"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
Wayne Gretzky

Good morning, the last week of summer holidays here in Canada, and the back to school rush is in full swing. My advice, if you don’t have kids, don’t go shopping this week! And  of course for parents, students and teachers here in BC, our hopes are for a settlement in this frustrating work stoppage.
I have a friend named Bob. Bob sells the “Megaphone”, a ‘street newspaper’ in front of my local grocery store. http://www.megaphonemagazine.com/ I buy copies periodically, especially if there is an interesting article. The most recent article has a very interesting article called “Battling the War on Drugs; Inside Canada’s Overdose Crisis” that I highly recommend. But what got me thinking about leadership was in my horoscope on the last page Yes, my horoscope. Megaphone’s Horoscopes are periodically just quirky enough to stop me in my tracks. Virgo’s sign reads “A creative rut has taken hold. Art tip: reignite your childlike wonder by asking, at dinner parties, what would you rather have: a dragon or a beard?”
I think it is a great question; it’s big enough, it’s ambiguous, it’s the kind of question that comes out of left field and stops us mid thought. And I’m sure it would be a lot of fun at a dinner party.  And it is a great indicator of the source of creativity in our work. I suggest creativity is derived from questions, not answers. All too often we are expected to attend meetings with answers and not questions; that old school line ‘don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions’ comes to mind. The key, as we’ve learned from folks like Peter Senge and Peter Block, lies in the crafting of  good questions.
Specifically, avoid questions like, ‘here is our problem, what does everybody think?’ That’s a sure way to invite crickets into the meeting room. Rather, how about (stealing from Peter Block) what is the crossroads at which we find ourselves here? Or, (stealing from Juanita Brown) ‘if our success were completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we take here?’ These and other questions are often called “Powerful Questions” in the language of Co-Active Coaching. Here’s a list of good ones; http://www.thecoaches.com/docs/resources/toolkit/pdfs/31-Powerful-Questions.pdf
As you go through your week, spend as much time asking questions as you can, and you’ll find that the creativity in your team will begin to increase. And the more ambiguous the question the better; and let me know, what would you rather be, a dragon or a beard and why?


Good afternoon, and I hope you’ve have a wonderful couple of weeks! While the summer is still in full swing, the sounds of September are clearly being heard.
Yesterday, I was visiting a friend and her daughter in the ICU and Childrens’ Hospital in Vancouver. As I was washing my hands before entering the daughter’s room, I noticed a monitor screen with an interesting image. It read “Good healthcare begins with good communication. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Share any concerns that you have with the team.”
I was struck by how simple and profound the statements were. And wouldn’t every team be that much more successful, if we asked questions and listened to the answers! One of the challenges I think is endemic in business, in communities, in politics, in families is that we might ask questions, but we all too often answer the question ourselves with our own narrative and plot twists.
Sometime ago I was managing a small team. I had been around a bit, but was new to this team.  The folks reporting to me had some tenure in their jobs, but there were some questions about real competency for one of them; you know where someone knows 80% of the job,  but not the full 100%. On a couple of occasions, this person asked me a direct question about something in the 20%. My reply was met with a sigh and downcast eyes, because it meant they needed to do some more work; they clearly did not like my answer. A couple of days later, I’d observe that the task was not done, and that in fact it was still sitting on their desk. I approached and asked about it. They said, well, it was something that the previous supervisor had done, and that they felt that I was treating them unfairly, and that ‘everyone in the office agreed with them…’ You get the picture.
My colleague had asked a question, but clearly was not paying attention to my answer. They had their own narrative about things would progress, and how the workload would unfold. Does this sound familiar?
Now the key here is not simply that my answer is always correct, nor that you should only ask a question once, and if the answer is not satisfactory, for ever hold your peace. The key is found in the third statement above; “share any concerns with the team (or the parents in this case)” Don’t make stuff up. Successful communications is about asking questions, listening to the answers and carrying on the conversation if you don’t like the answer. You may still not like the answer, but perhaps you might understand the logic behind the answer.
May this week be one filled with real dialogue and conversation; questions, answers and exploration. And remember, don’t make stuff up.


