Strategies for the Year Ahead

Royal blue pocket sized day planner from Harrods, open to calendar pageAfter reviewing the results of last year’s plans, I’m looking at the New Year as a new chapter, new goals to establish and carrying over some from the previous year. Advising a friend of mine who was searching for a way forward, having suffered a huge loss in 2014, I had this to say about goal setting.

“Goals should be bigger picture ideas for the year that are attainable. Mini targets that you set along the way to the larger end goals makes it a less daunting process. What works in sport and business can sometimes apply to life.“

Really, I didn’t have to tell my friend that, she already knew. In fact she was a devout practitioner in the years I’ve known her. With the vulnerable state she was in, she just needed a little reminder, as we all need every now and then. That’s what friends are for, to hand us the mirror without judgement.

To make planning simpler, I’m streamlining this year’s goal setting with a few key points:

1. Use the litmus test. Ask why the goal is considered in the first place. How is it aligned to who you are? How can it make your life better?

2. Keep it short. I am aiming for 5 to 10 depending on time and breadth.

3. Keep it simple.

4. Keep it iterative. Being agile has helped manage expectations, something I’ve practiced volunteering on a board)

5. Be accountable, set timelines and ways to monitor results.

6. Be social, good friends can encourage or remind you to stay the course, as per my example above.

7. Keep it fun and challenging. It’s a lot easier to reach for a goal when you can feel a sense of fulfillment and positivity.

8. Append a “wish list” to the shorter and simpler goals list. Keeping this separate list removes the distraction of disappointment to “nice-to-have” goals that may or may not be as manageable.

Happy planning and Happy New Year to all!

Highlights of Lessons Learned from 2014

Collage of four photos, top left fitbit device on wrist, top right deep end of pool overlooking the ocean, bottom left photo of program featuring Theressa as moderator, bottom right the knowledge seekers at TEDx Vancouver 2014Looking back on blog posts from the past 12 months there was so much to be learned. Here’s a roundup of five lessons learned from 2014. To read on about how I came across these gems of knowledge you can find related blog posts for these particular lessons referenced in their corresponding links.

5. Wearable technology can be a great agent of healthy habits. However, don’t expect to rely on it solely for this reason, the rest is always up to you.

4. Meetings aren’t always necessary. But, when it makes sense to hold one, a breadth of preparation and anticipation towards reasonable goals will help keep it on course.

3. The expression, “ don’t judge a book by its cover,” takes on new meaning as we trend towards geek chic.

2. Opportunities can be disguised as adverse decisions and situations. If unraveled, there could lay treasures of knowledge and experience.

1. The archetype of yesterday’s leadership isn’t necessarily relevant today. Being a humble leader could be the next best thing.

Why Geek is Chic in 2014

Geek is Good Bill Board in front of Science Museum on Broad Street in OxfordIn the 90s super brainy and socially awkward Steve Urkel from the TV sitcom Family Matters was considered the quintessential geek, a character that none of the cool kids in school aspired to be. According to the Oxford Dictionary a geek is defined as, “An unfashionable or socially inept person” or a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast.” Neither seems mutually exclusive. What seems to have happened in the last 20 years is a cultural shift, however.

How tables have turned. When it comes to career paths, today millennials are now aspiring to be the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer. These are modern business icons who are considered enthusiastic field experts. Even the geek style of the 90s, with large rim plastic frames, preppy checkered shirts, ankle grazers and bow ties, have returned as fashion statements, now coined “hipster” cool.

The most watched sitcom in 2014, with some of highest ratings each week as reported by, is The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). In case you haven’t caught an episode, the plot is based on the interactions between a woman and her two brilliant but socially awkward physicist neighbours. 2014 was also the year TBBT took home an Emmy ( for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Is it just another trend though? Does this mean jocks are out and geeks are in? Not necessarily true if pop culture is any indication. NFL football and other major sporting events still tend to top overall television ratings as most watched TV. Maybe instead, it’s a sign that field experts and obsessive enthusiasts are more of an understood social group than seen as an anomaly as in the past. Or maybe, it’s because it was the geeks who made it despite the 2008 recession that got attention and proved to have staying power and helped bolster the economy. And did you know that jocks, like Reggie Wilkes, who retired successfully were also knowledge obsessed? Whoops, did I let my geek speak slip again?

As a self-professed geek, I would say who cares about the naysayers, learn and do what you’re passionate about and everything else will follow. Whether it’s trending or not, seeking out knowledge and exploring enthusiastically should be celebrated, whether it’s for innovation or sport. We should all be so lucky to find the one thing that engages us and allows us to share knowledge and skills with others. The Big Bang Theory was with its Emmy win. Whether it’s for 2014 or in the future, so long as knowledge is sought for the greater purpose of helping others and building a brighter future, geek will always be chic in my books.

