Triangle of Change: How To Achieve The Improbable

In 2012 British cycling amazed the world by claiming the prestigious Tour de France and 70% of the Olympic cycling podiums. Never before had an English rider won the Tour de France nor had their cyclists performed so well in the Olympics.

July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader's yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris
July 22, 2012 Team Sky Procycling rider and leader’s yellow jersey Wiggins of Britain cycles during the final 20th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Rambouillet and Paris

At the heart of British cycling is Dave Brailsford. He and his team around him set an ambitious goal. They proclaimed that they would have a British cyclist win the Tour de France in just 5 years of creating the new Team Sky. Continue reading “Triangle of Change: How To Achieve The Improbable”

A challenge! I accept

Barney Stinson Challenge Accepted

I was browsing through books on business and leadership at Chapters and was alarmed at the number of authors who weren’t in business themselves. They were journalists for news agencies like the Wall Street Journal or professors at highly esteemed academic institutions. Wanting to get better at business myself I was looking to read about other entrepreneurs that had experienced similar hurdles to the ones I was facing. I wanted to know the hard learned strategies these entrepreneurs used, not a chapter about the value of discipline and what I ought to do to become a better leader.

Continue reading “A challenge! I accept”

As the captain of your startup are you keeping your ship pointed in the right direction?

Ship wheel steer your startup

It’s funny how things tend to take a shape over time. Like this blog, I can see that it is becoming a kind-of anecdotal story of where we are going with our business and some of the lessons I have learned. That’s not what I had intended with it, but at the same time I don’t mind the direction it is going. I find that the direction of a company tends to take a shape overtime too. But you need to be careful, because if you aren’t the one defining the shape as the company grows, it may take a shape very different from what you would like it to take.

Continue reading “As the captain of your startup are you keeping your ship pointed in the right direction?”

What would you do if you saw a man sitting beside his car at an intersection?

intersection
Intersection | NYC by Navid Baraty on Behance.net

I had to ask myself this question a couple weeks ago. Biking home I passed a man sitting beside his car at an intersection. The only thought that went through my mind was, “That’s strange for him to be parked there, it’s kind of dangerous.” As I pedal past the intersection I heard someone yelling at me, turning around I saw the man at the car gesturing at me. Screeching my brakes to a halt I spun my bike around, waited for a car to pass, and went to see what was up. Turns out that while driving his car this man, now sitting beside the road, suddenly broke out in a sweat became nauseas and pulled over. Through broken breaths he explained that he was completely disoriented, dizzy and needed help. After speaking to a 911 responder on a cell phone a police officer arrived at the scene and I was released to go. As I biked away I had this thought, why hadn’t I stopped, why did I assume he had everything taken care of? I always imagined that in moments of need I would rise to any challenge and be the hero. But I hadn’t done that, instead I had biked right past this guy without stopping.

This got me thinking, what if I needed to make decisions about what I will do before I encountered disasters, rather than hope I will do the right thing when the moment arises. So I did just that, I made a personal choice that the next time I saw someone that looked like they may be in need (even if they are not), I would stop and ask if they needed help.

Well already a few opportunities have arisen in the last week and a half. Again while biking home last week I saw a man lying beside a women sitting in a wheelchair. But this time I braked  to stop and ask if they were alright. I was quickly greeted with two laughs as the man was only adjusting something on the wheelchair. The next week while driving from a meeting I saw a man on the side of the road gesturing to the traffic. As a car drove past I spun my car around and pulled over and asked if they needed help. Turns out they did. They needed jumper cables. Luckily I had some and we were able to start their car.

The moral of the story isn’t that I am a hero. No, it’s that I’m not a hero, yet after making the decision to help first and ask later I’ve found myself responding to opportunities where I would normally have driving past. I think that my change in behaviour is interesting. It has me wondering if we are wired to act on decisions that we have already made, rather than hoping we will make the right decision in the moment. In other words, will indecision lead to inaction and vice versa. Even as I write this I can think of numerous examples where I can see this applying elsewhere, but I won’t write all those thoughts now. Instead I would love to hear your thoughts on this, have you noticed pre-decisions making a difference in your life or business? Or do you think it matters at all?

What do cocoa beans and leadership have in common?

Cocoa Beans
photo from http://whiteplate.blogspot.ca/

I have a colleague who is passionate about chocolate. But not just passionate about consuming it, but radically passionate about where he is consuming it from. I discovered this passion one day after giving him a Mars bar. For the next two days the bar sat unopened on his desk until he could determine without a shadow of a doubt that the cocoa beans were not purchased from plantations that involved child slavery. He could not, and the chocolate was politely returned to me. An interesting conversation followed about the horrific world of child-slavery and African cocoa beans.

