"It is impossible to learn and look good at the same time"
Julia Cameron

Good morning from a stunning Vancouver morning. 


Brene Brown and the Harvard Business Review are two perspectives that at first might appear disconnected, but I hope you'll see the connection in a couple of minutes. 


In her wonderful book, Daring Greatly, that we've been reading together when we get a chance at home, Brown speaks eloquently about connection and belonging. Connection she writes "is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement." Belonging she writes "is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us." http://brenebrown.com  


And then, last week, a friend sent me this piece from HBR knowing I would be interested. https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-capabilities-your-organization-needs-to-sustain-innovation The capabilities your organization needs to sustain innovation are, according to the research described here, are:


"Creative abrasion. New and useful ideas emerge as people with diverse expertise, experience, or points of view thrash out their differences. The kind of collaboration that produces innovation is more than simple “get-along” cooperation. It involves and should involve passionate discussion and disagreement."


"Creative agility. Almost by definition, a truly creative solution is something that cannot be foreseen or planned. Thus, innovation is a problem-solving process that proceeds by trial-and-error. A portfolio of ideas is generated and tested, then revised and retested, in an often lengthy process of repeated experimentation. Hence Edison’s famous definition of genius: “1 percent inspiration; 99 percent perspiration.” Instead of following some linear process that can be carefully planned in advance, it’s messy and unpredictable."


"Creative resolution. Integrating ideas – incorporating the best of option A and option B to create something new, option C, that’s better than A or B – often produces the most innovative solution. However, the process of integration can be inherently discomforting, emotionally and intellectually."


These capabilities make good sense, but underneath them are two deeper capabilities; connection and belonging.


The HBR article gives Thomas Edison as an example. “...he didn’t work alone. As many have observed, perhaps Edison’s greatest contribution was not one single invention, but rather his artisan-oriented shops – a new way of organizing for innovation that has evolved into today’s R&D laboratory with its team-based approach [Like Pixar].  Edison may get the credit for “his” inventions – it was his laboratory, of course – but each typically arose from years of effort that included many others." 


In fact, connection and belonging are likely precursors of innovation. "Innovations most often arise from the interplay of ideas that occur during the interactions of people with diverse expertise, experience, or points of view. Flashes of insight may play a role but most often they simply build on and contribute to the collaborative work of others."


If you are seeking a more innovative culture for your team or organization; you will need to be confident that creative abrasion can happen. It will only happen when people are connected and belong. You will need to be confident that creative agility is possible.  "Messy and unpredictable" is only safe if people are connected and feel a sense of belonging to a greater good. You will need to be confident that creative resolution is possible, and it will be "discomforting, emotionally and intellectually." Moving through such discomfort is only possible when people are connected and feel as though they belong.


In the end, you cannot force people to be innovative; as a leader you can only create an environment where the organizational capabilities of abrasion, agility and resolution are seeded and nurtured. And such an environment requires that people are connected with each other and belong to something larger than anyone individual.


May this week seed connection and belonging for each and every one of us.

Good morning from a grey and rainy Vancouver. I am haunted by the murders last week in Paris, first at the offices of Charlie Hebedo and then at the Kosher market. One of the many questions that passed through my head and heart was, what are some leadership lessons we might learn here?

One jumped out immediately; respond, don't react. Many years ago, when I was first learning about training and facilitating I taught a lot of 'customer service" courses. One module in one of these courses explored the difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is our first 'lizard brain' response; fight, flight or freeze. We saw and heard lots of those in the early hours of both tragic events, for example some of the anti-Islamic language from some American and British news sources.  Responding is action or behaviour that arises out of reflection. Nuanced responses we saw arise were comments like those of the my friend and sometime colleague, Rabbi Dr. Robert Daum as we both spoke at a rally honouring the lives of those killed in Paris last week, here in Vancouver. http://globalnews.ca/news/1767538/hundreds-gather-in-vancouver-to-honour-the-victims-of-paris-shootings/?hootPostID=816593bc7c2e2cffd0ebf54eb6fbbb92 

"I am proud to say JeSuisCharlie. Not because I support all of the editorial content, or all of the cartoon images, published within Charlie Hebdo. Some I appreciate, others I do not. That is the point of freedom of expression. But out of deep respect for the incommensurable value of the lives destroyed last week by the murderers in Paris, and out of deep appreciation for the privileges and responsibilities of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of expression, I proclaim unequivocally: JeSuisCharlie.

