Monthly Archives: November 2013

My Best Interest?

Well, end of another month and time for some random blog / life related thoughts from me. Ironically I would have thought these would be the least read, but they actually do pretty well, so I keep doing them. Not that I have any better ideas most of the time.

Time to rip off the bandaid: If you don’t know I’ve been on the job hunt for the last little while. I’m enjoying the conversations and the prospect of new opportunities is always exciting. There are just a few things that have been worrying me lately.

Snap It could be one of the highlights of my application (depending on the job), but I also have a little anxiety about how it could have a negative effect. Even while interviewing for my last job the completely fair question of “Do you plan on quitting once your business becomes big enough?” was asked.

While I don’t really see that happening, it can be hard to concisely explain, and that’s assuming I get an interview. Seeing that someone has an ownership stake of business on a resume may be a discounting factor. It’s hard to get the time and energy commitment from a few paragraphs.

The second, possibly more glaring worry, is this blog. While I don’t think that I write about anything too controversial (stem-cell research and Iran’s new ability to refine nuclear materials come to mind), this blog is still opinion based and much to my horror, not everyone always shares my opinion.

I’ve had more than one situation where someone has spoken to me about something they didn’t agree with or ow they took something personal. While I love the discussion, I don’t want to be alienating people. Taking a stance on anything will mean that there will be people on the opposite side, which isn’t always an easy thing.

So is it in my best interest to keep writing?

Being a stubborn person, I’m going to say yes. What I’ve been saying in this blog has been true to me and if there is anyone who chooses to discount me as a person based on it, the relationship was likely to be short-lived regardless.

While I love to have my opinions and defending them, what I love more is the conversation that comes from opposing views. Some of the people I would consider my closest friends and I have extremely combative relationships, but I’m weird that way. If I go for a drink with you and we end up arguing the entire time about something meaningful I would consider that a pretty good night out. What can I say? I had an exciting upbringing.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have restraint. I know there’s a time and place for debate and a time to get on board. Some disagreements aren’t worth having and it may be best just to move on and I can usually do that very well, too. The good thing about my style is that as long as the discussion stays academic I won’t be taking any of it personally and there is no strain on the relationship.

So I guess I should say sorry to anyone that I’ve ruffled the feathers of in a post or two. I still love you.

Rob Ford: Bullying Victim

Alright, I hope that you all stick with me, because this is going to take some open-mindedness from all of us. First, I’m going to quickly run through everything this article is NOT:

  • NOT supporting the decisions Rob Ford has made of late, specifically regarding his recreation activities.
  • NOT saying that extreme bullying isn’t an issue and we shouldn’t take it seriously.
  • NOT comparing Rob Ford in any way to a victim of bullying. Like with most hurtful acts, there is nothing to be gained in labelling severity. If a fellow human has hurt you, that sucks. Plain and simple.

What I am wanting to do here is remind people that there’s always at least two ways to look at anything AND we should all sometimes take a moment to remember that the faces we see on TV are real people too.

We are bullying Rob Ford. At least in Manitoba we are, according to law. The “Bullying Act” clearly describes and defines actions that many people are taking against Rob Ford as “bullying”. Here’s a few excerpts:

…is intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property…

…may be direct or indirect…

…A person participates in bullying if he or she directly carries out the bullying behaviour or intentionally assists or encourages the bullying behaviour in any way…

It’s there in black and white, so to speak. For every Tweet, comment and talking head on TV making fun, an act of bullying has taken place. So why hasn’t someone smarter than be brought this up before?

I would venture a guess that some of the answers would be along the line of, “He chose to be in the public spotlight,” “He participated in illegal activities,” or “He lied to the public.” Well, unfortunately I don’t see anywhere in the legislation that bullying isn’t allowed unless the person is a public figure, broke the law or is a liar. Bullying is bullying and it’s not allowed.

Tough pill to swallow?

The thing is that when Acts are created, they are usually done with the best of intentions. Legislators wanted to protect children, as we all do. Some terrible things happened and we the public rallied to put an end to it. Unfortunately when the law was being drafted, the ridiculousness of Rob Ford was likely the furthest thing from everyone’s mind.

