Saturday, November 3, 2012

Finding what I am looking for.

I remember very clearly the day my boss asked me to be creative outside of my job.  I remember thinking, "wow, you really don't get it, do you". I knew that day that I still hadn't found what I was looking for.

For 20 years, my teachers were executives of corporations in complex structures and politics of various types, including small p politics between departments, and capital-p politics in government.

I traversed the corporate jungle, learning how to manage relationships, make friends, and influence people.  I even took the course.

I became very good at understanding the body language of my CEOs as they managed these large structures. I knew what they needed to say, and what they needed to hear, and I gave them the words that would appease them, inform them and please them. 

I believed it was important work, and it was, relatively speaking. At one time, I believed the pinnacle of my career would be an executive position in a large corporation.  I reached that place, but the view wasn't what I thought it would be. 
In 2011, I made the decision to leave that world in search of a new world where creativity, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation would be the norm, not the exception. Where the business is the reason, and not the door to some political agenda.  Where goals are tangible and measurable on a daily basis.

I ventured into the world of private enterprise. I started a business - Lynear Thinking -  to offer my 20 years of strategy and communication skills to private business owners, operators and entrepreneurs. My goal was to help them get somewhere - to help them find what they were looking for. So I ventured into this world that admittedly I knew very little about.

I learned that although I could manage the corporate world with ease, I knew nothing about the world of the entrepreneur, even though I was on the journey toward becoming an entrepreneur.

There are distinct differences between the corporate world and the business world.
  • In the corporate world, dollars and cents are really just indicators of success.  In the entrepreneur's world, dollars and cents are deal breakers.  
  • In the corporate world, the consequences of poor customer satisfaction are not directly and immediately linked to the bottom line.  In the entrepreneur's world, customer satisfaction is the bottom line because it is the difference between making the sale or not.  
  • In the corporate world, employee satisfaction and development are again distant indicators of a company's success or failure. In the private sector world, employee satisfaction and development have an immediate effect on the customer's buying decision.
There were some challenges along the way, both financial and non-financial. Here is what I learned and practice.

1.  Invest wisely. Starting a business takes financial investment. The challenge is to maintain overhead at a manageable rate while investing where the money is needed.

2. Connect with people.  Loneliness is a factor that I had to overcome. Entrepreneurs tend to the chief cook and bottle washer, so we spend a lot of time alone.  That's not good. I had to find a community of people like me.  That was harder than it seemed. In my search for community, I have found people like me - people who left the corporate world in search of one that is more satisfying and personally meaningful. We can share our expertise and help each other.   

3. Feed your soul. I dedicated myself to the belief that if I was doing good things, good things would happen. So I got involved and offered my services - gratis - to community organizations doing good things. I believe that giving is good for the soul. It helps me to stay grounded with a solid sense of purpose. There are many upsides to helping non-profits besides money. The contacts and the relationships are excellent. The work of the non-profit tends to be higher profile and shows others what you can do. 

4. Be relentless.  Relentlessness is also an important quality because it gets me through the days when I feel most lost. People are more likely to help those who help themselves. So on the days when I felt like it was futile and that I should just get another corporate job, I reminded myself of why I was on this path, and what I would give up by giving up.

6. Learn the business. I learned about pricing and proposals, when to fold and when to fight for it.  Things started to take hold and people started to notice me.  When that happened, the work started coming. 

7. Create stars whereever you go. I treat my customers like they are gold, because they are to me.  I give them the best of me to help them to be successful and the stars they are. 

In October 2012, I purchased SKY Magazine, a five year old publication that is all about celebrating entrepreneurial vision and living well in Saskatchewan. SKY is about discovering the talented business people and the products and services they offer so that we can live well. Through SKY, I am able to help connect my clients to their customers.  

Every day I find what I am looking for in the stories of the entrepreneurs who love what they do and take pride in how they do it. Living close to the entrepreneurial ledge, I see time and time again those who are successful show integrity, take care of business and treat their customers and employees with the utmost respect. Those that don't, don't.

This is the world that I set out to discover. I have found the entrepreneurs, and you can read about them on the pages of SKY Magazine. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs: W100 |

Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs: W100 |

Note to self. Contact every single one of these people and find out what makes them successful.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Strategy to Run with the Elephants

I have a theory about elephants and mice that drives my business strategy.  You may have read about it here, but in case you haven't it goes something like this.

Elephants represent big business that have complex requirements as a result of their governance structure, shareholder needs, regulatory requirements and expansive bottom lines.  Elephants tend to move slowly as corporate business does, but they have a huge impact on the environment with every step they take.

Mice on the other hand represents the small to mid sized businesses.I like to refer to them as emerging and decidedly nimble enterprises, since their resources are more limited than their elephantine counterparts. Being small and nimble has its advantages when it comes to making decisions and taking advantage of opportunity in the marketplace. The issue that they face is one of capacity, often related to people and money.

So what's a mouse to do, I asked, upon noting this observation. How can I help?
After a year and a half of working in the private sector both as an entrepreneur and a consultant to private businesses, I have refined my own business plan and launched it in my new self-created website at 

According to research, business is business and the number one cause for failure is inability to access the resources need to run small and mid sized businesses.  Strategic planning, communications and marketing are the top 3, followed by accounting and financial management, human resources, and legal services.  

Back to the question at hand:  How can I help?  The cost of services is often prohibitive because of one word: overhead.  Many service providers simply have enormous costs that must be captured in the work they deliver. These kinds of organizations can serve the elephant market well, but they do not serve the small and mid sized market well.

