Pizza Paparazzi out at the Stormy Lake Salon

Pulled pork pizza with taleggio and lemon dressed Arugula. Thanks Rob & Mark!

Pulled pork pizza with taleggio and lemon dressed Arugula. Thanks Rob & Mark!

A dozen of us gathered last Friday for the twelfth Stormy Lake  Salon. We started the evening with wood-fired pizza and great wine, and then continued indoors for the Salon. Both Wade and Julie had cameras, and every pizza coming out of the oven had to run the gauntlet of paparazzi. Thanks to Julie for posting great photos on her blog.

When we finally got around to the discussions, I drew first spot and talked about the role of play in strategic thinking. Play is often associated with creativity, but there is greater need to be playful in the development of strategy. Being in a playful state better allows you to engage in counter-factual reasoning. The essence of strategy is moving from “what is” to “what could be.” A challenge with play is that it must be chosen and self-directed – you cannot mandate play. This is at odds with most work environments.

Brant and Susan followed up with lessons learned from living in Cochrane and Silicon Valley. One of the key elements of Silicon Valley was living in an environment that was surrounded by creativity and entrepreneurship. Sir Ken Robinson was cited as a very inspirational speaker oncreativity. Brant then pointed out that being creative or innovative alone is not enough. An idea that isn’t acted upon has no value. Execution is critical. This then lead into a very interesting observation that it is your network that is your source of influence.

Pulled pork pizza, after cooking.

Pulled pork pizza, after cooking.

Claudia had the most flavourful discussion. Fascinated by food, words and the imagination, Claudia talked about traditional Aztec guacamole and how it was seen to be an aphrodesiac, based on the properties of each of the ingredients. Avacados that are grown on “testicle-trees”, chile that is opened up to get at the ripe seeds, and lemons that were rubbed on body parts (those body parts – ouch). Claudia brough some guacamole in her molcajete (mortar and pestle).

Rob spoke passionately about the neorealism movement in Italian cinema, including work by notable directors such as Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. He remarked upon both the birth of the movement in the days following World War II, and on the less obvious fading of the movement in the early 1960’s when neorealism had run its course. ((I was in Blockbuster on the weekend, and picked up Fellini’s La Dolce Vita – and it turns out that Fellini is responsible for the term paparazzi – quite funny given our jokes about the pizza paparazzi earlier in the evening.))

Wade brought the sun, some wheat and some biscuits to his discussion. The argument was that issues du jour like “organic” or “local” or the “100-mile diet” still miss the fundamental point that we are completely disconnected from the sources of our food. And even if you are eating local, organic chicken, the chicks might still have been shipped out from Ontario. While we have joked that “meat comes from styrofoam”, the disconnect extends to virtually everything we eat. And that part of the connection is not just the source of our food, but the source of the recipe. The fact that the biscuit recipe comes from Wade’s aunt gives him – and all of us – greater connection to the food and where it comes from.

Janet, recently returned from Egypt, made observations about the kinds of decisions that governments make in these tough economic times. Cutbacks can be seen to be arbitrary and capricious. But if a politician is seen to be doing bad things for the right reasons, then they are given much more permission to make unpopular decisions. Janet called this the politics of intention. She observed that Ralph Klein was given a lot of permission to cut back in the 1990’s, largely because it was felt that his intentions were appropriate.Few politicians today have clear intentions, and this is causing them problems.

Julie wrapped up the discussions with a talk about the erosion of traditional media, and the decline of the editorial function. This was not a defense of traditional media, nor a condemnation of new media, but a question of how will the media be replaced, as current models seem doomed. The youtube video of Susan Boyle was cited as an example of the explosion of celebrity, and the cross-over of new media to Oprah.  Of all the topics, this one sparked some of the most intense discussions at the Salon.

Looking back over the evening, two themes emerged. One was focused on creativity and new ways of thinking. The other was on rapid cultural change. And even these two themes are linked as creativity and new ways of thinking are necessary responses to rapid cultural change.

Thank you to everyone who came: Claudia Aguirre, Jorge Aguirre, Janet Brown, Brant Parker, Susan Parker, Wade Sirois, Janice Sirois, Julie Van Rosendaal, Rob Mabee, Mark Tewksbury and Karen Coppard.

And a great thank you to Rajesh and Letty who did such a fabulous job helping to run the evening.

As wealth vanishes, consumers retrench

This headline above is lifted from today’s Report on Business section in the Globe & Mail. It is one of two interesting articles about how consumers are responding in these uncertain times.

This first article discusses how consumer attitudes to spending (less) and saving (more) are changing in response to a 4.4% decline in household net worth. But we all know that how consumers spend less and save more differs from product to product and category to category.

The second article, just two pages later, leads with the headline “More parents opt to skimp on baby’s ride: Luxury buggy makers feel the pinch as cost-conscious buyers turn to less expensive brands.” It appears that “once booming sales of status-symbol strollers are taking a hit.”

