The Orange Line


I love doing keynotes! It gives me a chance to not only share my story but also to hear the story of others – where they are and where they may yet go. Recently I keynoted a conference of Women Entrepreneurs in Guelph, Ontario in celebration of International Women’s Day. The conference was sponsored by Innovation Guelph, a fabulous organization dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit.  Many women and men brought their daughters to the opening keynote and I had the chance to speak to many of them. What incredible potential waiting in the wings! I started thinking about what kind of advice I wished I had been given when I started my career path. And, I found a great book especially for women. So I am sharing this gem with you.  The Orange Line is about creating the space to realize that potential in all of us … in many of us, yet untapped. It is about recognizing the social conditioning that informs limitations rather than opportunities. Its about choosing BOTH a career and a life. The authors research uncovered how women get trapped in outdated modes of thinking that define the “perfect woman”.  An easy read on a difficult topic that needs exposure to sunlight! Many thanks for Jodi Detjen, Michelle Water and Kelly Watson for telling it like it is.

So that we can change it.

The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life

Leadership BS


Have you ever wondered why organizations keep spending thousands of dollars on leadership programs and the evidence actually indicates that our workplaces are filled with distrustful, disengaged and dissatisfied employees? Have you noticed that the qualities we select most leaders for in an organization are unlikely to produce leaders that are good for employees or long-term performance?  Maybe its time to tell the truth about leadership – and the shadow side of organizational life. Jeffrey Pfeffer knows of what he writes. He teaches at the Stanford School of Business and has authored or coauthored fourteen books on topics such as power, management people, organizational design and evidenced-based management.

It may sound like a depressing topic but I find it somewhat comforting.To build a science of leadership you need reliable data. I am tired of the ‘feel-good’ stories of incredible companies that never seem to reside in my backyard. I teach a course in how to survive organizational politics for change agents. Every individual so far comes to me battered and bruised from the realities of organization life. At conferences, I am frequently asked to speak on building corporate cultures that support innovation. The topic discussions quickly come to shadow side of leadership and how to survive until trust can be rebuilt. Many people, maybe most people, have soul-crushing jobs. That is the reality in which we live. Pfeffer is blunt, yes. He states that if we don’t have baseline measurements of leader and workplace conditions it is simply impossible to know what to do to make any improvements. So … do you want to be the one to ask for 360 reviews on your leadership team? Me neither.

Research tells us that people who deliver bad news sometimes suffer adverse consequences. If we want to change the world of work, Pfeffer claims that we need to act on what we know rather than what we wish and hope for. Great leaders are rare. So what to do? What is the implication for the average person in an average organization? Pfeffer recommends becoming a skilled and unbiased observer and pay attention to what your leaders do, NOT what they say. The most fundamental principle of learning theory is behaviour is a function of its consequences. What behaviour is rewarded in your organization? Leadership for the people or leadership for  profit?

This is not a feel good book about leadership. But, if you are looking for confirmation of workplace reality and some solid suggestions on evidence-based management, this book is for you. It balances the heroic tales of exceptional leadership and organizations on my shelves and gives practical advice on how to survive until you can find one (or build it yourself). Consider this book a practical survival manual if you are not in the enviable position of working with a great leader and/or a great organization. I truly believe we can get there. But, not just yet.

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

Leaders Eat Last


Fall is always an exciting time for me.  Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air.  I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School.  It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.

One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’.  Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.

Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.

Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education


Some books you just inhale, and this is one of them.  I have loved Ken Robinson since his first ted.talk where he speaks to how schools kill creativity. Viewed over 33 million times, you might say it struck a collective nerve. His latest book does it again. One of my colleagues mentioned it to me today and I grabbed it on Kindle almost immediately. Over dinner, I read. Feed the body and feed the soul.

He speaks of the need for revolution by thinking of how schools current work (or most don’t actually), asking what counts as a school and how we might tell a different story about education. Why? His words. “If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.” This books belongs in the hands of every parent who is worried about their child’s education. It belongs in the hands of every teacher who is passionate about their students – who knows that educare means to ‘draw forth’ NOT stuff in. We need to stop the profit focus on what has been called “educational puppy mills”.  If you care about educational reform, this book is a recipe for revolution. Other countries are paying attention and have transformed their educational system.

So what are we waiting for?

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education

Jane Austin – Game Theorist


I love teaching at the Business School in Copenhagen in the summer. I always learn something new – which in turn informs my teaching which informs my research and round and round we go.  The students are an international mix – so lots of different perspectives are brought to the discussions. There is also an international mix in faculty – so lots of conversations start around our faculty lunch table which frequently continue over dinner.  A book suggestion from Betty Tsakarestou, Professor and Head of Advertising at Panteion University in Athens, Greece, found its way into the mix and on the coffee table. And of course, I had to read it!

Jane Austin Game Theorist is a great little book available in hardcopy and ebook format that was featured in the Business School.  Written by Michael Suk-Young Chwe, the author explores a diverse range of literature and folktales that illustrate the wide and relevance of game theory. Game theory is the study of how people make choices while interacting with others – how we all play in the sandbox.  Without the heavy mathematical emphasis, Chwe shows us how we all are strategic thinkers through a literary lens. An interesting approach that makes a complex subject much easier to understand and more importantly, utilize in organizations. A great find – and an interesting read on a rainy day in Copenhagen. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

What’s Important ….


If you want competitive advantage, here is the place to start.  Hyatt and De Ciantis take us on a journey of discovery in one of the most interesting areas of our lives – our values.  Working with values allows us to keep track of what is really important to us. I use this process and program within academic courses at the undergraduate and graduate level as well as executive education. We also use the software package – you can go online and explore, the details are all in the book. It will be added to my course work for Business Anthropology at the Copenhagen Business School this summer (only 7 more sleeps until my flight!)

It makes for a great discussion around the kitchen table or the office. A conversation that needs to happen on a regular basis – just as a reminder that there is more to life than daily routine. The Values Perspective Survey is one of my favourite tools, I highly recommend it.

Popular, thought-provoking, stimulating and (best of all!) fun – working with values perspectives will give you insight towards making better judgments and decisions – for yourself, your family and your organization.

What’s Important: Understanding and Working with Values Perspectives

Creative Confidence


The Kelley brothers from IDEO are at it again. After David Kelley has his brush with cancer, he decided to focus on what was most important to him – a wake up call not so gently delivered. The result is this new book on Creativity. Ever since Ken Robinson stated that ‘creativity is as important as literacy‘ – it has become a cause worth promoting and celebrating. I had the pleasure of listening to David Kelley last week talking about design thinking, bringing to the forefront the human element in products and in organizations. Innovation comes from people, and people can enhance their innate creativity. Nothing is more important to economic viability then leveraging creative capital in our people. A message worth repeating over and over again. The piece that many executives seem to miss is that working from this mindset increases employee engagement, reduces turnover, keeps your talent at home and drives profitability. So what is holding us back? A worthwhile read to get you headed in the right direction.

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All