I decided to be a "decidedly nimble" company having rolled with the elephants for many years.  I have a penchant for emerging businesses and the entrepreneurs who live by their vision.

My strategy is one of economies of scale and providing professional strategy and communication services at "MICE" sized rates. I can also access other professionals who provide high quality products and services that this business sector needs to run with the elephants and not get trampled.

Please visit website and contact me if you are planning to get somewhere.

Monday, October 1, 2012

We gotta get out of this current state.

I have been thinking about skies quite a bit lately.  Some may think I am day dreaming, others may wonder what I see up there in the wild blue yonder. It's not just thin air up there. In fact, the sky in my world is a very busy place.

Maybe I have had always a fixation with the sky because I was born in Saskatchewan in the land under the sun in the city that rhymes with fun.

I spent the majority of my happiest and most free times on our farm just near Westbend, Saskatchewan.

I am claustrophobic, which I believe is nature's way to telling me that I was not meant for a cage.

Nature would be correct. I am not a fan of cages or any form thereof. That includes the word no. I prefer how. I like change and I don't usually wait around for it. I am impatient and someone would say intolerant of ambiguity. I like clarity. I like precision.  And I like the feeling of the open air on my skin.

Admittedly I am feeling a little claustrophobic these days. I have this urge to take to the sky in search of new air, new possibility and new experiences.  My eyes are fixed outward on the horizon because I feel the walls closing in on me as I write.

Yes, changes are in the air and I don't expect to spend much time on dry land, as it were. My first e-book titled, "How to be a Pink Flamingo in a Brown Duck Pond" is now written and moving into the publishing stages.  There is much branding, marketing and social media planning to do. As I become a publisher there will be new things to learn and new lines of business to explore, including the launch of a new project about living in one's true colors, whether one is a pink flamingo or a brown duck. Also on my list are to incite a small business revolution and become famous.

Yes siree. I am in search of new air.  A set of wings would be nice. I should check online.

P.S.  If you are planning to get somewhere, you might want to give me a call.  Maybe we can book seat sale and fly outa the current state together.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Measures: Good or Evil

Back in my days as a corporate planner, our department used to joke about whether we would use our powers for good or evil that day. We used to assign good and evil days.  On Week 1, Monday, Wednesday and Friday were good, and Tuesday and Thursday were evil.  Then we would switch the rotation the next week.

We would joke about it and then go off to meet our clients to help them unravel the mysteries of their respective universe, because that was our job. We held in our hands, and by the power vested in us, the responsiblity of helping to make things better in the world of work.

One of the mysteries of the universe leaders face is that of measures. Usually questions like how many, which ones, how to use them and how to measure them come into play.  

But there are other questions about leadership integrity that are not so easy, or popular, to ask. Is the leadership measuring to reveal issues and opportunities, or measuring to hide them? Are the leaders up to the challenge of finding the truth in the issues, or hiding the truth?

On the question of leadership integrity, 99.9% of the time, the answers to the questions of are: yes, no, yes, no. 

I have always been an advocate that measures in balanced scorecards hold the key to universal harmony in the business when the measure expresses the intent to improve a given situation.

If this were expressed in a linear process, it would look like this:
  1. Describe your Big Hairy Audacious Goal 
  2. Set Objectives 
  3. Research to find out what the current state looks like and the issues 
  4. Establish strategy to resolve the issue with desired and specific measurable outcomes. 
  5. Communicate it and make sure everyone understands, is on side, and ready to roll. 
  6. Implement. 
  7. Measure against the strategy.  
  8. Report 
  9. Begin again . . .
Properly chosen measures inform the decision makers about important trends that could be occurring so that decision makers can determine the course of action.   Measures are used to gauge the performance of a given strategy and strategies are employed to create a desired outcome.  

For example, if the objective is to increase employee morale, and actions are taken, the measures should tell the story of whether the strategy and its application are working or not. 

In this scenario, if employee satisfaction measured before the strategy was 52% and 49% after the strategy, one might surmise the following: 
  1. That not enough time as lapsed for the strategies to take hold.
  2. That the strategies are counter productive to the objective. 
  3. That perhaps the issues are misunderstood and a new strategy is needed.
In my experience, if the executive is truly concerned about the actual issues behind the results, and the measure is used for "good"  then the outcome (49%) would not be a surprise because they would know whether the strategy is having any impact at all prior to measurement. They would be adjusting the strategy progressively to create a sustainable and positive impact.   

To continue the analogy of "good versus evil", sometimes measures are used for the latter. That is to say, sometimes measures are set for appearances, but with no intention of making a difference.

Employers who are in this camp may change the measure as opposed to the strategy and possibly justify their decision by saying that the measure was not the correct measure, or the measurement tool was all wrong, or that the receivers of the strategy were out of line in some way. 

A shell game ensues at this point making the truth hard to discern. If the measurement tool were based on the strategy, then the measure is of the strategy itself, and the creators of the strategy are by design guilty or to be celebrated for their strategy, except when external reasons are affixed to its failure, in which case, neither the measure, nor the strategy, nor their creators are responsible for its failure.

The problem with this line of reasoning is this: every strategy assumes the environment can shift, so it is expected that the strategy adjusts to these challenges.  Failure to adjust is a failure to lead. 

Sometimes strategy measures reveal uncomfortable findings, such as lack of trust in leadership and lack of communication regarding direction. These are clearly top leadership issues. Findings of this nature create an opportunity to prove leadership integrity.