The Upside of Being Thrown in the Deep End

Kitsilano Outdoor Pool Overlooking English BayBe it a job or a favor, have you ever felt you’ve not understood all there is to an opportunity before committing to it? Perhaps you were distracted by the proverbial dangling of the carrot, be it the payoff or benefits. Or, maybe, you thought you were being of service to a friend. Then, only after the ink is dried or the promise made, you find the complexity involved in the job.

Also, known as being thrown into the deep end, I’ve been privy to the experience and you might have too. Sometimes expecting it and other times less prepared. In both cases what’s obvious about it is it can pose seemingly overwhelming challenges at first. But, what’s not obvious is the wealth of learning that can come of it if the opportunity is seized. It can become an invaluable tool of growth and development. I’m not going to diminish how scary or frustrating it might be at first. I’m also not saying that all learning has to be this challenging for it to be useful, but that it is possible to make the best out of daunting situations. Often I’ll reflect on a few questions to rationalize the situation, sometimes on my own and other times with close friends.

Here are some examples of questions to pose when treading water in the deep end:

  1. What am I thankful for today because of this experience?
  2. Empathetically, how are others in the situation feeling?
  3. What can I do to make things better?
  4. What did I learn from the experience?
  5. Precisely, if it had not been for this experience would I have learned what I needed to in order to be who I am today?

By, the time I’ve thought through these questions, the deep end has become a different place, a place where it’s possible for me to swim. I hope that you too can find your place to swim ashore.

Fall Reading List 2014 – The Humble Side of Leadership

Six Book Spines photographed, left to right, Leaders East Last, Power of Now, the Alchemist, HBR's 10 Must Reads on Leadership, Strategy, The Leader Without a Title and David and GoliathAt the tale (pun intended) end of summer I was asked to take on a lead volunteer role. Unbeknownst to me, I had just cracked open an inspiring read on leadership (please see below for more). Crazy coincidence? Or, is this the world’s way of sending me a message? Who knows. Either way this leads me to share with you my Fall reading list on the topic. As I start my journey exploring leadership, I have found a spectrum of literature, some that is universal and some that is suited for those who are like me, just dipping my toes in the water.

  1. Re-read or pick up the 25th anniversary edition of the Alchemist. If you have only 5 minutes, then read Paul Coelho’s blog post about why he wrote this New York Times Bestseller, you might be surprised. This novel depicts a boy’s journey to Egypt in search for treasure and finds his destiny in the process. I also came across the audio edition, read by Jeremy Irons, and saw the book in a totally different perspective.
  1. If you find yourself on the fence about a leadership path, you might find Eckart Etolle’s “Power of Now” to be helpful in the spiritual exploration of who you are meant to be by clearing the mind of clutter.
  1. For those starting out in leadership, I have found the following title to be very inspiring. Why? There seems to be a misconception of what leadership is, often confused with a sense of entitlement.  In “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek not only debunks this myth, but also shares examples of the true meaning of sustainable leadership excellence that works.
  1. The quintessential reference on the topic brings to you HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leardership. In the same series published by Harvard Business Review, you’ll find HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Strategy as well, which seems to go hand in hand with Leadership.
  1. For leaders looking to shake things up or feeling sucked into a black tunnel, these might be enlightening reads. A quick 5 minute read can be found on Business Or, for a longer plane ride type of read, might I suggest: Robin Sharma’s “The Leader Who Had No Title” (worth re-reading if you already caught 2012’s reading list). Malcolm Gladwell illustrates how legends may not be what they seem in this latest title, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” (as seen in a recent TED talk) and this can be true of the humble side of leadership.

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Meeting Optimization & the Unmeeting

At the head of the boardroom table, empty chairs There isn’t a manager I haven’t met who hasn’t rolled their eyes at the mention of scheduling a “meeting,” from time to time. Some are essential and others not so much. How does one optimize meetings then (more tips from some of the world’s productive people as found at fast Ask yourself next time if you really need to schedule that meeting or if it’s just a quick phone call or a drop-by-the-office kind of one-on-one query.  Meetings should address some kind of call to action and highlight new and important information requiring the attention of all.

Some of my most productive meetings came about when the team was called to kick-off a project or to start off the quarter. Following that, what worked well was breaking into one-on-one phone conversations or paired collaborative meet-ups as needed before the team reported in mid-point and end of the project.

