Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Risk 2009

Tell me if you know this one: it’s a four letter word… we are allowed to say it at work… but we treat it like all other four letter words… as a dirty thing.

It’s… R.I.S.K… risk.

On websites and in dictionaries, risk is listed in every conceivable way. If it were a dessert, it would have its own menu of variations.

We talk a lot about risk in business: managing it; mitigating it; reducing it; taking it; avoiding it… We talk about risk like it’s an unwanted visitor who always overstays a welcome.

There’s a description of risk management that originated in Australia and New Zealand, now being taken up in other countries, set out in the Australian & New Zealand Standard 4360:2004. It is a process of 5 steps:
• Establish the context
• Identify risks
• Analyse risks
• Evaluate risks
• Treat risks

It makes it sound like a disease.

So, taking a step back, how did we get here? How did risk become a bad word?

Risk-taking prompted explorers to this country. Built the first structure taller than one level. Introduced spice to the world. Prompted the original money-lenders to believe banking was a viable business. Created Apple Computer. Prompted you to try a new coffee place today.

Risk is not just the large world-changing things. It’s choosing that boldly striped tie, the purple handbag, having an open and gentle conversation, telling someone what you really think of their latest project.

You can’t get through a day without taking a risk. You can’t have an opinion, can’t take a stand, can’t put forth a plan without risk.

I believe we thrive on risk. We need risk. Risk is something to explore. Risk is where the opportunities lie. Risk is our wiggle room, the call for new ideas and a point for negotiation. Call it the unknown, call it creativity or call it judgment - risk propels us forward.

We can choose to not move when faced with risk. But really every decision, even to do nothing, is a risk. Every project has potential to backfire. Every step to stumble. Every word to be misconstrued. Every choice the wrong one.

We could - another four letter word - fail by not taking a risk as much as taking one.

I personally pledge to explore failure this year. I will be willing to:
• Try new ideas
• Be wrong
• Take a stand when the safe choice isn’t the right choice

Risk is going to be me saying “This is what I believe we should do” and negotiate from there.

Maybe if I aim to fail, I will succeed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dearest You

May the holidays and coming new year bring you and your community great joy and inspiration.

corny... but true!

with great affection,


Monday, December 22, 2008

I’m nervous, but planning…

It’s a scary looking 2009 if you read the news. Job loss. Economic downturns (corporate speak for things cost more, are not so readily available, and you have less cash to get them). Small communities seeing their two main sources of income wiped out: the local factory and tourism dollars.

Of course, most of my circles are concerned with job loss. I’m getting many calls for ‘tea’ and ‘advice’ from folks who know someone already unemployed and looking to make connections.

Let’s be honest - many of us are not going to be in a position to create or find jobs in the coming year. We’ll either be doing the work of 10 (your job plus everyone who got laid off and wasn’t replaced) and hoping to keep that job - or we’ll be asking for a tea meeting ourselves.

So what can we do?

1 - Networking and mentoring should not start with a crisis. Build your circles and understand your career plan before the stress of losing a pay cheque skews your priorities. A true network (as discussed in earlier posts) - a solid community of support - is of benefit any time.

2 - Don’t be afraid to still have teas and coffees even if you think you don’t have any work leads to offer. An ear, some encouragement, some assistance with fine tuning and helping folks still feel connected is a great place to start. Besides, you never know where a conversation will lead.

3 - Talk with your closest circles now about how you can help ease burdens along the way: an hour of editing for an hour of web page support; a big pot of stew for some errands; a resume re-work for a borrowed new suit. The possibilities are endless.

4 - Think not of moving your career ahead but having time to develop skills and deepen your knowledge. Maybe the opportunities to get new jobs or promotions will be less, but you can use this time to develop yourself. Or maybe taking a different type of job (if it's what is available to you) will offer you that chance to learn something new while we all wait for our own markets to ramp back up.

5 – Watching my son, I’m most impressed with how he and his friends are determined to re-invent how they look for work… really they’re creating their own work. A void is the mother of invention (or so it’s said). They’re coming up with plans, schemes, inventions and projects as the traditional sources of hiring dry up.

If you have entrepreneurial skills, this might be a catalyst for you. If you have a good idea, now might be the time to share it. If there’s something you always wanted to try, the coming year might give you the space and time to try it. The point of influence is now, not when things settle again.

6 – The last time I was laid off, I took the time to figure out not just what I wanted in my career but also the culture that would make me more comfortable. I resolved to only work where I felt welcome and where there was something for me to learn. Where giving back to the community was as important to my employer as it is to me. Etc etc etc. But sometimes you need things to stop before you realize which pieces you’d no longer be willing to pick up.

It will pass. It will. And while it may not be pleasant to pass through (like a bout of pneumonia or stomach flu), it will pass.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Networking - how not to…

• Networking is not where everyone is on the make - it is not like a meat market for professionals.
• Networking is not a job fair
• Networking is not exchanging business cards just because you have them.
• Networking is not shaking a lot of strangers’ hands trying to make some kind of vague impression.

