Yesterday at Global Kids, we did a team-building activity called "The 2008 Street Fair: The Fall Collection." Organized by my colleagues Dominique and Sandip, the game was actually quite challenging and nuanced. We divided up into five teams of about eight people, who were each given a bag containing two items. The rules were as follows:
- Take the two items and barter with people on the street to come back with at least ten items.
- You must barter with people, they must be the result of an exchange of actual goods by mutual agreement. (i.e. no free goods, found goods, stolen goods, etc.)
- After 45 minutes of bartering, come back to the office and assemble the items into some kind of "found art" exhibit.
- Explain to the other groups the "narrative" of your exhibit.
I was skeptical that this game was going to succeed, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. And I got to use my knowledge of geek culture to good effect to help our team complete the challenge.
In our bag we had two items: an "Obama for President" pin and a grapefruit.
Here’s a video of one of the people we encountered on the street, who exchanged the Obama pin for a dime that he bent with his mental powers. Along the way, he performed some impressive sleight-of-hand magic.
We had a couple of unsuccessful encounters with young people on the street, who didn’t have much on their persons that they could exchange, and didn’t really want our grapefruit. Who would?
I realized that the key to the challenge was to find someone who had a lot of stuff that they wanted to offload on people for free. When we passed a comic book store on 23rd Street I knew what to do.
My colleague Savith and I walked up to Cosmic Comics on 23rd and Broadway. It’s a really nice shop that is worth a visit if you are in the area. When we walked in, the two employees were busy arranging some boxed comics into storage shelves. One of them approached me and asked if he could help us find anything.
"Hi, we’re from a non-profit called ‘Global Kids’ which is just a couple of blocks from here," I began my pitch. "We’re doing a teambuilding exercise where we are supposed to walk around the city and barter goods with people we meet. I was wondering if you had anything in the store that you might be willing to part with that we could exchange for this dime?"
"Oh you should have been here last week," the comic book guy explained. "We had a lot of free stuff to give away then. But let me look around."
"We’ll take anything you have," I replied. "Flyers, posters, a sample comic book, whatever."
After a quick negotiation, I got the employees to pull out of storage not just one item, but a gigantic stack of about 100 old comic books. I actually knew that this was likely to happen since comic book stores often have the problem of what to do with out-of-date but not popular comic books. Older comics take up space that could be used to sell more high value newer comics. In essence, they cost money to store without adding value.
Savith and I carried our stash down to our shocked teammates.
We then used the comic books to barter for more stuff in Madison Square Park, which is a lot more attractive than an old grapefruit, let me tell you. In the end, we came back to the office with a wide range of neat stuff, from energy drinks to vitamins to hair conditioner.
What this exercise taught me is that if you have the right approach, people are happy to offer you what they have. Because I’m a comic geek, I felt comfortable approaching a couple of other comic geeks and ask them for help. If I could cultivate that same confidence and friendliness toward other people, who knows what kind of exchanges might happen?