The thought that our everyday choices could be impacting the world around us is unnerving. As a business owner I am out there creating products, in my case it is web products, whereas you might be creating products in an entirely different space. And from my perspective the thought that is even more unnerving is that we are relying on consumers to make the ethical decisions. Are we creating a product that is ethical? Or are we making a product that makes it really easy to be unethical? Like the tasty chocolate bars fuelling child slavery. (Not all chocolate bars are made from plantations using child-slavery and Mars Bar may not use child-slavery either).

Some people don’t care about this. I’ve heard the following statement just a couple weeks ago, “First make money, then care about making the world a better place.” I wrote another post on the 10 traits of a leader, which is a summary of a talk given by Dave Olson. One of the points is that you can look around a room and see the leaders by observing where the buck stops. Who is taking responsibility for the problems and doing something about them. That is the leader. When we create products we often avoid the awkward questions and pass the responsibility onto either the consumer or the factory managers? We have the ability to empower people to make good decisions by giving them good products. However, if we aren’t taking responsibility for our product lines then we aren’t being leaders.

With the web we have a huge opportunity to use technology to empower the individual to shape one’s own self. Let’s give people more of the good choices. Let’s be leaders.

You can’t buy authenticity

Club Penguin Founders
Photo by darrenhullstudios.com

Last night was awesome. I got to sit and listen to three guys talk about their journey starting a business and keeping their values in tact. I learned how they made really important, life-altering decisions. Like how Lance, as the original animator of the game, came to the major conclusion to make all the characters in the game penguins. His reasoning? “It was easier to animate a wobble than a walk.” In all seriousness, these three guys Dave, Lance and Lane built a really cool game, Club Penguin, and a really amazing business while keeping their values in tact. I am writing this blog post as much to share their unique story with you, as for myself, just to unravel what I heard with the kinds of questions I face every day.

I want to be part of a business that holds its values highly, doesn’t care about what “normal business” is, and creates a culture where everyone is free to become better. Sitting, listening, to these guys, reminded me just how much I want that. I’m sorry, but I don’t think money is the only goal. I think making money must come secondary to humanity. Every time. These guys really knew their values, and when big decisions came they didn’t have to run numbers and sacrifice their values. They let their values decide.

How many of you have heard the phrase “business is business”. I have, sometimes it feels like I am hearing it weekly. In my opinion it’s a copout. And after hearing these three talk, I really believe it is. It is saying that we don’t need to be accountable for how we are treating people because making more money is the highest priority. It’s sad, but that disease of thinking seems to have penetrated our business culture so deeply.

The founders of Club Penguin, Lance, Lane and Dave, told a very different narrative. They spoke of how they built a company with a culture that cared about each other. It didn’t calculate shares based on numerical value, but based on a fair partnership. When they sold their company to Disney they insisted that their company continue donating a portion of their revenue. When Disney acquired Club Penguin it instantly became Disney’s largest donation department.

When things get stressful or scary we can sometimes feel like we are unqualified to make the right decision. We look around to see what others are doing and we can sacrifice our values for security. Lance Merrifield said that every bad decision he made was when it was made out of fear. Why do we think fear is a good motivator if we make bad decisions when we are afraid? Lets know our values so well that when we are afraid we can stop and ask, does this really align with my core values? Or am I doing this because everyone else is doing it this way? As the old metaphor goes, just because everyone is jumping off a bridge doesn’t make it a good idea.

Club Penguin is an inspiration because they demonstrate that it’s possible to build companies differently. Let’s build great companies without sacrificing our core values. Let’s change the norm of business. One day we are going to look back and money won’t matter. What will matter is our family and how we treated those around us.

Did you know that your body language can make you happier? I didn’t.

Happy Body LanguageLook at these characters from Star Wars. They all look so relaxed and happy, despite the fact they are taking on the Death Star. What if we could feel as relaxed and happy as they do in our stress filled lives. A new Harvard study says that we can, and it has to do with our body language. We have known for a long time that body language influences how we perceive one another. In fact 97% of communication consists of body language. But what we didn’t know was that our body language actually changes how we feel inside as well? An incredible study released by Amy Cuddy, a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, shows just how much our body language can make us feel better or worse.

