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Need to build and motivate great teams? Book Robert David Duncan for keynotes, seminars, coaching and training

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Do you want better performing teams?  Do you want to perform better? Contact Robert David (Rob) Duncan, who can help you and your teams be more effective – in terms of cohesion, collaboration, competitiveness and social skills. Rob is also a Certified Management Consultant who can roll up his sleeves and get actively involved in improving your organization’s performance. A longtime college educator, Rob can work with your organization and continue to add value long after the keynote address.

Featured talks and seminars: 1. Team Intelligence; 2. Competitive Intelligence; 3. Collaborative Intelligence; 4. Social Intelligence.

1. Team Intelligence: Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn – a foreboding calm…

What were the secrets to building a great team on a gruelling 3-month sailing voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn? Join Rob for a first-hand account of a life-changing tall ship voyage through stormy seas and interpersonal strains that ultimately led to a rounding of the “Sailor’s Mount Everest.” Told through stories and pictures, with the keen insights of a skilled management consultant, Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn will leave your team inspired, engaged, and ready for their next challenge!

2. Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical Techniques to get the Edge

What can you do in the next 15 minutes to give your firm an unbeatable lead over the competition? Join competitive intelligence expert Rob Duncan for an entertaining, fast-paced and informative look at a war chest of tools that can be employed cheaply, quickly and ethically to gain a sustainable edge. Drawing on his book “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical”, selected as a Best Business Book of 2008, Rob will leave your group raring to go on these simple and effective tactics.

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

3. Collaborative Intelligence: Enhancing Innovation through Social Media

What do you do when your customer is suddenly the head of your design team? “Harness it to your advantage,” says social networking expert Rob Duncan. Rob’s recent doctoral research confirmed that online social networking is breaking down traditional boundaries between companies, competitors and customers. Intelligent collaboration is the way of the future, and Rob Duncan can explain in straightforward terms why LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and other collaborative technologies are going to drive business in the future, and why you need to be there.

4. Social Intelligence: Building Socially Smart Teams for Winning Performances

What do improvisation, active listening, the reading of micro-expressions, networking and acting technique have in common? They all relate to the growing field of social intelligence. Defined as ‘a person’s competence to comprehend his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for socially successful conduct,’ social intelligence is needed more than ever in business. Join Rob Duncan, New York trained actor and co-author of the book “Improv to Improve Your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation” on an engaging journey through some simple, easy to use and powerful techniques to build social intelligence in your teams.

Contact us for more information at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Live to your own script! Book preview from The Adventure of an Ingenious Life

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Book Preview: The Adventure of an Ingenious Life – Follow your creativity through doors of opportunity

I was very pleased to be asked to contribute my thoughts and ideas to this new book. I have worked on collaborative books before, and really enjoy the process of sharing creative approaches with others. This book in particular appealed to me because I see myself at a crossroads between the business thinking and writing I have done before, and the creative and artistic life that is my main focus currently and into the future.

When I co-authored Improv to Improve your Business, I was beginning to meld the worlds of business and the worlds of art together. This new book furthers this process. When I began writing my contribution, I asked myself what I would say to a group of people about what I’ve learned in life so far. Here are some ideas.

Live to your own script!

People tell me that I have had an interesting life. On the one hand it is a genuine compliment, but on the other hand, there is a subtext of “Well, good for you, you are (insert choice of: weird/creative/brave/free/unfettered etc.), but it wouldn’t work for me.” I disagree. Anyone can fulfill their own calling to be who they were meant to be, and it doesn’t require radical or risky behaviours, just a commitment to certain principles, values and habits that I truly believe in.

As I write this, I am an actor, filmmaker, public speaker, writer, coach and trainer. If I am fortunate enough to re-read this in 10 years, I am confident I will describe myself quite differently. My past has included studying art, writing fiction, sailing across oceans, doing an MBA, a disastrous stint as a banker and many other things. Here are my tips for living a creative life of your own ingenious design.

Honor the child in you

Who were you when you were young? You are still that person on many levels. That child is who you are meant to become in life. Think back to when you little and free to dream and play. What things did you like to do? What were your fantasies about life? What games did you like to play? Were you a social person or did you like to wander off by yourself and observe birds and insects? Did you run, jump or climb trees. Did you like reading? Did you like to organize the gang and go on adventures?

Who were you as a child?

Take some time, close your eyes and think about yourself when you were small. Picture that little person looking back at you in a mirror. Work at picturing all the details of small you. What are you wearing? Are you happy or sad? Fearful or bold? Playful? Shy? Think about a perfect day you could have. Map out an entire perfect day for your young self. Picture yourself living that perfect day in a much rich detail as you can. When you are done, write down the most important messages you have taken away from the exercise. Who were you?