Today I am proud to say, with deep humility and gratitude, JeSuisAhmed. Not because I am a Muslim or a police officer. I am neither. I am a Jew, who works all year round with Muslim leaders and colleagues to contribute to our shared Canada. But out of deep respect for the courageous sacrifice, and the humane French and Muslim values that put Officer Ahmed Merabet in a position of being executed while he was in the process of trying to save the victims of Charlie Hebdo, I proclaim gratefully: JeSuisAhmed.

Today I am proud to say, as a Canadian citizen and as an American citizen, JeSuisJuif. I say this not because I share every view held by every Jew in Vancouver or the world. I do not. I say it out of respect for the victims of the kosher supermarket, who were executed simply because they were Jews, while in the process of trying to buy food to welcome the Sabbath with their loved ones at the end of an ordinary work week. And as a Jewish Canadian, I also express on behalf of my community the deepest respect and gratitude to Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee at that supermarket, who bravely saved several people from being gunned down on Friday. Out of respect for the memories of those killed in the market and for the humanity of Lassana Bathily, I proclaim: JeSuisJuif."

That is a response, not a reaction.  As leaders we are called to respond not react. To respond requires time, yes, but even more importantly, it requires self-knowledge. The self-awareness to be able manage one's own triggers, and to be able to move beyond the selfishness of ego, fear and towards the strength and courage of integration, possibility and hope. As a leader, your organization is actually counting on you to be the foundation of the future. Running around reacting will guarantee a disastrous future. Digging deeper inside of yourself so that you can more effectively respond, builds a healthy and prosperous future.

Let this week be a week of responses.




Good afternoon and welcome to a brand new year, and a brand new look to Leadership Notes. Thank you for joining us.


I hope the holiday season was filled with joy and health for you and yours. And if not, I hope that you are finding strength and courage in the midst of any challenges you might be facing.


I've come across a great tool to use with yourself when you're faced with uncertainties. It reminds me of the great "Red Pill/Blue Pill" scene from The Matrix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE7PKRjrid4 


Say you have to make a decision about a change in your life or work. Find yourself sitting in a comfortable chair, both feet on the ground, and take a couple of deep breaths. Imagine that in the arms of your chair, are two buttons.  A red one and a green one. Pressing the red button leaves everything the same;  the status quo. Nothing changes in your life. Nothing changes in your work. Nothing changes within you. Pressing the green button means that the change sequence is initiated, what ever that means for you. 


And the choice is entirely yours. No judgement required, no regrets, the choice is yours.


I've been using this exercise for about a week, and I've found it quite profound and frankly freeing. It's helped me see my accountability, my responsibility for the choices I make and have made. It also feels somewhat like the starting gate of a ride; I'm not sure exactly what the outcome will be, but I am having a great time. And what ever happens, I was the one who pressed the button.



May this year be one of making choices and accountability.

Good morning from YVR where I begin the last week of travel before the Christmas Break. Leadership Notes will return from alisdairsmith.com in the New Year. A short note this week, to wish you all a wonderful and festive holiday season, and a new year filled with warmth and peace, inside and out. This year feels like I’ve been talking about the future, a lot. And I hope I have. We are in the midst of a great turning. According to the Economist, about 2.8 billion people have smart phones. By year end 2016, that number will be 4.5 billion. Given that the first iPhone came out in June of 2007, we are in the midst of a dramatic change, in both positive and shadow ways. What will your job look like? What will your team look like by the end of 2015? 2016? But perhaps the more important question for us all as leaders is, who will I be at the end of 2015? I want to thank my amazing colleagues at CUSource and Credit Union Central of Canada, who were the very first to receive Leadership Notes, and who encouraged me to keep it up. I look forward to our new working relationship. And to each of you for your continued engagement with Leadership Notes, the emails I receive, the questions and comments that spark more dialogue and your kind remarks when we meet in person are received with great gratitude. Thank you. We’ll start the conversation again in the January 5, 2015 edition of Leadership Notes. Until then, have courage, hold on to what is good, return no one evil for evil, support the weak, and honour life.