The June 2014 issue of Fast Company has a great piece about the 100 Most Creative People in Business. I was leafing through the magazine again this morning and caught an interview with Jerry Seinfeld (#26 on the list.) He was asked why he chose to work on his new offering, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee  http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/ ? He replied, “The only thing that appeals to me is getting shot into an unknown universe…. The most fun game is one you’ve never played and you’re inventing as you go along.”
Boy oh boy, do I love the sound of that! And as I’ve been remarking on over the past number of weeks, our world is changing dramatically. We are all being shot into an unknown universe and are inventing the game as we go along. And paradoxically, the old world, the safe world, is still holding us by the heels. The same structures, the same old economics, the same old business models seem to make so much sense to us. In the financial world for example, the regulatory environment that saved so much of Canada from the real ravages of the last recession is telling us all to be afraid, focus on risk, and for heaven’s sake don’t move outside the usual way we’ve always done things. And you know what, they are doing a wonderful job, they are safeguarding the deposits of Canadians, and they raising the bar for directors and boards. We need them to be doing that, and they are gripping our heels. We need a balance, and we need the courage to move forward. And it’s not just regulators, it’s boards, it’s executives, and it’s you and I in sectors and businesses across the economy. The world is changing and we’re still stuck in old ways, in large part because of fear.
We need to look beyond the way things have worked in the past. We need a collective shot into an unknown universe. And to prepare us, we need to focus on trying new things. Each and every day, try something you haven’t done. Try a different food, take a different way home from work, change the furniture arrangement in your home, do a different circuit in the gym, say yes to an idea at work, the list is endless. We have all sorts of ways and means of trying new things. The more we do, the more we will change ourselves. And the more we change ourselves, the more courageous we will be. Because the worst thing that has happened for us in the past 20 years is that we are now more afraid. And fear filled people do not make good decisions.
Try something new this week, and find the courage inside to make a difference for yourself and for each other.


Good morning and I hope your world is a beautiful as the weather is here in Vancouver this week.

It’s Pride Week in Vancouver. Like cities in the rest of Canada, Vancouver ranks as one of the most inclusive cities on the planet. 10's of thousands of people will line the streets in the West End on Sunday for the Pride Parade. And this week's festivities were ceremoniously opened by Mayor Gregor Robertson at City Hall on Monday. Politicians from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the city were on hand, all wanting to get pictures with each other!

Deep down, I see Pride Week as evidence of transformation. A transformation of a whole city. People point to various moments in the life of this amazing city as pivotal in our journey towards inclusiveness; the shameful  Komagata Maru incident 100 years ago this year when a ship full of Sikh men was refused entry to the port after a perilous journey from India, the internment of Japanese families during the 2nd World War, the ‘hippies’ camped at Coal Harbour, the AIDS crisis, EXPO '86, and even more recently, the 2010 Winter Olympics.

I suggest a different metaphor. We ‘wrestle’ with inclusiveness in our social and corporate lives. It is not because of a specific moment in history, rather it is a constant wrestling match between our selfish egos and the other. This week in Vancouver we celebrate the inclusion in our social networks, of our Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Two Spirit, Questioning sisters and brothers. And we now wrestle with how we might move to a broader and then healthier city that values everybody, regardless of their income or their mental or physical health. Or in organizations, how do we include the outside thinker, the person who does not want to go on the company picnic, or who challenges the status quo ideas? How do we open ourselves to including those who would have us change, would have us transform? We have come a long way, and the road is long.

In this month’s BC Business http://www.bcbusiness.ca/ in the “Visual Learning” section, there are some very funny lines about ‘Creating a Company Vision’. One really struck my eye; “Gather the oldest, whitest males from the company, put them in a boardroom and let the magic fly.” And I thought, ‘hmmm, I’m in my mid-fifties, I’m white, I facilitate these things, often with men who are older than me in board rooms. What is this saying to me?” Inclusiveness is difficult in the workplace. We may see and hear ideas that don’t make sense to us. We may get defensive (always dangerous). We may say, ‘well that may be fine in your happy little hipster world, but here in the real world…” We may say or do any number of things to edit the ideas into something we think is palatable. And we may be exactly right in doing or saying any one of these things. Or we could be completely wrong. Inclusiveness is vital for creativity and innovation. It is the way we learn, it is the way we grow, it is the way new possibilities emerge. It is through inclusiveness that we grow up.

Just like each and every one of us, as we face life's difficulties, and as this city has learned over the last 125 or so years, we grow, we change, we become different. Our selfish egos wrestle with ideas and possibilities in the other and become bigger, stronger more inclusive minds and hearts. May that growth  continue for each and every one of us.

