December 4, 2011

accomplishment and success

I had an interesting experience this week.  A significant result was reached in something I had been involved in.  Along with others, I had expended considerable effort towards the project.  I was congratulated for my contribution towards the result.

I didn't experience joy, or excitement, or a sense of accomplishment.  Why was that? 

Because I hadn't set the end result as a goal.  It was something that I supported, fully believed in, and contributed effort towards.  But I had never taken the time to set any conscious goals around it.  So I cheated myself out of the sense of accomplishment that I might otherwise have had.

How important is a sense of accomplishment?  It is important.  Success feeds on itself.  Everything that you accomplish through your work acts as a foundation for what's next.  Setting things up so that you have the opportunity to experience the accomplishment is an important part of contributing your best work.

November 9, 2011

making use of tools

Last year when my neighbours were building their new house, they gave us rounds of wood from the Douglas-fir and birch trees they had cut down to make room.  We lugged the heavy rounds over the fence and across the yard, and they have been sitting piled in a corner every since.  Most of them were full of knots from heavy branches. 

Yesterday, we rented a log splitter and transformed the massive chunks into firewood.  It took about 2.5 hours to turn nearly 100 rounds into about a cord and a half of fir and birch firewood for the woodstove.

I was shocked at how easy the work was with the splitter.  I didn't even know that splitters existed until recently. The same work would have taken days or weeks to do by hand. 

It made me think about where else this shows up in life.  What tools are out there that could make your work easier or faster?  Are you using them?  Each of us has a finite number of hours in our day.  It is good to think about the most effective way to spend our time. 

It is also useful to think about what's out there that you may not yet know about.  Others have likely developed tools or approaches that could help you to get the work done more efficiently.  Finding ways to plug ourselves into the collective intelligence of us all just makes sense. 

October 9, 2011

open data and behaviour change

I have an application on my smartphone that keeps track of my data usage for me. It lets me know when I start to get close to the monthly data limit covered by my cell plan. A week ago, it informed me that if I continued on at my current rate, I would use 110% of my allowed limit for the billing period. The feedback helped me to make some changes, such as setting my phone to use wifi instead of the cell network for data where available. Getting realtime feedback from the app made it possible for me to change my behaviour. I moved from unconscious use to paying more attention to what I am doing. It works. Today my app tells me I will be within my use limit.

This is a simple example of an approach that makes a difference for us in areas of concern. For example, we might be concerned about our own electricity use, water use, or carbon production, but not have information available that could enable us to modify our behaviour in these areas.

Think of what would be possible if we had access to our own data, and to data in general about populations similar to us.

I look at my hydro bill each month. I like that my usage data is provided on a month to month basis, and I can compare it to the same period in previous years.  But so much information is missing that could be really helpful to me.

What do I really need from my hydro company? Access to my own data, hour by hour and day by day, so I can see what happens when I run a load of laundry, fill my jacuzzi, or leave the kitchen light on for the evening, or run my desktop computer overnight.  Give me usage data for others in houses just like mine (electric heat, 1940s construction, temperate climate) so I can really compare how I am doing and make changes.

One of the things about open data that is exciting for citizens is having access to data about things that matter to us.  I would love to have better access to data that would help me to make better decisions in areas of consumption and conservation.

October 4, 2011

the model is all wrong

Recently, I have become aware of several actions that our Canadian government is planning to take1 or has already taken that have made me uncomfortable. My experience is as if I have suddenly been transported to another country, one that does not have the values that Canada has.

