Archive for December, 2009

Editor’s noteThis week we will be posting a series of book reviews prepared by Pam Banks. These reviews are also available to watch on Roger’s TV In Business Program. See link below.

Peaks and Valleys – by Spencer Johnson

By Pam Banks

Peaks and Valleys is a book about a few simple principles and practical tools to use for success.  It’s about finding the hidden “good” in bad times to use it for the future.

The author, Spencer Johnson, who also wrote “Who Moved My Cheese”, uses as simple story to illustrate some practical tools.  The story goes like this:

There was a young man who had lived in a valley his whole life.  As he grew older he became increasingly unhappy although he wasn’t sure why.  He spent a lot of time in the valley looking up at the range of majestic mountains that rose up above the valley, and for a while felt better.  Eventually he   decided to climb up the peak, where he found an old man.  The old man introduced him to the concept of  “Peaks and Valleys approach to good and bad times.”

Peaks and valleys are like the highs and lows in our life.  Peaks are the moments when you appreciate what you have and the valleys are moments when you long for what is missing.  It’s what you do in the bad times, that creates the good times.  For example let’s say you lose your job.  Naturally you are angry, but what if you looked at this as an opportunity to leave a job that you weren’t really suited for – and you had the freedom to pursue something better.  If you were hiring a new employee, what would you look for – someone who was down trodden or someone with a positive attitude.

It’s usually the person with the better attitude that gets a better job.

When we are on top we are invincible.  But things do change and when we find ourselves back on the bottom or in the valley, it gets harder to climb back out to the top.  The most common reason we leave a peak too soon is arrogance masquerading as confidence.  The most common reason you stay in a valley too long is fear masquerading as comfort.

The best way to stay up on the peak or at the top of your game is to have a vision of who you are and where you want to be.  Just like the best athletes, the vision must be sensible and practical.  For example, if you want your company to be a major player in technology you need to be practical in the steps you take to get you to the top.  You need to structure the organization for growth, protect your IP and find investors.

In summary the peaks and valleys concept can be applied at work and in our personal life.  We can manage good, and bad times, so make reality your friend.  To get out of a valley, find the good hidden in a bad time, and use it to your advantage.  Appreciate good times – be humble and save some resources for the next valley and follow your sensible vision.

This is a great uplifting and practical book to get you thinking “positive” in turbulent economic times.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review  of Peaks and Valleys

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Editor’s noteThis week we will be posting a series of book reviews prepared by Pam Banks. These reviews are also available to watch on Roger’s TV In Business Program. See link below.

Exploiting Chaos by Jeremy Gutsche

By Pam Banks

Exploiting Chaos focuses on 150 ways to spark innovation during times of change. This book explores how remarkable companies have risen from chaos and provides a toolkit to foster a culture of innovation.

The greatest changes in history occurred during the Renaissance period from the 14th to 17th century.  This remarkable period emerged after the eruption of the Black Death – the deadliest pandemic in history.  Nearly half of the European population died, causing a state of chaos.  This chaos caused social structures to collapse, forcing a period of remarkable adaption.

To thrive companies must learn not to create structure and stability, but rather to adapt quickly.

Fixed expectations are the enemies of adaptation, and the following experiment with monkeys illustrates why. Monkeys were placed in a cage with a ladder that led to a bunch of bananas.  The catch was that the ladder was connected to a powerful water hose.  When the first monkey raced up the ladder for the bananas the entire cage was drenched with water.  Another curious monkey made the greedy grasp for the bananas and triggered the shower.  At this point the monkeys connected the bananas with water.  Each time one of the original monkeys was swapped out of the cage the newcomer would immediately race for the fruit – but the group would beat him down before he could make it to the ladder.  Later the fire hose was removed, but it didn’t matter they had their lesson hardwired.

Non- traditional thinkers offer the maverick ideas and the personality required to adapt – so hire freaks. Don’t be afraid to irritate people – chaos requires organization to make bold changes and people tend to become complacent.

Cross pollinate your ideas.  The problems you are solving have likely been tackled in parallel industries.

Goldcorp was a little mining company that wanted to grow.  No matter where they looked for gold their properties seemed to lack potential.  The CEO published the company’s highly secretive geological data and offered more than half a million dollars in prize money to any person in the world who could identify a strategy for finding gold.  Goldcorp received 100 new strategies.  The new methodologies led Goldcorp to unearth 8 million ounces of gold catapulting the $100 million dollar company to a $20 billion dollar valuation.

It’s important to reset your expectations and open your mind to explore seemingly random innovation. There are unique ideas all around us.  The difficult part is making sense of it all.   Innovation starts with the customer, so obsess about your customer.  Who are they…what do they need?