But now the Act exists and we can’t pick and choose who it applies to. To take from the jargon of a different celebrity’s legal problems, if the glove fits…

So what are we to do? Turn a blind eye every time the majority of people decide that it’s OK to bully someone? Go back and re-examine the law and add some specificity?

Personally I hope that we collectively take the high road. Realize that Rob Ford ain’t doing so well, but he is also a fellow human being. Him and his family would likely benefit from some quiet time and regardless of where you or I stand on the issue of his behaviour, it’s going to get sorted out one way or another.

Personally, I think that situations like this are a little like a bully in the playground. While it may not always work, it’s surprising the amount of times that ignoring them will make the situation go away.

Scalable Skills

Being a business grad can be a tricky thing. Regardless of the program that you went through, the exact technical skills required for any job were not something that you likely learned in school. I’m sure it’s like this for all people starting jobs, but I like to write what I know.

What’s more is it seems like there’s a very strong bias to those who have done the exact thing that a company is hiring for when filling roles. Regardless of how well you did anything in the past, if you can somehow make your experience sound like it fits in the box that they are lumping things in, you’re the type of person that they want!

While I’m not saying that a level of proficiency related to the position being hired for is important, I do think that there is something to be said about a person who doesn’t have direct experience, but has a related skill set. That way you have someone who has obviously learned a similar job and your company gets the opportunity to train them. You’re not hiring some other company’s bad habits.

All of this, in my mind, is yet another reason that a side business is a great idea for any new grad. While you likely won’t get the exact experience that is needed for a job you’re applying for, there is a high likelihood that you will have done something related. The key is being able to communicate that your skills are scalable.

Talking about my experience (again, writing what I know), I’ve been intimately involved in the development, evolution and re-development of a product. In financial management, marketing, sales, project management, service delivery, customer interfacing, researching and now hiring. There’s likely more.

Would any of those experiences be to the same extent as if I was working in one of those functions at a larger company? Likely not. Are they still valuable and show that I’m not only able to learn what is needed, but identify what that need is? Yep.

I’m here to tell you, anyone can do this.

Even if you don’t want to start a business for yourself, there is always some crossover in your job or volunteer work. Just because you had a certain title doesn’t mean you weren’t exposed to other skill sets, so make sure that you really think about what they were and how it felt to perform those tasks. They may end up coming in handy in the future.

Coaching vs Consulting

I don’t know why, but for some reason it seems to me that lately the line between a consultant and a coach has been blurred. I don’t know if it’s because one seems more promotable than the other, if those in a coaching / consulting role fancy themselves as both or people don’t hold the same definitions as I do, but I think it’s a difference worth talking about.

It’s an important distinction, because when hiring one or the other an individual or business should know what it is getting. Also, if you are either a coach or a consultant, by promoting yourself incorrectly it may lead to a number of waste-of-time inquirers, or worse, frustrating engagements that can fall apart and even damage your reputation.

It’s also easy to realize why there may be some confusion. From a contractor standpoint, they are both usually engaged to work on a specific project and there is an agreed upon desired outcome. Typically what they are working on would not be considered the “day-to-day” business of the firm. The word “change” would come to mind.

While there are some general similarities, the specific differences are what make the distinction between the two very important.

Consultants are typically hired to help a business make a decision or implement some sort of specified change. That is to say the provide recommendations based on their expertise and even go as far as to manage the change. How I would summarize it as they take the information available to them, make a decision and then work with the company to make it a reality.

The information and communications typically come from them, with the company listening to the expertise of the consultant and effecting operations as necessary. The change comes from the outside.

Coaching is a different process. Rather than having expertise in a specific field, coaches provide a different framework in which the companies or individuals within the company grow and change. Rather than hiring someone to come in and give an answer, when companies hire coaches they should expect to work with them in order to create success from within.

If that doesn’t seem to make sense, think of a coach in high level sports. It is up to the players to have the level of skills necessary to compete at that level. The coach’s job is to organize the team and structure the type of play in order to achieve the best results possible with the available players.

There’s never a time where the coach jumps in the game because they are able to play better than the athlete in question. Such is the same with coaching; they don’t necessarily have necessary skills in order to complete the specific tasks of those they are working with. They do, however, understand what is needed in order to work together with them to maximize performance. In other words, coaches listen.