Enter the good and evil conundrum and the role of governance accountability. Given that human beings can make mistakes from time to time, it begs the question, where does the final word come from on the measures of the company?

According to good governance practice, the governing body accountability (Board, Shareholder, etc.) has a responsiblity to ask questions about the actions of the leadership team and its strategies, and to make the changes in leadership when strategies continue to deliver ineffective results. This is called Performance Management. 


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Business Planning: What horses know that cowboys don't.

I love working with entrepreneurs and start ups for one reason. It is a time of absolute freedom and possibility. Like a horse running free, we stretch our imagination on the open road of what's next. It is exhilarating, exciting, terrifying and rewarding.

When we start a business, we first tend to focus on the product or service that we think we should be delivering. Our focus is on how to make money.  So we put our energy into getting the product into the market and find customers who want to buy it or use the service we are offering.

At the end of the day, that exercise of developing the menu of products, services and prices does not a business make.

The business is made by the way it is constructed - with the vision of a defined future in mind.

I always say that a business should be built in its desired state from the beginning. For example, if you envision centre of well being and wellness, then the business plan must be about what would sustain that centre in its envisioned state as opposed the "here and now".

It needs to tell the story in a progressive and logical manner that begins at the end with the vision, expresses the day to day focus (the mission), the way the participants interact and act (values) and how it stands out in the market place (strategic positioning).

The plan must explain the environment in which the business functions so that risks and opportunities can be identified.  The plan must have goals that focus on the areas that will make the business successful - like its people and culture, focus on clients, business management and financial sustainability. Within each goal, measures are set, risks are identified, objectives are set and strategies formulated.

Plans are road maps that chart the future course and help you to control and manage your money and your message, and inspire your staff, your customers, your suppliers and maybe even your mother.

Some people say the plan is in their head. To that I say, that's great if you don't need anyone else to work it with you.

Others try to run their business cowboy style and hope for the best with no vision, strategy or structure.  That's a bad idea. Failure is imminent because customers, suppliers and employees will revolt, your time and money will begin to work against you, your quality and product will suffer, and then the bottom line crashes.

So before you get on that horse and ride, remember that starting at the end is the only way to begin in order to create a business that has a chance of being successful.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Time travelling on open roads and stubble.

I like open roads, blue skies, the smell of dirt, the feeling of my boots sinking in the dirt after a rain, the smell of a fresh green growth and the crunch of stubble in the fall. 

I have a penchant for white steeples against the blue sky and the sight of an open field takes my breath away every time.  

My inspiration for the endless sky comes from the rural playgrounds of Saskatchewan. From this place called West Bend, Saskatchewan where I spent my summers as a child with my grandparents, my parents and my brother and sister, I learned to think big.

I remember running through the fields of wheat at harvest, chasing chickens, gathering eggs and playing ship on an old hay wagon that sat in the middle of our farm yard. 

To this day, I can't pick up an egg without remembering my grandmother's directions: "slide your hand under the chicken, palm up, then gently turn your hand and take the egg".  

Sadly, some of us never get to see these places as more people have moved into the cities over the years. West Bend, once a bustling town is now very small in population. Nevertheless, these towns and villages are the patchwork of our history that was borne out of hardship, horizons and freedom.

This hankering for freedom has been with me as long as I can remember, which I why I was never very good at jobs that confined me to a desk or a single activity. My work has been about helping business owners, entrepreneurs, founders, corporations and non-profits reach out and touch the future, and write about it so that others could see it too. 

That's why I do strategy. It's all about not only seeing the horizon, but reaching out and touching it. It's about bringing people together to make things happen. It's about asking why, and how. It's about seeing the big picture and making connections and adding new dimensions.  

I would love to plan in an open field.

I do bring the open sky into my planning.  I take my planners into a journey of tomorrow, today.  We stand in the future, and speak about it in the present tense. But we are not dreaming. We are stretching and we are realistic. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. The things that work. The things that don't. The things that will be, and what we need to do to make that happen. 

Not only is it an exciting way to move forward, it is the only way to move forward.

My next adventure is to explore the world of community based planning and economic development to work with cities, towns and community based businesses  to find their new horizons.

Gone are the days of secret strategy sessions and closed door meetings.  These days, people are engaged in the decisions that our elected officials and business leaders make.  We want to understand how they got there, why, who was consulted, what they thought and why, what were the options, what was chosen and why.

This is apparent in the stadium announcement at Saturday's Saskatchewan Roughrider Game where we heard we will have a new stadium in Regina by 2017.  Of course we cheered. We love the Saskatchewan Roughriders and we love to watch them play. In fact, most of Canada loves them, so share the love. But getting there was tough slugging. I think our politicians and bureaucrats heard the message loud and clear.

But community based planning is not just for the stadiums and football teams. Community based planning is about creating viable futures that are socially, environmentally and economically responsible and sound.

Strategy is a conversation to be had with the people who have a stake in the future, so it's not meant to hide in a board room. Nor is the point to produce a document that never sees the light of day.

This is about inspiration. Engagement. Possibility. Performance. Alignment. Clarity.  Strategy is an exciting conversation for real people, who really care about the future, and who want to be part of making it happen.  

I am so lucky.  I get to help make those conversations happen. There is nothing like seeing the light of possibility shine when we open our eyes to it and dare to time travel over the open roads and stubble into tomorrow. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do you have vision, or a craving for cheese cake?

