Friday, January 25, 2008

Words to Live By VI

In a study of 200,000 ostriches over a period of 80 years, no one reported a single case where an ostrich buried its head in the sand (or attempted to do so).


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Photography Mentor Wanted

That's the title of the posting I put up 2 weeks ago on Craigslist.

Saturday I'm hooking up with my new-found mentor. We're heading down to Toronto's Distillery District to do some learning/teaching. As he said "Jim there's a reason it's shot so much". Cool.

Connecting through Craigslist was easy. I only got two responses but they were from the right people. Both were pros. One said she's too busy but just wanted to say she liked my stuff (I included my Flickr link). Hey. Thanks. I really appreciated the encouragement/feedback.

My ultimate mentor saw potential but pointed out the areas where he could help. Bang on. Composition. Lighting. Setttings. Editing. Photography 101. If I weren't so lazy I might have tried learning that stuff from books - but I hate learning that way. Let's go do it.

When I've mentioned this story to people, the first take is that without something like Craigslist it would have been impossible to connect like this. Basically I agree - although it does remind of those bulletin boards you see in grocery and drug stores with the telephone numbers written on little tear off tags at the bottom of the page. Still very cool.

Surfing around Craigslist is also very interesting. If you're a temporary job agency, you have serious competition. Or a dating service. There's a best of Craiglist postings here. Don't go here if you're easily offended but if you're not, you'll laugh. There are some good ones.

My flickr page is here. Let's hope for an uptick in quality over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sustainable Performance


I hate the word. Very 80ish. Or was it 90's? Way over used, abused.

Also - based on lots of observation - one of the fundamental corner stones of a sustainable, high performing organization.

Sustainable because empowerment (god I hate the word) means diffusing power, and accountability throughout the organization. Shifting the leadership, creative, and management accountability from one person, to many. Kind of like walking the talk.

Organizations without empowerment are dictatorships. You won't have to look very far to find the ego maniac at the top of the unempowered organization. He or she will have all the answers. Some of them will be right.

Of course fewer decisions get made in an unempowered organization because the ego maniac is the bottleneck in the management process.

Getting to a fully empowered organization is easy. Business 101. A vision, mission. Clear objectives. Measurement and accountability. Great communication.....

......and a CEO who recognizes that achieving success is a team sport, not an individual one....that being a great quarterback doesn't mean catching your own passes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Next Big Technology Thing

My cool friend Paula stopped by the other day.

Paula's cool for a whole bunch of cool reasons. She lives in California. She runs a technology IR firm. She hangs out with big name clients. Coolest of all, every time I see her - like once or twice/year, Paula always shares her "you wanna know what I think the next big trend in technology is going to be?".

I first got impressed - hey, I'm just not cool like her - when a few years ago she got all excited about the idea that video would be a big hit on small screens - like cell phones. Seriously, I didn't get it. Who would ever want to watch video on their cell phone? I was polite. I might have even faked some enthusiasm.

Of course, she was right.

Since then I've become a serous believer. She's always right. And her next big idea makes more sense than TV on my cell phone. Wanna know what it is?

Scrubbing the internet clean of personal and corporate in, the kids are turning 4 and pretty good with do I get rid of those pictures of me skinny dipping in front of City Hall?!

Paula compared it to erasing tattoos. Erasing tattoos is big business. I saw this on TV the other day.....over 65% of people with tattoos end up regretting them. Tattoo removal is big.

Internet removal could be huge.

I'm not a techie (really, have you seen my picture?!) so I have no idea what technology will be required to do internet erasure. But I know this - if it's bits and bytes - it's gotta be possible. Further, if Paula's talking about it, I assume some VC somewhere is already funding it.

By the way, I was just kidding about skinny dipping in front of city hall.

I had my shoes on.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tim Hortons 101. Why?

Tim Horton was a hockey player. Before he died a bunch of years ago he and a partner started a chain of Canadian coffee shops that are now a Canadian icon. Gazillions of dollars and millions of idling cars later, it's all good stuff.

A Tim Horton's customer has a simple vision - get my stuff...and go. Personally that means avoiding the drive-through. Parents with kids share the same vision - they're just oblivious to the fact that when you order 7 sandwiches at the drive-through, the visions of the 27 drivers behind you are blinkered in shades of red.

But I digress.

Fast service - get my stuff and go - at a Tim Hortons counter is easy to execute. Staffing.

The nice lady takes the order. The super-efficient kid loads the toaster. The trainee pours the coffee. Stand to the side. Gone in sixty seconds. Easy.