I’ve been thinking and talking with people about change a lot recently.  And then my dear friend David J Smith, the author of “If the World Were a Village” and “This Child, Every Child” http://www.mapping.com/resources.shtml gave us an advance copy of his wonderful new book, “If; A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking and Big Ideas and Numbers” to be in book stores on August 1st. It is a wonderful book, I can highly recommend it.

The first page I opened to was one that said, “ If all the inventions and discoveries humans have made were laid out on a measuring tape 36 inches long….” So here are some of the items. Fire would be at one end, representing about 780,000 years ago. At about 18 inches, humans first build shelters. The bow and arrow is first used about 33 inches. The wheel, 35 ¾ inches.  David then notes, “In the last 1/10 in. come all the inventions in the past 2000 years, from the number zero, to paper and plastics, telephones, cars, computers and satellites.” 

What is both exciting and unnerving, is the next 20 years. The next tiny, tiny sliver of this measuring tape, will likely change our world (positively and negatively) as much as the last 2000. For example the first Blackberry Smart phone appeared 11 short years ago. The first iPhone was released in 2007 (and discontinued in 2008 when the iPhone 3G appeared) Might this new mobility be the Gutenberg printing press of our time? Certainly the financial services business is working very hard to keep up with a concept unheard of five years ago; mobile payments. Our technology systems are getting smaller and smaller, and will soon be more than handheld, they will be embedded into us; ‘google glasses become google contacts?!” We are already noticing that people born say after 1985 in the West, appear to think at least a little differently. Consider the difference for example between technology natives and technology immigrants. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/april-rudin/life-on-a-social-media-is_b_4600429.html.

 A few weeks ago, I wrote about exponential change, http://www.alisdairsmith.com/index.php/leadership-notes/260-change. I suggested there that there were three main practices to focus on for leaders at this time:
1. Keep learning. Assume that you too need to be growing your intellectual, emotional and spiritual intelligence exponentially just to stay ahead of the curve.
2. Practice collaboration. In an increasingly connected world, the lone hero is increasingly irrelevant. You cannot do it all anymore.
3. Practice inclusivity. There will be huge opportunities to learn from other cultures, other philosophies and ideas in the coming decades. Just as there will be no more room for the lone hero, the idea of a single way, will becoming redundant. We will not be competitors but co-operators.

The one thing I’d like to add to this focus list this week, especially for the ‘Boomers’ who are ‘in charge’ now, get digitally connected. Yes face to face dialogue is important for us, and, (and this is a big and) the digital revolution itself is creating possibilities we have not yet begin to imagine. If you think the last 200 years has been crazy, welcome to the next 20!


I’ve been thinking about hope.  I have a good friend, a very gifted consultant, and one of the readers of Leadership Notes who famously said once, ‘hope is not a strategy.’ And she is right. If your corporate strategy involves hoping that the big employer comes to town, hoping that more customers will buy a certain product, or even on a personal level hoping that a lottery will look after your retirement, you’re likely in for a rude awakening.

That said, hope is in our DNA; it motivates, invigorates, pulls, pushes and cajoles. It inspires, comforts, and tickles us. And hope is entirely intrinsic; there is no pill, there is no button to press. The phrase “gives me/us hope” suggests it is a gift from someone or something, but it is entirely up to us to use or discard it.

And this raises the question, what is it for which we hope? We might hope that the attractive person at the next table notices us too. We might hope that our team wins the big game, or that we get a raise? Above all, we hope that our existence has some meaning, that our presence is valued and that we have made a difference.

The most effective leaders know this. The most effective leaders create environments where others find meaning, where other’s presence is valued and where others can make a difference.  Think about the teachers, the coaches, the managers you’ve had in your life; the best ones had confidence in you and your skills and abilities. They gave you hope and you then chose to build on it. One example from my career was Linda Archer asking me to go to a client site to teach a course on a subject I was only just learning myself. I remember standing between the two beds in the hotel room, the overhead transparencies (yes that long ago) spread out on one of the beds, as I rehearsed and prepared for the gig. She had confidence in me, she gave me hope and I haven’t looked back since. You can do that too. You can give hope to one of your team and make a difference for someone.

Thanks Linda, you made a difference for me and for many others.

May this week be one of giving and receiving hope for all of us.