Success During the First 90 Days on the Job

Victor1558 / Flickr

I started a new job just over two months ago, in leadership development with a very cool yoga-inspired athletic apparel designer.  For the past eight years, I worked in student development at business schools.  I am absolutely loving my new job and the change has been good for me.  That said, there have been some challenges through this transition.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

A new job is a big deal and taking time off between positions is a good call.  It takes time to shed the layers that accumulate at work and, while transitions are exhilarating, they can also be exhausting. So, when it comes to a new job, if you can afford to take more than a weekend to gear up for it, then you should.

Timing is everything: Be mindful when choosing the end date of your old job and your first day at your new job.  As an example, iIf I had delayed my last day at my old job by one week, I would have been eligible for an additional four weeks of health benefits at no extra cost.

Starting my new job in mid-summer has been perfect.  Cycling to work is easier.  People are smiling and excited about their annual vacations.  At the office, the flow of work is calmer and in my case, I started shortly before our annual leadership conference. As a result, it was incredible to be positioned to absorb so much of the company culture in one huge hit.  It was also so inspiring to hear from seasoned colleagues and senior executives where we are headed as a company in the coming year.

 I was even fortunate enough to participate in a small brainstorming session with our wonderful CEO.  I shared that it was a little overwhelming being new amongst such talented colleagues.  She responded with: “You know we hired you because of your experience.  You are enough just as you are.”  Since then, I’ve stopped telling people that I’m new because I realized that my start date is irrelevant and including it as a caveat detracts from my credibility.

Orientation is key: Smart companies invest in a thoughtful onboarding process. I’ve joined a smart company and have been encouraged from day one to connect with colleagues in order to understand its unique culture.  It’s such a simple way to inculcate new staff and allow for rapport to develop naturally by creating informal processes for people to connect.  When I’ve found myself in a new job where the formal onboarding is less thoughtful, I will absolutely make the time to establish ties with co-workers.  Your first weeks really are your only time to dig-in to the culture before your “real” work starts.  As a new hire, you aren’t expected to be producing or contributing right away so rather than sitting at your computer overwhelmed and trying to figure things out by searching the intranet, get out there and talk to people.  That’s definitely how I got excited about my new job.

Get to know people and just do it! woodleywonderworks / Flickr

Finally, just do it.  Similar to how getting a new job requires putting yourself out there, settling into a new job requires the same.  I’ve been in my new job long enough to have ideas about where I can help and how I can contribute.  There is a ton of stuff that I don’t know, like how our electronic filing system works, how to get web-content online, and how to complete expense reports.  But that doesn’t really matter when it comes to sharing ideas.  I’m not huge into the notion that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness that it is to get permission.  I do believe though that it’s much better to share your work than it is to keep working on it until you perceive it to be perfect.  The pace of work is faster than achieving perfection allows so I’m going to just put my thoughts down on a piece of paper and allow my colleagues to offer their opinions about how I can take the project to the next level. While there’s some vulnerability in that it definitely feels like the right thing to do.

Three Leadership Lessons from Spider-Man

Well, we’re about three days away from everyone in the world not caring about Spider-Man and the over $200 million grossing movie about my favourite superhero (see photo) [Editor's note: fair enough, The Dark Knight Rises will most likely be the greatest superhero movie ever made]. Consequently, I thought that I’d reflect on some of the things that – long ago and before it was cool – I made The Amazing Spider-Man my most favourite of comic book characters.

After seeing the 2012 film about my favourite superhero (here’s my quick review: it’s the same story arc as the Toby McGuire version and the cartoon and is just better in every way), I got to thinking about why, in addition to the facts that, first, nerds are awesome and, second, Spidey is totally protected from the terrifying Sun, the web slinger resonates so much with me.

The answer is simple: more than any other superhero, Spider-Man builds and inspires community.

Plainly put, he does so with a unique formula of leadership of kindness, humour, humility, smarts, passion, and responsibility. And below are three leadership lessons that you can take away from Spider-Man. No, this not a “new idea” and “a few people” have “already written about this” in “2010″ – this being said, my lessons get to the punchline quicker and better. And the artwork (see below) that I chose to adorn this post is adorable.

