Category Archives: People Places Perspectives

Working with Virtual Teams – Everybody’s doing it. You want to do it right.

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This blog, you will notice,  is made up of many people from different places contributing their original works- that is nothing new – now.  But some 2 or 3 years ago when we first really started to venture into the virtual workspace we had little idea what any of us were doing.  Things have come a long way in a short time and many of us are becoming more comfortable with the idea of collaborating and even creating online in groups.  Here are some of my thoughts about leading and motivating these awesome virtual entities into healthy and organic places to create and work!

While volunteering at the Millennium Network I was able to experience the new way of working – virtually.  Once I was in the thick of a project working with a team virtually, I began to understand that I needed new tools and resources to adequately make this virtual workspace successful!


Failures (aka Learning Opportunities)

The first thing I noticed was that all of my years of leadership and management training – were failing me. The techniques relied heavily on face to face communications, including visual cues and vocal tone – there is so much that can be said just by the intonation of your voice.  Secondly, once you’ve electronically met all of your team, managing the varied individual schedules and meeting times was a difficult task; multiple timezones, multiple job types and task schedules -it was a real learning curve. Also the temptation to work or create at all hours of the day because you know someone somewhere is awake needs to be addressed: these tools are supposed to actually free up more personal time – that was how they were originally sold to us!  Just because you and your team can work 24hrs a day doesn’t mean you should be.  Stress, fatigue and members dropping out of the project can be the result! Finally, interpersonal relationships and team dynamics required individual attention, ie: we would have to allocate time with each individual member on a regular basis for one-on-one meetings to ensure tasks were being completed.  Also – I wanted to actually get to know who they were – they weren’t autobots on the other side of the screen (could you imagine? Bumble Bee on my team?!).  The level of accountability definitely changes working virtually – especially when you are volunteering your time (as everyone in this example had been).

Successes! (aka here are some thoughts and tools that might help you keep your sanity):

Virtual leadership for me meant that I had to be incredibly organized.  My beautiful articulate ornate and precise language was counter-productive via email, or Google Docs or even conference calls.  This is where my media writing background finally came in handy.  I had to be concise.  I had to be direct.  I needed to clearly understand the scope of the project and how each individual member (members of committees) fits in the final picture.  I was honest about time-lines and ensured that the team recognized how important those time-lines were to the greater project. I had to motivate them to contribute in ways that were an efficient use of  our time:

Google Docs – great, free, interactivity allows for each member of the team to easily view, contribute and share information in documents, spreadsheets and presentations; not every member has to have gmail to access the documents created by the team lead [though it sure helps!] and you can export documents as needed.

Personal Brain – I LOVE this software for brainstorming, strategy building and mind mapping. It’s free [although I’ve been using it for years and recently upgraded to the pro version].  It allows for a visual respresentation of your thoughts and allows for tangents like documents, webpages, contact information or notes to be added to each thought – so the links between the thoughts are realistic and I just love the way it works! You can print and export parts of your ‘brain’ however you should note that you will only have full functionality for a short while with the free version.  You will be able to retain, change and save all of your future mind mapping – you just won’t be able to export it after the demo time expires.

Basecamp is a pay service which is really professional choice -I have yet to  use this platform specifically but it’s the choice of many small businesses and large enterprises alike.

Applications: My ‘smartphone’ is particuarly inept and hates to function properly so unfortunately I don’t have any insight into mobile apps currently [except for ones that don’t work well – which may be a representation of my phone not the application- I have a 2yr old phone running windows mobile – says it all doesn’t it] but if you have any suggestions please share I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have some insight on these.

