Tom Clark

Tom Clark: Fireside Chat

TBOP2017 ⋅ 20:57 ⋅ Filmed May 12, 2017
Panel Discussion

Pull up a chair and join us by the fire as the Breakout Project’s own 'Dups' Wijayawardhana chats with veteran Canadian journalist and Chairman at Global Public Affairs, Tom Clark. Since the 1980s, Tom has been on-the-scene interviewing leaders from Prime Ministers to the CFO of Google and everybody in between. Tom’s career has taken him across the planet — China, Washington, London, and Middle East — to name a few, where he has covered politics, war, and the world-changing events of our era like the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of Apartheid.

Looking back on his many adventures and ahead to the challenges of future generations, Tom shares with the audience a few poignant anecdotes to drive home messages for the entrepreneurs, do-gooders and changemakers of today and tomorrow. Is change more like a river or waterfall? Why did NASA pour millions of dollars down the drain when an obvious solution was right under their noses? Why are we burying our heads in the sand in the face of an employment revolution unlike anything we’ve ever seen before? His personal experience covering some of the biggest changes of our time lends a new angle for the challenges we face today.

From Tiananmen Square to Twitter, this is your chance to get up close and personal with a Canadian legend and hear his unique perspective on how our past will help shape the future.

Further Reading


Interviewer: Duleepa ‘Dups’ Wijayawardhana

Interviewee: Tom Clark, Chairman at Global Public Affairs

DW: I have an absolute honour, and I think the tables are being turned on a certain man by the name of Tom Clark, who I have with me here today. I'm going to get Tom to give you his history, but, Tom has interviewed every Prime Minister since Lester B. Pearson, in Canada. Seen 6 theaters of war...

[00:25] TC: 8...

[00:26] DW: 8 theaters of war. Serbia, Yugoslavia, so many more.

[00:32] TC: Gulf 1, Gulf 2.

[00:37] DW: And I'm getting to interview you. This feels…

[00:42] TC: Weird?

[00:44] DW: Weird yes, weird.

[00:45]TC: It does. Let's turn it around, I'll interview you, I feel much more comfortable doing that.

The Significance of 1989

[00:49] DW: No, we're not going to do that. That was very brief, but give me a bit of your history and what you've seen in the world over the last 40 or 50 years.

[01:02] TC: Well, as you say, I've straddled Canada and the political scene in Canada. I've also been posted to China, been posted to Washington, posted to London. I spent a lot of time in the Middle East, 8 war zones, as you said. You could say that at a certain point I was of no fix to address, I was moving around so much.

[01:33] It really was a remarkable time in history if you think about the years, especially, 'the breakout year' — to use the expression — of 1989, I know that's going back a lot in history for a lot of people, but ‘89 was an amazing year where the world changed.

[01:52] That was when we had the Tiananmen massacre. We had the fall of the Berlin Wall. We had the beginnings of the end of the Soviet Union. All these things that are lost to history, but at the time that it was happening, it was earth shattering.

[02:08] What you realise with something like that is that change can happen, and it doesn't take a long time for it to happen. Everyone thinks of change as something like a fast-moving river. You get on it, you ride it down the river, and the scenery changes, and bit by bit things change. More after than not, change is something that happens more like a waterfall, it just suddenly happens. We saw that in ‘89. When you take a look at what's happening in the world of technology, I have a feeling that we're on the verge of another 1989.

2007: Technology’s Most Remarkable Year

[02:44] DW: What about technology today do you feel, what's the thing that you think?

[02:55] TC: Too often, we look for the complicated answer when the really simple answer is right in front of us.

[03:02] If you take a look at the sharing economy, in it's essence, the sharing economy is pretty simple. The idea of Uber is actually a pretty simple concept. It's not a big complicated thing that needs lots of wires. It's somebody in a car going someplace that takes somebody along. That is now happening.

