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Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation

It’s been a busy and interesting few weeks, and I’ve met many people interested in many of the subjects which also fascinate me – entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, innovation, Africa, mobile technology and appropriate technology, among others. Being on the road is my equivalent of the town hall meeting, of door-to-door canvassing. It’s a great way – maybe the only way – to stay connected with the grassroots and meet the up-and-coming innovators of the future. I’m beginning to realise I enjoy speaking much more outside tech circles than within them. We need to introduce social mobile to new audiences, after all, rather than continually preach to the converted.

So, what am I learning from all of this? Most of the younger people I meet want stories. Sure, they want to know some of the theory, a little about the technology. But what resonates more than anything is the background to our tools and where we get our drive and motivation from. They want to resonate, to feel closer to the possibilities and potential, to see themselves in our shoes. They want to walk away with “Well, they did it. Why can’t I?”.

This was most apparent during talks to students and faculty at Mills College, the University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University and Stanford, all packed into a three week marathon trip to the West Coast at the end of last month. What struck me were the two approaches I often witnessed to spreading the ‘innovation’ and ‘social entrepreneurship’ message. While one seems to focus on mechanics, the other focuses on motivation. Let me explain.

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One or two of the events I recently attended have focused on the mechanics of innovation and entrepreneurship. This world centres on business models, the quest for data, for metrics and an obsession on measuring impact. Lots of tables, numbers, graphs, theories. The very things which score low on most people’s motivational scale. This quote, from Aaron Sklar at IDEO (which I tweeted from the conference), sums up the downside of this approach perfectly.

There certainly seems to be a mismatch between the way social innovation is taught, and the realities of how most social innovators innovate. The ‘a-ha’ moment innovators-to-be hear about is rarely the discovery of a new metric, or a new business model, or a new way of presenting or collecting data. It’s the realisation that a problem can be solved, and solved in a new way. These answers often come by doing and experiencing, being out in the field, and there are almost always stories behind why the person was there, sometimes how they got there, and what they suddenly saw which gave them their big idea.

If I’m totally honest, I find the mechanical approach a total turn-off. It grinds me down and saps any enthusiasm I have for technology and innovation. That’s not to say it’s not important – it’s vital, in fact – but you can always figure out that stuff later, once you have your big idea. No big idea, no need to worry.

Innovation and entrepreneurship start with passion, so we ought to focus more on that. We can help by speaking about our own interests, passions and stories – which most of us have – and less on the mechanical stuff (some of which, incidentally, includes the actual technology we’ve invented). This is why, I think, people tend to resonate more with individuals who succeed, rather than bigger organisations. Take the Tech Awards last month. Over a dozen people - not companies – who have found a way to make a difference. The celebration of their achievements would have been less remarkable if they’d all been housed in resource-rich environments. Innovation out of scarcity is what seems to really excite people.

Al Gore at the Tech Awards. Photo courtesy godutchbaby on Flickr

Al Gore spoke at the Tech Awards gala. After a thirty minute speech not a single person could doubt his passion and commitment to the climate change cause, whether or not you agree with him. And hardly any mention of the intricacies of the science. This was a motivational speech if ever there was one. Somehow, if he’d focused on the mechanics I doubt he’d have had half the impact. Al Gore has taken a complex subject and made it accessible, and that has to be one of his major achievements.

We need to do the same with entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, technology and innovation. These subjects need to be demystified, and we need to put passion back where it belongs. And, in my mind, that’s ahead of just about everything else – business models, graphs and metrics included.

[Related post: "Enabling the inspiration generation"]

104 comments

1 Ken Banks { 12.07.09 at 7:04 pm }

Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

2 changefeed { 12.07.09 at 7:20 pm }

->@kiwanja: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/8tVYL3

3 Tweets that mention Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation | Build it Kenny, and they will come... -- Topsy.com { 12.07.09 at 7:21 pm }

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ken Banks, changefeed. changefeed said: ->@kiwanja: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/8tVYL3 [...]