Meetings and Time Zones and Schedules Oh My! Pavinder Tut (from the Millennium Network) introduced me to Doodle which I love. I think it’s a great tool and it puts the accountability not only in the hands of the team leader but of each individual as well.  Lord knows I’ve probably spent hours of my life in the past attempting to hunt people down, wait for their responses, reorganize if there’s an issue – Doodle helped make the virtual meeting scheduling much more efficient! (it’s great for regular meetings too!)  Mac Entourage – I also really enjoyed this application as it allowed for so many of my email accounts and project specific information to be pulled from separate external places;   it did a lot of the heavy sorting for me after I had set preferences. Heap CRM was also handy – I used it mainly for storing contact info on the go – but it’s a great simple interface and easy to use.

Individuals Make the Team: I couldn’t understand  personality through the virtual world. .  When you’re meeting anyone for the first few times in person it can be awkward – let alone when they’re not even a real person but rather 1’s and 0’s in your inbox. I would have individual phone calls with the team members just to see what was going on in their world – work related or otherwise.  I needed them to understand that I was actually genuinely interested in their skills and experience.  The internet is a hard place to come across as genuine!

Skype is the obvious cheap and cheerful choice: free calls over the internet from Skype to Skype accounts;  cheap international calling rates, great audio quality; fairly good video quality; chat on the side – we all know how great it is! Mac and PC friendly.

Also Pamela (PC only platform – sadness) is my new friend.  Pamela is a software that allows for Skype video and audio to be recorded! Who knew! As someone who works in media, being able to record interviews or team ideas is a great boon! (Although please do let the other callers know that you are recording the conversations – not disclosing that information makes you creepy not clever)

Also if you are working as a member of the team – give the team lead a head’s up if something’s not working for you! If you don’t feel comfy in how you communicate, create or complete projects – then the entire idea of the autonomy behind the virtual working team is lost. None of the examples above are super original discoveries but I just found that when I was trying to figure out how exactly to function in this new working environment there was little in the way of direct links to tools or resources that worked.    If you have others, let’s add them to the list!

Innocuous beach chair

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Aaah, now…already a promise broken (one I made to myself). Thought was…this blogging endeavour being so pleasurably diverting – surely nothing would impede me from polluting this space with excessive amounts of thoughts and ideas – ramblings so numerous that they’d barely be worthy of sharing. Alas, last week happened…with nary a word contributed by yours truly.

Now that I am back in the proverbial saddle – what to share? My first entry spoke of my artistic passions, and the longing I feel to spend my days positively reveling in my art – making figurative snow angels and sand castles with it – all the while earning some decent cash for my troubles!

This week, how about I try to unpack a related topic: Topics…subject matter…things if you will! If you do perchance recall my first entry, you’d know that I am a photog. What we essentially do – after stripping out the artistry of controlling aperture, shutterspeed, ISO, composition and timing – is record things in a moment in time. What to shoot seldom seems a problem (on that later)…what to share is the tougher nut to crack at present.

You see, the most readily available subject matter remains my extended family with our rampaging horde of sproglets. The wee ones know…when FStop10 visits…you either make tracks, or you relent to the incessant snapping and blithely proceed with the serious business of eating cake, swimming or standing on your head. Some of my best work features a certain 4-year old.

The dilemma – do I share those images here? I have encountered a few exceptionally fascinating bloggers that use the space to not only discuss their families, but to showcase their very lives in prose and images on the internet. Is that for me…mmm, yet to decide.

So…while I wrestle that thought into submission…here is a perfectly innocuous chair!

Perhaps it would be prudent to continue to share images that I made, that do not include people. A challenge, you say?!  I heartily accept. For my next trick…

Thoughts?

Art+Business – I want that love child.

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This is what I was really working on during my  island escape from the city:  an artist business plan.

For artists  ‘business’ is a bad dirty word -it’s quite a taboo subject for some.  So let’s talk dirty – let’s do something naughty, let’s  just do it –  we’re going to create the the love child of Art + Business.  Oh yeah.

Everyone is a business, whether you like it or not. You earn money you have expenses money comes in and goes out and hopefully at the end of the day there’s a little bit left over for savings and rrsps and ice cream.