By 2007 GM was struggling with gas guzzling SUVs like the Escalade.  They realized that they had pushed the company away from females and eco-conscious buyers.  To better understand this demographic, the designers literally put themselves in the shoes of their female customers.  Male engineers were required to dress in drag and then get into and out of raised trucks and SUVs to understand what it’s like for women wearing dresses.  This helped them design cars like the Chevy Volt.

If you want to spark inspiration you need to hunt ideas that seem cool – but what exactly is cool? Trend hunting or clustering ideas that are important to your customers can help focus your innovation.  The book does a  great job in using photos to help group ideas and identify cool concepts.

We are in a period of economic crisis where global markets have lost a decade of value.  Collapse of any kind ripples through the economy, but it also gives birth to new opportunity.  Einstein words about three rules of work still ring true:

–          Out of clutter, find simplicity

–          From discord, find harmony

–          In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity

So look at chaos as a new opportunity for relentless innovation.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review  of Exploiting Chaos.

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Editor’s noteThis week we will be posting a series of book reviews prepared by Pam Banks. These reviews are also available to watch on Roger’s TV In Business Program. See link below.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

By Pam Banks

Is it true? Is there finally a system that will help me get through my busy day and accomplish everything I planned?  Enter, Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Allen discusses many different psychological and physical characteristics of the brain and their effect on how and why we process information like we do.  An example is discussing a 1959 study about Psychic RAM.  The study suggests that our psychic RAM can only hold about 7 things in it at any one time.  The moment we try to jam one more thing in, it tosses something out.

The author suggests that by clearing your mind of the task of remembering all the things you need to get done, you can develop a mind like water.  Having a mind like water is all about being prepared to perfectly respond to whatever is present.  Like the water responds to whatever you throw into it.  If you throw a small pebble in, it responds to a small pebble.  If you throw a boulder in, the water responds to the boulder.  However, your mind must be clear of all distractions in order for it to respond perfectly.  That’s where the author’s system comes in.

Allen suggests that you must gain control and perspective on your life in order to develop a mind like water.  The first component is control and there are five steps to gaining control.

The system starts off by collecting all of the items in your life that require decisions.  Reminders, emails, magazines to read, books, recipes and all the other to-dos that your brain is trying to manage on a daily basis.  Once you have collected the “stuff” as he calls it, you must now process it.  Processing is deciding what to do with it.  Keep it, toss it, or deal with it now.  The author also throws in this great little piece of advice.  If you can deal with something in 2 minutes or less, then deal with it now.  It takes less time to just “do it” than the time required to put it into the system.  The next three stages are organizing, reviewing and then actually getting it done.

Once you have the control side of the equation in place, you can move on to the perspective.  The perspective portion of the system has six components to it.  Current actions, current projects, areas of responsibility, yearly goals, five-year vision and life goals.  He relates these to a plane taking off from an airport.  Current action, the first phase, is like being on the runway and taking off.  Current projects are at 10,000 feet, then moving on to the other four.  Allen suggests that you must progress through the steps as laid out because your mind will not process them out-of-order.  It’s kind of like a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The basics must be satisfied first before you can move on.

Write the title of this book down. You don’t want this to be the 8th item trying to occupy your psychic ram.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review  of Getting Things Done.

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Editor’s noteThis week we will be posting a series of book reviews prepared by Pam Banks. These reviews are also available to watch on Roger’s TV In Business Program. See link below.

Change is Your Competitive Advantage – by Karl Schoemer

By Pam Banks

I used to think that competitive advantage was all about proficiency in a new skill or an added feature in a new product.  But Schoemer points out that the “New Business Reality” is that in an uncertain world the only certainty is that things will change.

Change is driven by technology, information and people.  The pace of change is much quicker than it was even ten years ago.  Change is not a product of a decision in a company but as a result of how interconnected we are with people, societies and businesses around the globe.  We can see this when there is a severe storm forecast in the Gulf, gas prices in Mississauga escalate overnight.

Generally, people don’t like change – we like the status quo because it’s easier.  Change always brings a measure of problems, challenges and frustrations.  In fact, when you change how you do things, your productivity always goes down initially.  No matter what the change, there are four basic dynamics of the change process including a sense of loss, ambiguity and uncertainly, deterioration of trust and the need for self- preservation.  The prospect of change is like riding the Behemoth, there’s a dichotomy between the fear and thrill – and we each have a different perspective

In a business environment the four stages we go through when faced with change are: betrayal, denial, identity crisis and search for solutions.  These stages of resistance are directly tied to the drop off in productivity.  A recent labour study determined that the average productivity of a worker during an eight-hour days is 4.8 hours.  During a transition or period of change productivity drops to 1.2 hours a day.  The key is to move through the stages quickly to reach the “search for solutions” stage.  Using your customer as a barometer will help you more accurately judge the value of change.