But what does a network or community mean? What is networking?

Start with any image you find familiar - a village, a web, a chain - with you as one point within it. You can be the centre point… I think of my network as webs within webs - I am not the centre point but I do have my own immediate network and it is interwoven with the other networks around me.

There are lots of websites, books and articles out there on HOW to network. Everyone has their 10-step process by which they swear.

I apologize - I don’t.

I believe everyone has their own style and comfort zone and exploring those will get you to your own process.

I find networking awkward. I also know how much comfort I found from the support of my network. That outweighs my discomfort. I choose to participate.

And while I’m a reluctant networker - what I do love about networking is the chance to actively promote and celebrate those around you. You’re not always asking for something - you’re offering - yourself, your thoughts, your people from your circles.

Networking doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen without effort. It’s not about attending a single event. It’s not a checkmark on your list of things to do. And it doesn’t happen in isolation. You can’t network by yourself. (You could try but - like one-handed clapping - it’s only effective in limited circumstances.)

And if you’re reluctant… And the person beside you is reluctant….. one of you has to make a choice to engage.

Kids do it better than anyone. No kid is going to see another kid in the sandbox and not interact. It’s a given. They don’t know each other’s names or address or whether they like a pail and shovel or front-loader - but one kid will either offer toys or take them and get the party started.

They don’t care what the other’s name is. Grown ups care about that. They just care if you want to play. It’s only worth knowing the names of the people you like playing with!

Simply put, networking is not a transaction. It’s about relationship and values and part of a long-term development plan and view of yourself.

I know I haven’t made networking seem easier. I know this doesn’t make it any more comfortable. But hopefully you want to keep trying?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Timing is not everything

I think there are some fallacies that ruin our day and create unnecessary stress.

According to some scientists, solids are not really solids at all at a deeper level. Clean air is a myth according to author James Michener who said in his novel “Centennial” the last bits disappeared over Denver in the 80s. Food isn’t always as nutritious as it looks (darn you ice cream!) or as nature intended (genes added or deleted).

And getting somewhere on time is more luck than anything else.

While at work, we can agree that on the hour, we all shuffle to another room simultaneously to have another meeting. But even so we arrive with 5-10 min. lag due to elevators and other meetings running late in other buildings. Even with starting in the same vicinity and moving to the same purpose.

Life, on the other hand, has people coming from opposites ends. The most organized of us still occasionally misplace our keys (or glasses, drat this morning!) losing a precious few minutes. Trains are late. Buses are early. Sometimes both. Puddles appear like black holes at the strangest of times. All the planning in the world can’t do more than control the little sphere around only yourself and then you get hit with the chaos that is the wider world.

And then comes the biggest unexpected of all… Running into someone you have not seen in years while late to get to somewhere else. Which is ruder: expressing dismay at the lost connection while continuing to run raggedly on to your first commitment? or taking 5 min. to focus on the person, get a phone number and then excuse yourself to pelt madly up the street making yourself officially late for your first appointment?

All this and you discover your socks don’t match.

Lateness, 5 - 10min, happens with the best of intentions. I try and arrive 5 min early to have some room for error. I believe in respecting other people’s time. However…

Showing up on time is second to focusing on the person before you.

I heard the gasps as I wrote that.

Relationship building - networking or mentoring - requires you to listen. To listen you must be present. To be present you have to stop looking at your watch or BB. Sometimes that means you’ll miss the chiming of the hour.

And sometimes you will be a little late but, if you’re known to listen, they’ll wait a bit longer to have you join them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Taking a Risk

I don’t mean taking a risk in the abstract sense (though I believe in taking risks as a general philosophy). I mean in the middle of all the lay offs and global market worries, I am changing jobs.

Friends are divided into 2 camps: “You’re crazy to move now!” or “Way to go!”.

Depending on the day, I find myself agreeing with different folks. I’m alternately thrilled and terrified. I’m leaving a job in an established department with loads of visibility to senior folks and where I’m respected and trusted. I’m moving to a newly created position on a virtual team in a recently formed department with an ambiguous job description. Who wouldn’t have taken the step?

Two things conspired to create my decision. One is my long-term career goals. As vague as they are some days and as much as I add regular caveats that the ‘plan’ is subject to change, I recognized months ago that it was time for me to leave my current set up and learn new things.

The second piece came as a result of advice offered by a peer mentor: the people who are valued in uncertain times are those who take risks and are passionate about what they do - instead of keeping their heads down and playing it safe till the crisis has passed.

The best place to create influence is always before the wave crests or the crisis is resolved. Instead of waiting for markets and industries to settle, I’m putting my hand up now. I’ll show what I’ve got to offer and accept the possibility that the fit might not work. I want to be part of how we’re evolving even if that increases my risk that others won’t agree with my suggestions. I don’t want to wait for others to make decisions when I could be making some myself.