There are times when I actually see a flash of brilliance in an entrepreneur's vision that goes beyond mere money and material growth to making the world a better place. When this happens, I know exactly why I love helping bring great ideas to life.  

I get excited about vision because quite often it is desire that shows up to the meeting.  So how do you know if you have a desire, or a vision?  Here are some indicators. 

Vision perseveres.
Desire cuts in and out, like a love / hate relationship with chocolate and cheesecake. 
Vision finds a way. 
Desire wants to know the way. 
Vision is the inspiration from which everything flows. 
Desire needs to be justified, manufactured, defined and aligned. 
Vision is about making a difference in the world. 
Desire is often defined as something material, earthly and in some way individually cathartic. 

In the past 20 years of working with organizations who are either in search of the light, defining the light or following the light, I have found that good thinkers, good thinking and good intentions almost always leads to great visions. 

Leadership is about having vision, and visionaries are not necessarily the promoted. It is also not true that all leaders via position on the org chart are leaders. Organizational performance structures and top - down leadership styles tends to exclude real visionaries from coming forward. Top down hierarchical structures can foster an environment of control. Control leads back to desire, and desire wants what desire wants, hence we begin to feel a sense of entitlement. And so the story goes. Companies inject employee satisfaction tactics when all they really need to do is lead and inspire with vision. 

'Finding visionaries is not that easy.  But when I do come face to face with a true visionary who has a desire to make a difference in people's lives, that's the sweet spot where the sun shines the brightest. When I have experienced this, I know that I have seen a rare light, and everything else thereafter dims in comparison.

Mama always told me not to look into the eye's of the sun.

But mama, that's where the fun is.

 - Manfred Mann's Earth Band. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thumper's Rule for On-Line Etiquette

When I am researching a topic, or helping a client with a communication plan, I often research the on-line chatter to discern what the issues might be that are not often communicated in formal communications, like news releases. Reading some of these comments can be akin to watching a train wreck.

These days, there are thousands of ways to get an opinion out there in the blink of an eye. I am often taken aback by what people will say without understanding the impact their words might be having.

Expletives are not the worst of it. I have read comments that people should be fired or publicly humilated in some way.  The comments that make me wince are those that demand we end a person's life, or assume people are lazy and deserving of suffering.

In the world wide web of never ending access to information and communication, it is important to remember that what we say on-line lives on forever, and chances are, the commenter does not have the full picture at hand to make an intelligent, helpful comment.

Regardless of the fact that we may be interacting with the world in a room by ourselves with a computer and keyboard or a 1 x 2 square inch screen on a smart phone, it is important to remember that we are all connected as people and what we say may be personal and hurtful to someone. I wonder if the people who leave these comments would say the same thing if the person they were affecting was sitting in front of them.

There is a rule of thumb in communication that I learned when I was about five years old.  It precedes the Internet and it goes like this:

"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all".  - Thumper

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Virtues of a rock and a rolling stone

Ponder the virtues of a rock. It is an inanimate, non living thing that seems to just sit there. Not so, says the rock. Rocks erode, crack, crumble and wash away. They become mountains, and then filter streams. Rocks are the sands upon which we walk. Rock causes quakes. They destroy and they protect. There is no such thing as a good rock or a bad rock; a rock does not decide. It just is. And we accept that and respect its power.

People are made of flesh, bones, hearts and souls. Our existence is both fragile and powerful. Unlike the rock, we can take some control over our change. We can decide what we want to change to and from. We can decide what we want to accept or not. We can decide what to put into our mouths. When to exercise. What to read. What to think. Who to like and who to ignore. We have the power to walk away from a bad situation, and the power to stay.

People have the power to alter another person by the things that are said and done, and we each have the power to choose how it affects us. The only thing we cannot control is time and the fact that every day we get older. But we are powerful, more powerful than the rock.

The thing about people, however, is that we seem to lack knowledge of ourselves. We all know someone with untapped potential. We all know that we ourselves feel that way. Unlike the rock, we are capable of feeling fear. Some philosophers refer to this as ego. As mere mortals, we are flawed, imperfect and fraught with the free will, such that we can create havoc or heaven for our self and others.

I like to think that most people aspire to be good people who act with the best intentions. I like to believe that we are all in this together. But sometimes things happen that can weaken us and test our resolve. That's when we demonstrate our the virtue of a rock.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I ain't no template girl.

The other day, somebody asked me for a planning template, to which I replied, no thank you.

The truth is, planning templates are available literally at your finger tips.  So fill your boots, I say, because there are thousands of them at your disposal on the world wide web.

But here's what the template experience looks like, in case you are wondering.

You sit down to your computer, cat at your side and best intentions.  You download the template and you begin.

The introduction tells you all about the benefits of the business plan - creating a clear path for the future, mapping out goals, objectives and targets and a sprinkle of initiatives, topped off by a healthy and satisfying budget.

The first section asks for your vision.  You stare at it, your fingers grazing the keyboard, in search of a thought. Something grandiose.  A cause worth fighting for. Something that will get you out of bed in the morning. Something in the neighborhood of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

You google "Vision", and lines and lines of vision references pop up about how to create visions and great visions of our time. You read about them and their dreams, and you think, what the heck is mine? What does this have to do with cupcakes or fixing cars? Who needs a vision anyway, you say to yourelf. I just want to sell cupcakes or build cars.