Little crappy Tims in strip malls understand and execute this concept easily. Painlessly. It's a thing of simple, customer service beauty.




Saturday, January 19, 2008

Old Fart

It was my birthday yesterday. Mildly north of 50. Got this from a good friend and wine-guy. As they say on the bottle "BE BOLD. GO FOR THE OLD".

Words to Live By V


Now playing: Nickelback - Rockstar
via FoxyTunes

Role of the Board - Part III

Part I describes the importance of the Board's governing role. See Part I here.

Part II describes the qualities of a good Board Chair. See Part II here.

Part III looks into the natural tension that exists between governing and operating..... how should organizations deal with the quiet disconnect between management and the Board over the Board's role? Does it even matter?

I have a few thoughts.

First, if there is an underlying tension between the Board and management it is natural and healthy. While overall goals of the Board and management are aligned - success of the organization - at the end of the day management's role and the Board's role are different: management operates and the Board judges management's performance.

Second, Boards and Board Chairs need to be more explicit about their roles - with themselves and with management. By being more explicit - "our role is to govern and to assess management's performance" - Board's set expectations for their role that don't set directors or management up for disappointment.

Third - and Boards seem to be doing this - Board's need to get better at their governance roles. Governance in particular is not simple. While some issues are black and white, many require in-depth knowledge of law, business, policy, and decision making process. Only by stocking Boards with diverse, independent and experienced directors can consistent, timely and correct governance decisions be made.

Typically, larger business organizations are more advanced in performing their governance roles. Smaller organizations, and too many not-for-profit organizations appear to struggle with governance and seem destined to continue doing so.

Board composition is a key factor. Small company boards are frequently over-stocked with self-interested parties: investors, service providers, friends and family. Not-for-profits, even the ones that attract strong, experienced board members, frequently also attract, or are mandated to include, representatives from stakeholder groups who may have little or no Board experience.

In summary, I believe it DOES matter that Board's explicitly identify that their primary role is governance, and what that means. By explicitly defining their role, Board members and management teams get more satisfaction from their Board involvement. Everyone quickly comes to see that by providing strong governance, the Board IS making a significant contribution to the organization.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Role of the Board - Part II

Part I describes the importance of the Board's governing role. See Part I here.

Part II is about the Board's Chair.....

....managing Board effectiveness is the responsibility of the Board chair. There isn't a more important role in the organization. Staffing the Chair role requires careful planning and insight.

There are 6 key qualities of a good Board chair:

  1. time to do the job - there are more time demands on the Chair than on anyone but the CEO
  2. solid team builder - getting the Board on the same wavelength and creating a good working relationship with management
  3. good delegator - there's a lot to do; the only way to get it all done is through other people
  4. comfortable with process - the mechanics from running meetings to information disbursement are almost as important as what the Board talks about
  5. strategic - able to lead and keep the Board focused on the high leverage issues, not minutiae
  6. firm - knowing how to take and keep control when members, stakeholders disrupt effective workings of the Board

Overall responsibility for the Board falls to the Chair. However, strong committees are also vital to a Board's success. These committees enable the Board to stay focused and up to speed on issues like audit, compliance and human resources. A recent study shows that the average large corporate board in the US and Canada has between 4 and 5 committees.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Words to Live By IV

Paul Arden - from his book "It's Not How Good You Are It's How Good You Want To Be'

We Interupt This Program....

....for a call from my broker. Serious player. Connected. Perpetually optimistic. Very good.

He and I had a long conversation 2 days ago. Two days ago things weren't pretty but he seemed to feel the world was getting closer to understanding the full extent of the financial mess created by the asset backed paper disaster. There was cautious optimism and a pretty clear 'hold the course' line of reasoning. It's worked so far. I agreed.

He and I are good friends so there was only a touch of sheepishness in his calling me back 2 days later to tell me he's gone over to the dark side. His new perspective is very, very dismal. The US is going into recession. Spin-offs from the ABCP spectacular are wreaking every greater impact on other parts of the credit market. Banks, credit card companies, housing, consumer goods - you name it are in his opinion - and its not hard to find proof - going to get killed. Interest rates will decline to half of what they are currently. Further, given that no one still seems to understand the complete scale of what's going on, a melt down of spectacular proportions is no longer out of the question. When a 30 year veteran tells you this all new, uncharted territory both for him and for all those other so-called experts....holy #*&%#$!

So I have a choice. Guinness or Alexander Keith's Red. I could venture beyond the beer fridge in my office but it's only 10:30. I'm not up for that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Role of the Board of Directors - Part I

Q. What's one of the biggest complaints CEO's have about their Boards?
A. "The Board is a waste of time - it doesn't add any value."