Currently, the way things seem to work is that it is up to us to speak up if we DON'T want something. Our government representatives take action on any number of fronts, and we are expected to let them know if we don't support it. This model doesn’t work well, for a number of reasons.
  1. We have to know about it in order to speak up about it. If it’s discussed only in private, we can’t know about it. If it is discussed openly, the majority of Canadians are dependent on the traditional media’s interpretation of the initiative. The media reports on what they see as important, and from their own particular point of view. This leaves a lot up to someone else.
  2. Even if we know about it, we might not know what it means to us. Most of the time, I need someone with expertise in that area to explain it to me in words I can understand. Ideally, it would be my government representative who would explain to me the implications of actions being considered by government.
  3. Knowing about it seems to come at the last minute, just before something is about to be voted on by government representatives. This does not foster an ideal climate for collaboration or respectful communication.
  4. My expertise in customer service means I know that almost none of us complain. The percentage of people who will actually complain to a business when there is a service failure is somewhere in the range of 3%. Compound that statistic with being Canadian and being known as 'nice', and the inclination of citizens to speak up and say they don't want something is next to none. That doesn't mean we actually want it. It means we are naturally wired to not speak up. Why then are public input models often designed around the concept that something is going to be put in place unless we speak up against it?
  5. The very nature of ‘speak up if you don’t want something’ creates an adversarial environment. It also seems as if you have to be nasty, to use dramatic, sometimes inflammatory language, to be listened to. This tends to perpetuate the belief that those who speak up are the fringe element. I want to see citizens and government representatives engage in discussions in a cooperative, collaborative, respectful fashion.

What, fundamentally, is the point of a public input process? In large part, it is about making sure that government representatives are getting it right. That citizens are in support of what is to be done, and that representatives are acting truly on their behalf. Ideally it involves asking citizens what they want. It isn't about checking a box to say it was done.

There is another critical piece that is missed if public input is not done well. It is about leveraging the intelligence of citizens.  For example, I am not an expert on privacy or civil liberties.   I am an expert on a set of other things. Our governments need to be able to access and use the intelligence and expertise of Canadians as we move into our future. The public input model is a critical access point to our collective intelligence.

Perhaps I notice the contrast more as I watch the B.C. government, and my local governments, make shifts toward greater openness and transparency.  They get it, and they are headed in the right direction.  I want our Canadian government to understand the time is now and begin to make the shift as well.  There is nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained. 

1the most recent example, the proposed Lawful Access legislation, compelled me to write this post (and is the reason for this particular photo).  If you are interested, watch this video, read this article, do some other research and decide for yourself what you think about that legislation.

September 21, 2011

clearing the slate of regret

The emotion regret doesn't serve us well.

It is possible to look back on an action you have taken with a lens of 'well, I wish I had done that differently'.  You can take the point of view that hindsight sometimes shows opportunities for having done something better, but you did the best you could at the time.  You can move forward with lessons learned and without any regret.

Sometimes, though, the feeling of regret takes over.  Perhaps the action you took had a significant impact, and the outcome was far removed from what you wanted. Maybe people or things you cared about were impacted. Perhaps an opportunity was lost.

Regret can drag you down.  It eats away at the energy and drive you need to keep moving forward with the best you have to offer.  That in itself is a compelling reason for clearing it away when you become aware of it.

How can you be at peace so you can move on and not be dragged down?  Here are three things that I find helpful:
  1. Choose an attitude about the situation that works for you.  Such as, 'I meant well, but I made a mistake.  I won't do it again.'  You could focus on what you learned from it.
  2. If someone was impacted by your actions, you can choose to communicate with them about it.  You could let them know that you understand your actions affected them, apologize, and commit to something for the future.
  3. Write down some thoughts, such as what you learned from the situation.  To quote the Dalai Lama:  'When you lose, don't lose the lesson'.  Much learning comes from things that you would do differently with hindsight.  Be grateful for the opportunity you had to learn.
Each of us has our own way of clearing the slate for ourselves.  What are the things that you do to move forward?

August 26, 2011

seeking feedback to improve

Feedback is essential to getting better at anything.

When you are first developing competence at something, a balance of both positive and critical feedback is helpful. Positive feedback, being coached forward, is a necessary ingredient to motivate you to keep working on it.

However, what do you do when you get to a place where you have a high level of competence at something?

You know you are good at it. You hear from others you are good at it. How do you get even better? What can help you close the gap with true mastery?

What you need to seek out is critical feedback. From experts, people you admire and respect, those who have achieved mastery themselves in that area or those who are pursuing it.