[03:29] Where we are right now in terms of the big technological change, e-commerce has finally come into it's own. Take a look at killer companies in Canada like Shopify, that just practically own the world in this area. It's going to change everything. It's going to change our downtowns. It's going to change our malls. It's going to change how people interact with one another. This is why I say, we're on the verge of another 1989 moment.

[04:00] There's another really interesting year though, and that's 2007. 2007 was the most remarkable year in technology that the world has ever seen and it's not really recognized.

[04:14] It was the first year that Facebook went public. It was the year that Twitter was invented. It was the year that Quantum Computing started, in earnest, in a very real way. Many many other things happened in that year. The only reason we don't talk about 2008, is because of what happened in 2008, which was the financial meltdown, so we concentrate our history on that. 1989, 2007, in different ways, changed the world forever.

Finding Simple Solutions in Complex Situations

[04:46] DW: Bringing it back down to the teams, we talked a little bit before when we came on, and by the way 2007, was also the year that those watching us on YouTube, YouTube had gone live, but it had not been very popular.

[05:00] TC: 2007 was the ‘breakout year’ for YouTube.

[05:02] DW: Exactly, and great segway back into The Breakout Project. We have these 7 teams working here and you talked about the complexity of technology and looking for complex solutions, and you had an analogy for me that was a very good lesson for the teams here working on what they do.

[05:22] TC: Early on in the space program, NASA had sent an incredible amount of money trying to develop a pen that would write in the weightlessness of outer space. There was no natural way that that ink was going to fall through the pen onto the ball bearing at the end, and it was driving NASA crazy trying to figure out how we do this. As I said, they spent millions of dollars trying to find a solution in technology. The Russians heard about this and laughed and said, we've already solved that problem, it's called a pencil, it writes in outer space.

[06:02] Again, the idea is that sometimes it's the simple solution that takes you the farthest. When you take a look at what some of the teams here are doing, it's not complicated stuff, it's an idea, and in their essence a very simple idea, but they're using all these things that were invented in 2007 to make that happen.

Character Over Capital

[06:26] DW: In your life as a journalist, if I may take you back down that road, you've learned change and innovation in these things, but there's probably lots of other lessons you've learned through the work that you've done, the people you've met, that may actually be very inspiring, or important to those here at The Breakout Project.

[06:49] TC: I think if my 'war years' taught me anything, it was that when you're in a war zone, everything is in primary colours. There's no shades of grey. There's no on the one hand, on the other hand. Everything is sharp primary colours, which is attractive in some ways and terrifying in other ways, because you know that, obviously, it's war, people get killed. What you discover in that is character. You find out pretty quickly, who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys. I'm not talking about who's fighting whom, I'm talking about the people with you on the front lines, people in the back, who's got it right.

[07:46] TC: I've always looked at that and thought, maybe that's the one thing that we have forgotten or overlooked in our quest for money, and more money, financial capital. Seeking it, and celebrating it. Who do we celebrate at these fancy dinners and give out awards to? It's people who have amassed great amounts of money, we think that's fantastic. I don't think it's that big of a deal myself, a lot of people who have amassed a lot of money are interesting, but not because they've got money, it's because of what they brought to the table.

[08:25] TC: I always think that the takeaway of 45 years of travelling the world, and spending a lot of time in war zones, taught me that what we've got to do, is we have to celebrate character, instead of capital. Character is what all these teams are doing. Character is the thing that drives innovation. Character drives technology, it's not money.

[08:49] TC: I remember I was talking to — I was down at the Google campus not too long ago and I spent an afternoon with the CFO of Google, a Canadian at the time, Patrick Pichette. I was asking about his investment strategy, and I said, ‘a lot of people are looking at what Google's doing and saying, you're buying some really weird stuff’. Patrick said, ‘first of all, you have to understand, my acquisition budget every year is about 10 billion dollars. I get to play around a lot. I buy stuff. Look at it. Is it a part of the future? If it is, I keep it, and if not I throw it back into the pond’.