I’ve been busy reading the usual creative + entrepreneurial blogs: The 99%, GigaOm, TechCruch, FastCompany, and  following up on Toronto + non-Toronto  based entertainment + tech entrepreneurs (Kunal Gupta, Gurbhaskh Chahal*, Zark Fatah*,  , Uniq Lifestyle’s Nitsa Tsoumaris* – one of the few female entertainment leaders I’ve come across).  Amazing people working on very different ideas that all intersect in parallel industries.  I’ve been mulling over their accomplishments, and comparing and contrasting their businesses with the smaller non-profits that I have worked for.

For-profit or non-profit organizations start the same way:  someone has a great idea and starts gathering people and resources to execute their vision.  However the trajectory for the for-profit start-up is very different compared to the non-profit  start-up which seems to have a much more difficult time finding partners for growth even if the ideas are sound.  Whereas for-profit start-ups seem to be able to gather capital even if the idea is inherently risky.

With a VERY broad brush – here are my thoughts:

The non-profit organization model is somewhat like an older woman with maternal tendencies:  steadfast, dependable, self-assured, resourceful and willing to make whatever sacrifices it takes to her own material wealth to ensure the health of the family unit. But this model has inherently been neglected by investors because of the lack of financial return (obviously).  Growth becomes difficult without capital.

Whereas the for-profit model is much more like a young man in his prime with an adolescent swagger: well connected, brand-conscious, self interested, status driven, willing to risk whatever it takes to be recognized by his peers as number 1.  Investors have always loved these kinds of organizations – venture capitalists salivate at the thought of the financial potential gain – but I wonder if they recognize how many for-profits are inherently neglectful of the very communities that are supporting them.

I want to be both a mom and an alpha male.

The non-profit world does so much amazing work – the people are incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and educated, but  overworked and underpaid. In many instances the non-profit worker is without health benefits – which makes them vulnerable.  You shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to help your community.    On the other hand, the corporate world has the incredible ability to raise huge amounts of capital in short periods of time; but does so at the expense of common or community goods and values.

Hence my business plan – where I’m trying to manage, or rather mix, both cultures into a third more holistic business culture – the Social Enterprise.  Cultural Careers Council Ontario has been a huge help.  Many people, including MaRS in Toronto,  are working on these ideas and  my own works are a small part of this experiment.

If you were going to create a business plan for your own life – which model would you be? For Profit? Non-Profit?  Social Enterprise? What kinds of ways would you be comfortable making money?  What material assets could you not do without?

Try to build your own basic business plan for your own lively hood – it’s daunting, daring and a surprisingly fun.  Here’s a great PDF primer for artists (but it’s useful info for everyone)  from the Cultural Human Resources Council: AMYC-Chapter1-en

*I have a TON of respect for these guys – they are all self-made, they’ve worked like crazy to get where they are, they run successful businesses which are all highly recognized – but what’s the deal with the dark backgrounds and shiny pics?  Have you noticed how similar the aesthetic is between all of these brands- even Mr. Chahal’s brand  even though he  is actually a tech entrepreneur?   Intriguing – needs a thesis I think – something along the lines of male dominated industry + night time pursuits with inherently dark imagery to evoke the mysterious exotic aspect of their brands…..I struggle with this idea with my own branding – I think this is another post in the making.  Meggy Wang and I have had great conversations about this topic – I think it’s going to be my next post.   Any thoughts?
PS: My interview with Manu Sharma from The Natural Capital Project will happen in the next week! Keep an eye out!

A baboon on the roof

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It would be a crying shame to veer completely off the engaging and relevant train of thought sparked by my illustrious fellow floggers (first time bloggers…just trying the word…I know, I am ignoring the “t”…but it just doesn’t fit!…now I am wondering if it sounds rude, mmm).

