Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thinking in Black and White

I recently joined a group called toastmasters, whose objective is to help its members improve their speech-making abilities. Here is my first speech called the icebreaker, that is supposed to introduce me to the other members.

Thinking in Black and White

Madame toast master, fellow toastmasters and guests.

My form two English teacher was Ms. Koch, an American with a Belgian ancestry. She asked us to call her Ms. K as her name did not lend itself easily to pronunciation by an African tongue. During one group session where we could move around the class interacting with other students and the teacher she asked me what kind of writing I liked most. Wanting to give an impressive answer I furrowed my brow a while and replied “creative writing”. Ms. K reflected on my response, and I smugly awaited praise for my clever answer. “But Harry” she replied “all writing is creative.”

I stood there feeling dumb, my smugness worn down by her simple logic. I half-grunted, half-mumbled to acknowledge her correction, and quickly shuffled away. She smiled patiently after me, as a teacher who knows more than her student would.

She was right of course. Writing to me was creative and fun. I had started writing outside school at an early age. Sometimes it was a story, but more often it was just a random jumbling of ideas that I wanted to see in paper.

Writing was a behaviour I picked up from my environment; I grew up surrounded by publications and journals written by my lecturer father and scientist mother. While I was still in primary school I remember being punished many days for running around and generally causing a ruckus while they worked on a paper or thesis.

My mother would sometimes ask me to proof-read her writing, perhaps not so much because she believed a 10 year old could really edit a scientific paper, but because she probably knew I easily got bored and the task would help me stay out of trouble or noisemaking. Proofing had a secondary and more lasting effect. I came to appreciate communicating difficult concepts in my mom’s simple, orderly writing. Scientific ideas were broken down into understandable points and even with fourteen-lettered words, the meaning came across clearly.

Academic journals and books formed a large part of our modest home library and took precedence over most other forms of entertainment. I remember one holiday, my father coming home with many large boxes. I jumped around them excitedly as he opened them thinking that he had finally bought a VCR and colour TV, so that I didn’t have to go to Robert’s place to watch movies. It turned out that he had purchased 3 sets of encyclopedias; over 70 books with tens of thousands of pages of text.

Over time, I came to realize that this was his greatest gift ever. The information between those pages helped me immensely with my thinking and writing. I was able to reference others’ knowledge and improve my writing. The articles showed me the form that well researched writing could take, and provided an incredible catalyst to generate more ideas and thoughts.

I am not surprised therefore that I eventually ended up as an entrepreneur. Business provided me with a testing ground for my thoughts. Not only did I have to channel my ideas into reasoned business plans, but I would have to test them out in the real world and determine their viability. Making money was obviously an added benefit.

I began my entrepreneurial behaviour at an early age; setting up a distribution system to supply bread and snacks to my high-school mates when I should have been studying geometry. Although this business made me a lot of money, sometimes as much of my teachers I still wasn’t sure of it as my career path. I dreamed at times of being an engineer like my father, or an architect as I enjoyed drawing, or a even politician who could change the world.

Going to college while waiting for university admission, helped me clear some of this confusion. I studied information management systems for two years at Strathmore college. It was here that I discovered a new type of writing, writing programming code. I went wild with the ability that programming gave me; to create software that could do anything my mind imagined was incredibly exciting. Not only did this skill help me further explore creative writing, but it was a resource that I would later use in entrepreneurship.

Information Technology was fun, but I soon grew weary of the academics and ditched IT to study law instead at the University. Again I was exposed to a new kind of writing, and my fascination with airy sentences in formal writing would be replaced by crisp, factual, and non-committal prose. Legal writing provided a wonderful addition to the different styles of writing I had been exposed to.

School is now behind me, yet I continue putting down my thoughts in writing. It may be for a proposal for an exciting new business venture. At times, it is a piece of code for software that that will make sales reporting simpler, or it could be for my blog where I will have no restraints and wander from writing of my weekend adventures to critiquing products from Safaricom. And at times it is for a speech that I hope to give at a meeting.

It is through writing that I am able to give form to my thoughts. Written thoughts which force me to crystallize my dreams and ambitions; to express who I am and what I believe in a way that is clear to others; to turn ideas into reality. Writing to me is thinking with clarity. Putting pen to paper, I am able to think in black and white.

2 comments:

HATUA said...

Is it based on a true or untrue story,
anyway am interested in joining such a group. Do you mind sharing some of the details or way to contact one.

thanks

startupkenya said...

@hatua

Its all true.

You are welcome to come as a guest to the next group meeting. The meeting will be held at United Kenya Club on the 10th of November 2008 from 12:45 pm to 2:00 pm. You will need to come with KSh. 100.

After the meeting you can decide to apply for membership. Membership subscription fee is KSh. 3,000 per annum.