To quote Jim Rohn "Don't join an easy crowd. You won't grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high". Find the people who are really, really good at what you want.  Ask them what isn't working with what you are doing, and to tell you what you can do better.  And keep track of their feedback, so you can keep working on those areas.

As you become better and better at something, you will need to seek out people with higher levels of competence to give you feedback.  It is simpler - and easier on your ego - to not do so.   But necessary, if you want to be truly extraordinary at something.

August 17, 2011

allowing room for failure

When you are good at something, others pay attention.  You are asked to do more of it.  Others learn that you are good at it, and they expect you to do it well.

Not only do others expect you to do it well, but you expect yourself to do it well too.   

As you do the thing more often, the bar creeps higher.  Every time you do it.  Eventually, it might occur to you that failure is not an option.

If you believe there is no room for failure, you are less inclined to push the envelope.  To try something different, something new.  To completely reinvent the thing that you are so good at.  It is far easier - and safer - to stay with the tried and true.  Even if the tried and true produces good results and reinventing it could produce extraordinary results. 

Innovation thrives in an environment where failure is an acceptable outcome.  A mindset of 'there is no room for failure' can kill innovation.

Do you allow yourself room for failing?

August 15, 2011

the real value of employee development plans

I believe in goals.

People we would describe as successful are frequently quoted speaking about goals. One clear statement, attributed to one of the pioneers of the self-development movement, Earl Nightingale, is that "people with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It's as simple as that."

Over and over again, my personal experience provides evidence to support this premise. It is an easy equation. When I have goals, I work towards them. When I don't have goals, I drift and feel lost.

To create goals, to stay present to them, to regularly assess progress, and to achieve them, requires some sort of structure. Many personal development and business success books and programs provide just this: a structure to help us achieve our goals. If you follow the approach, you will achieve what they promise. Each of us has own our style of approach that works best for us.

Organizations have forms of personal development plans. These plans are also intended to provide this structure. Although such plans can be useful for employers to evaluate performance, they are also rooted in the basic premise that human beings are happiest and most fulfilled when they are working towards something.

If you are required to have an employee development plan for the organization you work for, consider looking at it from this perspective. It is a structure intended to help you achieve your goals.  Not as something you have to do, but as something you choose to do because it makes your life work better.

June 22, 2011

going with the current

I am currently experiencing the amazing country of Italy for the first time.  Starting in Rome, then to Venice, now Florence. Otherwise known, in a non-anglicized fashion, as Roma, Venezia, and Firenze.

History, culture, colours, scents, flavours, language, passion collide in this place.

If I try to process it all, it overwhelms.  I am working to 'be' with the experience. And to sit back and observe. To seize moments when they arise, but not to force them. To not obsess with ticking the boxes from the guidebooks, and instead create my own experiences.

The approach - of not trying to control each moment, of observing and going with the flow and adapting - has relevance for our work as well.  What do we lose, by following our own agenda? When we have an idea of how we want things to go, we have a tendency to force them in that direction.  We get upset when things don't go according to 'the plan'.  That has us miss out on anything else that could be possible.  And sometimes, what else might be possible might be a better option than what we think needs to happen.

There are times when it works to go against the current.  Perhaps there is a time constraint, or what is supposed to happen has been decided by some other party.

But consider:  what if we are just open to whatever comes up?  For me, on this trip to Italy, I have focussed on being curious.  I have had the opportunity to be confused, taken aback, delighted. speechless.  I have a collection of rich experiences that would not have happened if I had followed a fixed plan.

April 22, 2011

Some advice for Canadian politicians

I am never impressed when a business representative spends time criticizing his competition, rather than selling his product or service on its own merit.  In fact, a guaranteed outcome is that I will not buy from that business.

If you want to be the best at something, is the path to get there about criticizing what someone else does or has done?  I think not.   It is about focusing on yourself, not on others.  What do you offer?  Why are you the best for this work?  What is important to you, what do you stand for that makes you the choice in this area?