Q. What's one of the biggest complaints Board members have about their Boards?
A. "This Board feels like a waste of time - it doesn't feel like we're adding any value."

Q. What's going on here?
A. Who said the role of the Board is to add value?!

It's not - at least not in the context of masterminding the next I-Pod or the next outsourcing strategy. That's up to the management team.

The role of the Board is to govern - some Boards are even called Boards of 'Governors'. There are 5 key elements of governing effectively:

  1. ensuring that the organization has the right CEO
  2. ensuring that the organization has a strategic planning process
  3. learning the business and the industry well enough to have a well-formed perspective on benefits and risk of the organization's strategic direction
  4. monitoring to ensure that strategies are being executed as planned
  5. monitoring to ensure that the Board is governing effectively

The Board role is a mix of three things:

  • out-front leadership (CEO and planning process)
  • knowledge and insight (business of the organization)
  • monitoring and compliance (measurement and policies).
Managing this mix is the responsibility of the Board chair. There isn't a more important role in the organization.

See part II Role of the Board of Directors here.

See part III here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Whole New Mind - or why your kid may not be a loser after all

I was out with friends last night. Had forgotten that a couple of months ago, I'd lent them a very interesting book called A Whole New Mind - Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World. Author is Daniel Pink.

Pink's premise is that the dominant age of left brainers - smart, logical, math-oriented nerd-types is over. It's over because all that logic stuff can be outsourced to Asia and other braniac, over-growth countries, or to computers who now apparently (makes sense) now know how to program other computers.

According to Pink, the future belongs to the creative ones - those right brain, artsy types who go into fashion, design and other 'soft-skilled' pursuits. He pulls a bunch of compelling facts to prove his point (hey, even McKinsey has changed its hiring practices - they're not all MBA's any more). Simplest argument Pink makes that we can all relate to is the modern auto - it has everything to do with design. Getting the wheels to go around was figured out a long time ago.

Back to my friends and their daughter's loser boy-friend. According to them the book has changed his life. His passions are completely artistic - and he's good at it (hell, he's learning to be an architect) but he's never felt appreciated or passionate about what's possible. Now he's passing out the book to everyone he knows. I could tell its made the parents feel a whole lot better too. As a side-note, the parents are ultra-successful entrepreneurs - and the book made perfect sense to them.

So if you're trying to feel a little better about your daughter's choice of university and the fact she's just dropped math and economics, this might be the book for you. She could be a star in the making.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Marketing for a Better World

Flipping through the Saturday Globe and Mail. It's pretty clear the financial world at least is a mess, verging on disaster. Last time markets were this bad a recession was right around the corner. Maybe the extent of the asset backed paper fiasco is finally getting clearer, but that's not clear either. Merrill Lynch is looking for a cash infusion of a few $billion and writing off something like $15 billion. Corporate default rates are at their lowest point in two years (good news) but are forecast to spark sharply by the end of 2008 as affects of the US downturn take affect.'s reassuring to see the Canada's best brand marketer, the LCBO (Liquour Control Board of Ontario) hard at work with another super glossy 8 page insert. Measuring 11" x 16", this masterpiece flogs everything from Rockstar (vodka-based) Energy Drink (try that at the office!), to Heinekin 5L Draft Kegs (excellent!) to Havana Club Aged 7 years rum (for $30; I got it at the Veradaro airport for something like $7!).

Even better, this beauty's theme is all about a contest called 'Peel 2 Win'. By visiting an LCBO before February 2, depressed market watchers and serious alcoholics have a chance of winning a bunch of decent cash prizes.

This is great marketing. Booze. Cash. Great pictures that make you want to hit the liquor cabinet before 8 in the morning.

Seriously though, this organization knows what it's doing. So much so, they've even laid out their strategy, rationale, programs and results here. Very forward thinking, considering, as they point out - the LCBO is a MONOPOLY. And the numbers show it's working.

"In terms of dividend transfers to the provincial government, in fiscal 2005-2006 we delivered our 11th record dividend –

$1.2 billion. This figure, which does not include taxes, was $57 million more than the previous year and 7.6 per cent higher than the previous year. Our net sales were also a record at $3.6 billion, 4.4 per cent higher than the year before."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tom Peters

Late last year discovered The url is Love the wow.

Tom Peters is Mr. In Search of Excellence and his enthusiasm for change, excellence, creativity rages unabated. Peters isn't for everyone but for those into change, creative destruction, and generally not accepting anything for what it might be, he's a reassuring champion.