So next time someone throws around the title “Coach” as it relates to a business function, challenge them and see if they’re actually just a consultant in disguise.

Should You Work For Free?

A few days ago there was a piece in the New York Times by Tim Kreider calling for all those he considers artists (essentially freelancers) to stop giving their work away for free. The end result being that if all writers, musicians, illustrators, etc. were to refuse to work for free, then they would all start making more. Those who wanted their products or services could no longer just move down the list until they found someone who was willing to do the work for nothing.

The reason he put forth that people like him can be taken advantage of is that art is it’s own reward. That artists are altruistic and anyone procuring the work is “the man” and never want to pay.

While I agree that you should always strive to get paid for the work that you do, I don’t think that the issue is as black and white as the author has made it. In fact, he even admits that one of the recent asks for “free” work was a university student seeing if he would come in and speak to her class. Hardly a heartless corporation squeezing the arts for everything they can.

The ask for free is a tough one. I have even complained in the past about how I typically dislike it when I’m asked for free service from my business. Not because of the “free” factor, per say, but because those asking typically aren’t overly polite, especially after you tell them “no”. I can also agree with Mr. Kreider that everyone who thinks they’re the genius who came up with the “It gives good exposure” reasoning needs to think up something different. All work provides good exposure and typically the paying gigs are the best.

Back to my point, though. I don’t think that all work given away for free is a negative, but the conversation needs to be quite different. Rather than falling for the “exposure” lie, take a moment to think about why you would give away your work. Is it a cause you believe in? A personal favour? The tax receipt? If any of those reasons appeal to you, do it! Better yet, think about the situations where you would consider providing a freebie before you’re even asked. That’s what I do.

If the answer is no, however, be unrelenting. If they start asking for discounts (and they will), offering less than what you would usually charge, it’s best to have the fortitude to say no. If you don’t, then the consequences may be further reaching than you think.

I have a friend who does work on residential homes. When he was a little slower he allowed himself to be “talked down” to a lower price than he usually would have charged. Well, word got around in that neighbourhood and all of a sudden he had other people calling to negotiate down the discounted price. The point is that there was an entire neighbourhood that he was unable to charge his usual rate to, because they expected the same price as their friend. Or even lower!

Raising fees can often be a sticking point, as well. If you give away work for free or at a discount, don’t expect it to be repeat. At best you can hope to lay out the “I’m doing this as a one-time freebie / discount” speech and hope they remember it. Odds are, they conveniently won’t.

The absolute worst situation to happen to me was that I was giving away some services (not the business, me personally) for free, helping out a cause I believed in. After working with them a few times, they found the budget to pay someone for the same services I was providing. I WASN’T EVEN ASKED. As soon as they had some money, they dropped my free ass and went with someone else. What’s more is, once that money ran out they had the balls to come back and ask me to work for free again.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying if you want to do some work for free, go for it, but make sure to lay out the ground rules ahead of time. You’re not suddenly expected to drop everything else in your life at a moment’s notice and if some money comes along it would be nice if it came to you. Make sure that your value is clearly communicated and you hold firm.

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

How Not to Ask For a Favour

I wrote a post for today, wanting to link to this article, but I realized it was on my old blog. It’s pretty good, so I decided to repost and save the new one for next week!

I am not ashamed of saying I’ve ask (and received) what I would assume is more than the average number of favours in my life. Through volunteering and working for charities, along with having a support network of people with many more skills than I have, I am never afraid to ask for something.

Conversely I have been asked to perform many favours, which have had varying levels of success. Owning a pretty cool service business and being known as someone who volunteers a fair amount has apparently allowed people to feel as though approaching me may benefit them one way or another. I always appreciate the interest, regardless of whether or not I help out, and make my appreciation clear to the asker.

Usually whether I am asking or being asked there is a mutual level of respect and if the answer is “yes” or “no” we part ways with pretty much the same relationship we had before. However, in the past couple weeks there have been a couple instances where I have really not appreciated the way which I was asked to do a favour. Here’s some background and a recount of them:

Charity

Operating a business focused on events leaves the door open to a fair number of charitable asks for in-kind service donations. It’s my policy that I will support one charity per year (the slot is filled and I don’t see it opening). It’s not like I’m not open to helping anything else out, but it would have to be something very dear to me.
I thought this was a good policy and have told other charities something to this effect, adding I will keep their information on file and contact them if anything changes, which I honestly will. Most seemed understanding of this and having worked in the industry (charity) I can assure you it’s not an uncommon response to get, if not on the polite side.

