Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Problem with Idioms

I had recently been crafting a report when it occurred to me that I could make my point by playing around with some wording. What I can say… even report writing deserves its kicks! I was trying to capture the idea that there are major cultural shifts needed in Atlantic Canada if we are going to find ourselves in a better socio-economic situation. Thinking about one of the cultural changes needed, I kept going back to the thought that we actually “need to reinvent the wheel”.

I have recently come across several interesting ventures and enterprises that have as a goal, to make an existing system better; reinventing a system, if you will.

From there, I started wondering how often the innovation on an old premise or idea (or a tweak – see this article by Malcolm Gladwell about the genius of Steve Jobs) was squashed by someone saying “don’t reinvent the wheel”. It’s a phrase that I have heard often, and I’m sure you have too.

So off to Wikipedia I went, to scroll through a list of English idioms:

Reinventing the wheel
Rocking the boat (usually used with a negative connotation, of course)
You can’t teach old dog new tricks
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

…and on and on it goes

Sure, I’m being selective here. There may be some idioms that encourage risk-taking and optimism, but I don’t sense that they have permeated the language and culture to the same extent.

These cutesy phrases seem harmless, but they are not. They set standards and expectation. They make us risk-averse. They scare us.

So go ahead and rock the boat, my friends.

I’ll have your back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fire in the Belly

It was a few months ago when I first heard the refrain. It was a hot day, and it was an important game. I was sore and tired, and we were losing by a few points.

Fire in the belly
Fire in the belly
Fire in the belly

First, you chant it to yourself, in a voice barely more audible than a whisper – then, increasingly louder, joining your voice to those of your teammates.

We lost the game, but I don’t remember much of it, except that phrase…fire in the belly. It was my first time hearing the phrase, but I knew exactly what it meant.

Fast forward a few months later, in an entirely different context, this time listening to David McKeage, Executive Director of Brigadoon Children’s Village Society speak with a group of 21inc alumni (me included) when I caught myself saying it subconsciously: fire in the belly.

The story of Brigadoon’s is a pretty unbelievable one, but so is David’s story of passion and leadership throughout this 12+ year journey of an idea. Brigadoon Village is the result of many things, including very generous support coming from throughout the region and beyond, the time and efforts of staff and volunteers, and because of the fire in David’s (and many others’) belly.

I heard him loud and clear: Align yourself with what you know to be right.

A message that I (and you) have heard many times before, but for some reason coming from David McKeage, it felt different – more believable, more palpable.

One of my favourite teachers at school (yes, I had many), used to ask “Qu’est-ce qui te fait vibrer?”, what makes you vibrate – what makes you tick, what makes you breathe?

If you connect with that space, you’ll survive and thrive through the times when being a leader sucks, when the unexpected happens, and when the world just doesn’t appear ready for you big idea.

Quiet other people’s expectations for you and tap into the fire in your belly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The New Yorker article on coaching for professionals

It’s Tuesday morning on a 4-day work week, so we know that you have a long list of things you want to accomplish today and this week (and so do we). Still, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to flag this stellar The New Yorker article “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?

This article struck a chord with us, because it speaks to why we exist as well as some of the programming of our leadership experiences...but also personally since, like you, we’re trying to find ways to get the most out of ourselves - reaching new personal bests.

Let us know what you think.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guest post - Susan Holt

Leadership has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I started a new role a few weeks ago and have been thinking about what kind of leadership my new organization needs, and where my style fits and diverges from those needs. I’ve been thinking about how to start, and re-reading “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins, a great book for first-time managers and new CEOs alike.

Even before my first day on this job, I’ve observed and benefited from the leadership approach of my new boss, Chairman of the NB Business Council and Sunny Corner Enterprises CEO Gordie Lavoie. I firmly believe the days leading up to and following a new employee’s start can really influence their long-term success. As Watkins would say, accelerating transition and development to “expedite everyone” helps make organizations better, faster, stronger.

Gordie has taken a very thoughtful approach to supporting my lead-up to day 1 and preparation for the weeks beyond. He has been in touch regularly, connecting me with those who can fulfill my administrative needs (payroll, etc) and initiating the planning process for my first 90 days on the job. He’s been clear and specific about his expectations but has also recognized my strengths and style, creating the space for me to set the course I see fit, while providing careful advice. Finally, Gordie has generously offered encouragement and positive reinforcement for my initial actions, both small and large.

In short, while I know Gordie is extremely busy with his day job, he has shown a commitment to both the Business Council and me by providing strong, intentional leadership during a critical time.

I’m sure as we further develop our working relationship, the frequency and nature of our communications will change, and the balance between Chair and CEO will reach an appropriate equilibrium. But for now, I’m grateful that he has recognized this transition as one deserving of his attention and skill. I’ve learned from him already and expect to continue doing so as my new leadership role unfolds.

Can you think of a transition you’ve been through when strong leadership made a difference? I would love to learn about it in the blog comments!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer student summary of the summer.

Quick, find me in this picture!

I wish I could have fit another word starting with s into that title.