Which brings me to politics.  Our politicians, for the most part, seem to think that criticism, or negative politics, will somehow inspire us.  

When I watched Obama's presidential campaign in the U.S. back in 2008, I was struck by the absence of negative politics.  It stood out for me as something completely different, and I got how powerful it was. I haven't been able to listen to any politician in the same way since.

A career in politics is not easy.  I would imagine that someone who chooses a political career is driven by a strong drive to make a difference, a drive based on values, whether they be integrity, respect, freedom, transparency.  

I want to see those values.  When a politician speaks, I don’t want to hear the rhetoric and I don’t want to hear the mudslinging.  

To my fellow Canadians who aspire to lead our beautiful country, the true North strong and free:  
I want to hear what you stand for.  
I want to hear why you are doing what you are doing.  
Stand on your own merit.  
Engage me in why I should vote for you.  
Not in why I shouldn’t vote for someone else. 

Photo by AndrewMark, courtesy of stock.xchng.

April 6, 2011

on bad days

We all have bad days.  Days when we feel low, ineffective, perhaps unappreciated.

There are a few things to remember on such days.

First, be nice to yourself.  There's nothing wrong with having a bad day. You can use it to remember later that your life is pretty good most of the time.

Being nice to yourself means surrounding yourself with the things in your life that tend to bring you up, rather than down.  Schedule meetings with people whose ideas you find stimulating, and save the challenging folks for another day. Have lunch with a supportive colleague or friend.  Listen to music that lifts your mood (a link to my favourite 'bad day' song - a video - here.)   Read something that inspires you, and save the newspapers and articles focusing on what's wrong with the world for another time when you feel a little more resilient.

Being nice to yourself includes giving yourself permission to wallow in suffering for awhile.  Just telling yourself that you have nothing to complain about doesn't actually make a difference.  How you are feeling is how you are feeling.  Remember the adage 'what you resist, persists'.  If you are really successful at wallowing, you might even be able to see the glint of humour in the drama you are creating about your life.  Humour goes a long way towards moving through the low feelings.

Something else useful to remember is that no matter how bad things seem, this isn't how your life is.  It is just how you are feeling now.  When you have moved through it, you will likely have forgotten how you felt, as well as what took you there in the first place.

Lastly, you can remember that you get to choose the point of view you have, the one that has a large bearing on your mood.  If you decide to focus on what's wrong, that is likely what will show up for you.  If you instead choose to focus on the things that are going well, you will see more and more of those things in your life.  And that perspective tends to feed on itself.

March 20, 2011

one way to participate in our government

I spent my day at an open data hackathon yesterday.

What's a hackathon?  A group of technical people getting together to share ideas and build things.  Specifically, the things they build are web or other types of applications that use data to tell us something interesting and valuable.  Hacking, despite the negative connotation of causing trouble that is sometimes given to the word, is about disrupting the status quo, bringing something new to the world.  

I am not a software developer nor a programmer.  I can't participate in the writing of code to build an application.  Nor do I understand a great deal of the technical conversation that swirls around me as those who have the expertise collaboratively brainstorm, debate, and share ideas.

So why do I spend a day at a hackathon?

There are two main reasons.  
  1. I am fascinated by data, and I like to learn.  I like to be part of helping government and other organizations to understand that regular people want to know more about what affects us.  It is through having information  that we can do a better job of being citizens, and of helping to support the choices that will be good for our cities, provinces, country and the world.  Sit down with others for a short time and the ideas flow.  And although us citizens know something of the data and information we would like to have - so that the developers can use it to build applications we can use - we can't even begin to scratch the surface of the interesting data that is held in government databases.
  2. I believe in the concept of hacking.  Finding unconventional solutions to problems. Disrupting the status quo.  It is a word that resonates with me; although the word is not used to describe what I do, I too am a hacker of sorts.  For example, I am a hacker of workplace teams, helping them to shift them from a culture of survival to a culture of power.  A culture where each team member has greater self-awareness, greater willingness to learn and contribute, a desire to bring the best of themselves to the work of their team. 
When I attend an open data hackathon, I have the opportunity to support these two things that I value.  And I can bring my own skills in communicating and engaging others to help others like me to see ourselves into it.  