So I won’t…veer off that is. I like ellipses…you will get to know that about me…

Anyhoo…career choices and all the various considerations that go along with that topic occupy my addled mind daily. Like John Malkovich, my brain has a 9th and a half floor (in my case this is where the slightly off thoughts go to procreate). And though my anxiety does not take the form of a walrus (fabulous imagery inkling7)…it does do an admirable job of turning my plump and shiny creative drive into a raucously deflating whoopee cushion, taunting me with self-doubt and derision! Is my art good enough? Can I monetize my passion? Which one of my lovingly fostered obsessions is most marketable. (the one I can charge the most for, of course!) Oy!

Luckily for me, the clear winner in that dubious contest is an abiding, lifelong preoccupation of mine. (I will expand on my beginnings in a later post) I am almost afraid of admitting what it is…as every man and his dog claims the same pastime as their own. Somehow the proliferation of this art form makes it difficult to admit to doing it – for fear of being lumped into some mediocre, pedestrian, meh group of blahness. I make images…with an SLR…I am a photographer.  (and yep…my name, if you know about aperture, is kind of messed up…there is no fstop 10 – it just sort of happened, OK!)

It isn’t my day job…yet? (I am so excited…I have successfully pulled Sachin and inkling7’s musings into my first contribution. Holy, preamble!

So, to clearly state my humble intentions – due to my walrus (© inkling7)/whoopee cushion conundrum – I would love to use this space to share my art…with you. Instinct kicks in and I feel compelled to blurt out an excuse about not being a pro, or utter “I know I am probably not worthy, but!” That would do a disservice not only to me, but to the bravery of my co-conspirators (gave up on the word floggers…it definitely sounds dirty!).

In our midst here we have the brave and inspiring muso (who puts the B in our blog at the very least!), an undercover creative writer (who I am yet to meet, but am confident is a genuine mensch) and our courageously thoughtful (yes I know it is another word for brave…but inkling7 is that too!) writer and philosopher and all round tremendous individual. And photog (me) makes 4.

My first share: An image I am rather pleased with. I took this with my 70-300mm lens, from across the road. He was sitting on my neighbour’s roof…surrounded by his marauding troop. These guys raid the gardens and kitchens of any house in their path. Their only there for the snacks though…no one usually gets hurt. (unless an idiotic human makes the wrong move)

Guarding the troop is tiring work – and my choppers can be pretty threatening!

My thanks…

Plan B…

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Thanks to B for that intro and to Sachin for his insightful post, which was indeed food for thought!

Interests, aptitude or financial security – oh my!  Quite the dilemma…

No doubt it becomes an even more trying issue when you have a number of varied interests and aren’t quite sure which one you’d like to pursue, when you’re skills may or may not be marketable, and/or when you have a sneaking suspicion that a predictable/banal/secure job might crush your soul (just a little bit – even if only around the edges).

It doesn’t help either when that dreaded beast (Career) Anxiety (which I’ve often imagined would appear as a walrus toting a briefcase, should it be so inclined as to take material form – go figure!) lumbers over your thoughts, your plans, your imaginative inklings and does it’s very best to crush them under it’s lumpy, bulbous belly.  It barks and honks at you (“What if?,” “Is this the right choice?,” “Could this be an awful mistake?”) and refuses to clean up after itself when it leaves…..What a horrible house guest!

Well, I’m not sure what combination of “interests, aptitude and/or financial security” it’s best to go with (particularly in this economy!), but in hopes of finding some kind of answer, I’ve made a concerted effort of late to seek out the counsel of older folks – you know, those who have already settled into their careers and who seem satisfied with their choices.  Curiously enough, many of them have instructed me to follow my “passion” or to “look into my heart” to find an answer.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this advice.  Do you buy it?  What if your “heart” has taken a vow of silence?

One colleague with a very enviable career path offered these consoling words: “Don’t worry, I didn’t figure it out ‘til I was like 40.  You just gotta keep trying different things until you figure it out”.

I’ve decided to take comfort in that.

I suppose a career is as much a work in progress as is anything else… if all else fails, look for Plan B and refuse to be taken hostage by any walrus you should happen to bump into (particularly if it’s of the imaginary variety!).