Spider-Man / John's go-to Halloween costume

Without further ado, here they are:

1. Take Responsibility. For weak leaders, this is an absolute burden. Great leaders take responsibility for their actionsespecially the screw ups and downright failures. Spider-Man leads by example and he not only owns up for the mistakes/failures/giant-lizards that “he created”, but he also solves said great problems with his great power.

2. Think Outside the Box Make Awesome Things and Show Them to People. Good leaders “think outside the box” and, consequently, find most of their creativity in outdated cliches. Great leaders inspire by the work they produce. According to Simon Sinek, great leaders relentlessly pursue the question “why?”, which is certainly at the centre of Spider-Man’s story. For example, Spider-Man’s “web shooters” are both flat-out cool and reflective of this particular leader’s elevated intelligence, not to mention his inventive entrepreneurial spirit. Also, the Spider-Man brand is so friggin’ cool that, by the end of Marvel’s most recent film, Peter Parker’s once-nemesis, Flash Thompson, is seen sportin’ some Spidey-wear! Community-building achieved and teenage-angst overcome!

3. Be Nice (and Funny). There’s a reason that he’s called “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man” – first, he’s nice to people (take some advice from Colin Powell, Wolverine and Batman?) and, second, he doesn’t take himself too seriously (Doug Guthrie says to stop being so serious all the time, Superman). Sure, his outfit protects him from the Sun and his friends from retribution, but his possibly-luge-inspired spandex uni-tard also reveals how this community-driven leader who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Being relaxed and fun (and, when appropriate, funny) puts people at ease and provides some great circumstances for building a positive sense of community.

Finally, never underestimate any leaders “spider-sense” and their ability to trust such instincts. Intuitively, Spider-Man can see things coming before they happen, and this kind of strategic thinking will serve any great leader very, very well.

So there it is. Some leadership learning that strategically and edutainingly connects to my favourite – and, unfortunately though understandably soon-to-be-forgotten, superhero, Spider-Man.

Masthead photo courtesy of msspider66′s Photostream on Flicker

Spaghetti Sauce and the Power of Reflection

This evening I made spaghetti for dinner. [Editor's note: John's spaghetti is fairly amazing]. As I chopped and stirred and blended and spiced I reflected on the day – as well as the weekend, which was socially busy and did not allow much time for reflection – and, currently, sit on the couch relaxed and with many problems solved and ideas strategically prepared.

Because reflection is useful, educational and important. Whether you want to develop your product, service or yourself, thinking about what you did and how you did it will help you get to where you want to be more quickly and efficiently than just driving forward with your head down in a straight line.

I’ll admit that I have reflection on the brain today because my boss mentioned Kolb’s experiential principles todaywhat? so what? now what? and all the rest of it. Anyway, my point is this: whatever it is and however you do it, build reflection into your process. When you experience something – good, bad or meh – take some time to think about what happened, how it happened, what you accomplished (or failed to accomplish), what you learned, and how you feel about the whole thing.


There are a few ways that I like to do my reflecting: making spaghetti sauce (obviously), watering plants (any gardening, really), and bike riding represent my solo-reflective favourites. And if I’m reflecting with friends, colleagues or a/several nemesis/nemeses, I prefer to do so in a cafe or public house over delicious caffeinated or carbonated beverages that provide lubrication to the conversation. I encourage you to find your preferred style of reflection and to consider all the myriad ways that you’re awesome after you’ve done something that reveals such awesomeness.

When we go too fast we miss things and, frankly, we fail to explore opportunities to grow our skills and, by extension, better impact our communities. The motto of work, life, hustle is fine for getting stuff done quickly, but true community building comes from sustaining ideas and success for a long time – or forever – by constantly thinking about how to make things better.

So get out there, experience life and reflect on the positive impact that you make on it. Be sure to have some fun, too.

Masthead photo courtesy of J. Chris Vaughn on Flickr

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is in Full Bloom!

Images by Allison Blake

I first learned about the Japanese tradition of Cherry Blossom festivals, or Hanami, during an undergraduate course in the philosophy of aesthetics. I heard about how everyone would take time out from their busy schedules to sit under the trees and immerse themselves in the beauty of the pink blossoms. We discussed how the beauty of the blossoms has as much to do with their fleeting presence as to do with their exquisite appearance. This awareness of the transience of the blossoms themselves and the happiness we derive from their splendor is described in the Japanese aesthetic term “Mono no aware” or “an empathy toward things”. This is an enduring concept in Japanese cultural and aesthetic traditions.