Recently I was approached by an individual from an event committee about doing an event. I sent them the above response and took down their information for my files. A week or so later I get a follow-up email asking if I would reconsider, thank you for asking, but no. This is when it got squirely.

The next message I had articles attached and a link to a video showing (without giving too much away) how much the people this charity supports needs the charity. I responded back saying that I never thought the cause wasn’t a good one, but I am currently not looking for any other cause to support. I can honestly say I did my best to be polite.

While I appreciate the passion for the cause, I don’t appreciate being harassed. If another message comes back I think that I’m forced to find a supervisor or someone else at the charity to bring into the situation, hoping they can mitigate it.

Personal Favours

A shorter story, again about the business, I was approached by someone I know to see if I would work an event for them. I want to point out that this is a for-profit event, where they are making money. Also I don’t know this person very well and haven’t spoken to them in months.

They asked (via text) if I would be willing to donate the photo booth for this event. I responded thanking them for the interest but declining, to which I received NOTHING. No, “Thanks anyway!” or “Oh well, hope you can still make it out,” or “K.” Complete radio silence.

This I find even more annoying than the previous situation, because at least charity lady proved that she is legitimately interested in my product. The no response proves to me that my decision was right, as they were just trying to use me.

As a somewhat related note, don’t try and sell me on setting up an event for free because it will be “good exposure.” Do you know what else is good exposure? Events that people pay me for.

I’m going to end this saying that 99.9% of the time when someone asks me for help it’s very nice, respectful and considerate. I appreciate it and get good feeling knowing I can provide some sort of benefit to a fellow human. I just wanted to throw these two stories out there to see if anyone else has had a similar experience and as a cautionary tale.

Heritage and Development

Today (or I guess yesterday by the time this is posted) I was at the book launch of Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg at McNally. While I’ve only taken a bit of time to leaf through it, as someone who loves this city I would recommend it. As the authors said (and I’m paraphrasing) the book is a snapshot of what Winnipeg has looked like this past decade, with some interesting commentary.

The launch and book itself has brought up a conflict that I have with my opinion of this city quite often, so now I’m writing about it. I have a bit of an interest in design and architecture and generally like he post-war modernist look of our town, but also have a great appreciation for progress. I like the history our streets possess, but honestly with some of the eye-sore buildings would just be ripped down already.

What’s a city to do, though? Give up on our roots and allow developers to come in and completely “modernize” our city? Or hold on to the crumbling past in the way of vacant buildings and no landlord or tenant have any interest in fixing up or owning any more?

I’m not a city planner, nor do I even have I even been around long enough to have the same nostalgia as others associated with many of the structures that have fallen into such conditions, that if seen out of context a viewer may think that the photo was taken in a ghost town. But I do live here, and like every other person from Winnipeg, have an opinion on an option for moving forward.

I think it’s time for a real audit of our traditional infrastructure to be done. Some third party come in and inspect some of the more prime locations from top to bottom and produce a report that outlines 1) If the building is up to current code / useable and 2) What the cost would be to retrofit it. From there it’s time for decisions to be made.

My biggest issue with those who claim to be trying to preserve our heritage is that there doesn’t seem to be much discrimination in which landmarks they want to keep around. The basic rule is if it’s old, it’s a crime to get rid of it. However, in many cases, the building’s salvation is actually a condemnation. A death sentence that is slow and painful, never to be used again. Owners that don’t live here don’t care and will let the building literally crumble, leading us to where we are now.

In a perfect world all the infrastructure would have been maintained and currently useful. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, and in our attempt to hold on to an already lost past, we are continuing to delay our city’s future. Living in a community is about compromise and the one voice I don’t hear is the one in-between “save it all” and “tear it down”.

I am truly hoping for some inspirational leadership in the coming years, because anything short of that will be a discredit to our citizens. No longer can we be stuck between wanting to grow, while keeping everything the same. It’s time for Winnipeg to make some choices and take action.