Clown. The word has so many meanings and contexts. It is arguably the oldest profession on Earth.
In recent years, in North America, when people ask me what I do, and I say “clown”, the majority of them say, “I’m scared of clowns.” No wonder. Think of Stephen King’s “It”. Now I say, comedian, but really, I am a clown.
I love the essence of the clown. To be able to get up on stage, with nothing, not even words most of the time, and just make ’em laugh.
Physical comedy is universal. As is story telling. There is just something so universally, humanly funny to watch your friend fall on their ass. It is hard wired into our brains to laugh at it, especially when it is a punchline.
Some people are just naturally funny. Yes, I do think that some people are born clowns. They just have that disposition. However, I also truly believe that it can be learned.
I have been doing it for 14 years now. I am finding so much inspiration, especially as I mature and understand life, emotions, and people more deeply. One of the talent scouts from Cirque du Soleil told me that their clowns don’t peak until they are 55. Clowns are the funniest with a ton of life experience. So, I got lots of time.
Making a gigantic audience erupt in laughter is the best adrenaline rush that I have ever had. I don’t think that I will be able to stop doing it. I have already thought of ideas to extend my career virtually as long as I can stand and speak.
I feel that it is a constant road that I will never master. There is always learning to be done. That is why I love it so much. I am incredibly excited to continue to develop, grow, teach, and create new work.
24 Nov, 2016
by Jake Comments Off on What education should really look like now: partnership with Limbic Media
Limbic Media is an amazing company with some of the most artistic engineers and entrepreneurs around. They provided valuable resources and mentor-ship to our young learners.
We have done some major projects over these last 3 years.
I remember the first time walking into Limbic Media’s HQ with a couple of students. It was exactly what you would picture a startup to be. Mad creativity happening.
Our first project with them was to develop a sensor-ed door bell. It worked! Kind of. It drove the engineers nuts and they took it down. But we did it!
Simultaneously, we were doing a project for VIATEC, our city’s tech incubator, creating a sensor-ed binocular system that showed pictures of our city for marketing purposes. That worked too! In fact, it was Limbic Media who referred us to the project.
During summer break that year, I met with Manjinder Benning and Justine Love, the founders of Limbic Media. I wanted the year to be epic and huge; I wanted to integrate engineering and agile methodologies into the school.
And did we ever that year. First, we got to work on Mason Street Farm’s aquaponics unit. This was a complex engineering problem. Electricity, water, and sensors are a tricky combination. Combine that with sending critical data to a website to notify the owner of the conditions in the tanks. Many moving parts to this project. They and I learned to work in scrum, and Limbic provided a huge amount of engineering mentor-ship.
Simultaneously, we began work on a major passion project to design sound interactive LED cubes for VIATEC. We created a prototype and then pitched it to Dan Gunn, the Director. He loved the idea and gave us $3,000 to develop it. The team sourced parts all over the world, designed the boards that got built in China, modeled the final product, 3d printed parts from their own design, learned a ton of code and manufacturing processes, and understood the paramount importance of how to work together as a team to develop a startup.
By the end of these projects, I was burned out form hardware. Luckily, we turned our attention to software, creating a platform to stream art with the working title of “Artify”. The team worked hard for a year and half collectively writing over 16,000 lines of code and designing countless mock ups. We got it to MVP (minimum viable product) and we were just about to test it when the motivation to continue fell through due to questioning if the platform had viability. The team felt it didn’t.
And that is where we have finished. Every single kid on these projects learned tons. They have all said so themselves. What is most important to me is that they learned how important and powerful a small team can be.
This is exactly what I want to see in education: community connections and partnerships with local companies to develop valuable products, learn how to truly collaborate and build a startup. It is the most valuable learning for future career prospects that a high school student can get in my humble opinion.
One of the students (Liam) who graduated a couple of years ago went on to electrical engineering. Currently in his 2nd year, he had to find a work placement as part of his degree program. It is highly competitive and all the jobs that he was looking at required a large depth of coding skills which he did not have.
He then found a placement for another local urban farm currently setting up an aquaponics unit. The owner already has contracts to grow vegetables and herbs for the restaurants in town. Liam looked at the requirements and he met and understood most of them through his work on the Mason Street Farm project. He was hired on the spot and has begun his career as an engineer.
