Everyone enjoys being acknowledged and appreciated. Sometimes even the simplest act of gratitude can change someone's entire day. Take the time to recognize and value the people around you and appreciate those who make a difference in your lives.

Roy T. Bennett
Reflect on the Number 150 and Celebrate those Closest to You

Reflect on the Number 150 and Celebrate those Closest to You

Posted by martin.parnell |

Many people in Canada are currently celebrating the 150th. Anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act) which confederated Canada, on July 1, 1867. We are seeing and hearing the number 150 everywhere

This brought to mind a posting on the website of my friend, Alan Stevens, entitled YOU'RE DUNBARRED! In which, he wrote:

“On the train to and from Scotland last weekend, we rattled past the beautiful Scottish coastal town of Dunbar. It put me in mind of a number. A hundred and fifty to be precise.

Anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar came up with a theory twenty five years ago about the number of relationships we can keep up with. The number, known as Dunbar's number, is estimated at around a hundred and fifty. He based this on research into the size of ancient villages, Roman legions and nomadic tribes, but also upon the capacity of a region of the brain known as the neocortex. So how does this relate to social networking?

On the face of it, the Dunbar number seems ridiculously low. Many of us have thousands of contacts on social networks, and we exchange messages with them constantly. However, if you consider the number of people that you know really well, and have probably met at some point, it looks a lot closer to a couple of hundred. The implication is that most of your important interactions take place with a relatively small number of people.

If you think about your social media use, you will probably find that there aren't that many people you know and trust really well. Professor Dunbar also suggests that we have a close inner circle of just five people, and networks of up to 1500 who we recognise facially, but don't know that well. In short, it's worth remembering that despite having many thousands of friends and followers, the close circle that we know well is really important. Those are the people we should really value and spend time with.”

Whether it’s within our family, our close circle of friends or colleagues, relationships matter.

We must value the people who are there for us in good times and bad, put up with all our foibles are honest with us and who know us best.

So, at this time of reflection and celebration, let’s all take a moment to think about the people closest to us and celebrate our relationships with them.

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Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs
The Tim Hortons Dutchie Marathon-Food for Thought

The Tim Hortons Dutchie Marathon-Food for Thought

Posted by martin.parnell |

On July 1st it was Canada’s 150th birthday and I wanted to celebrate.  An idea started to form the week before and it all stemmed from a little treat that my wife Sue brought home from Tim Hortons, a Dutchie doughnut. My love of the Dutchie goes back a long way. As a lad in England, once a month, my dad took me to the car auctions in Exeter. On the way  we’d stop at a Wimpy’s restaurant and dad would buy me a milky coffee (now called a latte and twice the price) and a glazed-covered doughnut.

Immigrating to Canada in 1977 I stumbled across its Canadian counterpart and my relationship with the Dutchie began. Then, one dark day in 2013, I heard the news,  “Tim Hortons removes the Dutchie from its counters”. Over the intervening years I have tried the chocolate dip, Boston cream and apple fritter but they weren’t the same.

Then, in the last week of June, Sue came home with the real deal. Apparently, Tim Hortons had decided to bring the tasty delicacy back, for Canada’s birthday. As I was enjoying the raisin speckled delight an idea popped into my head “Why not run a marathon fueled by Dutchies?” The marathon part I had already decided on as I wanted to pay homage to one of Canada’s greatest heroes Terry Fox. But I would now also pay homage to one of Canada’s greatest doughnuts, the Dutchie.

I had tried something similar in 2010 during “Marathon Quest 250” when I ran 250 marathons in one year in support of Right to Play. Mackay’s ice cream in Cochrane was one of my sponsors and I ran the distance fueled on cones and water.

So, I needed to do my due diligence and went to Tim Hortons website to check out the nutritional facts on the Dutchie. I found one contains, calories 240, Sodium 200mg, Total fat 6g, Saturated 3g, Total carbs 40g, Fiber 1g, Sugar 17g, Protein 5g, Calcium 2% and Iron 15%. The numbers looked good and I figured that for a 5 hour marathon I would need 5 Dutchies.

I set off at 6.30am on a cool but clear July 1st morning. My route was a 1 km loop around my house and along the Bow River. After 5km I had my first half-Dutchie, microwaved for 10 seconds to give it that freshly baked taste. Around and around I went. My running buddy Wayne joined me and he ran 16 kms or one and a half Dutchies.