For most of us, life began the get in the way somewhere between our young selves and our current selves. As a boy, I loved animals, nature, roaming around, getting dirty and adventures. Later, I was obsessed with photography. Despite that I lived most of my young adulthood doing things that I thought would look good on a resume, rather than the things that fuelled my passions. I would start a program in arts, but decide that economics would look better on a resume. I could have tried my hand at drama and acting, but got an MBA instead. These are all little betrayals, and they add up over time.

How have you betrayed your young self? Make a note of some of the things you wish you could be doing. You owe yourself the chance to fulfill some of the destiny that was in store for you when you were a child. In fact, that destiny will come calling for you in midlife, whether you are ready or not. It’s better to be in control of becoming the person you were meant to become than it is to have the sadness of not doing so express itself in illness, depression or damaged relationships.

Dream big, start small

Look at the list of things that inspired you as a child. Pick one thing that you wish you could have pursued. Let’s make it happen on some level! One of the things I believe causes fear in people when they contemplate their hidden dreams is that they think doing so makes their already-lived life a lie. It’s not true, because we made the best decisions in life we could at the time, with the information and self-awareness we had at the time. We don’t have to throw out all that we have lived to pursue some far-off dream. Pursuing our childhood dreams on some level, though, is far healthier than drowning ourselves in “busy-ness” to avoid thinking about them. This doesn’t have to be a sad story!

One of the things I loved reading about when I was a child were great adventures like kids sailing around the world on little boats. As I started to hit midlife, I realized that those dreams were still nagging at me. I had been channelling this need into following round-the-world solo sailing races on the web and reading book after book about sailing around the dreaded Cape Horn, the most dangerous place on earth to be sailing. People who knew me well could see the gears turning in my head, and they started to worry. I fuelled those fears by starting to talk about needing to “sail around the Horn.”

Fulfilling a childhood dream

The end result of putting it out there to myself and others was that I was in fact able to fulfill my dream of sailing around Cape Horn, as described in my first book “Haul Away!” The way it happened was that I joined a tall sailing ship that was going to attempt a 3-month voyage to round the Horn in the traditional way, and they wanted deckhand trainees to sail with them. Although it was a dangerous voyage (some 10,000 people have drowned trying round Cape Horn, called the Mount Everest of sailing) it was far less dangerous than trying to sail around on my own, or suffering with an unfulfilled dream.

By sailing around Cape Horn, I lost 3 months of income, but I spawned several new avenues for myself. I wrote my first published book, and was delighted to find that audiences really enjoyed hearing about the voyage, which made me take my speaking hobby seriously and start to make money from it. Beyond all that, I had grown tremendously as a person, made lots of new friends, and was ready for more adventures. The lesson I took way from this was that a person can’t achieve a dream if they can’t acknowledge it to themselves and to others. So take one of those childhood dreams from your list, and say it out loud to yourself. Then tell someone about it.

Go brandless!

Through the process of giving up on our childhood selves and dreams, we end up hiding more of ourselves than we should. If we become an accountant, we internalize the idea that we should “act” like an accountant. Just like any “actor,” this implies a costume, a set of behaviours and a script. The more we act out the script we have been handed, the further many of us get from our true selves, the person we were meant to be. The result is a disappointed soul and a half-hearted life.

It’s much better and healthier to be the accountant who is also an actor or the actor who pays the bills by being an accountant than it is to shoehorn yourself into a narrow, rigid life-script. This flies in the face of contemporary wisdom about careers. We always hear that we should have a “personal brand,” that we should specialize, that we must serve a specific “niche.” This is why many people find doing a resume so difficult and depressing. We are trying to take all the complexity of our interesting lives and corral it into someone else’s definition of desirability.

Later in life, I decided to honour my dream of my early 20s to study acting. I took a leave from my senior management job and went to a good acting school. I never went back to my old job! Common sense would dictate that I should have returned to my old job, perhaps apologized for my brief burst of eccentricity, and got on with living a normal, less creative life. Instead, I realized how much I enjoyed acting, and how exciting it could be to keep learning and developing that craft. I became an actor in real life, not just in fantasy life.

Going brandless means ignoring people and advice that tries to make you narrow, specialized and too focused on one thing. It may be fine if that is your natural inclination, but many creative people really struggle to compartmentalize themselves into a small well-defined box. So don’t do it! It’s your script to write and your script to follow. At the end of your life, you may ask yourself if you lived true to your values, and only you can write the script that allows you to answer “yes” to that question. So get writing!

A three- braided approach to your script

People look at my varied background and ask how I got from one role to another. They are surprised to learn that I never took a blind leap from one thing to another, and that I never turned my back on any of my previous education, training or skills. Everything was built on the foundation of what came before. I use what I call a three-braided approach to writing my own life script. Like a strong piece of rope, a life fashioned out of three interwoven strands is strong and resilient. Here’s how it works: the three strands are what you like doing, what you hate doing and where you can grow.