He would not have had this opportunity if it weren’t for our partnership with Limbic Media. I have nothing but gratitude. Together, we have developed our local young talent to enter the booming tech scene. The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry has a structure that allowed this partnership to happen. I would personally like to see this happening throughout the entire province. Contact me if you would like to learn how.
27 Oct, 2016
by Jake Comments Off on PSII and VYPC paddling collaboration…
One of the learners at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) is a national paddling champion. His club, VYPC (Victoria Youth Paddling Club) is a 15 minute walk from the school.
He has demonstrated excellent entrepreneurial skills hurdling the obstacles to get the school paddling outrigger canoes. I honestly thought that we were not going to be able to do it. Hurdle after hurdle jumped and we have now been paddling for 5 weeks. We are planning to go the entire winter unless it is absolutely miserable out there.
The goals are to develop our technique and strength so we can head out past the break water and do some surfing. We have a fabulous training ground. The Gorge waterway in Victoria is a beautiful location. Today, it was so calm. It is my favorite morning of the school week. I love being out on the water.
This is the kind of work that I would like to see from all of the kids. Find your calling and don’t take no for an answer.
25 Oct, 2016
by Jake Comments Off on Writing on Medium
We performed 5 sold out shows in the very small and funky Intrepid Theater.
“5 people with different backgrounds and experiences have come together because ofthe things we do. We are not lion tamers, or sporting sequin covered unitards, we are simple people that do contemporary circus.
What is Contemporary Circus? “Contemporary circus, or nouveau cirque (as it was originally known in French-speaking countries), is a genre of performing art developed in the later 20th century in which a story or a theme is conveyed through traditional circus skills.” An example of traditional circus would be Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, while Cirque du Soleil would be considered contemporary.
But Cirque du Soleil is not the only contemporary circus, there are many and now there is us. We may be new and we may be small, but we are driven, authentic, and human.
This show is about finding common ground between people.”
24 Jun, 2016
by Jake Comments Off on Another year developing entrepreneurship, startups, and freelancers in high school…
It has been another intense year of learning how to make innovative products, develop entrepreneurial processes, how to work as startups, and understand the importance of leadership.
Last year, the small engineering team built the cubes for VIATEC. By the end of it, I had just about had it with hardware and vowed to not return to it. Yet, return we did…
One of the students had an idea for a lightwall that would use sensors to capture people’s images and display them with LEDs. We pitched it to Dan Gunn,the chief of VIATEC, and he said that he did not overly have a use for it. What he did need though, was some work for a potential installation at the Victoria airport. They wanted to show off Victoria’s strong tech sector and how we work hard to make things happen in a funky, cool, interactive exhibit. This was very exciting to the team (well, some of the team, a bunch decided to not pursue this mission).
In the middle of where the exhibit was going to be is a pillar. Dan gave us the idea of creating a structure around the pillar, representing the people in the airport who were arriving and departing through LEDs, all in a steam punk design. This really got our entrepreneurial juices flowing and we got to work on planning and modelling.
We planned to have a clock on the outside as well as numerous gears and moving parts to really give it that steam punk feel. In the middle would be strips of LEDs. The bottom, representing departures, would be blue and at the top, representing arrivals, would be white. We would then tap into the airport’s API and have a real time representation of the people who are coming and going in the airport using LEDs as they move up and down grid. Very, very cool.
I am not an engineer, my strength is as an entrepreneur and making connections. I got to work trying to figure out how we were going to make this all happen as we lacked some resources both in knowledge and equipment. I was able to find a metal fabricator who was willing to construct the internal frame. I then reached out to Ladies Learning Code, who are amazing and they wholeheartedly were ready and willing to help us tackle the API. They then put us in touch with a super cool guy named Ben Abromovitch who went through the VIATEC incubator coming out the other end with this interesting app to control LED light strips. He was obviously going to give us a hand on the LED side. I felt that we were really striving to achieve the purpose of the project – to show off how Victoria can come together as a community to make, grow, and progress together.