First Post – Career Choice

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Hi, I’d like to thank Bandana for the intro, my name is Sachin and this is my first post, truth be told I was struggling on deciding what topic to discuss and as I was contemplating, it dawned on me that I would touch on something I’ve been talking to friends/acquaintances as of late being career choice.

I think it’s a very relevant and important topic that is often touched on but not explored, specifically as to the driving factors that effect one’s decision in determining what career path they will pursue.  Most of my friends are in their mid-late 20’s, some have recently changed jobs into a completely new field and others are considering going to back to school to gain more credentials and skills.

Based on my experiences and I think everybody would agree in general, money is more often than not a big consideration when choosing either a specific job or considering what career to endeavour into; the stereotypes that doctors, lawyers and in general professionals, do very well holds true and since most people work to earn a living, it would seem logical to choose a profession that pays well.  I think as a pretense, when planing what field you want to enter, money is a consideration and in fact in my opinion it’s a valid consideration, after all if you plan to raise a family and lead a certain lifestyle, your payscale can be a limiting factor.  On the flip side, I know we’ve all met people who have entered a job on a temporary basis, been very successful such as in a sales environment and because they are doing very well financially, do not consider going back to school or building on a skill set that they may be more interested in.

This brings me to an obvious second consideration which should be like/dislikes and interests.  I’m sure we all remember being asked in elementary school what our favorite subject is?  Of course the guys say phys ed and the girls say art (I’m joking, don’t want to get myself in trouble here), but on a serious note your initial interests may be in sports or something adventurous like being an astronaut or a fireman.  However, to use an extreme example to make the point, if you can’t hit an 85 mph curve ball, your probably not going to play professional baseball.

Of course that was an extreme example, in a lot of cases you can build on a skill set such as acting if your interest lies in being a professional actor.  But it does bring up what I consider a third factor that most should consider which is aptitude, this quote from Bill Clinton that I came across I think describes it best:

Sometime in my sixteenth year I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.[14]

So, I think it begs the question, which approach be it your interests, aptitude or financial security drive your decisions? and also from a practical standpoint is it more prudent to take a job in a field that is a compromise of all three?  I’d like to hear your feedback, that in fact was a much longer post then I had intended to do on my first one, I hope it provides some food for thought.

The Natural Capital Project – What is that Forest Really Worth?

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In my own work and art I have been very interested in trying to bring value to things that have been helping us along in life but never really get the recognition they deserve.

Our communities have had to endure environmental degradation and exploitation for commercial purposes. Let’s not be too smug – we need businesses to employ our communities and provide us with goods and services. But over the past little while we have finally collectively recognized that the ways in which we do business currently are not sustainable.

Lake Louise, Alberta Canada ~ We undervalue our natural resources and the commercial market is not the only place where these resources derive value.

THE NATURAL CAPITAL PROJECT is moving forward with research to develop tools that will allow business leaders to make more informed decisions about the environmental resources they use and how they use them.

“Ecosystem Services” is a phrase you are going to start hearing a lot more often.  It’s a concept that proposes that nature is doing a lot of work that is simply not being recognized; if we can provide a way for the work nature does  (that we rely on) to be recognized,  we can consider the implications of our actions.  It’s an interesting idea which is much along the same lines of SROI (Social Return on Investment) – where the value being created by non-profits and other social ventures is not wholly represented by a monetary return. For the true value of the work to be undrestood the monetary and non-monetary values (i.e. social good or ecosystem service) needs to be recognized together in a holistic manner.  For a more “official” definition of Ecosystem Services click here.

From my understanding the good people at The National Capital Project have been creating “demonstration projects” at sites where changes to the environment can have drastic consequences.  These sites are where models are being created for leaders from other organizations to SEE  how the models and tools work and more importantly how to integrate these new ideas into their own decision making processes (all links are from The Natural Capital Project):

This is a joint project between Stanford University, the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

I’m pretty interested in this concept as it does relate to my own readings in SROI.  I’m going to try to do an interview with Manu Sharma  – an engineer who is currently working on the project who is based at Stanford. (He also happens to be one of my dearest friends ever in life – when I learned about his work I was pretty awe-struck).