It wants to know your Mission now.  What the heck is the difference between a vision and mission, you ask yourself.  You google mission.  A myriad of references pop up on your screen. Wikipedia says it is a grape, a practice, a statement and a style of furniture. Sigh.

Values.  That's easy. The top three that you heard your former boss talk about fall from your mind to your finger tips - honesty, integrity, respect.  Eager to fill in blanks, you go on.

Goals. Objectives. Measures. Targets.  What is the difference? How do I know, you ask. You walk away, frustrated.

Later, someone asks you for a business plan, and you say, "Oh, yea, we are working on it". The fact is, "we" are stuck and in "our" own way.

Here's the problem and the solution.

First, we think creating a business plan is a one time event. Business planning is a process. Rarely do we sit down and bang it out. There is work involved.

While a template tells what the components of a plan are, it does nothing more than that. Creating a business plan is not facilitated by a template. You actually need a facilitator - someone to guide the process, challenge your thinking, and help you in the documentation process.

Business plans are technical documents that represent your business mind. To put the best foot forward, I would recommend using a business planning facilitator who actually knows how to get from A to Z, from Aspirations to the bottom line and who can bring in experts as needed, such as accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

Your business planning facilitator should have a resume of having created actual business plans for numerous organizations. If you need a business plan, and you and your template are not getting along, give me a call. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to be a Ninja Mouse.

With all the hoop-la these days about being an entrepreneur, we are glamorizing the concept to the point of not telling the truth. So here it is.

An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business who makes money through risk and / or initiative. Being an entrepreneur is frightening, lonely and risky. There are real life changing opportunities and risks at hand when one embarks on a new business venture.

But still we forge ahead, fueled by that feeling deep within our gut that calls out to us to be . . . . .  

The entrepreneur's quest is always inspiring. We aspire to be financially successful, unique, innovative, creative and doing work that is meaningful and worthwhile.  Magazines articles about real life entrepreneurs tell stories about people who followed their love and found success.  

Nobody aspires to be poor, mediocre, same old, same old, stuck in a run, trapped in a job you hate, and bored to death.  But somewhere along the way, that is exactly what can happen, and this once inspiring adventure becomes a ball and chain. Sometimes we exhaust our personal resources, burn out, or bail out.  

Statistics say that 80% of small business owners give up within 5 years.  I can see that. Even in a well established corporation, five years is a long time. For the entrepreneur, that can mean five years of dipping into family time and money, working long days and nights juggling managing, creating, delivering, marketing, and innovating.  

So how do the successful entrepreneurs do it?  How do they move from mice to elephants?  How did Bill Gates go from a computer lab being one of the richest people in the world? How did Mark Zuckerberg know that Facebook would revolutionize the way we interact?  

Both of these super ninja entrepreneurs were essentially at the right place at  the right time, with the right idea and the right support. 

Using the analogy of mice and elephants to compare small business to big business, mice are nimble and can move like ninjas, where as elephants are not. Mice can turn on a dime; elephants, not so much.  

But mice and elephants both require the same skill sets to be successful.  The difference is that elephants have the resources at hand, and mice tend not to.  

For example, every business needs expertise in accounting, technology, marketing, strategy, communications, human resources and operations. In a large corporation, this combination of skills comprises most executive teams. 

The challenge for mice is to be resourceful to take advantage of their ninja-like capabilities. There is no rest for us if we are carrying the weight and responsibility of a large organization without the resources. Eventually we become exhausted, frustrated and paralyzed. As one of my readers put it, "I feel like the elephant, and I can't move". 

We tell ourselves stories that keep us going and we read Inc. Magazine relentlessly studying great entrepreneurs and wonder what's wrong with us. When we feel like we are sinking, we quote what I call entrepreneur dogma: "I would rather work 20 hours a day for myself than 20 hours a day for someone else", and "I am investing in my future", and my favorite, "but I am free".  

We are the architects of our own misery when we do not tell the truth about what is keeping us up at night.   

The truth is, we are afraid because of what's at risk. There. I said it.  Fear of losing everything. Fear of failure. Fear of others perceiving us as failures.  The good news is, these fears are legitimate and possible for businesses of all sizes and types, so why not talk about it? What keeps us trapped in this spin cycle?

Brutal honesty is the only way.  Failure is imminent when we go into business with our eyes shut.  Anyone who says differently is not being honest.  Understanding risk is about seeing the road ahead in 2020. 

As an extrovert, it has been my experience that starting a business is L.O.N.E.L.Y.  I believe we spend too much time alone and in our own heads, so we are not in the practice of talking about these issues. We work out of home offices, telling ourselves we need to keep the overhead low.  As a result, we don't ask for help, nor do we have the network of helpers that those working in corporate settings do.  So we sit alone on our island and wait for our ship to come in. But that only happens in the movies. 

I believe that there are some things we, the mice, can do to overcome the perils and become the ninja mice that we are deep down inside:  
  • First, we need to create a community of our own, where people of common values and complimentary skill sets can work together  and help each other. 
  • Second, we need to get out of our home offices and share professional space and management services so that we can focus on the real work on creating something that adds value to the lives of people such that they will part with their time and /or money to have it. 
  • Third, we need to take time to incubate the idea instead of jumping to execution and working like a dog to keep up before we know where we are going. 
  • Fourth, we need to create a plan that will take us to that place and allow ourselves to explore that which does not yet exist. 
  • Fifth, we need to evolve our ideas and grow in a managed way as mice, not elephants.  