4 Dean Goodman { 12.07.09 at 7:31 pm }

“Innovation out of scarcity is what seems to really excite people”. So very true. Main problem with your suggestion is that you can’t teach passion at university, but you can teach the other stuff. But I totally agree with where you’re comig from..

5 @mikegechter's RSS { 12.07.09 at 8:15 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation: It’s been a busy and interesting few weeks, and I.. http://bit.ly/8tVYL3

6 that really bites { 12.07.09 at 8:53 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation …: It's been a busy and interesting few weeks, and I… http://bit.ly/8tVYL3

7 brendanbaker { 12.07.09 at 10:47 pm }

RT @kiwanja Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

8 uberVU - social comments { 12.07.09 at 10:54 pm }

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by kiwanja: Putting passion back where it belongs. “Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation”. http://is.gd/5fbgZ

9 redZola { 12.07.09 at 10:58 pm }

RT @kiwanja Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

10 LaMonte James Odums { 12.07.09 at 11:07 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation …: The celebration of their achievements would have … http://bit.ly/88pfkx

11 Terry Pattinson { 12.07.09 at 11:56 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation … http://bit.ly/5XfbSf

12 Cathryn Paine { 12.08.09 at 12:23 am }

Coming from someone in University, I can safely say that innovation around here absolutely comes from the ground up. The concept of “teaching someone how to be innovative” seems anathema to me, as teaching involves the transference of knowledge from one person to another, while innovating implies introducing new ideas to the ether. We can be inspired by passion, but we cannot be taught passion nor how to come up with innovative ideas.
I also think there are people like Ken who are creative and provide the motivation, and then there are people who are naturally good at, and into, the mechanics. Both groups of people are necessary, but perhaps should be kept far away from one another :=)

13 Cathryn Paine { 12.08.09 at 12:25 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation | Build it Kenny, and they will come… http://is.gd/5fbgZ

14 miraj khaled { 12.08.09 at 1:31 am }

RT @kiwanja Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: Two faces of #social #innovation" http://is.gd/5fbgZ

15 paconmiller { 12.08.09 at 3:00 am }

RT @kiwanja: Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

16 Ignacio { 12.08.09 at 3:25 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation | Build it Kenny, and they will come… http://ow.ly/167l48

17 Paul Jones { 12.08.09 at 7:29 am }

“Empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn’t get lost in the data”. Wonderful quote. Maybe you could also switch “data” for “technology”, too. Refreshing to see someone taking this outside of the techie realm — there seems to be way too many mobile tech conferences dominated by tech people. Where are the users? (I know, you’ve blogged about that, too!)

18 Ken Banks { 12.08.09 at 7:33 am }

"Empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn't get lost in the data". http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

19 Stephane Delbecque { 12.08.09 at 7:48 am }

RT @kiwanja: "Empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn't get lost in the data". http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

20 Peace Tools { 12.08.09 at 8:46 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/5tG6PU http://bit.ly/923Z0P

21 t balasubramaniam { 12.08.09 at 9:42 am }

RT @kiwanja: "Empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn't get lost in the data". http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

22 David D { 12.08.09 at 9:45 am }

RT @kiwanja: "Empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn't get lost in the data". http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

23 kiwanja { 12.08.09 at 11:00 am }

@Dean @Cathryn – Thanks for your comments. I agree it’s tough to ‘train’ people to be innovative, but we can certainly help create an environment where they think it’s possible (and I’m sure there are some techniques which smart people could use). As for keeping the two apart, it’s interesting when you have them together, and mechanics and motivation are both essential components of innovation and entrepreneurship

@Paul – Agreed. If your focus is on the technology then it makes more sense to be talking to rooms full of techies, but for us is never has been. Like the idea of tweaking the quote, too. :)

24 TweetDiscovered { 12.08.09 at 4:40 pm }

RT @kiwanja :P utting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

25 Stacey Murphy { 12.08.09 at 4:41 pm }

Amen! RT @kiwanja Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

26 anuvo { 12.08.09 at 4:44 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

