Happy Canada Day!

This is one of the first Canada Day’s that I’ve spent at home in quite some time. I suppose like many Canadians I represent those that are the curious world travelers. But not being home for some time has made me realize just how much I miss this country.

If you’re not a Canadian and have no idea what Canada Day is all about, you can read more about it here: http://www.pch.gc.ca/special/canada/11/canada-eng.cfm Courtesy of the Canadian Government.

Some of the things I love about Canada:

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The problem with employee engagement

Several of the companies I work with do an annual employee engagement survey. This is a company wide survey that essentially asks employees questions about their manager such as, do you think your manager communicates what is expected of you, do you regularly receive recognition when you do a good job, does your manager provide you with timely and helpful feedback etc.

Not a single one of these questions asks employees what they have done to ask for feedback, to recognize their teammates, to ask questions about what is expected of them. I believe these types of surveys just reinforce the parent-child like relationship between managers and employees. As a team member, I need to take responsibility over managing my own work and ensuring I build the right kind of relationships with my teammates, clients, and boss so I can achieve what I want to achieve.

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Growth is Good

I’m continuously perplexed when I meet people who talk about growth like it’s a bad thing. I’m referring to those individuals/groups I’ve met that are always talking about boundaries and limits to growth.

To me it seems that we are asking the question, how do we stop growing? I don’t see that it is growth itself that is a problem. Nature itself is in constant evolution. Animals, plants, natural life is continuously experiencing change and growth. As humanity the question we should be asking is what are we growing towards? What is our goal as mankind? And then we should be looking at how we are achieving that goal and what indicators we are using to measure our progress towards our goal.

The fact that we talk about sustainable development is an indication that the system we have built is not the right one. Growth and development should be inherently sustainable. We can see this in nature; nature is constantly growing and developing and if it had not been sustainable then we wouldn’t have a planet to live on right now!

So instead of looking at growth and saying it’s bad; let’s instead examine the problem a bit closer to see what the real problem is.

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Why we should learn improv

For a number of years I attended classes for improvisational theatre. At the time, from my scientifically and mathematically inclined family I generally got the feedback that, ‘oh you’re doing that fluffy stuff’. Back then I couldn’t clearly articulate what I saw as the many benefits of taking these classes gave to my life in a way I am able to now.

I believe improv can teach skills that improve leadership and management abilities in at least three key ways:

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Being in Flow

This evening during my spinning class I was again reminded of the amazing feeling I get whenever I’m in flow. We were in a moment where we’d already been cycling for 40 minutes and the teacher put on a hardcore electronic track and made us stand while cycling at breakneck speed. In that moment as I hit and surpassed 130rpm it felt as if I was one with the bike; it was a feeling of complete flow where I was going so fast and with perfect technique.

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Next generation entrepreneurs

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about entrepreneurship in the context of how do I define entrepreneurship and what makes me an entrepreneur. The conversations inspired me to think of how I would visually represent the characteristics of the next generation entrepreneur. (Visualizations inspired by what I learned from Ole at Bigger Picture!)

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April 24, 2009: Hope for the future

I have some very interesting memories of April 24th. I remember waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning and driving with my mom and aunt to the community centre. From there getting on a bus with 50 other people and with several other buses together driving to Ottawa (about 5 hours from Toronto) and spending the entire day walking around the city with flags and banners and yelling the whole way. Throughout the day we’d listen to speeches, song, stories, poems people sharing their stories, the stories of their parents, and grandparents about what came to pass in 1915.

Today my memories are not sad, angry, confused, or frustrated. I am hopeful that reconciliation is possible. There are two reasons for this:

1. Reading about Turkey and Armenia’s rapprochement talks currently being mediated by Swiss authorities

2. Remembering the email I received from a dear Armenian friend letting me know that even without official diplomatic ties AIESEC in Armenia and AIESEC in Turkey making it possible for a young Armenians and Turks to participate in an exchange program enabling them to experience living in each other’s countries.

Like I wrote in a previous blog posting; you can’t hate someone whose story you know. I am hopeful that continued dialogue and empathy will connect us to our humanity.