Heed the Free: A Philosophy for the Future that Leaves ROE in its Dust

On Thursday May 10, Heed the Free hit the runway as an emerging designer in Regina, Saskatchewan during the province's first ever Fashion Week.

Its creator, Sara Armstrong, is one of our own. Sara is twenty-three years old and currently working and living in Vancouver, Canada.

Born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, she is an installation artist and designer with a sustainable focus. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2010 from the University of Regina, with a major in sculpture and inter media. Sara has shown and sold work in galleries across Saskatchewan.

She moved to Vancouver in September of 2010 to begin a career in Fashion. In April of 2011, Sara partnered to launch an Eco-apparel knitwear brand called, Motel June.

In September of 2011, Sara graduated with a Fashion Design diploma from Blanche Macdonald. Her design was featured on the cover of the magazine and in billboards and posters.

Her new line, Heed The Free, is up-cycled and re-purposed. She describes it as an Eco-couture conundrum, with a goal to serve a new market in exploring Eco-fashion.

Her voyage thrives upon child-like curiosity, a love affair with the handcrafted, and the Emersonian spirit. Heed the Free is fiercely independent with a goal of inconsistency as opposed to the consistency of mass production. Heed the Free is about learning and celebrating change and transformation in discovering, composing, decomposing, and reconstructing the old into the new.

Heed the Free carries a message of Planetary sustainability, love, peace and knowledge. Armstrong is dedicating 50% of her profits to the Rainforest Conservation Foundation. 

Heed the Free, along with the collection of designers and models who walked the runway last week carry another message about the Saskatchewan's future that bears heeding.
Along with the pride that I felt watching my daughter's collection walk the runway, and hearing the cheers from the crowd, I couldn't help but be impressed and inspired by the organization, quality of the event and the talent that hails from our province under sun.

Saskatchewan Fashion Week is an example of how things get done here in Saskatchewan, and the power of a vision that is nurtured and brought to life.

Directors Chelsea O'Connell, Candyce Fiessel and Chris Pritchard created a business plan that inspired volunteers, designers and audiences to come together and share in the artistry of our province's people.

I was inspired and proud knowing that these artists with business savvy are people of Saskatchewan whose passion inspired thousands and brought Saskatchewan to a place we had never been before.

I couldn't help but think about how important it will be to sustain this momentum of the arts so that designers and artists like Sara can have a career and a future here, and be proud to talk about Saskatchewan as the place where it all began for them.

In these times of economic review, we need to continue to nurture the arts and the artists for it is they who possess a vision that others can see too. Artists have the power to tell a story that numbers and Return on Equity measures never will.

Decision makers need to remember that there is more to a future than what a balance sheet can communicate.  Without heart, soul and vision, there is no future and no way to inspire. If anything, we need to continue to promote the arts and support the industry with the business tools that it needs to be successful and viable into the future rather than eliminating them.

Visit to find out more about Heed the Free.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sex Sells for Plumbers, Planners and Communicators

Plumbing, planning and communications professionals have something in common.  Our job is to save potential embarrassment, clean up costs and help offset other forms of unfortunate nastiness. We manage that which flows downhill. It's not sexy but it's necessary.

There is one distinction between plumbers, planners and communicators. In the world of plumbing, it's pretty clear as to why you need a plumber.

It's not always clear as to why you need a planner and a communicator.

As a planner and communicator, my job is to create the elements that ensure a smooth operational flow of your business and help you get the message out.

Business plans describe why you exist in the first place, where you are going, who you are serving, your goals, and the strategies and tactics that will take you there. You say, "but I already know that, why do I need to write that down".

To that I answer, you and your business affect your family, your employees, your suppliers, your community, and your banker.  If you do not have a plan that considers the full implications of your life, then chances are something is out of balance, including your finances, your family life, your health and your future.

The business owner must think of her life's business in cycles. In the start up phase, there is investment of time and resources that is subtracted from time and resources from your family. The start up phase is tenuous and full of questions and risk. Most entrepreneurs are technicians.  They begin working at what they are good at without having business skills or the time to develop those skills. They need to be delivering the product, marketing, creating and visioning, and taking care of administrative demands. According to Industry Canada, 80% of start ups and small businesses fail because they are not good at business, and do not acquire the professional skills because they don't know what they don't know.

If the business does progress to the next phase, and employees are hired, the need for management expertise increases as complexity increases. Consider the following:

  • People and Culture. Job descriptions, performance plans, and benefits helps keep people on track, and engaged. 
  • Product Innovation.  Your product needs to be competitive and responsive. You need to keep your eye on what's next and make decisions as to how you respond.  
  • Effective Operations.  The way you get things done becomes your reputation. You need to manage suppliers, and ensure our business is being run responsibly. Policies, processes and procedures help keep things on track and moving in the right direction. 
  • Financial Security. As you move into the succession cycle, you need to think about the legacy of your life's investment, and who will take it over.

Business plans are used to create budgets, not the other way around. Putting a budget in front of a business plan is like starting a race at the end, rather than the beginning. It is putting the cart in front of the horse. Putting a budget in front of a business plan is the sure fire way to kill innovation, imagination, creativity and risk. It is short term thinking.

Yes, creating a business plan is time intensive, terrifying and not fun. It is hard work to define what it is you do and why others would be interested in your big idea.  It requires in depth market research and an in depth investigation of your competitors to the point of dreaming about them. I guarantee that if you are painstakingly investigating the thousands of companies that are out there doing exactly what you think you do, or want to do, you will become terrified as you come face to face with the reality that you can indeed fail.