27 Who Is Eye? { 12.08.09 at 8:14 pm }

Reading Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation by @kiwanja http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

28 mikeyoshioka { 12.08.09 at 8:14 pm }

Reading Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation by @kiwanja http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

29 richardscullin { 12.08.09 at 8:19 pm }

Reading Ken's piece: "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ @kiwanja

30 Craig Kiebler { 12.08.09 at 9:46 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Putting passion back where it belongs. "Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation". http://is.gd/5fbgZ

31 Kevin Donovan { 12.08.09 at 11:57 pm }

@kiwanja nails it: both mechanics and motivation are important, though in different ways: http://bit.ly/61LUlY

32 Ben Lyon { 12.09.09 at 12:16 am }

Agreed =)

33 Josep Maria Miró { 12.19.09 at 9:39 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/5wEVmA

34 Gerencia y Cambio { 12.19.09 at 10:03 pm }

RT @JosepMiro: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/5wEVmA

35 Sidney Hargro { 12.19.09 at 11:23 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation | Build it Kenny, and they will come… http://is.gd/5fbgZ

36 davidhodgson { 12.19.09 at 11:24 pm }

RT @SidneyRHargro: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation | Build it Kenny, and they will come… http://is.gd/5fbgZ

37 rebecca burgess { 12.19.09 at 11:54 pm }

Inspired solutions cannot always be measured: Mechanics vs. motivation: two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ RT @SidneyRHargro

38 SCaldwell { 12.20.09 at 5:08 am }

social innovation, socent "need to be demystified, and we need to put passion back where it belongs" by @kiwanja http://bit.ly/6sNVrd

39 Chet Woodside { 01.24.10 at 6:25 pm }

Enjoyed and agree with: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation. http://is.gd/5fbgZ /via @brendanbaker @kiwanja

40 Chet Woodside { 01.24.10 at 6:25 pm }

Enjoyed and agree with: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation. http://is.gd/5fbgZ /via @brendanbaker @kiwanja

41 Martin Montero { 01.29.10 at 12:02 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social #innovation http://cli.gs/eb0636 #SocEnt

42 Laura Tomasko { 01.29.10 at 12:19 am }

2 approaches 2 spreading the message RT @Montero: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social #innovation http://cli.gs/eb0636 #SocEnt

43 ennovent { 01.29.10 at 1:39 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

44 Peter Scheuch { 01.29.10 at 1:43 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

45 Kaisa Vähähyyppä { 01.29.10 at 1:57 am }

RT @ennovent: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

46 socialedge { 01.29.10 at 4:27 pm }

"mismatch between the way social innovation is taught, & the realities of how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz

47 socialedge { 01.29.10 at 4:27 pm }

"mismatch between the way social innovation is taught, & the realities of how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz #SocEnt

48 Michael Messina { 01.29.10 at 4:34 pm }

RT @socialedge: "mismatch between the way social innovation is taught, & … how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz

49 ndh { 01.29.10 at 4:39 pm }

"entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, technology and innovation need to be demystified" http://tinyurl.com/yg53ann

50 The Tipping Bucket { 01.29.10 at 4:50 pm }

RT @socialedge: "mismatch btw how social innovation is taught, & how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz #SocEnt

51 jocelynw { 01.29.10 at 5:01 pm }

Social entrepreneurship teaching should focus on motivation, not mechanics http://bit.ly/6sNVrd w quote from @aaronsklar

52 Nancy Wellott { 01.29.10 at 5:34 pm }

RT @socialedge: Mismatch between way social innovation is taught & reality of how social innovators innovate. http://bit.ly/cMjdvz #SocEnt

53 Diego Saenz { 01.29.10 at 5:36 pm }

RT @Socialedge -> Mismatch: How Social Innovation Is Taught, & How Most Social Innovators Innovate http://bit.ly/99LIPo via @tippingbucket

54 Adrienne Taylor { 01.29.10 at 5:41 pm }

RT @socialedge: "mismatch between the way #SocEnt is taught, & the realities of how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz

55 Aaron Sklar { 01.29.10 at 6:24 pm }

@kiwanja Thanks for making me famous in your blog! http://bit.ly/6sNVrd Empathy is the central pillar of #socent.

