The Human Opportunity Cost

CKP Big Team at our first training day with Dreams Catcher Club, 2 weeks before our Project starts. Most CKP members sit (or lie down) in the front row.

During the course of the Creative Kid Project (CKP), Evan and I argued a lot. Below is the list of things on top of my head:

1. How to approach difficult people.

Evan: “if it were me, I would just sit her down and be “Look, you either stay at this project contributing something, or you don’t”.

Me: “But in Vietnam, we have to be subtler and more indirect. You say one thing but imply others”

2. Whether or not to include “Entrepreneurship” in our Day 3 Schedule, themed “Finding Inspiration”.

Evan: “The whole cult of entrepreneurship thing just doesn’t click me. Seems like nowadays we cannot talk about innovation without mentioning Steve Jobs”

Me: “But you have to keep in mind that these are 13 to 15 year-old VIETNAMESE kids. To us, “power of ideas” or “generating new values” sound cliché and empty; to them, they are like new vocabulary. I want these kids to start from the basics. ”

3. Whether or not to include Personality Testing in our Day 2 Schedule, themed “Working in groups”

Me: “We need to find a good connection between personality, group dynamics and leadership”

Evan: “I don’t see any clear connection between personality testing results and team-building skill”

4. Whether or not to compromise certain things for financial benefits

Me: “CKP is just a start-up program with insufficient funding. If getting Savico Megamall to sponsor our entire closing ceremony (including venue, logistics and food) means that I might have to give special “preference” for ONE kid (who’s the son of the CEO of Savico), I would. CKP is designed for all kids anyways, as long as they are middleschoolers.”

Evan: “But that would mean bribing, which would conflict with our fundamental value”

5. How to finish the story-board for our upcoming trailer

Evan: “I think we should think about the essential premise of this entire trailer. We have ideas but they are not connected”

Me: “I think we should just draw the f***ing storyboard. And fix from there.”

….Among many other things…

At first, I would be pretty frustrated and would just stop talking and let him do his own thing, or decide on some “finalized” version in Vietnamese, so that he would not understand. Yeah I know, that is mean.

But slowly, I’ve come to realize what it takes to get a big project like CKP rolling. That something is much more difficult to solve or see than the daily tasks we have to deal with, the big decisions to make regarding sponsorship or partner school or media, the weekly meetings’ agenda that we compose for our Big Team. It is what I call the Human Opportunity Cost. I’ve come to realize that, in the decision-making process, the most difficult decisions to make (or gain, depending on your perspective) oftentimes do not involve material, tangible, obvious things; but rather the people that would be affected by those decisions. Things like their own ego, for example.

In our Organizing Board Team, there is also Suong, our finance manager. Compared to me, Suong is much tougher when it comes to manage people. For instance, for our official event (from 8.30–4p.m everyday from July 30th to August 4th), Suong wants only 15 people onsite, max. Yet, after the two rounds of interview, we have recruited about 20. The way she envisions it is that only the brightest and most efficient people should be on-site; thus we should give them 1 week of training, warning notices when necessary, and only offsite positions if no longer efficient. The way I see it is that, they are after all working for us for free, plus working with CKP Team is a great opportunity not only for the kids to learn, but also for the above-middle school age volunteers to gain experience. I’m more hesitant to simply reject people’s promise to “try harder”.

Yet, if it were not for Suong, my oftentimes too-soft style of managing as well as above-the-cloud ideas would not be brought back down to earth by some dose of sensibility and practicality.

And then there is Trang, the hidden energy of the entire Project, the one who always consistently moves CKP forward. Yesterday, during our training for facilitators, while Evan and I were busy leading the discussion on “the difference between facilitating and leading”, Trang multitasked by listening to the discussion as well as helping Suong with financial and logistical concerns.

“I think a facilitator is like the hidden energy of a group” Cam Ly, one of our most dedicated members, raised her voice. “A facilitator is there to push the group and move it forward, especially when it is stuck. But normally she/he pretends to be just like any other member” When Cam Ly said that, Trang’s face instantly popped to my mind. Yes, every group needs that one person who does not need to stay at the foreground. But she makes sure everything go smoothly.

That’s why Suong, Trang, Evan and I make a good Team. We are so different, but we are like puzzle pieces that complement each other. I raise idea and Evan critiques. Suong brings us down to Earth. Trang connects them all.

Among the things that we nowadays agree upon, Evan and I both think that there are 2 kinds of people: idea people and getting s*** done people. Perhaps, the reason why we argued so much at first, was because I’m definitely more of the latter, while he is much more of the formal. And with that comes our differences in the way we shape our perspectives or make decisions.

Or maybe we are just not that different. Turns out, the Savico Megamall CEO’s son does not even need to participate in CKP (he’s not middle-school age yet), making our entire argument on that seem a bit silly. Also, I shall take back what I said regarding being subtle and indirect in Vietnam. Maybe in my next entry on passion and the power of ideas.

Originally published at on July 27, 2012.

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