At this point, you will probably need a break as your wounded ego will need to heal a bit. Plus, you need to go make some money to fuel your dream. In that healing time, if you are really passionate about what you want to do, you will come to the realization that competitors are only a risk if you are duplicating their offering. That's when the sun begins to shine again, because now you know that you can circumvent the flow of matter by virtue of differentiation.

Once you have a plan in place with clear measurable targets, you need to get creative, concise and brave in communicating it, because once you start getting the word out, your potential customers and your competitors will immediately form a reaction. You will need to be able to answer the question, "so what do you offer" eloquently and in 10 words of less, as if you were being grilled on the  Dragon's Den.

I would like to add a cautionary note: a tag line is not the answer, nor is a funky logo unless you can back it up with something insightful, unique and compelling that fills a gap your customer's mind.

I once attended a business meeting of entrepreneurs who introduced themselves around the table with the name of their company and their tag line. When it came to my turn, I told them I create business plans, and they said, for who? "For you", I said, "For anyone in business and wanting to be in business".  Most of them told me they did not have a business plan.

The bottom line is  plumbing is important, and so is planning your business and communicating it. Most of us need help with this. We need someone to facilitate the process, and keep it moving while we (the entrepreneur) needs time to heal our ego. We need someone to ask the tough questions and take us to those places that we are afraid to see and who can help us create that clear message.

I have never met a successful CEO who was not surrounded by professionals who facilitate the planning, communication and strategy development process.

Admittedly, business planning and purposeful communication are not sexy, nor is plumbing.  But as the CEO of your own making, you quite honestly need this support, whether you know it or not, just like you need a good plumber when the going gets tough.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rebel mouse speak

In the boardroom, I have often felt like I was the only one having the conversation about the power in intention, vision and goals as eyes were glazing over. I was both vindicated and humbled when my 23 year old daughter called to give me the same advice I have been giving my clients.

She had just finished three days of orientation and training with Lululemon Athletica. It was a proud moment for me, because she had learned intuitively in 3 days what many people in the corporate world have difficulty grasping or imagining.

"You need a clear BHAG - do you know what that is? - a big hairy audacious goal - and to set an intention.  How else will you know if what you are doing is taking you along your path if you don't have a path", she explained with a rebellious tone. "Maybe Lynear Thinking is too narrow and too corporate", she said.

The clarity rung so true that cracks started to form. She had seen what I was trying to hide - that I was not being fully authentic about my future aspirations.

I went back to the drawing board of my own business plan, but I changed the experience by changing the language. I asked myself these questions: what would you dare to do if you could not fail?

Immediately my mind took me back to the beginning when I started university with a goal of being a writer and a journalist.  That was my true love then, and continues to be.  Writing is like breathing to me. I write because it puts things into perspective, not just for me, but for others who read it as well. I use journalistic principles of truth and balance in my writing, and I take an objective view to understand the situation, interpret what it means and who is affected.

The second question I asked myself is what do I do that I would do for free. Again, the answers are there in  my daily life. I love to teach yoga inspired fitness classes because for that hour, my goal is help everyone in the class become successful in their own practice.  Physical fitness, wellness and balance are vitally important as it helps me to put life and work into perspective. I also work with two non-profits as a board member.

Finally, I asked, who is there with me?  Again, easy peasy.  The people that I want to work with and spend time with are those who have a desire to get somewhere, to improve their own path and to help others in the community.

The planning process asked me for a 10 year outlook. O.M.G. That makes me 10 years older than I am now. At this point, I begin to panic.  That is not enough time I tell myself.  I waited too long.

After talking myself off the ledge of my own making, I came to the realization that time is what life is all about, for it is the only commodity that we cannot buy back. Time is the great equalizer. What we do with time is what matters.

I confirmed my intention to live and work with passion, and to work through purpose, with purpose.  I set goals to write and publish, building on my love of journalism.  I also set goals to help people reach their goals and shining the light on what is standing in their way, with information and words, and a little zen.

Knowing where you came from and learning from the experience is an important part of moving forward. I know that working for money alone is not as valuable as time.  

Now my time and talent is spent working with organizations with limited capacity but great opportunity. I help them navigate government bureaucracy, plan the way ahead, and develop the means to be successful and competitive in the market place. I am their mouse, if you will, their facilitator. The person that moves them to action.

My work is focused on people who are genuinely trying to get somewhere, and who are secure in the fact that they may not know everything there is to know.

I work for sustainable change with individuals and companies who have a socially and economically viable desire.  Through cooperation and collaboration with others like me who have the talent, professional knowledge and expertise and the desire to help others achieve their goals, we can move elephants. Yes, I am a mouse in the world of elephants. But I am a rebel mouse who can do mean a Chaturanga.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Rook to Queen. Check, Mate.

I love a good game of chess. It's all about strategy and mind mapping. So the recent news of Sask Tourism becoming one of Saskatchewan's newest CIC crowns has me thinking.  

The Government of Saskatchewan's budget included $22 million in efficiency measures as a result of the following:
  • Seniors and children will pay more for drugs, saving $10 million dollars. 
  • The film industry funding has been cut with the winding down of the Film Employment Tax Credit, saving $8 million dollars. 
  • The Enterprise Region Program has been cut, saving another $4 million. The Regina Regional Opportunities Commission (ROCC) funding was reduced. 
The budget giveth, and the budget taketh away, just as the good book says.  We are told a new tourism crown corporation will be created. The Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport says the move is all about aligning tourism with other economic developments in the province. 