When you look at what you are currently doing in life or in your career, think about the aspects you really enjoy and are good at. These things form one of the strands of your three-braided script. If you really enjoy doing presentations and helping people, but the rest of your job leaves you cold, then flag presenting and helping people as things you want to bring forward with you into your next role.

Next, look at the things you really don’t like about your current role. It could be office politics, detail work, deadlines or anything else you don’t enjoy. This is not the time to pull punches or second guess yourself. If you hate something, acknowledge it. Don’t beat up on yourself or try to rationalize it away by thinking that everyone has aspects they don’t like about what they do. Just isolate the things you don’t like and flag those as things you would like to lose heading into your next role.

Finally, look at the areas where you need to grow. These could be skills and abilities you wish you had, or personal qualities you would like to develop. Unlearning a particular habit or fear, developing a specific skill, or working in challenging new areas might be examples. You now have the third strand of your three-braided script. You know what you like doing, what you don’t like doing and where you would like to grow. Now, take these three strands, put them together and twist! In twisting these three strands together, you will see how to get from where you are to your next role.

Find the right co-stars for your script

We receive a lot of negative messages in life, often from the ones who love us the most. Creativity and ingenuity are sometimes poorly understood by people, and as result, feared by them. Sometimes, those who care about us fear that we are taking needless risks with our lives, ones that will leave us unhappy in the end. Unfortunately, their desire to help often ends up at odds with our creativity. We need to protect our own creativity even if it means curtailing our exposure to certain people.

Surrounding ourselves with the right people is critical to our success at having a creative and ingenious life. Fortunately, the Internet makes it much easier to create a circle of like-minded friends around the world. There are many groups and meeting spots online, so that we don’t have to be the only oddball around anymore! It is also important for us to be able to have other creative people that we can trust with our ideas. Creative ideas are often very fragile by nature, and they can often be stopped with a poorly thought-out remark from someone who doesn’t understand our creative side.

Loving what we do

I have been lucky in recent years to have surrounded myself with people who are interested in film and acting. Though I am still friends with people from my previous business-oriented job, the people I need around me right now are those who understand what it is to bring an idea for a film through the script-writing stage and beyond into casting, production and beyond. What is really interesting to me though, is how much of my past lives and careers are blending into my current life, using the three-braided way of thinking.

As an example, the same skills I used to help build and run an innovation centre for entrepreneurs are the same skills I use now in putting together a film project: visioning, teambuilding, motivation, funding, communication, marketing and so forth. At no point in my many careers have I ever had to say “I am no longer that guy” because everything I have ever done comes in handy in some way. As a film director, I can draw on all my acting experience to work with actors. I can draw on my business experience in my newer role as a film producer. My experiences acting, directing and producing all help me write more effectively for the screen. All of my life experiences come in handy, and they will continue to do so in my future roles.

It’s your script, so write it and live it!

We waste a lot of time seeking permission and external approval for our choices in life. It is truly wasted time, because some of the most common regrets at the end of our lives are that we didn’t live in tune with our own values, didn’t take chances and didn’t believe in ourselves enough to follow our dreams. So stop doing that! Take chances and believe in yourself. Use the three-braided approach to writing your own script and keep moving in directions that maximize the things you enjoy, minimize the things you don’t enjoy and keep you growing in directions that stretch and inspire you.

I didn’t start out understanding how I moved from fun role to fun role. I was part-way through my journey when one of my college students asked me how I had known to make all the right moves to get where I was at that point. I was honest and said I didn’t have a clue, but that I always tried to do things that were fun, and when two choices presented themselves, I chose the more exotic one. This ended up being a running conversation, and I continued to think about career and life planning, and how it isn’t as logical as it sometimes looks in the rear view mirror.

By focusing on principles that will keep you happy rather than specific targets, logical moves or measurable goals, I really believe you can craft a more exciting, fun and ingenious life. In the end you answer to nobody but yourself, and with this truth comes the responsibility to keep yourself happy. So write your own script and start living it! Inspire others by sharing your adventures and your ingenious life. Above all, be yourself, be happy and don’t wait for permission. Write your script, your way and enjoy it!

Why good leaders have to leave the teams they build

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Leaders come in two broad flavors: 1) self confident ones, and 2) insecure ones. The self confident ones build teams, empower those teams, develop leadership within the team and then move on to their next challenge. The insecure ones micro-manage, insert themselves needlessly into processes, and cling to their authority role under the guise of being ‘indispensable.’

The best leaders have one overarching goal: to make themselves dispensable. They achieve this through a number of tactics:

  • Hire good people – better, smarter, faster than themselves wherever possible.
  • Performance manage the weaker performers, while putting the bulk of their energies into the higher achievers.
  • Create a culture of experimentation and innovation, where trial and error are celebrated.
  • Promote the achievements of everybody on the team, while taking minimal credit for themselves.
  • Support the team from the background, letting others take center stage.
  • Consciously develop team leadership by pushing responsibility downward, and developing everyone’s leadership ability, not just that of their clones.