He's also fully embraced the internet age - with a blog, Flickr photos and a penchant for posting a ton of his stuff for all to access. Collaboration as described by Don Tapscott in Wikinomics is alive and well on

One of the cool things he posts are the slides from a bunch of his presentations. Recognizing that the majority of the value from a Tom Peters presentation is what he says, not his slides, the slides still throw out lots to chew on. If nothing else, the complete lack of standardization in his slides is a wonderful break from corporate monotony.

Conrad Hilton, at a gala celebrating his life,
was asked, “What was the most important lesson you’ve learned in you long and distinguished career?”

His immediate answer: remember
to tuck the shower curtain inside the bathtub
rad Hilton, at a gala celebrating his life,
was asked, “What was the most important lesson you’ve le
You = Your calendar*

*Calendars never lie
arned in you long and distinguished career?”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Words to Live By II


Ad in the Vancouver airport. Not sure what it was for.

Strategic Planning

Many clients I work with don’t do strategic plans. Most know they should. Some try. But very few engage in a formal process that would either be considered strategic or even helpful when measured in terms of outputs down the road.

Some thoughts:
  1. Any exercise that forces the management team to think about its goals and how to achieve them is good.
  2. Strategic planning is a creative, not a budgeting exercise. Budgeting is separate and comes later.
  3. Strategic planning is always top down – timing, process and desired outcomes must come from the top.
  4. Strategic planning is a team, not a functional activity.
  5. Honest, forthright discussion by those involved in executing strategy is fundamental to good outcomes.
  6. Creativity can be driven top down and bottom up. Top down: “here’s our challenge, how do we fix it?”. Bottom up: “here’s our ideas and where we think they fit”. Both are required.
  7. Strategic planning must be regular but need not be annual. Any plan that changes annually isn’t strategic.
  8. The highest level of strategic planning is defining the goal. Then come strategies, then tactics.
  9. Managers will always confuse goals, strategies and tactics. Working bottom up: tactics answer the how; strategies answer the what; goals answer the why.
  10. Planning is irrelevant without execution.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Words to Live By


Paul Arden

Irrational Exuberance

Currently reading 'The Age of Turbulence', Alan Greenspan's autobiography. Much more interesting and better written than I expected. At least the first half is - a bit of a tougher slog through the second half. Greenspan does a great job of describing the role of the US Fed and how it operates. Greenspan - makes sense - was incredibly well connected and worked in many US administrations. He considered Nixon and Clinton the smartest Presidents he worked and Gerald Ford perhaps the overall best.

Greenspan certainly is not a fan of George Bush or at least his economics/lack thereof. Some interesting facts. "Debt to the public outstanding projected for the end of September 2006 was $1.2 trillion. The actual outcome was $4.8 trillion." As Greenspan says "that is a rather large miss". A key factor according to Greenspan was the Republicans desire to become the permanent ruling party in the US and their use of public money to fund that. He points out that earmarks (side spending deals in key spending bills) proliferated from 3,023 at the end of Clinton's first term, to 16,000 in 2005, the beginning of George Bush's second term. Interestingly, defense expenditures were only 4% of GDP in 2006, vs 9.5% during Vietnam and 14% during the Korean war.

Monday, January 7, 2008


By the way, check out my pics from xmas vacation in Cuba.


Interesting country. Great for pictures - or at least a lot better than Toronto in winter.

Too bad the people aren't free.

Too bad the food sucks.

Great beaches though. Very nice resort. Havana pretty cool/old.

Doubt I'd go back.

Back at Blogging

Eleven months ago was my last post. Over that time I got thoroughly immersed in a fascinating role/project. The time required took my eye completely off the blogging ball. Good news is I probably learned a lot over the last 11 months that should make some great content for the blog.

Looking back at my earlier posts I see some stuff that still intrigues.

Still a big fan of my ipod. Stopped listening to podcasts a while ago. Was getting enough business stimulation without listening to assorted other genius. More into music than ever in my life.

Did take action on our web publishing business. Found a natural buyer for 2 of our sites. 10xed our investment. In about a year. Really. Looking at getting back into the website renovation business. Concept is no different than buying, renovating and selling beat up houses for a big profit. Stay tuned.

Also, the Google/ad/monetization of data model appears to be going stronger than ever. Biggest regret is being too chicken to buy either Google..or RIM at their ridiculously inflated prices a year or so ago - which now look ridiculously cheap. And I'm the business. Moron.

Other than that...lots new. For future posts.

Leadership Smeadership

Okay. I know it’s a settings thing. Sometime, a long, long time ago – probably when leadership was being invented – I must have indicat...