going through DiverseCity, Richard insisted on multiple occasions over a number of weeks right up until the very moment she stood up to say ‘I have an idea’ that she suggest it as a project for the group to take on. The rest is history, as they say. Richard is a perfectly nice guy who I am always happy to see when we run into each other. What stuck with me from the story though was the number of small and big choices he made in that story and the rare quality of character required for them. He suggested they grab coffee knowing she had just moved to the city, he asked her about her ideas, he encouraged her to work on it, he followed up with a call, he cajoled her in the moment to stand up. And he did it all without knowing anyone would find out about it and without try to take the spotlight.
  5. The Power of Generosity: When you are successful and especially when you do public speaking, you are constantly bombarded with people who come up to you after to talk to you, ask questions, and request to meet. I was one of those people at the event and Carol Leaman was in the unfortunate position of being the victim. There are very few successful B2B enterprise and SaaS entrepreneurs, especially in the TalentTech space in Canada, and so she had been on top of my list of people to connect with. When you ask people in Carol’s position, some tell you sorry too busy (understandably so), some give you contact information for their staff, some you follow up with and never hear back from. Carol, on the other hand, graciously asked about our work, shared her contact information, and to my total surprise, I was sitting in her office less than a month later where she took the time to share some invaluable advice and insights. In today’s world of self-promotion and follower counts, opportunity hoarding is a lot more common than radical generosity. I hope more of us choose to live the latter like Carol.

SHAD|Five reminded me of how transformative SHAD had been for me. As an immigrant kid, SHAD was one of the first places where I felt I had a shot at whatever future I wanted to create, that ideas were worth pursuing, and that there would always be people who wanted to help along the way.

I am grateful to SHAD for those timeless lessons and I hope many more young people get to experience it for years to come.