Unfortunately, the timing just did not work out. We were running out of school year and the permits and proceses of the airport were just not going to line up. So, we had all of these LEDs kicking around and we needed to do something with them. I had just produced a big circus show, and for it, we created a rather large tetrahedron made from angle iron. We actually didn’t end up using it in the show, and I was like, what the heck am I going to do with this thing? My mind jumped to the LEDs. Of course! So, I brought it to the school. It did not fit in the door. So, we had to cut it in half.
The team then enthusiastically jumped on the project. A little too quickly. Luckily, at this time, we had an engineering student teacher who really helped the process. Again, I am definitely not an engineering type. I did not realize the amount of power we needed to run this thing – it was a crap ton of power. Way, way more than I was thinking. As this was a “salvage the year let’s build some hardware project”, it was not properly planned nor executed to the best of our abilities. We ran into numerous problems and roadblocks. We were able to fire up a side which looked so amazing (the picture does not do it justice):
But when we tried to get all 3 sides going, we kept hitting problem after problem. We also ran out of school year. We will have to pick it up again at the beginning of next year to finish it off. One of our talented robotics students is going to build a mechanized sign for the top of it and we are going to put it in the front window as a (hopefully) effective marketing tool for the school.
The kids laugh at me, but after this year, I am swearing off hardware for awhile.
While all of this was going on, we were also working in a serious piece of software, building an art platform for Limbic Media.
This was our 3rd year collaborating with Limbic Media and we had yet to make something that actually worked. Again, no more hardware, we were going software all the way this year. And we did it! The team got to MVP (minimum viable product) by year end. It is still under wraps until September where we will go into alpha.
Collectively, they wrote over 16,000 lines of code, did hundreds of mock ups, QA, and much more. They had to work through so many technical challenges and truly learned so much about how to develop not just a piece of software, but a platform. I cannot think of a greater learning experience for the times we live in. Most importantly though, they are learning how to truly work together as a team. There are still human problems to be ironed out next year. And that is where it really counts. It is quite easy to bring in some technical expertise to fix a tricky issue, it is much harder to fix people issues. In every organization, it always comes down to talented leadership. If I can instill how to really work together, how to step up and lead, it is the greatest thing I can do for society as whole as they are going to leave school and know how to make this happen.
To facilitate building this software, we used scrum. We have been using a lot of scrum principles at the school, but this team actually did true scrum and it was impressive to see the results. I swear by it as a tool to implement disciplined processes in building a startup. As scrum master for the third year, I am learning how to effectively ensure the team are completing sprints and feeling good about it all. Not easy to do in a regular startup, even harder with teenagers.
I have to give a huge shout out and thank you to Manjinder Benning, director of Limbic Media, for still believing in us and our school even after years of failing to produce something that works. His company is shooting for the moon this year with a major product launch, and he still found the time to come in every two weeks for sprint reviews and set up our work as the product owner. I can’t thank him enough for providing mentorship and insight to our aspiring tech workers and entrepreneurs.
What is amazing, is that this will carry on into next year. MVP is just the first step. We plan to go into alpha in September, beta by mid winter and then fully launch by the end of the next school year. This is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so rare in most schools. Most schools do not even allow their students a month-long project, let alone one that will take 2 years to complete.
As a performer, I love producing shows, and this year I felt that I needed to step up the school show a level or two. The learners created some compelling original content. Part of this was developing costumes and make-up. I had 2 students whose goals are to become a costume designer and make-up artist respectively. As I have spent years as a freelancer/artist, I try to provide as much insight, skills, and knowledge into becoming a successful solopreneur. This is really easy to do when people are allowed to follow their passion. This is what they want to do with their lives, so they are all ears. In my experience from 10 years in education, it is much more difficult to impart wisdom when students are not at all interested.
Most importantly, the skills that these 2 learners developed were beyond just their chosen craft. They both had to consult with the performers, ask numerous questions, re-evaluate, come back at the performers again, and again, until everyone agreed on the requirements and aesthetics. They learned how to work together in a small team to create an overall, purposeful effect for the show design. They had to remain nimble, changing on the fly as we ran into problems. I strongly believe that these are some of the most important skills to leave high school with.