During the run I kept up with social media sharing such things as my favourite movie: “A fist full of Dutchies”; favourite book: “The Girl with the Dutchie Tattoo”; favourite song: “If I had a million Dutchies”; favourite quote: “Make the Dutchie great again”; favourite monument: “Stone Henge Dutchies” and favourite TV show: “Dutchie is the new black”.

At 4 hours 49 minutes and 16 seconds the Tim Hortons Dutchie marathon was done.

As I soaked in the hot tub, I thought how lucking we were to live in a country where I had the freedom to do something as wacky as the Dutchie marathon.

Eight months ago I had run a marathon in Afghanistan in support of girls and women. They were running for freedom.

Happy Birthday Canada.

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Never ruin an apology with an excuse.

Benjamin Franklin
Do the Right Thing and Admit when You're Wrong

Do the Right Thing and Admit when You're Wrong

Posted by martin.parnell |

“We all make mistakes”, is a very true statement. There isn’t one of us who, at some time or other hasn’t made an error, whether it be in judgement or action, nobody’s perfect.

When you are the boss, it’s probably harder to admit when this happens, as you are the person others look up to, you are expected to have all the answers, know what to do in every situation and always get things right.

So, what should you do, when it’s you who makes a mistake?

"Admitting that you're wrong is a sign of strength," says Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid (Hudson Street, 2013). "It takes character and leadership to do it well."

It also sets an example for your employees, creating a culture where they feel free to experiment and fail. That freedom allows for greater creativity and quicker solutions when people make mistakes.

He suggests you practice these five tips to help you own your mistakes in a way that strengthens your company:

1. Take ownership. 
As the leader, you are responsible for what goes on at your company, so you need to own the problem and the solution. "Never make excuses," Winch says. "That doesn't strike confidence in a leader."

Commend employees who take ownership of their mistakes as well. By showing respect and support for them, you create a culture that addresses mistakes without blame. "Taking responsibility when things don't work is more conducive to growth," Winch says.

2. Be sincere. 
When you deliver an apology, your audience will be looking for signs of a canned or stiff delivery, and they'll take them as signs that you don't mean what you're saying, says Kurt Dirks, a professor of leadership at Washington University who studies successful apologies. To win them over, simply be yourself.

"Trying to go by a script only undercuts the potential impact," Dirks says. "Be who you normally are." That honesty -- in your words and your delivery -- will show that you actually mean it.

3. Show what you've learned. 
A good apology explains what happened and why. Start with why you made your original decision and the logic that led to that choice. Next, explain what you learned about why it didn't work and how that new information will inform how you move forward. If you haven't figured out the lesson yet, then you're not ready to deliver the apology. "You should feel empowered," Winch says. "If you don't, then you haven’t figured out all the fixes, opportunities, and messages of hope yet."

With any mistake, no matter how small, there is a way to prevent it from happening again. Even if the mistake was simple -- like not thinking through an idea -- you can improve your thought process so it doesn't happen next time. Sharing your lessons will also show your employees how to think about mistakes and move forward.

4. Make proactive changes. 
Talk is cheap, so people need to see that you will actually follow through. When you outline your plan for change, mention a step you've already taken toward those ends. "The more specific the better," says Dirks.

For example, you might mention a new process you instated to improve communication or a new approach you're taking in product development. “As long as you can explain how you're rectifying what went wrong and own it, then you'll come across as a person in a position of strength," Winch says.

5. End on a high note. 
When you talk about a mistake, acknowledge anyone who might have been harmed in the process. Sometimes, the harm is overt, like in the case of BP's oil spill, but often it's more subtle, like when employees invest hope and time in a project that fails. "If anyone has been harmed, show empathy," Winch says.

But always bring it back to what you learned and how you plan to use this experience as an opportunity to grow. "You want to end with a message of hope in every situation," Winch says.

The ability to admit when you're wrong, as a leader, is your greatest opportunity to learn and grow. Admitting fault in the right way can make your employees and company stronger.

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When things go wrong, don't go with them.

Elvis Presley
How to know when Giving Up is the Right Thing to do

How to know when Giving Up is the Right Thing to do

Posted by martin.parnell |

There was a time when, once I had begun reading a book, I felt obliged to finish it.

Needless to say, this led to some hours of boredom as I must have thought, albeit subconsciously, that not to do so would be “giving up”. 