I have always looked forward to and admired the Cherry Blossom season, which is particularly rich in Vancouver thanks to many trees received as gifts from Japan. My parents have a cherry blossom tree that for years served as an exceptional climbing tree and a fortress of sorts. I remember climbing it while it was in bloom, and how I could be completely concealed within the cloud of soft blossoms. Now, every year the first budding cherry trees fill me with anticipation for when warmer, sunnier days will slowly but steadily start to beat back the gray damp walks to and from the Skytrain on my daily commute. I know that the cherry trees will only bloom for a short time, and by the time they are gone, I will be enjoying the warmth of the sun on my skin once again!

Until I learned about the Japanese traditions surrounding this season, I had never really considered how brief a time we really have to enjoy these particularly pretty trees in the span of a year. Learning more about the aesthetic and philosophical traditions surrounding the trees deepened my appreciation of these natural art forms. I can’t help but consider how their slow emergence, or sometimes sudden appearance, transform a familiar landscape much the same way a piece of public art can change the experience of a familiar place.

The fluffy blossoms spanning every shade between fuchsia and white are even more moving when grouped together. There are countless streets lined with the blossoms and the VCBF website has 900 suggestions of places to visit and walks to take to appreciate the blossoms in all their glory. They even include updates of when a particularly popular area is no longer in bloom so that you don’t end up disappointed.

My particular favourite  spot is one I visit 5 times a week, twice a day. The entrance to Burrard Sky Train station is a tiered garden lined with rows of cherry blossoms and Magnolias. On nice days, the sun shines through the blossoms illuminating them like a forest of lights! As the buds continue to multiply, so do the number of people who stop to take photos, or simply to sit beneath them and bask in their magnificence for a while. I highly suggest you do the same. It is simply breathtaking. It is one of the best art shows of the year.

Travellers: Consider Yourself Labeled

Labels are bad. But then again, we love them. Oh, do we ever love them. Without labels we couldn’t classify things and fit them into the hierarchy. Everything has a stepped grading system of better and worse. How else would we know how to value things? Hmm? And don’t get all Zen on me and say that all things are equal. If that were true I’d buy a vintage Harley for the same price as a used Piaggo. They’re not the same thing.

After a recent hiatus from the Daily Gumboot in the south of France, I embarked on a wee trip in Western Europe. What I saw? The hierarchy of travellers. Now this isn’t necessarily how I see it, but wow do travellers love to grade themselves.

For those status oriented people (meaning, most of us), let’s start with the lowest on the food-chain:

Pre-packaged Group Tours: The Tourists

“Now everyone please get off the bus. Anyone need a bathroom? Plug in your radio headsets and tune into channel #1, because we’re the best tour group in Paris! [waits for laugh]. Versailles was built by blah, blah, blah…please try and stay with the group everyone  —”

And the group checks off their list of tourist sites like a dabber on a foreign bingo card , The Louvre = B3, Eiffel Tower = G46, etc. This group flies in to see 12 cities in 10 days, by bus, talking with nary one local person, then jets back home. Typically between in the older of travellers, these groupsters will finsih their travels with hundreds of pictures and videos as proof of presence, and a garage sale’s worth of Union Jack coffee mugs and Mona Lisa keychains.

Bonus points for: number of pictures taken, number of stars on hotel, horror stories about hotels and airports, darkness of suntan, and full bingo card.

ALSO INCLUDED IN THE TOUR GROUP: resort resters, hotel tv-watchings vacationers, and timer-sharers isolationists.

The Young and the Dirty: The Backpackers

“You can totally save 20€ if you sleep on the train, or just sleep at the airport. I did Prague and just stayed out all night. No, I was just there for a few days, but it was awesome. Not as, like, open as Amsterdam, but cool. I’m totally going to Barcelona next. You can’t leave without doing Spain. Oh man, check out that tour…man, those people don’t see anything.”

This group spends between 1-6 months with rail passes and newly purchased behemoth bags, hiking boots, bandanas, and moneybelts hopping from city to city with other backpackers. They will “do” 16 cities which will serve as the backdrop for their mind-opening experiences they’ll talk about for years to come. Hostels and sex, you will find them in either a haze of drunkenness or hangover. Sure they go to the same museums as the tour groups, but they tend to smell worse and their cameras are smaller.