Effective communications is important to facilitate change.  Informative, supportive and inspirational communications are important at different stages of change.  Change has a trickle down effect because managers hear about it first and go through the phases earlier than front line employees.  Follow the rule of repetition, which says you need to tell people multiple times before you can count on it registering with them.

It’s hard to see how any work gets done when change is always present.  But it’s not ok to keep doing things the way you’ve always been doing them.  Developing an organization-wide perspective on how change works and how to accelerate it is critical.  In today’s marketplace an organization gains competitive advantage by getting to be good at change and truly creating an “adaptive culture” that can adjust quickly and effectively.

A story about a group of monkeys illustrates how change is adapted into culture.  Scientists observed a  group of monkeys on a remote island.  They left a load of potatoes on the beach and sat back to watch their behavior.  Monkeys are curious so one bit into the potato, and the next day the monkeys were waiting on the beach for the potatoes.  On the third day in the scramble for the potatoes one dropped into the water, and to one monkey’s surprise it tasted much better when it was washed.   Instead of monkey see monkey do – the potato washing monkey was ostracized from the group.  The innovator monkey was isolated because he was different.  It’s important that our organizations aren’t like the monkey groups.  If we are truly going to embrace change we need to recognize that change or innovation will make us more relevant to our organizations and our customers.

So change happens and we need to embrace it as our competitive advantage for our employers and our businesses.  Change is Your Competitive Advantage is a great read to help stay on top and ahead of change.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review  of  Change is Your Competitive Advantage

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By Stephen Rhodes

I watched Miracle on 34th Street recently. I have the original black and white, my preference, and the newer colour version. I like them both really.

Last week a friend of mine said they were dreading breaking the news about Santa to the children. The conversation reminded me of this wonderful letter and response that first appeared in 1897.

Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” reprinted below, was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, more than a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business. Here is the exchange between eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis Church.

Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon

Dear Virginia
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Stephen Rhodes is President of The Marketing PAD, a full-service strategic communications and marketing company. Read Blogpad or visit  The Marketing Pad online.

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By Jeff Bowman

Santa Claus. I know him, I’ve met him, I went to his training school and I impersonated him on many memorable occasions. I know for a fact that he is the king of consultative sales. “What do you want for Christmas little boy/girl?”, “Have you been good this year?” His interest in what others want and need is unsurpassed in the world of childhood icons. The tooth fairy brings money whether you want it or not. The Easter Bunny leaves chocolate eggs, even if you wanted some other type of gift. And the Sandman, well he just puts stuff in your eyes every night.

Father Christmas, like all good sales people, asks and listens. He then decides upon the best solution and agrees, making each and every child part of the process.

I had occasion to meet Mr. Claus when I was quite young, in fact I met him several different times and I have the pictures to prove it. He would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, and I always had a ready answer. Things I actually needed, like Rock-em Sock-em Robots, boxing gloves, a microscope, a hockey net. There are  times that I guess Santa actually consults with parents because I never did ask for socks, gotchies, shirts etc., but I often received them. And as I look back on it now, I figure nobody really wanted to see me out boxing in the nude (and probably still don’t) or going to school in ripped hand- me-down clothes.

I decided in my later years that I had taken advantage of a great relationship that Santa and I had, so I thought like in all good business relationships (and it was a good relationship, he gave me what I wanted in return for being nice, cleaning the house, not fighting with my brothers and sister etc) it was time for me to give a little back.

I attended the Santa Training School and learned a series of valuable and difficult lessons – the ins and outs of being one of the Jolly Old Fellows assistants, (I prefer this to the more common denotation of Elf in training) who takes his place at public appearances such as Breakfast with Santa, photo opportunities and of course the ever popular office Christmas Party.

Many a time I sat upon my Red Velvet throne with children of all ages and nationalities sitting on my lap, discussing the important aspects of the holiday season. Unfortunately, STS (Santa Training School) doesn’t prepare you for some of the questions you are asked by the super intelligent children of today.

Even the best consultative sales approach leaves little room for suppressing the odd laugh or following up a great open-ended question with a closed ended question to narrow down the options. “Where do you go to the bathroom Santa?”, “If my house doesn’t have a chimney do you break a window to get in?” “How many glasses of milk does it take to make you sick?” And if the questions don’t get you, the statements of fact will. “You smell old” (page 13, lesson 2 “Santa stays cool under pressure.” Yeah sure, see what you smell like after 3 hours, 100 kids on your lap and polyester suit that makes you perspire) , “What did that last kid ask for, cause he’s my brother and he is bad”, “Do you have kids?”