An example of their collaboration (you can read about how it was created here):
As an entrepreneur, I love to be surprised with new, potentially profitable information. This year, I was thoroughly introduced to the phenomenal rise of eSports, Valve, and Steam. A small group gathered around CS:GO (Counterstrike Global Offensive). This is a huge market that I was totally unaware of. Apparently, you can design skins for guns in the game. They get voted on in the community and if they make it to the top, they will be put in the game. It is sheer genius. Valve (if you do not know them, look them up) has created passionate players all over the world who are designers and enthusiastically develop high level graphics for the company. They literally have the world as their pipeline of talent.
If one of your skins gets in the game, people can make upwards of $12,000 per day for the first few days they are released. That definitely got my attention. So off we worked, trying to organize them around scrum philosophy. They did well for a bit, but the team fractured. What was left, were 2, totally dedicated, fanatic 15 year olds learning how to become top level graphic designers. We are committed to getting something into the game and making $40,000. I get 10%. I have them for 3 more years, I am sure we can do it.
One of the guys did a full mathematical analysis of why he was getting the views and likes he was getting and how to ensure that he gets maximum effect for his work that will get noticed and be put in the game. Here is one of his top ranked:
The other guy has gone just about as far as I can see anyone improving in one year. He has become a full fledged designer, hustling for work in forums, making pocket money doing intros, banners, and branding for YouTubers. He has done well and gained numerous clients, practicing his craft over and over (if you need something done, go here).
Again, I am encouraging them to work together as a small team, and at the same time, develop their talent and move as far as they can in their freelance abilities. This will be their future, and it is best that they learn it now, at the start of high school. As I said, we can do this together for 3 more years. That gives them a gigantic amount of time to practice and become experts in their craft as well as pick up critical entrepreneurial skills to move their ideas forward.
Lastly, as I was developing Island Circus Space this winter, I had a group of students helping me. And did they ever! They made the website, filmed video, did our photo shoot, put up posters, developed music, passed out handbills, wrote content, helped with social media…
…and designed the main poster that was put up all over town:
In the process of helping me, they learned many freelance and entrepreneurial skills. I am just trying to give them opportunities to practice their skills, build up repertoire and become professionals as quickly as possible. I tried to utilize their diverse talents. I gave them major responsibility and they came through for me.
Freelance and entrepreneurial skills, while different, have so much crossover. It is my mission in life to develop high functioning, disciplined teams, and raise people’s talent through continuous integration of learning. These are a few examples of the work that I do to change the education system to where it needs to be today. I have many more.
Just over a year ago, Island Circus Space emerged. Initially, it stemmed from an idea I had about gathering all of the high level, professional circus artists from Victoria, BC. The team that has assembled has tremendous talent. It is an honor to be working with such dedicated circus artists.
The spark that started it all was a night out on the town, getting down, to Maceo Parker. There were 2 incredible, ex-Cirque dancers in Victoria called Tentacle Tribe doing a movement workshop that I attended (learned lots!). At Maceo, their friend, Lisa Eckert (a professional circus artist), was also in town. They had all been working on Cirque Eloize’s show, “Id”.
It occurred to me that there must be a few others like Lisa, who are traveling the world working for big shows and are from Victoria. I figured that at some point, they are going to want to come home, but they can’t as there is absolutely nothing here for them to come back to. To me, this was a real shame as Victoria would be missing a tremendous opportunity to develop a cultural and educational asset. I love this little city so much and it needs and deserves a world class circus scene.
From there, Lisa put me in touch with Kaelyn Schmitt (another professional circus artist).
She enthusiastically signed on. Kaelyn and I worked super hard this winter teaching workshops, performing for TEDx, and pitching investors. Lisa finished a contract in Berlin and came back to help create our first production, “CATALYST”, that happened Apr. 2/3 at the Metro Theater – sold out and standing Os.
Many more artists have joined us. In my biased opinion, we have a very, very talented and diverse team.
We are currently working in the lean start up model developing our mvp (minimal viable product). At first, we will partner with a Rec center to offer classes and build a following. The number one lesson that I have learned starting up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry is that it is absolutely critical to build capacity right from the start. It is crucial to avoid being bogged down by the day to day as that limits the entrepreneurs ability to push the vision forward and ensure the health of the organization.