While it is rather easy to assume that an expensive stroller is part status-symbol. And that consumers can quite easily rationialize that baby won’t notice a different stroller, this may not be the whole story.

In our society we see our children as innocent. The fact that the economy is weak is not their fault. So if parents are trading-down a stroller, are they compensating in other ways to trade up? Are there other baby brands, perhaps less conspicuous ones, that will see a boost in sales, while expensive buggies decline?

Alternatively, our whole approach to wealth could be changing. Perhaps wealth is not taken for granted as easily, and we want our children to be satisfied with good enough, and not seek identity and validation through having “the best.”

Either approach is intersting, and has different implications understanding how consumers react to the rapidly changing market conditions. We do know one thing: consumer reaction is rarely predictable – and something we should be doing a lot of thinking about.

Painless Insight Planning – by Susan Abbott

A friend and colleague in Toronto, Susan Abbott, has just published an outstanding free e-book: Painless Insight Planning. This is a workbook to develop a very focused qualitative research brief.

All too often, quite a bit of time is spent trying to figure out what the real research question is – this workbook gets you there quickly and easily. I strongly recommend that you download it, save it and keep it close. Try it out the next time you need to solve a problem – even if you don’t proceed to research, it will give you clarity on what you need to do.

This is another great example of the gift economy at work. Thanks, Susan.

Game Theory

I was at Chapter’s a few weeks ago, and saw on the back wall a sign promoting the “Indigo MBA”. What a hokey marketing promo I thought, but ended up buying two great books.

One is called The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and in Life by Dixit and Nalebuff. It is an update of a 1991 book, called Thinking Strategically.

One of the exercises in this very readable book is based on the principle of backwards reasoning. Figure out the winning end position, and work backwards to what you should do now. Obvious in principle, but not always in practice. The example they use is from season 4 of Survivor. Two teams face each other, with 21 flags between them. At each turn, you must take one, two or three flags. No more and no less. The winner is the teAm that takes the last flag.

If you get to go first, how many flags should you take on your first turn to guarantee a win, and what is your strategy for every subsequent turn?

It is a fun problem, and really illustrates the usefulness of this book. (Of course, a proper game theorist would not promote this book, but I also like to believe in what Joseph Thornley has called the “gift economy.”)

Improving the obsolete

At a presentation earlier today, Dr. Sharon Friesen (co-founder of the Gallileo Education Network) challenged us under the topic of “Learnings for Today’s World.” It was invigorating. Just the simple reminder that eyeglasses were once viewed with the same technological mysticism as we view Web 2.0 today. Or that people once traveled hundreds of miles to watch people engage in “silent reading.”

There was a great quote in the pre-reading:

Efforts to improve the obsolete are actually likely to make things worse (Gilbert, 2005; Fullan, Hill & Crevola, 2006).

While this statement was made in the context of transformation of the education system, it has far deeper relevance to many initiatives. And it requires confronting truths we may want to avoid to honestly assess if we are simply trying to improve the obsolete.

Nothing beats a good question

I was observing  a workshop  in Edmonton last week. We were asked to reflect on the question: what is your work? Not what is your job? It was a question that inspired very good reflection and conversation.

Very quickly people were able to think about how they did their job, and what part of their job they were most passionate about. It allowed us to get to  know the individual far beyond their title and role – which is how most of us tend to introduce ourselves.

It was a very powerful introduction to each other.

My answer?

I am a sense-maker. I deal with complex situations and problems that somewhere have people involved in them. I look at the problems from many angles and through the lens of many different disciplines and then explore the seams of knowledge between the disciplines to make sense of the problem.

But this is far to esoteric. I like the question, but I don’t yet like my answer.

An inspiration for blogging

According to the Blog Herald, last July there were approximately 70 million bloggers in the world, and 400,000 in Canada. One can only imagine how many there are today.

So what brings Stormy Lake so late to the party? Perhaps the real question, is who told us about the party, showed us how easy it is to get there, and has been that friend we cling to when we don’t know anyone else.

For us this friend, and our inspiration, is Joseph Thornley. Joe is one of those people who sits quietly in a group, but when he speaks the room stops to listen. He is a passionate advocate for the role of social media, and he makes it both interesting and uncomplicated. Can’t ask for much more than that.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe gave a seminar to Alberta Education that was an hands-on introduction to social media. It was not a lecture or even a workshop, but a lab session. We set up delicious accounts, and signed up to twitter. And he took us onto WordPress and posted a blog right in front of us, with a photo of the group.

Perhaps the ground-shifting moment came for me when I was playing around with twitter. I have been a Lance Armstrong fan since he won his first Tour de France. I watched his press conference, live on the Internet, when he announced his return to competitive racing. Twitter showed that he was tweeting, so I signed up to follow Lance. His latest post was written on his bike in the middle of a race in the Tour Down Under!

A short while later, this post came up on my screen:

Knock on the door just now – anti doping control.