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Authenticity vs vulnerability

In a recent conversation I was discussing with some colleagues vulnerability and behaviours associated with being vulnerable. The characteristics they mentioned were quiet, introspective, meek, calm. My immediate reaction was, wait it’s not just these characteristics which show that a person is vulnerable. Some of the most vulnerable people I know are those that scream, refuse to engage in conversation, and put up walls all around them. Why is it though that we don’t immediately associate vulnerability with these behaviours? Why are those behaviours seen as more acceptable and are revered as they demonstrate toughness?

Any behaviour which goes to an extreme means that the person is scared and feels that they have lost control. Behaving in a vulnerable manner is a reaction to an external influence. Whereas authenticity is driven from within: in philosophical terms it’s a way of dealing with your environment in a manner faithful to internal ideas than only external ideas.

In working with teams, some colleagues refer to individuals in teams needing to get more vulnerable. And what they mean is that they need to become more aware of their external environment. I look at it as needing to get more authentic; what do you want to bring, what triggers you to be defensive when you feel that you are attacked, and how do you remain resilient and open to listen in face of that?

My boss recently shared with me his metaphor for resilience. Imagine yourself as a sponge; you can choose to be completely permeable and let everything seep into you, or you can choose to wrap yourself in saran wrap and let nothing come in. There is a middle ground, choosing to be a sponge with oil in the middle. Staying true to yourself while also learning and engaging with your environment. Vulnerability is not productive in any shape or form; but people respect and admire authenticity because authentic are like the semi-permeable sponge. True to what they believe in yet open to engage with others in a non-defensive manner.

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Cost cutting AND smart investing

We’ve all been experiencing the discomfort of the economic recession, especially when it comes to the massive cuts most companies are making with respect to training programs, marketing budgets, and anything that could be perceived as ‘fat’. What’s unfortunate is that most companies don’t realize that now is the time to be investing in building and strengthening the relationship with your customers; if you serve them well during a time of crisis they’ll stay loyal to your brand.

I was happy to experience first-hand a decision taken by the executive management team of one of my clients demonstrating that it’s not just about cutting costs, it’s also about making smart investment choices that will sustain and support growth in the future.

For the last few months I’ve been working with this client to develop a brand engagement program. It was born out of a customer feedback process, which demonstrated that they were underperforming in delivering their brand promise. Rather than addressing this via advertising and other non-behavioural marketing tactics, and since they are a service-based company, the HR and Marketing departments struck up a partnership to develop a program that would support employees in living the brand and values. Now that the project is approved I’m really excited to make it happen!

When I found out about this decision, it got me thinking about the organization I currently work in and also in my own life; am I just cutting back or am I also figuring out which investments I can make now that will pay off hugely in the future?

 

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Web 2.0: Are you observing or participating?

Yesterday I listened to a philosophy podcast at the gym; it was an interview with William A. Drumin, a professor at King’s College in Pennsylvania. Drumin co-authored a book, Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics that looks at the philosophy behind Hitchock’s films. During the interview they discussed the film, Rear Window a classic 1954 Hitchock film about a photographer who broke his leg and has to spend a few weeks at home. He spends everyday sitting at his window looking at the lives of his neighbours, always being a spectator and not a participant. 

This got me thinking about people interact with Web 2.0 technologies. From my perspective the web has evolved for us not to be observers, but active participants. I notice though that I along with my friends easily get caught up just observing through the web. It’s really easy to just get lost in watching people’s lives (especially when there are so many Facebook and Flickr albums out there!) and not to actually take advantage of the technology to meaningfully engage in conversations with others and to have the chance to express yourselves in ways that you didn’t previously.

I think the great thing about Web 2.0 is that it really allows people a chance to get to show many more parts of themselves that others wouldn’t see. This is one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of the power of Twitter enabling you to see and share parts of your lives that previously others couldn’t see. 

Point being, don’t just be an observer. Technology is just there to help us enhance how we express ourselves and create meaning and value with others. So why not participate?

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