This week is officially my last week as the 21inc summer student. Tomorrow? My last day as the summer student. Gasp! That means it’s time for a summer employment blog post. I found it easier to write this in point form as there was a few different topics I wanted to write about.

Three topics I would like to touch on regarding my summer employment:

1) Worth and value in employment. I don’t know about you, but in my teens (and slightly beyond that) I worked in the food service industry. If you have ever had a job at a fast food place, you know that people tend to come and go. Even though I would go to my place of employment and put in the same amount of effort I would for any other job, I never really felt like I was particularly appreciated for my effort. I didn’t feel like I was of particular value to my employers (Because in their minds, I was just another employee, and employees come and go and can be easily replaced.) At 21inc this summer, I was not only told that I was of worth to the organization but I was shown as much by the projects I was given and the reception to work that I’d done. My opinion is of value, which was shown to me by the fact that Tim would often ask for my opinion on things he was working on (Even if it didn’t have anything to do with what I was working on or design.) I think part of that is due to the fact that I love what I do, but that’s another story. Up until now I didn’t see my own value as an employee/graphic designer because it’d been drilled into my head with years of food service that I was disposable as an employee.

2) Social and economic development, social innovation, politics and public policy. Up until I started working at 21inc these were topics that I did not know much about. I would not say that I’m now an expert on any of those subjects, but they were ones that would come up often in office conversation and it was something that I found quite interesting. Up until now my conversations with people generally involved the ‘hey-how’s-it-going’ type questions, talk about entertainment, and the occasional debate on a philosophical question (If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound?) For some reason politics and current events (and particularly, what was going on the province) were never topics that came up. But now when people talk about these topics I at least listen (Sometimes I feel like I don’t know enough to express an opinion) because it’s actually a lot more interesting to me than I thought it would be.

3) Learning experiences. From the beginning Tim said that he wanted me to take any opportunity to learn something new that would help me be a better designer or help my portfolio. In my time at 21inc I’ve done two print design projects. I’m a graphic designer but my training is for screen based graphic design. Some aspects of print design were touched on at school so I still felt like I knew what I was doing, but it was still a big learning experience. Another big thing I learned was about communication – Things like explaining software to someone who doesn’t know as much about it, about the importance of including notes on what things I’m aware that need to be fixed on draft documents, asking for a second opinion, and so on and so forth. And using the phone instead email. I learned about work plans and project outlines, and planning projects. Tim would also frequently encourage me to think a little deeper about why I was designing something, and the purpose of it, and how I should integrate all those things together. And to think about how we (21inc) communicate ourselves to the general public. It’s not that I didn’t think before I started here, I just did not give those aspects of design a lot of thought. And those are very important aspects of designing anything (Which they don’t emphasize as much in school, I find)

On top of all the greatness that I have already mentioned, this was also a really fun job. I got to do something I loved, and I worked with awesome people and an awesome organization. There was never a dull moment in the office.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Post - Jenn Dysart

When I think of moments when I’ve experienced true leadership - the kind that strikes you as though you’ve seen an artist at work - several faces come to mind: my grandfather, a community activist, a Haida elder. I have witnessed leadership displayed in very different ways, and I have learned that specific situations call for a specific leadership style.

A few years ago, while living in Zambia, I met Mr. Noah Hamapa. Mr. Hamapa was a tall, gentle middle aged man and father of 9 children. His family took me in as their own while I lived in their community, feeding me, showing me how to wash my clothes by hand, and teaching me about life in their country. Mr. Hamapa was a well respected man, not because of wealth, but because he was calm and wise. Often you could find people from the church at his house, looking for advice. One story that stands out for me when asked about a time when I’ve experienced leadership, involves Mr. Hamapa and his best friend Mr. Mbewe.

The two men saw each other almost every day. Mr. Mbewe was treated like he was a part of the family. They had known each other for years, and their children and wives were also close friends. Neither family had very much money, but each would offer support when the other was in need. That’s why, when Mr. Hamapa realized that Mr. Mbewe had stolen money from him one day, people were shocked. Mr. Hamapa had an entire household to feed, and couldn’t afford to have money taken from him. But, instead of accusing his friend and demanding his money back, Mr. Hamapa stayed quiet. He sat his family down and explained to them why they would be short on money that week, but they never saw a change in his attitude toward his old friend. When one of his children asked him about this, Mr. Hamapa told him, “No amount of anger from me could match the shame that Mr. Mbewe feels. He had his reasons for doing what he did, and I have faith in his character”. I couldn’t believe his response. I realized that I had just witnessed a leader choosing to exercise compassion and faith and acting as a model for his family.

I think the main reason that this story stayed with me is that I feel a leader often has to make difficult decisions they feel are right – regardless of other’s reactions to them.


Jenn Dysart is an alumni of the 2009 21 Leaders program

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

La vue dans l'arrière-cour

Peu importe où vous demeurez dans les provinces atlantiques, dans moins de quelques heures en voiture ou en sentier, vous vous trouvez face à une vue comme celle-ci (Cape Split en Nouvelle-Écosse).

C’est vraiment pas pire comme place!

Prenez le temps de ressentir la brise de la mer, et de découvrir votre p'tit coin d'pays.