I was part of a wonderful conversation over dinner on Monday evening with a group  of people being introduced to the new Bishop of New Westminster, Melissa Skelton.http://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/AboutAnglicans/TheDiocese/BishopMelissaSkelton.aspx  It was a festive evening, with a collection of very interesting people ranging from former provincial cabinet ministers, senior bureaucrats, for profit and not-for-profit executives, with a couple of facilitators thrown in for good measure. And in our midst was  Chief Bobby Joseph,  I urge you to have even a short look at his bio, http://www.sfu.ca/dialogue/programs/blaney-award/joseph-biography.html


I have had the honour of meeting him once or twice in the past, but Monday evening was the first time we were able to speak at any length, as we found ourselves standing to one side of the larger group in a quiet corner of the room. Our conversation focused, not surprisingly on reconciliation and on recent events in the US and elsewhere. I should mention, that because the Bishop was there I was wearing my clerical collar. It was therefore profound for me to be talking with Chief Joseph, especially given the history of the church (across denominations) and the residential schools.  And it was not profound at all, as we are simply two human beings doing the best we can in this place and this time. History, the present and the promise of a reconciled future; it was a wonderful evening.


In the midst of the conversation, Chief Joseph said, ‘you know, I’ve been thinking about this time of year, and that people just seem to become a little better with each other.’



What a thought for us all. What might it take for each of us, in our private, public and corporate lives, to become just a little better with each other? I hope that as we move closer to the holidays and the bringing in of a new year, new hopes, new possibilities, that we might heed the words of an Elder for his people, for Canadians, and for peoples all over the world, and become, a little better with each other.

We awake this morning to the sad news of protests, many turning violent, in the wake of the Grand Jury’s decision not to charge the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I was reminded of a timely conversation I had with Durwin Foster http://www.durwinfoster.com/ a counsellor I met some years ago while working with a mens’ group at the Cathedral where I work in my other job.. www.thecathedral.ca 

Durwin and I met to get caught up, and the subject turned to ethics. We were talking about the difference between “the law” and “ethics”. The difference is often even described about the law in the phrase, the ‘spirit or the letter of the law.’ The business world is filled with examples of us making decisions based on the letter of the law, and not the spirit. And we do so at our peril. When we see an unjust decision, even when we understand the logic behind the decision, even when we see the letter of the law, we will often respond based on our understanding of the spirit of the law.  

And as leaders, standing behind the ‘letter of the law’ is a place that saps your credibility.

Now, I do see the value in logic and the letter of the law, especially when it protects innocent people from mobs of other people who ‘feel’ an injustice has been done. People attacking Mosques, or vandalizing Moslem owned stores for example are reacting based on their emotional response to a perceived injustice. The letter of the law then is absolutely vital for a healthy society.  And all of that said, particularly in the business environment, sticking only to the ‘letter’ of the law in our decision making creates unnecessary rifts in the team.

So here are three suggestions to help build your ‘spirit of the law’ decision making:

1. Think about the kind of decision you’re making. Is it a decision that the team could make themselves for instance. Do you have to make all of the decisions? If not, let the team, or others on the team make some decisions. It will empower them, and add to your credibility.
2. Seek input, and make sure you use the input. Very little angers a team more than being asked to contribute to a decision and then seeing it have no effect.
3. Understand the history of the team and where they have come from. If for example your predecessors were autocratic rulers as leaders it may take some time for the team to become comfortable with making more decisions on their own. Or, if your team was managed by a caretaker manager, who’s main mission in life was avoiding conflict, then you may need to work on the context, help your team understand the need for a more ‘by the book’ style, at least for the time being.

May this week be one of growth and learning and working with the ‘spirit of the law’ in our teams.