This matters to us.  I think we are in a time, in our province and in the world, when we as citizens need to contribute our intelligence.  We are facing some challenging issues.  We can't expect governments to solve everything on our behalf.  Our collective intelligence as citizens is a powerful resource that can be brought to bear.  We need to put ourselves out there.  We need to find effective ways of engaging and collaborating with the people who work in our governments.   

Participating in community events like open data hackathons is one way for me to engage and collaborate.  It makes a difference.  

Photo by Vangelis Thomaidis courtesy of

March 17, 2011

how to refer someone

We often have opportunities to refer someone we know to someone else.

During a conversation, we realize that we know an individual who could be of assistance to our colleague or to their organization.

In that moment, we have a chance to create that individual for our colleague.  What we say will form their first impression of the individual.  It's a powerful position to be in. When you are in that situation, what do you do?

One approach is for you to tell your colleague everything that you know about the individual. Their strengths and their weaknesses.  From your experience, and your point of view.

Another approach is to focus on the person's strengths.  You are, after all, referring that person because you believe that they have value to offer.  Otherwise, why refer them?  By describing their attributes in terms of strengths, you leave your colleague with the opportunity to form their own perspective and impression of the individual.

As people, we tend to see whatever it is that we are looking for.  If we are told someone is 'outspoken', we will see evidence for that. It will take extra effort for us to view that characteristic differently.  However, if we are told someone is 'willing to be direct with you, and say what she thinks', instead, then that is what we will see.

The next time you are in a conversation and have an opportunity to refer another, see if you are following this approach.  The other great thing about it?  It feels better to build people up, than to tear them down.

March 6, 2011

setting yourself apart

I am a frequent customer at four different coffee shops.

I always order the same thing.  An americano.  At three of the shops, I need to give the order every time. At the fourth, the employees remember what my beverage of choice is.

What's the impact?  As a customer, I feel important. Valued. I want to visit that fourth shop whenever I can.  The coffee, the atmosphere, the wi-fi, the comfy chairs and the music are excellent at all. The only difference, the only thing that sets the one shop apart from the rest, is that the employees make the effort to remember my order.

There is a lot of competition for business. Having a great product or service is essential.  You can't compete otherwise.  Lots of businesses have great products or services.  Setting your business apart takes something special.  The extra effort you make in serving your customers can be the thing that sets you apart.

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.  Tony Alessandra.

February 25, 2011


I have become aware that my life is complicated.  To be more accurate, I have made my life complicated.  I would actually like it to be simpler.  A lot simpler.  And once something has been made to be complicated, it isn’t so easy to simplify.  It takes a fair effort.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain a complicated life.  It often happens subtly, over a long period of time.  You don’t realize how much it costs you – in energy, effort, time and peace - to keep it all going. 
Having too many choices is a form of complexity.  Research shows that when people are in a store to make a purchase, and are presented with too many options, they tend to leave without buying anything.  Too much complexity overwhelms us.
Take this awareness and turn the lens to where you work.  How complicated are the processes and systems that keep your business working?  How much of that complexity really needs to be there?  What is it costing?
This applies to pretty much anything…project management systems, computer systems, filing systems, business processes.  Things should be only as complex as they absolutely need to be, and starting from simplest is usually best.  More complex is rarely better.  It costs more to build and maintain.  And it leaves a legacy of extra time and money to keep it going.  Einstein had it right.
I also think there are two considerations in any decision about whether to buy something, or to implement a system or a process.  The first is how simple or inexpensive it is to put in place (or to purchase) in the first place.  The second is how simple or inexpensive is it to keep it going or maintain.  Next time you have a decision to make, you could consider the answers to both of these questions.
This is an article from Volume 1, No. 10 of my newsletter, Prosperous Times.
photo courtesy of

February 11, 2011

what's your point of view?