Until my interview with Manu – If you have 60 seconds (which I know you do)  take a listen to this podcast from Scientific American about ecosystem services (I found the link to this via The Natural Capital Project website)

PS: Keep up the good work in your life!  I know sometimes it may seem like you’re not making a recognizable contribution – so tell us what you are up to! We can’t recognize you and your awesomeness if we don’t know what you’re about! Monetary value is only one point on the value spectrum – you are awesome – your work is bringing value into the world – share your passion!  Take comfort in the stories of others and know that you are not alone.  Work hard and fight the good fight my friends.

Did you say new contributors?

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Why yes – yes I did!

I’m so happy to announce that there will be several new contributors to B is for Blog!! (Hooray!)

The first to join us will be Sachin142.

Sachin142 is an engineer by profession, but a creative writer at heart.  It’s going to be awesome to have his perspective on literature, pop culture and other things we have yet to decide!

Keep an eye out for his first post! (Hopefully this week!)

The Doctor and Me part 2

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Wards Island Toronto

Last Tuesday May 11, I had a pretty awesome opportunity to have dinner with Dr. Gretchen Roedde. When I arrived at her island retreat she already had dinner ready! (Tasty Thai shrimp with roasted vegetables, fried rice, and curried cauliflower – tasty!)  At this point if you have no idea what I’m talking about you may want to refer to “The Doctor and Me part 1” which is below.

A little bit about Dr. Gretchen Roedde:

picture from my phone

Me and Dr. Gretchen Roedde on the Toronto Island Ferry

She grew up on the island, then decided to pursue an anthropology degree, had a vision that she would help people through medicine and decided just like that to go to medical school.

After completing med school at McMaster University she and her family moved to a small remote community in northern Ontario so she could help train Aboriginal health care workers. She has two lovely children a son and daughter  – both of whom she adores.  (Her son plays in a punk band too! The band is called “Crank Radio“)

Gretchen is so totally cool, and has stories that are pretty rad.  My favourite line  from our conversations  was “Those who wonder are not lost.”  She even came by my Mom’s workplace just to say hello! So my family is totally taken by her warmth!

She graciously let me read her manuscript for her upcoming book titlted “A Strange Calling”.   When I went over for dinner I decided to take my little handy-cam with me.  You will find links to her articles on the blog sidebar (on the right hand side of the page!)

We recorded a bit of our conversations that night and I wanted to share them with you – super inspiring:

*Note – you may want to listen to the video through headphones.

The Doctor and Me part 1

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If you saw the recent Vlog (previous post) – this is an extension of my first meeting with the awesome Doctor:

May 4th 2010

I just met the most incredible woman last night on the late night ferry back to the island.

She’s a doctor who has committed her life to Mother and Child health.  She’s lived the last 30 years in 25 countries, through conflict, through fear, through inaction by government and ngo’s alike (not surprising, but still so sad). She’s helped to create programming that has been implemented and bravely tells the stories of women and children,  families and communities who  so desperately need a voice in Canada and around the world.

She has been using her knowledge to physically reach out and meet the people who require her KNOWLEDGE EYE TO EYE.

More importantly she wants urgently for her knowledge to be transferred to as many people as possible.  Not in a top down, Western feminist ‘I know what’s best for the world’ kind of way – No, she wants her knowledge to help bridge the gaps between traditional and institutional medicine.

Her devotion to her work, and her understanding of the need, the responsibility for great thinkers to also be great leaders of actions was so INCREDIBLY INSPIRING.

She has graciously allowed me to read the manuscript of her upcoming publication (prior to going to print).

I’ll be having dinner with the Doctor on Tuesday evening to discuss the manuscript and life in general!  I would love to introduce you to her.  I’ll keep you posted – this is going to be something amazing.