[09:26] DW: Sounds almost like going into a shop, ‘oh, look at that! a few million dollars, okay’.

[09:32] TC: But what he said was — and this is part of the genius of Google and weird character, ultimately takes you — he said when he's looking at companies to buy he asks just two questions.

[09:46] TC: First question is, what's your mission statement? And if the mission statement is, ‘I want to amass financial capital’, in other words, if your mission statement is, ‘I want to get money and get rich’, Google's not interested in you. If your mission statement is, I want to change the world, now you've got Patrick's attention.

[10:04] TC: The next question he asks is, is what you do, does it have the potential of reaching 1 billion people, because you're not going to change the world unless you're going to reach 1 billion people, or at least have the ability to do that. In the world's most adventurous company, or one of the most adventurous companies in the world, they don't care about money, they've got more than enough of it. They're interested in character and ideas, and that's what's going to power us through the next 20 - 30 years.

[10:36] DW: And it is true, everything that we do it's about people. People build technology, people build The Breakout Project. We're two people.

[10:51] TC: I see here there's some classes who have joined us, which is great.

[10:56] TC (Tom Clark addresses audience): Hi guys, how are you?

[11:02] TC: Let's direct it here for a moment, because this is really important. You guys, all of you, are going to change the world, whether you like it or not. This place is yours. We're here for a little while longer, but this is eventually your place. Don't let anybody tell you you can't, because you can. You always can. And don't worry about the dough. If you've got it right in your head and if you've got it right in your character then the money will follow. That's not the problem, but don't put money first, put the character and the idea first.

Value of Time Over Money

[11:46] DW: And that's one of the interesting things that we've discovered about The Breakout Project, you might have heard me say, when we started, we didn't know whether it was going to be money or people, we didn't know which, we didn't know if any, actually, but in the end [at The Breakout Project] we found that people are actually valuing their time, their effort far more than anyone else.

[12:06] TC: Isn't that interesting, that when people think of donating now, they're not donating money, but they're donating themselves, which is far more valuable than money actually. Money is just a means to the end, but the end itself is the person. Take a look of the stats on these teams, it's amazing, people from all over the world, donating their time, for free, but that is a commodity that is so much more valuable. That's one of the big lessons of The Breakout Project.

[12:39] DW: I think so, I'm floored. When I've ever created anything, I'm looking for money to find people, to find character, and $5million dollars is a long way towards finding a lot of character and that's what that talent is worth.

[12:58] TC: And you think about it, too. Somebody donates an hour of their time. Say they're a lawyer, and they donate an hour of their time, that means that that project has 1 hour of legal time that a) they would have had to paid for otherwise, and now they're getting it for free, but b) they've also got leverage because whether it's a lawyer, whether it's an investor, whoever is donating hours of their time, you've now got an army of fundraisers in front of you. You can use them, leverage them to go out and find money, the angel investment that you need to make the project grow. You've got people who will spread the world, you've got people who will grow your profile. This is each project now, when you take a look at the stats has got a small army of people to do the work that money wouldn't have even begun to have been able to affect. In other words, even if you had raised, $500,000 for a project, you go through that in a hurry, hiring lawyers, and fundraisers, it's remarkable what’s happening.

[14:08] DW: You're going to, very soon, have most of these teams come out.

[14:11] TC: Yes, I'm looking forward to it.

[14:13] DW: And that's going to be very exciting. We're looking forward to the interviews. You get to go back to being an interviewer, which is just great. I get back to listening, like I used to do when I first arrived to Canada in ‘92 when they put you on television.

[14:28] TC: That's another important year, that's the year you came to Canada.

The Employment Revolution

[14:32] DW: Yes, I changed the whole of Canada. Some of the themes they are exploring, things like, Youth, Education, First Nations, Indigenous Rights around the world, especially here in Canada. A cashless society and the changing demographics that it all brings to us. What do you think are some of the big problems, in your personal view, after seeing so much change over the years, and so much stay the same. What are some of the things we need to work on?