A twitter exchange this week reminded me of a fable told to me several years ago. I'd like to share it with you. It goes something like this.

A gas station attendant is working at a full service gas station in a small town. A family pulls up in their car and asks for gas. He fills their tank. As they are paying for the gas, they say to him, "We have been thinking about moving. We like your town and are wondering what it would be like to live here. Can you tell us, what are the people like?"

He pauses, and then says, "Well, that's a great question. What are the people like where you come from?"

They respond. "Well, the people where we live are really friendly. They say hi to one another on the street. They look after you if you need something. We really like it there. We don't want to move here if the people are not going to be as friendly as where we are now, because we like them so much."

He thinks for a moment. Then he responds with 'Well, I think you will find that the people here are very much like that."

The family thanks him and drives away.

About half an hour later, another family drives up in their car, looking for gas. He fills their tank. As they are paying for their gas, they say to him, "We have been thinking about moving. We like your town and are wondering what it would be like to live here. Can you tell us, what are the people like?"

He pauses, and then he says, "Well, that's a great question. What are the people like where you come from?"

They respond. "Well, where we come from, the people aren't very friendly. They are rude, and they wouldn't lift a finger if you needed help. We don't like them at all. We would like to move away."

He thinks for a moment. Then he responds with, 'Well, I think you will find that the people here are very much like that."

The family thanks him and drives away.

I really like this fable. It is an excellent reminder that point of view - and attitude - affects everything. Which is great news, because that is something we have total control over over.  We get to choose it.

Photos courtesy of stock.xchng (grceva: rotten apple; Stefan Gustafsson: red apple)

February 8, 2011

stereotypes and communicating

We communicate because we have something to say.  We want to be heard by others.  The outcome that we want varies. Sometimes we are just sharing our own perspective, our own experience.  Sometimes, we want the other person to be influenced by what we have to say. Sometimes, we actually want them to do what we are telling them.

The language we choose affects our message.  An example of this is making generalizations about others, or using stereotypes.  When we are interested in communicating to others, stereotypes often get in the way.  There is a much higher likelihood if you use stereotypes that you will offend someone, that someone will have a reaction to what you are saying.

If you have something to say, you want people to listen to you, to really hear you.  If you generalize or stereotype about something, and they react to it, they can't hear you and your message is lost.

An example is this TED talk by Arianna Huffington.  It's about sleep deprivation, and how important it is to make sure you get enough sleep in order to be performing at your best.  The messaging is good.  The TED organizers asked her to speak, so they thought that she had something important to say.  However, her speech contains generalizations about the sexes, and as a result (and this is apparent from the comments on the site) the message is lost, at least to some.  In fact, the opposite of what she likely intended happened for some folks; they have discounted her premise as a result of how she communicated it.

Something, perhaps, to think about the next time you want others to hear your message.

photo courtesy of mzacha,

January 7, 2011

no more shoulds

I have a challenge for you to take on. Are you interested?

Give up using the word SHOULD for a week.

The meaning of the word is to do something out of obligation or duty.  Doing something for these reasons is not powerful. None of us like having to do something.  It is much more pleasant and frankly inspiring to have choice in anything that we do.

As well, anytime we use the word should for ourselves or for others, we are referring to something that isn't being done. The word contains guilt or shame, sometimes regret. It can also leave you feeling victimized by your circumstances.  Overall, not very inspiring.  In fact, downright flattening.

What if you could give up the word and the feeling that goes with it, and have something powerful instead?

The next time a thought comes up about something you think you 'should' be doing, stop and think about it.  Why do you think you should be doing it? Is it because someone else thinks so? Is it what you think society expects you to do? How committed are you, yourself, to it?

It's your level of commitment that matters. If you really want to be doing it, then replace should with want. Or, even better, replace should with the most powerful word of all, choose.

It might seem that the only thing that will have changed for you is your language around what you are doing.  But this change can have a huge impact on your attitude toward it.  A shift from victim of your circumstances to being powerfully in the driver's seat of your life.