Bonus points for: dreadlocks, braided beards, number of flags on backpack, not having Lonely Planet in hand at bus station, and the possession of Moleskin notebooks full of ticket stubs.

ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP: post-university mates hitting up the world before “real life starts,” people searching for something (most often getting away from something), thrill seekers who prefer the thrill of beaten paths but sound exotic, and introductory globetrotters

Life Experiencers: Exchange Students and Volunteers

“I know it’s the best Indian restaurant around, but they just don’t do the spices right here. Hawaii is great, but the nothing tops the surf in Oz. He’s cute, but you should’ve seen Raphael in Milano. Of course I speak fluent Spanish…oh, I don’t understand that, I learned in Madrid.  Sorry, I can’t come tonight I have to go to my capoeira class.”

For a semester or a year, these students of the world pack their books and laptops and head out to have their rite of passage experience of a lifetime.   With incredible opportunity to truly immerse themselves into the culture and enrich their lives with a first-hand look at living histories this group of travellers unfortunately performs minimum scholastic or actual volunteer work.  Yes, they have a few local friends, can tell the difference between a Bavarian and Belgian brew, and have developed a solid distaste for tourists and backpackers. They may have lived with a local family, can speak the language at a decent level, and have opinions on why the country is like that.  Much like the backpackers there is a lot of partying, but sometimes includes local parties.

Bonus points for: having local friends/boyfriend/girlfriend, speaking language, less-travelled-to or more-difficult-to-say-countries are better, more time spent away = more bragging rights

ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP: do-gooders who tend to spend more time at Big Milly’s Backyard than their “boring” volunteer project, high school and university students looking for foreign fun away from watchful eyes of parents, intermediate globetrotters

Expatriates to the Rescue (and Michael Ignatieff)

“I have to wake-up at 4am to be sure I can talk with Seoul and get specs by the ends of the day. I just wish the property values here would go up before we sell and go back home. The bureaucracy is terrible, it’s really incredible, but the health care system is so much better. I think the money’s about the same, but you just can’t get the same ________ back home, which makes it totally worthwhile.”

Foreign assignments, contracts with overseas companies, working from home anywhere in the world, this jet-setting group is monstrous. 3 million Canadians overseas right now. Expats, they like to call themselves.  Michael Ignatieff was one before he tried to become the prime minister.  You’ll find them at the Irish pub watching whatever sport doesn’t air on local television, excessive time on the internet talking with friends back home, and speak with a certain authority about their host country, as cultural/political/social interpreters that are basically experts in this esoteric field. This group complains about all the lower classes of travellers because they usually make their home culture look brutish and stupid to the locals. They don’t do “touristy” things because it’s beneath them.

Bonus points for: being married to a local, having children with said local, having local friends, using correctly strange and subtle slang and cultural jokes, knowing the “best” places to do anything touristy for visitors, and having a super-cool job that doesn’t exist at home.

Emigrants are just Immigrants in Reverse

It was brought to my attention that people who move across borders aren’t always travellers.  There are people who actually move overseas…for good!  Since an emigrant (or conversely, immigrant) are not really travellers but rather residents, I thought I’d leave them out, like the government tends to do. It’s actually a whole can of worms that I’d really rather not open.  And then there are all those politics and power and integration and problems, problems, problems to address. I think I’ll just stick to the nice, easy, privileged people who travel for fun and bum around the world under the guise of becoming worldly. They’re a far easier target.

In Conclusion…

So where does this leave us in understanding the movement of people around the world? It tells us that hierarchy certainly exists and that travellers love it like everyone else. So many people want to feel superior to others. No, we shouldn’t all live overseas for years just to prove we’re better than your friend Jim who did his PhD research in Belize.

Yes, tourism has real inherent problems. That doesn’t mean we all stay at home either. People should just stop being such jerks about how their experience is better than someone else’s. That’s the moral here. So grow up and enjoy travelling already.

Oh, and if your city attracts tourists, makes you millions of dollars, perhaps consider a halt to complaining about the tourists?

My friend Iain hates platitudes, but really this is a situation of “it is what it is.”