It’s a riskier place to be - but incredibly rewarding if it works.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Ok it’s not strictly a networking topic but it has come up frequently in my peer mentoring discussions.

Scenario one: a friend who looks a little older and more tired than she is applied for a management job. The phone interview was fantastic. The hiring manager said how hard it was to find someone with her qualifications and they could afford her salary. So they met. And the same hiring manager couldn’t keep his face from falling. When prompted he said he didn’t realize my friend was so “old”. She didn’t get the job.

Question: Why is it accepted that Gen X and Y do (and expect to) change jobs every 2 - 4 years but older folks have to have at least 15 good years on offer?
(no, it wasn’t a job that age, gender or appearance would in anyway hinder anyone)

Scenario two: A friend who looks younger than she is has been counseled recently to not “rush” her career advancement, that there is plenty of time. There is 5 years difference between the friends in scenario one and two.

Question: If the ability and experience is there, should age matter?

All the planning there is can be stopped in the face of age discrimination. We can discuss and support but I’m sorry to say that brick walls exists where none should be. Spread the word and let’s keep chipping away it. (or blow it up if you can!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Social Media I - the teen years

These days, I feel it’s fair to spoil my kid rotten in exchange for being able to tell stories about teenagers - not always to a teen’s advantage. It started when he was 2 years old and barfed a pile of half-eaten gummy bears on my bed. That became the opening for a full-length stage play. Of course, since he was unaware of the hilarity his antics added to my storytelling, I didn’t feel the need to shower him with lattes, hair gel and snowboarding gear at the time. Ah, simpler times.

I enjoy observing teens, especially mine: their mating habits; eating forays; homework avoidance techniques (later perfected in the workplace); and the ebb and flow of their social structures.

What is amazing is that his generation grew up with computers. Not just a home computer, but computers and chips and technology just about everywhere: tv remotes and picture-in-picture; cell phones; Interac; digital music players… the list is long. He effortlessly uses and pushes the technology in ways that I don’t even think to go.

His friendships are conducted via text messages, Facebook, and YouTube uploads. Email is considered old-fashioned and clunky by teen standards. He belongs to on-line groups and stays in touch with current events (as relates to teen concerns) via virtual communication means.

The other day he emerged from his cave with his red hair sprayed dark black. He informed me it was “National Kick a Ginger Day” and that a large Facebook posting had his friends sending warnings all night. It takes me 2months to read my Facebook stuff. His cell phone delivers updates.

Friendships are made, lost and expanded via 1 or 2 lines of text, spelled creatively and delivered via a cell phone screen. Parties, gatherings and meetings are sent virally within hours (if not minutes). He “speaks” to more than a dozen people an evening and never gets up from his favourite TV show.

Is that multi-tasking or networking at the next level?

I’ve been asked a great deal what role ‘social networking’ should play in networking. I don’t think there’s an obvious answer. I don’t even think that everyone understands what ‘social networking’ is or what’s involved.

Even technology professionals are divided on this debate.

It’s only clear to teenagers…or so I thought.

My son - without my knowing - is actually interested in the concept of building personal community and secretly reads my blog. He read an earlier draft of this posting and suggested that he could have all the tools taken away for one good coffee with someone.

No matter how the generations are divided across their styles and tools, one approach remains the ultimate in ‘social networking’: face to face.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ambition and Responsibility

I read (in a murder mystery no less) that today women are given men’s ambition and women’s responsibilities.

I’m not a stay-at-home mom and I’m pleased my son is none the worse for wear. While I love creating and writing in isolation, I need the interaction of the collective to take my theories into fact. That’s true of me as a playwright and director; it’s doubly true of me as a public speaker; and it is certainly true of me as a business manager.

Is my drive to talk about ideas in a larger forum a male ambition? No. It’s simply how I am. (My dearest friend is a stay-at-home mom and her son has done equally well. She thrives in the relative solitude and has produced some amazing things.)

Sometimes, expectations are thrust upon me - “you should do X” or “you must become proficient at Y to succeed”. If I agree to take on those expectations but they don’t become ingrained as part of my own goals, perhaps it’s then that I’m trying to live up to someone else’s model.

But otherwise, my ambitions are no one’s but my own!

Women’s responsibilities are well documented: family care; elder care; household duties to name three of the top items that occupy a women’s day. As much as society has evolved, studies still show women as primary caregivers in these areas.

I am trying to imagine a world where a line thrust ambition solely on men and responsibility solely on women. I think both sides would protest loudly. Ambition itself comes with responsibilities - whether the ambitions lie in friendship; parenting; partners; or business. Relationships and caring come with ambition - to do it well; better; efficiently; joyously.

While building my personal community, I have been careful not to fill it with people who make the same choices as me. I revel in everyone’s version of ambition and I debate solutions for all versions of responsibilities. That’s how I learn. That’s what I hope I pass on to my mentorees.

Ambition and responsibility are building blocks of any woman's life and are never merely given to us from external sources with any expectations but our own.