Setting expectations helps immensely. This tip works for both collaborators and clients. I schedule and let my meeting partners know that it will only be for 20 minutes or 1/2 an hour and this takes care of any hums and haws.  The onus is then on the person who calls the meeting to be tactfully direct, stay on topic and to prepare thoroughly for the meeting. Ideally this should always be the case, but for many without the idea of having a 20 minute clock stare at them to finish up (think TED speaker style), some meetings can go unproductively long.

Dressing down the pretense of the meeting also helps as a lot of meeting goers feel nervous, be it the uncertainty or the formality. Why couldn’t they all be like brain-storming sessions? Fun, engaging, collaborative and productive, shouldn’t this “unmeeting” be the model for getting together with your colleagues to “make it happen?”

This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend time relationship building with your teammates, clients and stakeholders. On the one hand keeping it brief is showing respect for their time, as well as yours. On the other hand, there are other ways and times you can build a relationship other than to have a meeting. Enter coffee breaks or lunch, killing two birds with one stone is always appreciated, you’re going to need to take a break at some point during the day, may as well make it a fun and productive one.

Whatever your style of engagement, maximizing time, being mindful of preparation and staying focused will return some free space back into your schedule. Using your time wisely will pay out in dividends.

Strategies for Difficult Decisions

Two women standing in front of an ice cream counter looking at all the flavor selections.While some of us are decisive, others will avoid making decisions of any kind if they can help it. The majority of us land somewhere in between. The ease or challenge of selection often depends on current context and foreseeable outcomes, as well as interpretation of priorities, but even this ordering is a decision of sorts. I’ve asked myself, if decision making is time consuming and challenging, what are ways that can help with the process?

Questions I’ve come across to risk assess and to prevent the agony of the process:

1. What’s the worst that can happen? vs. What would the best outcome look like?

2. What is my greatest fear in making this decision?

3. On the flip side, what would be the opportunity cost? Another way to think about it is, what lost opportunity would occur if fear is left to influence decision making?

4. This is right about the time that I would ask, “what are the pros and cons?”

5. A most excellent question to ask is, “Why?” As mentioned by author and speaker, Simon Sinek .

The pros and cons list, despite being the obvious mechanism still leaves many stumped. If any of you have reached this point, I have learned from the most surprising lessons of all. We often think that those in leadership roles have made solidly excellent decisions to get where they are. In fact, if you have ever read the back stories of contemporary influential figures (Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, Martha Stewart and Oprah,  they have made their fair share of mistakes and confronted multiple setbacks and have somehow gone out of their comfort zone and developed the courage to learn and move forward from them, and despite them. And in some cases, leaders are not necessarily the best to learn from either, for more on Why good leaders make bad decisions,” Harvard Business Review (Campbell, Whitehead and Finkelstein, 2009) provides behavioral insight on how leaders can over rely on experience and habit to consider choices.

In reality, why shouldn’t we take stock of our own individual contexts, where we are in life for example, and think about how a decision can affect ourselves and others around us from there? According to this article on and others, going with your intuition can also be helpful, the question is do you trust your own gut? From observation people who make sound decisions tend to think about how they can manage the risks involved and potential outcomes in a timely manner, no matter good or bad, and take action. Many times over, they have a quick moment of reflection, asking themselves why before doing so. Reflection has been a constant companion in my life’s journey. Questioning why comes with the territory, though challenging, the key is not to over think it. Setting a reasonable deadline to make decisions can help too.

Lessons We Can Learn from Great Organizations: Disrupting the Family

Inukshuk formation overlooking English Bay

To act in the capacity of a human, an Inukshuk may also signify a change of direction from an intended course (

I spend a lot of late nights cultivating relationships with family and friends. Like any another evening, I was speaking to a close confidante, Peter (Pseudonym), about his issues in relating. He yearns to have a good relationship with his extended family members, but he’s not sure if it’s possible. He’s also afraid of rejection and the idea of giving of himself and not having any emotion, or representation of it, reciprocated. The main conundrum from what I could gather from observation and conversation is that family feuds of the past have haunted familial relationships of this current generation. The result: the current generation of cousins wants to be on good terms with one another, but don’t know how, or revert back to old ways.

This is where I start to think, and love to apply the idea of how the new way of business and leadership can so greatly benefit Peter’s issue. Instead of dwelling on the past, I asked my friend, “Why don’t you disrupt your family’s culture by being the first to be a role model of future behavior? If you are so uncomfortable with the awkwardness of the current state, why don’t you try shaking things up?” The funny thing here is that Peter is a serial entrepreneur, yet he would never think to apply his professional lessons to his family life. It’s interesting how we’re so compartmentalized in our thought processes sometimes (not that I should be one to talk).

“Ultimately, great companies execute and disrupt at the same time. Often they disrupt themselves. “

“Truly great companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Starbucks constantly find new ways to become relevant to us and remain an essential part of our lives. When analyzed closely, you can see that they are simultaneously executing and innovating.”