That is no longer the case. I will always give the author the chance to engage me and have been pleasantly surprised, at times, when a novel or piece of non- fiction has made me have a change of heart and decide to carry on to the end. 

But. I am now quite happy to say to myself “This book’s not for me” and move on to something else. It’s the same with movies. I watch them mostly at home and so, if I have been watching for half an hour and am feeling restless, I will switch it off. 

The thing is, knowing when to call it a day and face the fact that something is not working for you. 

In business, we also have to be prepared to admit when something isn’t working.This can be very hard, especially if a lot of time and money has been invested.

There will always be tricky patches, when snags occur or fatigue sets in, perhaps there is a change of personnel or you come across unforeseen challenges, sometimes it’s just a case of persistence or finding ways to combat these issues and re-engage in a project. 

But what if you get to the stage when you realise that no matter what strategies you might introduce, it just isn’t working? 

In her 2012 article for the Harvard Review, “12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist. When to Quit,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter states:

“Persist and pivot, and the effort could go on to success. Pull out in the messy middle, and by definition the effort is a failure. The issue is deciding which direction to take.”

She then goes on to give set a questions you might ask yourself, or your team, to help you come to a decision;

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?
  4. Is it more cost-effective to continue than to pay the costs of restarting?
  5. Is the vision attracting more adherents?
  6. Are leaders still enthusiastic, committed, and focused on the effort?
  7. Are resources available for continuing investment and adjustments?
  8. Is scepticism and resistance declining?
  9. Is the working team motivated to keep going?
  10. Have critical deadlines and key milestones been met?
  11. Are there signs of progress, in that some problems have been solved, new activities are underway, and trends are positive?
  12. Is there a concrete achievement — a successful demonstration, prototype, or proof of concept?” 

Once these issues have been addressed and the questions answered, you may be guided as to how to move forward, what action to take.

Kanter advises, “If the answers are mostly Yes, then don’t give up. Figure out what redirection is needed, strategize your way over obstacles, reengage the team, answer the critics, and argue for more time and resources. Everything worth doing requires tenacity.

If the answers trend toward No, then cut your losses and move on. Persistence doesn’t mean being pig-headed.

These suggestions may not help when I’m deciding which book to pick up next or which movie might be worth recording, but, hopefully, they will help when you have a similar decision to make, in business.

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Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.

Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond
How to Climb your Mountain one Step at a Time

How to Climb your Mountain one Step at a Time

Posted by martin.parnell |

For the past two weeks, our 13 year-old granddaughter, Autumn, has been staying with us. She has come from the small town of Moose Creek, on the outskirts of Ottawa. 

Autumn hasn’t been to Alberta since she was very young and didn’t remember the mountains, so, on Sunday, my wife and I took her to Banff. 

She was amazed at what she saw, especially the mighty Mt.Rundle. She talked about how high it was at 2,948 meters and how hard it would be to climb. We compared it’s height to those of Mt.Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters) and Everest (8,848 meters).

 Having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in a time of 21 hours, in 2013, I was able to describe to her some of the challenges one might face, when climbing a mountain. I told her that, in the end, as with any daunting challenge, it all comes down to detailed preparation and “chunking it down”, looking at it in stages to be reached, one at a time, to reach your goal. 

It’s the same in business. Sometimes, a task can appear to be so overwhelming that it’s hard to get started, but, I believe almost anything is achievable if you take it one step at a time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the whole thing, look at it in doable “bite-sized” chunks. Set yourself a timeline and stick to it. 

When I was running my 250 marathons, in 2010, there were days when I was desperately tired, or I was coping with an injury or maybe the weather was against me. When you wake up to hear the rain pouring down or the paths are icy and slippery, it’s hard to get motivated. My strategy was to just tackle my day in 10 minute chunks, from putting on my running gear to having breakfast and making those first few steps, along the pathway. 

It was the same when, in 2005 I cycled the 6,500miles through from Cairo to Cape Town and, in fact, when I had finished, I wrote about it in my first book “How to Eat an Elephant”, which is, of course, one bite at a time. 

Another key element of tackling any task is preparation. If you are well-prepared and have all the tools required, you won’t waste time in the process. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for support and be open to delegating tasks which can be done by others. It’s all a matter of staying calm, keeping control and having the right attitude. 

Now, go climb your mountain!

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