My Santa experiences took quite a different turn when adults got involved at parties. Building solid, mutually beneficial relationships took on a whole new meaning. The lap visitations seemed more prolonged, a few extra pictures were taken and the wants, needs and desires were often expressed with more clarity than you might imagine. I called it liquid bravery. It wasn’t just visions of sugar plums dancing in the heads of many a fine adult who graced my throne. One never really thinks of Santa blushing, but I tell you it was a good thing I had that beard.

As a public domain figure, you can’t escape seeing Santa around this time of year on every package, in every ad, flyer and newspaper. He has his own department at the Post Office, his own television shows with huge royalties that allow him to build more toys every year for the increasing population, and he symbolically represents huge corporations like Coke every Christmas. He gives his stamp of approval to many new Seasonal Songs every year, and even goes as far as having his likeness on a PEZ dispenser.

Now I am at an age where it appears my debt has been paid off to Santa, younger plumper individuals are taking my place. The consultative sales go on. The job of Santa selling never seems to be complete, as we now see him in tropical vacation commercials; he is urging us to go green with real trees this year and to use bags instead of shiny wrapping paper for gifts.

Santa continually grows and changes with the times, but his consultative sales approach remains the same – probe, listen, offer solutions and develop relationships. I’ll always remember the lessons I learned at STS, the great times I had as an assistant Santa, my personal encounters with him, and like always, I will listen for the NORAD reports on Unidentified Reindeer-propelled vehicles being spotted over Northern Canada on Christmas Eve. (now available at the Official NORAD Tracking Site for all you parents)

See you soon Santa!

Jeff Bowman is a Sales and Marketing Specialist with The Marketing Pad Inc.. Follow Jeff’s blog at Blogpad or visit www.themarketingpad.com.

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By Pam Banks

Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese is an interesting look on how and what motivates us to make decisions.  The story centers around four fictional characters:

  • Two mice named Sniff and Scurry
  • And two little people named Hem and Haw

This may sound a bit like a Shrek fairy tale but it does have some important messages.

Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw all live in a maze.  Every day they get up and venture into the maze to find cheese.  Sniff and Scurry do exactly what their name implies – they work every day to sniff out and scurry to new cheese spots.

Hem and Haw, the little people pride themselves on being much more intelligent and use more complex strategies to find their cheese. And one day they find the mother lode of cheese.  There is so much cheese that they move their house closer to the cheese, they even forget how to run the maze.

There is so much cheese they expect it will always be there.  They become very comfortable with their lifestyle to the point that they don’t notice what is happening around them.  Life was good until one day Hem and Haw went to get some cheese and it was all gone!

They couldn’t believe their eyes. They yell and scream “how can this be happening”  “who did this to us”?  Their anger turned to analysis and they were sure that the cheese would reappear, because they could not believe that it had gradually disappeared.

Meanwhile Sniff and Scurry had moved on.  When they saw the cheese stores disappearing they continued to run the maze so they would be ready to find new opportunities.

Hem and Haw continued to wait and analyze the situation until they were near starvation.  Finally, Haw came to the conclusion that it was time to move on because if you do not change you can become extinct, but Hem couldn’t leave.  Hem was afraid.

When Haw started out by himself he was afraid as he moved down the dark corridors, and as he started running he realized that when you move beyond your fear you feel free.

Haw soon he concluded that old beliefs do not lead you to new opportunities. And he started behaving differently rather than returning to the old spots.  Once Haw let go of the past he sped through the maze and then it happened – he found a new cheese station – piled with new cheese.  To his surprise Sniff and Scurry were already there!

This story illustrates some important things:

  • Change is constant we need to keep our eyes open and don’t get too attached to the present
  • Notice when little changes begin so that you are prepared for the big change that might be coming
  • Keep things simple, don’t over analyze – when the situation changes be prepared to move on
  • The biggest inhibitor to change lies within ourselves

As I read this story I keep thinking about the current plight of our automotive manufacturing sector.  I wonder if these messages from our little people could have circumvented the industry downturn and the public sector bailouts – to sniff out changes ahead of time and scurry into action, rather than get hemmed in and be left behind.

Pam is Commercialization Director for RIC Centre. She is a regular book reviewer on the business program  In Business on Rogers TV. Watch Pam’s review of Who Moved My Cheese .

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