It has been an excellent entrepreneurial learning experience already that is pushing me just outside of my knowledge range allowing me to accelerate.
A few entrepreneurial lessons that have been reinforced:
1. Team and partners are everything.
While cliche, it is absolutely true. Getting this one right is critical. It has been fascinating to put together this circus team. The goal of a true leader is to make other leaders.
I haven’t just learned this lesson here as I have been developing other startups,but now, I feel that over the course of many years and lots of mistakes, I have steadily improved my communication and listening skills. They are being put to the test and expanded as I continue to learn how to facilitate teams.
2. Just go for it. Learn as you go
Pull the trigger. It is impossible to know everything. You have to trust that your preparations will serve you as things change rapidly on the fly.
Be a learning machine. That is the only way forward now. I believe that every organization is going to need to have a Chief Learning Officer as the world’s knowledge is growing exponentially. I have dozens of ideas on how to accelerate an organization’s learning capacity and would be happy to help you with this (just give me a call).
I have never hustled harder in my life trying to sell our first production “CATALYST”. I bit off a large chunk and had to sell over 700 seats for the weekend of shows. I did absolutely everything in my power to get bums in seats: radio, print, TV, handbills, social media, and praying that it was going to come together. This is while working a crazy day job trying to change education in BC (call me if you want to know how to change an entire province’s education system).
I am happy to say that it was successful; 3 shows were sold out and the last one was 80% full. I truly believe that my salesmanship has reached another level and I feel confident that my hustle can make pretty much anything happen.
I must also give full credit to my wife. When she asked how much we could potentially lose, and I said a relatively large number, she was out there selling the very next day and hustled just as hard as me for weeks to make it a success – what a champion!
4. Closely related to hustle – Get in front of as many important as people as possible
The help and advice that I have received this year from experienced, seasoned entrepreneurs has been priceless. Peter Elkins has been a big help. Indeed, he got us in front of 80 accredited investors in February from all over North America. It gave us big time visibility and credibility as the companies who applied to pitch where stringently vetted.
At the pitch, it was us and 9 tech companies. Kaelyn and I did a two-high, made everyone laugh, and delivered the most enthusiastic pitch of the evening (we are performers after all!). From this, we found another very big helper, our lawyer, Carli van Maurik.
5. Build community
For us, it is so easy. Circus is such a deep passion for people. We have already gathered a strong, supportive, and talented community. It is not like we are starting up a dry cleaning business. The people want circus! They want to get fit, have fun, and be creative. We are fortunate to have such a great base to grow from.
Our goal is to open a high level circus school. Ultimately, open a K – 12 circus school. To my knowledge, this doesn’t exist on Earth. With the right sales and marketing team, it could be an international sensation.
This is from a learner of mine that I have been closely working with. He graduates in 6 weeks and has become my lifelong friend:
“Jake West has been my teacher and mentor for the final 3 years of my high school life. It is high time that I show some appreciation and explain what I have learned from him. I have seen how a power house mobilizes to get shit done. No matter how hopeless or how little motivation a student has, this man never gives up on someone or on something. Last but not least, he has dreams and goals that he actively works to achieve.
10:00am, 10:15, 10:30… Meeting after meeting, student after student, this is the day to day for Jake. How does he do it? Well that my friends, is one of life’s greatest mysteries; he doesn’t drink coffee. Unless he is using caffeine patches so that we do not see them, the only possible conclusion I can come to is that he is some kind of superhuman.
The teenage spirit; energetic, moving forward or lazy without interest in anything in the world. This is the age all people dread to deal with, they tend to be very sassy and think they know everything.
Lack of motivation can be much harder to deal with than an idiot because motivating someone who does not care is well, near impossible. But despite all of this, Jake makes them pass through endless pushing and encouragement.
Jake is a well traveled man and it shows. He has countless stories and life lessons, enough that he could write quite the interesting book. He is a one of a kind man that inspires those around him to achieve what they want to do in life and to not follow the beaten path and to instead bring out the machete and make your own.
Jake is a machine, well oiled and always gassed up with the goal of moving others towards success while moving himself forward to achieve his own goals. So is Jake superhuman? Well no, but he is one of the closest things you can find”.