56 Oscar { 01.29.10 at 6:54 pm }

RT @jocelynw: Social entrepreneurship teaching should focus on motivation, not mechanics http://bit.ly/6sNVrd w quote from @aaronsklar

57 Reflective Learning { 01.29.10 at 9:42 pm }

RT @diego_s: RT @Socialedge -> Mismatch: How Social Innovation Is Taught, & How Most Social Innovators Innovate http://bit.ly/99LIPo

58 paconmiller { 01.30.10 at 3:02 am }

RT @socialedge: "mismatch bet way social innovation taught, & realities of how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz #SocEnt

59 Barb Watkins { 01.31.10 at 2:33 pm }

RT @socialedge: "mismatch between the way social innovation is taught, & the realities of how most social innovators innovate" http://bit.ly/cMjdvz #SocEnt

60 DesignObserver { 01.31.10 at 3:50 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

61 RTmate2 { 01.31.10 at 3:52 pm }

RT @DesignObserver Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

62 rtmate3 { 01.31.10 at 3:52 pm }

RT @DesignObserver Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

63 Marius Comper { 01.31.10 at 3:54 pm }

Younger people want to walk away with “Well, they did it. Why can’t I?”. RT @DesignObserver: Mechanics vs. motivation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

64 Emily Fitzhugh { 01.31.10 at 3:57 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/5tG6PU "Most of the younger people I meet want stories."

65 Ken Banks { 01.31.10 at 4:04 pm }

R/T @socialedge "Mismatch in how innovation is taught & realities of how most innovators innovate". http://is.gd/7q3iR #SocEnt

66 David Gibbons { 01.31.10 at 4:07 pm }

RT @emilyfitzhugh Mechanics vs. motivation http://bit.ly/5tG6PU [Great read] "Innovation out of scarcity … seems to really excite people."

67 justin s & laura k { 01.31.10 at 4:11 pm }

stories are what we connect to… RT @DesignObserver Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ.

68 Paul Jones { 01.31.10 at 4:14 pm }

RT @kiwanja: R/T @socialedge "Mismatch in how innovation is taught & realities of how most innovators innovate". http://is.gd/7q3iR #SocEnt

69 Jeffrey Blander { 01.31.10 at 4:14 pm }

RT @kiwanja: R/T @socialedge "Mismatch in how innovation is taught & realities of how most innovators innovate". http://is.gd/7q3iR #SocEnt

70 Gerrit Visser { 01.31.10 at 4:34 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://tinyurl.com/yg53ann

71 Mark A.M. Kramer { 01.31.10 at 4:35 pm }

RT @gervis: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://tinyurl.com/yg53ann

72 Shawn Smith { 01.31.10 at 4:46 pm }

@amthinks @socialedge "Mismatch in how innovation is taught & realities of how most innovators innovate". http://is.gd/7q3iR #SocEnt

73 Natalie B { 01.31.10 at 5:59 pm }

entrepreneurship as @kiwanja sees it: "empathy ensures that our goal of serving people doesn't get lost in the data" http://bit.ly/bgO6BG

74 Rutger van Zuidam { 01.31.10 at 6:14 pm }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/7qskV (via @gervis)

75 Ashish { 01.31.10 at 7:06 pm }

RT "Mismatch in how innovation is taught & realities of how most innovators innovate". http://is.gd/7q3iR #SocEnt (via @kiwanja)

76 Jaclyn Knapp { 01.31.10 at 9:00 pm }

RT @DesignObserver: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

77 daniel noberto { 01.31.10 at 9:58 pm }

RT @DesignObserver: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

78 Joseph Steig { 01.31.10 at 10:48 pm }

Really good post RT @gervis Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://tinyurl.com/yg53ann

79 James Barlow { 01.31.10 at 11:14 pm }

RT @jsteig: Really good post RT @gervis Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://tinyurl.com/yg53ann