[15:03] TC: One of the big worries that we've got — and it really affects you guys sitting up in the stand — is that the way we work is already changing radically. The Artificial Intelligence, the move to Robotics, even things like autonomous cars and trucks, is drastically going to change the employment picture in this country all over the world. We don't need people to make stuff anymore, we got machines to do that. We don't need truck drivers anymore, because trucks drive themselves.

[15:45] TC: There is going to be a revolution in employment that we haven't even begun to think about, and I think we've got to get on that really fast. We have to devise something in society that says, this is not going to be a 'dog eat dog' world, because there are going to be more dogs not eating than dogs eating. We have to come up with some idea about how we protect ourselves at a time when technology has moved us way beyond our own thoughts. Way beyond our own capabilities of managing it. There's a number of things that are out there in terms of thinking about it, a basic income for everybody may not be a bad idea. This is the biggest things that's coming so, as exciting as it all is, there are some major revolutionary things that are about to happen, or are in the process of happening right now, not all of them good.

The More You Know

[16:42] DW: What about the good things happening? We do tend to look at some of the things that are negative, so what do you see as some of the good things that we're doing (with technology)?

[16:51] TC: The good thing that's happening is that more and more people in more and more places on the planet are getting to know more and more stuff. There's an old expression that says ‘you fear what you don't know’, and so we're getting rid of a lot of fear, because even people around the world watching us right now, are getting more information than they had yesterday. Through all these projects, in fact, a lot of these projects are all aimed, especially educational projects, are aimed at increasing literacy around the world. Literacy of all types, financial literacy, real literacy, reading, and so on. This is the really positive stuff, when you chase away ignorance then life just gets better. The more people know, the better things are.

[17:48] DW: That's true. When I first moved to Newfoundland, nobody knew anything about what the hell I was, but I discovered that it was all about ignorance. When I started learning, it changed my life amazingly, and hopefully, it changed other people's. I'm sure you've seen that in going into war zones, into places.

[18:09] TC: Oh sure, the motivation factors in war, of course, is that you don't know the other side. You don't know who the other soldiers are, and all you're told is that they're animals. If you don't know who they are and have no appreciation of them, it's pretty easy to kill them. Once you get to know who they are, once you get to know that they have basically the same challenges that you do, it's amazing how fast peace negotiations break out in those cases.

[18:47] DW: The classic stories of ending a war.

Know Your Mission

[18:48] Now, let's go back to these teams. They've been working at this for 2 days, but they're going to be working at this for 365 days, this is not the end, do you have any words of advice [for the teams] on keeping focus, on making sure you get to the finish line?

[19:06] TC: Yes. Have a mission statement that's clear. Have a mission statement that you put on the wall and look at every day. That's always your touchstone. That's what you always come back to. If you believe in the mission statement when you write it, you're going to believe it in a year from now, you're going to believe it 2 years from now. The mission doesn't change, the tactics change, the way you do stuff changes, but the mission remains the same.

[19:36] DW: I'm so proud, so honoured, to have been able to interview you because, I do remember you. I've seen you all over the years, but I remember you when I first came to Canada. When Tiananmen Square happened, Apartheid was ending — something I thought I'd never see — the Berlin Wall had gone down. I got to watch you on television, I think at the time you were in Yugoslavia, and you'd be on CTV, on the tube, not the beautiful flat screen, but the tube at my university…

[20:10] TC: The things you see at museums now.

[20:14] DW: Exactly. And if someone had told me years later, you're going to be sitting in Kingston, we're going to be changing the world together, and you're going to one of our hosts that I get to interview, I would have there's no way that would ever happen. I am very proud and honoured to have been able to do this with you.

[20:32] TC: It's great fun, it's great to be here at this project, this is exciting stuff.

[20:37] DW: Absolutely, and this is world-changing. It's changed me over these last two days, meeting the teams and doing stuff, and I imagine it's going to change you as well.

[20:47] TC: Absolutely, I hope it does!

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