In strategy terms, "aligning" is just another word for "restructure". It usually refers to reorganizing current holdings in order to optimize and leverage (take advantage of) competencies and resources and to do more than what is possible in the current structure.   

So let's think for a moment about what other tourism and economic development interests could be "aligned" with the likes of tourism.  

Consider the Revitalization Vision which envisions the development of commercial buildings, condos, entertainment, shopping and a commitment to the arts and sports, brought to life by the entertainment facility, where we can "express ourselves". Put our best artists and performers on display.  A state of the art residential neighborhood will be built to create affordable residential units.  The overall goal is to create mixed income neighborhoods, where we will attract diversity and ethnicity. 

Uploaded by  on Apr 18, 2011
Regina Revitalization project announcement video. 

 (I  hear the Coca-Cola song in my head  . . . "I'd like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love. . .")

Back to business.  Since alignment tends to happen on the current portfolio of economic interests, let's take a quick look at our most treasured and viable economic engines, our Crown Corporations. SaskTel is in the business of telephones and television; SaskPower keeps the lights on. SaskEnergy keeps us warm in the winter and our BBQs glowing in the summer.  STC provides bus service within Saskatchewan, albeit at a loss.  Information Services Corporation keeps the records straight on who owns what, SOCO is all about technology, Sask Gaming is all about entertainment, casinos and tourism and now there is soon to be a corporation dedicated to tourism and other fun stuff that promotes economic interests.    

Now, I am not a betting woman (seriously, I have a $5 dollar limit when it comes to losing money) but I would guess that when it comes to defining fun, the Minister is not referring to our utilities, bus service, technology development or our information. Clearly, these are not fun, but they are necessary, and not to be gambled with.

So in this game of chess, I would venture the next move to be an alignment of crown investments that connect the businesses of fun and tourism to support our economic growth agenda. Maybe then we can recoup the $22 million we lost today (to the power of infinity and beyond), so that we can improve the lives of our seniors, children, create a place for families to live quality lives, where private enterprise businesses generate the balance of economic strength, where neighhoods and schools are safe, where we appreciate and celebrate the arts and the artists, and still be that tourism mecca we so long to be, such that tourists want to come by the busload to spend their time and money here.   Ah strategy. It's always entertaining.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Governance,Gravity, Risk and Jack Rabbits

The word "Risk" has baggage, unless your name is Jack and you can run at a speed of  72 km/h. 

When we think of risk, we think of bad things.  But risk is not bad. Risk is risk. Sometimes you have to take a risk to reap the rewards.  That is the definition of competition, after all. Nobody ever accomplished anything sitting on the couch. Sometimes you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.  

I was reminded of this today as I was driving down the street when a jack rabbit, in full momentum raced across the intersection as I was approaching it.  He was fully tucked, ears back and fully committed to crossing the street.  I saw him, as did the other drivers, and we gave him the right of way.  I thought, now that's what you call taking a risk and having faith.  

But in governance and business, faith doesn't always cut it.  That's where Enterprise Risk Management  comes in.  

ERM is the responsibility of the Board of Directors. It is one of the tools used to inform direction and provide oversight in the achievement of the direction.  And like all things in governance and gravity, what comes up, must come down.  The question is how.  

I implemented an integrated ERM program for a gaming organization.  I researched the industry best practices in ERM and talked to the experts both here in the business community and abroad. My goal was to implement ERM as an integrated function within the organization's governance framework. 

So I began at the board table where the responsibility for the enterprise lies.  My first step was to review the Board of Directors Terms of Reference to ensure ERM had a strategic home.  The Board approved the changes, including assigning the responsibility to a committee.  

From there, the work was focused on creating the program, including the policies, processes and tools. In doing so, I found that education and communication were the first priority because  ERM is a conversation about what could happen, how to take advantage of the opportunities, and how to minimize the threats. 

Establishing a language as part of the process helps to define the words and guide the conversation to reduce the impact of making emotional decisions, or decisions not based on the best information available. 

Inevitably, emotions enter the room with risk is on the table. At that time, it is important to step back and remember that risk is just that.  It is not fear. It is an event that could happen.  "It could rain tonight".  Fear of getting wet or of lightening is the emotional attachment that we bring to the table. 

Moving through the strategy and ERM continuum is an evolutionary process and takes practice.  If an organization's leadership team is fear based and reactionary, then fear will be a motivator.  Fear is not rational, so running an organization with fear leads to some irrational decisions. The other extreme to the fear based culture is that of empathy and arrogance.  Some times, people view the risk discussion as fear mongering, so their minds are also closed to the possibility. Neither is good. 

The facilitator of the process has to take the conversation away from the emotion and into the facts. That's why it is valuable to integrate strategic planning and ERM. The strategy conversation is about possibility and change. And those tend to be good things.  So weaving the "what could happen that could impact our strategy" question into the process helps to soften the fear factor.  

Having the conversation about what could happen, and then backing it up with facts, trends, probability and impact is a good thing.  When we look at the world through a different lens it is like looking at something from someone else's perspective. We usually learn something that we did not know, and we broaden our strategic horizon as a result. 

There are no guarantees in life and in business. We do the best we can and use the best information possible to make the best decisions.  But letting fear into the decision will only limit  possibilities. Think of the Jack Rabbit.  He went for it, and we got out of his way.  Smart rabbit.