Disrupt or Be Disrupted by John Kotter for

What can be done for the success of an organization can be very much applied to the structure of the family. In the same way that entrepreneurial thought leadership, execution and innovation can be used to influence the success of a vision, it can be used to support and motivate the positive relationships amongst organizations and relationships, even one of familial nature. Maybe by creating new ways to interact with relations, with some semblance of relevance, it just might allow for those members to come closer. Just maybe.

Regaining Creative Mojo

Girl sitting at a hotel lounge reading the local paper, learning about the local sceneI found myself at a loss for words, imagery and playful thought early this spring. It was a frustrating experience. Stemming from a busy period of commitments, guilt was weighing heavily on my mind. I needed to spend more time with my family, find some proverbial balance. As it turns out, the gift that frustration provided for my problem-solver-self, was the opportunity to find ways to bring my creative juices back. So what did I do?

Travel – A view of the world from a tangible, yet different, perspective often leads to an enhanced appreciation for the life around us. A lot of the time it leads to the next t0-do on this list. I’ve done weekend road trips that so happened to help me with my last couple of blog posts for instance.

Learn – After attending a technology workshop recently, I felt energized to setup self-development goals for the next five years. Informal or formal versions of learning can be humbling and rewarding, opening up the mind to new ideas professionally and personally, a great exercise for the brain and idea generation.

Give Back – Share what you learn with others, literally and in application. Volunteer work is a great way to give back, share and gain insights into different worlds. My recent online volunteer research experience with the UN has brought so much perspective in working with others across the globe, it helped me develop more empathy and allowed me to view time and resources from a whole other angle.

Connect – Staying in touch with your tribe of supporters, teachers and relatives. Send a quick email or text to say hello, greeting cards are always a nice gesture as well. Meeting for a brief coffee or lunch outing can fit easily into any schedule too. Reading responses from my heart-felt messages to social groups or friends always opens up meaningful internal and external dialogues.

Take Care – It would be such a waste to have creative juices without a vessel to hold and dispense. Regular exercise (even if it’s just merely more walking, see my last post about how I did this with my FitBit), eating well and getting sufficient rest is necessary for a body and mind to be at its optimum. I should be one to speak about this, but trying can only reap benefits, why not?

Whether its seeing the world form a different lens, picking up new ideas, sharing gifts, making connections or trying to stay in shape, disrupting life always brings back creativity without fail. It’s not to say that all of the above has to be undertaken to get there, sometimes just one break from the routine will do. It’s a different kind of busy, one that leads to more creative productivity and hopefully more fulfillment.

How I Became a Fan of Wearble Tech

WearablesWhen news of wearable technology was released, such as Google Glass or Samsung Smartwatch, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. Partially skeptical, how practical would it be? Would it be another added distraction? However, I was also partially intrigued by the idea, would it mean empowerment of decision making with more information about current events and well being at my fingertips? At what cost would these devices come at?

Enter the Fitbit. (Other fitness and wellness bands are also worth mentioning here, the sleek Shine by Misfit is worn by Google Ventures’ General Partner, Kevin Rose. But, anyone looking into one of these gadgets should do some research before taking the plunge. To check what fits your lifestyle and the compatibility of mobile devices, visit sites like for product reviews.) After I learned about it from an installment of Bloomberg West, it became a birthday gift to myself. In keeping the celebration of milestones and future longevity, I felt it was the perfect time (or excuse) to start keeping tabs on my health and fitness level.

The Fitbit is an affordable (approximately $99 in May 2014) device that is worn on the wrist. While wearing it, your number of steps and patterns of sleep are tracked. The device can be synced to a mobile device, Android or Apple. With the Fitbit app downloaded, the wearer can check their statistics seamlessly. (The features I refer to are the free tools that come with the application; there are other premium features that users can pay to access.)


  • Steps automatically logged whenever taken
  • App updates wearer when close to daily step target
  • Catalyzes consciousness about what is consumed
  • Has the functionality to help a person track their diet, as real time data tracking platform
  • Allows for customization of foods consumed if unlisted


  • Logging is a pain for foods consumed
  • Food items in its existing database are limited

Overall the Fitbit helps the wearer become more aware of their lifestyle when it comes to exercise level, food and water consumption. It acts as a healthy habit agent.

I have had the device on for about month. I continue to wear mine, accessorizing it with bracelets and coordinating it with outfits. Since it’s light, I find it fairly comfortable. I find myself more mindful of my movements, water consumption and sleep because of it (wished it came in more fashionable palettes and styles). My next experiment will be to see what happens when I stop wearing it for a period of time. For now, I’m content with my wearable tech.