80 vane481 { 02.01.10 at 12:30 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ

81 Info_Activism { 02.02.10 at 10:36 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

82 Mite Kuzevski { 02.02.10 at 10:37 am }

RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

83 New Media Center { 02.02.10 at 10:37 am }

RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

84 Proyecto Cerro { 02.02.10 at 10:40 am }

RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

85 Roos Korste { 02.02.10 at 10:45 am }

RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

86 Kihu Potru { 02.02.10 at 10:54 am }

> @Info_Activism Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

87 Socio Innovation { 02.02.10 at 10:54 am }

RT Kihu Potru: > @Info_Activism Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By… http://bit.ly/aoNBfo

88 Kihu Potru { 02.02.10 at 10:58 am }

Most of the younger people I meet want stories..they want to know some of the theory, a little about the technology. http://icio.us/44dwfw

89 contagious ideas { 02.02.10 at 10:59 am }

RT RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja: http://bit.ly/9gFN5r

90 bact' ☂ { 02.02.10 at 11:06 am }

RT @Info_Activism: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://is.gd/5fbgZ By @kiwanja

91 Matt Blair { 02.03.10 at 3:49 am }

A positive take on the potential of storytelling in advocacy/opinion-shaping: http://bit.ly/6sNVrd (via @emilyfitzhugh)

92 Ken Banks { 02.13.10 at 11:32 am }

@Gauravonomics @gkjohn On topic of passion, this might be of interest. My contribution from afar! http://is.gd/8iog5 #tech4soc

93 Gautam John { 02.13.10 at 11:36 am }

RT @kiwanja: @Gauravonomics @gkjohn On topic of passion, this might be of interest. My contribution from afar! http://is.gd/8iog5 #tech4soc

94 Lyndon Rego { 02.26.10 at 4:17 am }

Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation http://bit.ly/biRDio

95 Ken Banks { 03.14.10 at 8:14 pm }

@Gauravonomics Totally agree. Echoes my own thoughts in an earlier "mechanics vs. motivation" post at http://is.gd/aD468

96 The Importance of Storytelling in Spreading Social Innovation « Gauravonomics Blog { 03.14.10 at 9:23 pm }

[...] to Gauravonomics Blog! Subscribe to my feed now and you'll never miss a single post!Ken Banks [...]

97 Celebrating the “enabling environment” | Build it Kenny, and they will come... { 07.11.10 at 1:59 pm }

[...] posts: Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation Enabling the inspiration [...]

98 The rise of the reluctant innovator | Build it Kenny, and they will come... { 02.24.11 at 12:11 pm }

[...] Further reading Cometh the hour. Cometh the technology Mechanics vs. motivation: The two faces of social innovation [...]

99 “Mechanics vs. motivation” in social innovation « ICT4D @ Tulane { 04.14.12 at 4:05 am }

[...] Mechanics vs. Motivation [...]

100 Ken Banks { 12.19.12 at 9:15 pm }

Q3/4: I wrote about a need to inspire future changemakers in a "mechanics vs. motivation" post a while ago. http://t.co/KaZeLjNK #socentchat

101 Ken Banks { 12.19.12 at 9:16 pm }

Q3/4: I wrote about a need to inspire future changemakers in a "Mechanics vs. Motivation" post a while ago. http://t.co/KaZeLjNK #socentchat

102 Kevin Sayer { 12.19.12 at 9:18 pm }

Q3/4: I wrote about a need to inspire future changemakers in a "Mechanics vs. Motivation" post a while ago. http://t.co/KaZeLjNK #socentchat

103 Jay Stanford Sunders { 12.19.12 at 9:52 pm }

Q3/4: I wrote about a need to inspire future changemakers in a "Mechanics vs. Motivation" post a while ago. http://t.co/KaZeLjNK #socentchat

104 Jungwon Kim (김정원) { 12.19.12 at 11:24 pm }

Q3/4: I wrote about a need to inspire future changemakers in a "Mechanics vs. Motivation" post a while ago. http://t.co/KaZeLjNK #socentchat

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