What Dr. Cuddy surprisingly discovered is that a change in our posture actually changes the levels of coritisol (the stress hormone) and testosterone (the dominance hormone) by a lot. After studying various subjects she found that it only takes 2 minutes of holding either a high power pose or a low power pose to change those levels dramatically. In fact maintaining a high power position for 2 minutes increased testosterone levels by 20 percent. People in low power positions experienced the opposite with testosterone decreasing by 10 percent. Not only that, but, high power people experienced about a 25% decrease in cortisol, reducing their level of stress, whereas low power people experience about a 15 percent increase making them more stressed.

Apparently when people meet in a room we naturally assume either a low power position or a high power one. So what is a high power position versus a low power position? When a person wins a race and they lift their arms and chin in the air, that’s a high power position. Whereas a low power position is when a person crosses their arm or sits folded. Basically a low power position is when a person is making themselves smaller and a high power position is when a person makes themselves bigger.

That means that people who hold high power poses actually are happier, more confident and have less stress! So I guess the lesson here is that if we are conscious of how we posture ourselves we may be surprised by the results. So before you walk into that stressful meeting take 2 minutes to stretch your arms and hold a victory pose in the washroom. When talking to people place your hands on your sides, instead of folded in front of you. You are awesome, when your body language reflects that it will make you feel awesome too.

If you have 20 minutes here’s a video of Amy Cuddy speaking about this at TEDtalks.

10 traits of an amazing leader, you can have

So tonight I attended a brilliant talk on leadership by Dave Olson. When I wasn’t aggressively taking notes I found myself nodding in agreement. Here is a summary of the 10 traits of an amazing leader.

1. It’s where the buck stops

We are all leaders. Some seem to naturally attract people’s respect and ears, for others of us we are in the process of learning the same traits to become great leaders too. When looking for leaders in a room watch where the buck stops. It’s a simple expression, but it means a lot. A real leader finds problems and solves them, they don’t just highlight them for others and pass them on, no they take full responsibility and own them.

Increasing your ability to solve problems is how you grow. Do you want to solve $10,000 problems or $10,000,000 problems.

2. Be decisive

Leaders are clear and confident about their decisions. It’s hard for a team to follow an indecisive leader. As Dave said, “People don’t rally around unless they hear a clear trumpet call!”

3. Adaptability

Adaptability is about more than being flexible and able to change. It is about knowing the difference between things that you can control and things that you can’t. A leader knows how to let go of the things they can’t control and laugh about them.

4. Become a good judge of character

Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice shame on me. As a leader we put people in places of leadership, we need to be able to trust the character of our teammates. Whereas skills can be taught, character is really hard to bring out of somebody. As Dave said, when you have a garden it’s better to uproot weeds early than to let them grow and uproot everything around them when you pull them out.

5. Develop self-awareness

Often times the person we see ourselves as is not the same as the person others see us as. This is a tough skill to develop and sometimes it requires honesty from others, which can hurt a little. Leaders are self-aware and develop inter-personal skills that help the people around them grow. We need to be honest with ourselves so that we can “preach what we practice, not practice what we preach.” When a leader does well he reflects it on his organization and team. When it goes badly he reflects it on himself.

When a leader does well he reflects the success on his team. When a leader does badly he reflects it on himself.

6. The ability to deal with criticism

Criticism is hard to receive. Sometimes it is true, sometimes it is not, often times it is a mix of both. Leaders know what to accept, what to throw away and what to learn from.

7. The ability to deal with flattery

Flattery can be much more dangerous than criticism. A leader knows to be careful of flattery as it can greatly mislead them about the character of the flatterer and lead to some bad decisions. As Dave stated, “If you believe criticism it will depress you, if you believe the flattery it will destroy you.”

8. Become great at communication

Leaders have the ability to rally people to a better future. They know how to communicate vision. A leader must be clear on outcome and focus, but not on all things. They need to give followers the latitude to select the strategies and tactics to accomplish the goals.

9. Be focused

The one difference between successful people and non-successful is focus. Focus needs to be simple and clear and people will be on board. It needs to be purposeful. “This is why I am doing it.” A leader eliminates distractions. They know how to kindly say no because they have a focus. They have something they are already doing. A leader does the things they are good at. And a leader delegates tasks to people if are good at them. They don’t delegate a task to people if they are not good at it. Leaders find what people are good at and they give them more of it. A leader also gives people the freedom to try things and lets them say, “this isn’t what I’m good at.”

10. Take care of yourself

The main reason that leaders don’t achieve their goals is because of burnout. Don’t let yourself become a rusty bucket on the side of a road because of burnout. Take care of yourself because no one else will. Great leaders make sure they don’t get tired. I actually wrote another post on overcoming burnout here.