Teaching Leadership With the World’s First $9 Computer

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In the first two ESP project leader profiles (Kristin Ekkens and Charles Hall), we have been able to gain insights into how these two leaders communicated to influence stakeholders and to achieve success in the healthcare industry and in training the poorest of the poor. (The next ESP project leader profile will be posted next month.) In this TESOL Blog post, I would like to share how I have used Kickstarter to teach leadership communication to university students and business professionals in Japan.

This is not the first time that I have written about Kickstarter. (See my blog post in October 2013.) The reason that I bring up Kickstarter again is because of the recent success of CHIP, which is promoted as the world’s first $9 computer!

The CHIP project creators (Next Thing Co.) were seeking pledges (from backers) for a total of $50,000 within a specified time limit. If you were following the project as backers made their pledges, you know that the target amount (which must be met) of $50,000 was achieved well before the time limit had expired. In fact, as the Kickstarter website states:

39,560 backers pledged $2,071,927 to help bring this project to life.

It was fun to watch the number of backers and the dollar amount change in class. During a 90-minute class, for example, we saw an increase of a few thousand dollars.

In my classes, we also discussed why this project was so successful. (We did this while money was still being pledged.) We realized that the project had gained a significant amount of publicity as the amount of money pledged became impressively high. In class, a student might comment how he had seen information about the CHIP project on the TV news. I had first become aware of the success of CHIP when I read a technology-related blog post.

In my classes, we also looked at the CHIP video through the lens of Aristotle’s powers of persuasion: ethos, logos, pathos. (To see the 1 minute 9 second CHIP video, click on this link, and scroll down the page until you see the About this project heading. Click on the “play” button.) Examining the video closely provided some insights into why the project had been so successful.

  • Pathos (The power of emotion) – When I asked the students in my classes how they felt after they had watched the video, one student responded that she had felt “joy.” If you watch the video closely, you will notice that there are surprises everywhere. The video starts off with a drum roll and a magic act. When you are expecting the gloved hand to remove the cover and reveal the $9 computer, something completely unexpected happens. The world changes. We can’t fall asleep. We’re trying to figure out what is going on, and that’s just the start. Count how many times you are surprised by what happens in the video. For example, I expected the drum roll to come from another source. I expected the drummer to speak, but surprise, surprise! And it goes on and on. We are entertained and feel excited to participate in a “world’s first” project! We only need to pledge $9 to make the dream come true!
  • Ethos (The power of credibility) – Can these guys really make a $9 computer? Well, they are working in a garage. There are a lot of tools. There is someone working on a computer. (Hmm. It kind of reminds us of Steve Jobs, and their name has the word Next in it…..See other subliminal influences like the number “9” on the drum and…) They show us the product. They demonstrate how it works. In addition, if you scroll down on the website under the video, you can see what looks like a series of PowerPoint slides and notes about CHIP. Top that off with a production schedule, pictures of the team members, and an FAQ. Finally, you can click on information about the CHIP creator. These guys have professional experience. This is for real!
  • Logos (Logic) – Okay. These guys seem to be successful. Why do they need the money? At the end of the video, they become “honest” with us. They need our help because they need to buy components in large quantities to make an inexpensive computer. Ah, so that’s why they need $50,000. That makes sense.

In one of my classes, the students have to make Kickstarter-style videos. The CHIP project was a great model. Further, it was fun to follow the progress of the fundraising campaign each week.

Check out Kickstarter!

All the best,


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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