It may seem counter-intuitive to try to make yourself dispensable, but that is exactly what the best leaders and team builders do. In my first book, Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn, I interviewed the captain of the Europa, a 400 ton tall ship, who had started his career in a one-person rowboat, and who explained his philosophy of becoming a leader:

Captain and crew of the tall ship Europa

Captain and crew of the tall ship Europa

I personally never ‘sought command.’ I started my career in a small boat, where you are the skipper by default. Over time, the boats got bigger, I got older, and my experience grew.

The lesson here is that leaders need to build and empower teams, and then move onto that ‘bigger boat,’ so they can do it all over again. The smart organizations are the ones who recognize the need for good team builders to keep moving and growing, leaving a legacy of successful teams and newly-developed leaders in their wake.

Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

Haul Away! Teambuilding Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Can we have a single, unified, authentic online persona?

Book Review, Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 5 Comments »
One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher

In her inspiring book, One Person/Multiple Careers, Marci Alboher (a lawyer-turned-journalist/speaker/writing coach) argues that we should be unleashing, rather than hiding, the multiple career identities that many of us have. Marci’s book was the first place I heard the term “slash careers” as a description of the multiple career trajectories and multiple income streams that so many of us have. Almost everyone I know is a something/something else.

So okay, I’m going to finally do it. I am a Speaker/actor/writer/trainer/manager/consultant/sailor. How hard was that? In the world of online social networking, it seems to be exceedingly difficult. Most people I have talked to are very ardent about keeping their various “sub-personas” very compartmentalized. Facebook is for friends/family/partying (ie. never friend the boss…), LinkedIn is for corporate life, Twitter is for… hmmm – don’t have an answer for that one yet.

A friend/colleague and I kicked off this year by agreeing that this should be a year of authenticity – that we were going to move our various sub-personas into greater alignment, and care less about what our various “markets” think.

This got me thinking about social networking, and how I have most of my actor/writer/sailor connections on Facebook, whereas most of my consultant/manager/trainer connections are all on LinkedIn. My speaker/author friends are one of the few crossover communities that are on both. Could I bring all of these communities together?

Pink shirt guy

Pink shirt guy

As a first step, I unified all my profile images into one of my acting/speaking headshots – pink shirt guy. Before that, I was the Mr. scruffy actor/sailor on Facebook, buttoned-down Mr. Corporate on LinkedIn and pink shirt guy on Twitter. Though not all-encompassing, pink shirt guy probably does the best job of capturing the kinds of enthusiasm I feel for speaking to groups, acting on stage, a great day managing a team, teaching a course I am passionate about etc.

I used to also have separate Web pages (Speaker, Actor, Sailor, blah blah blah). This was beyond tedious, both to maintain, and to be forever thinking about the “message” that was appropriate to go out to separate communities/markets. So I scrubbed all that and am unifying everything here under one umbrella. It’s a work in process, but a step in the right direction – toward an authentic, 360 degree view of a whole person.

How about you? Do you have multiple personalities online, or have you been able to unify things? Are you still cautious about the self/selves you reveal to the various communities/markets you operate in, or have you decided to chuck it and present one face to the world?

I would really be interested in your thoughts, so please weigh in here with a comment or contact me directly.

To explore having me speak to your group or team about authenticity, social media, or other topics please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

The core business of a good manager

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking Comments Off
Rob Duncan in South Africa
10,000 miles away, my team is doing a great job!

The other day, someone asked me what the core business of a good manager should be. It was an excellent question, and one that I feel a great amount of passion for. I took a few moments and tried to distill my thoughts into a brief set of principles. So here goes – my list of the things a good manager must do well:

1. Work with the senior executive and the team to set the team objectives.

2. Organize the right people to tackle those objectives.

3. Listen, teach and coach. Don’t micro-manage.

4. Remove barriers to success for the team wherever possible.

5. Absorb a lot of the noise and stress from above and outside so the team is freed up to achieve its goals.

6. Report on successes and challenges, objectives and outcomes.

I am interested in your lists and thoughts as well. Please get in touch and let me know what you think. Feel free to comment here or be in touch with me privately via the Contact tab on this page. I am also available to speak to your teams and groups on this topic – one that I am very passionate about!

An actor repairs…

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Stella Adler Studio, NYC

Stella Adler Studio, NYC

I just survived my first week at that amazing actor’s bootcamp known as the Stella Adler Summer Conservatory. It was an incredible week, with class after class of intensive training from the people who (literally in some cases) trained Brando, DeNiro, Ledger and others.

Now, I am no longer a young athletic man, but the highlight for me had to have been surviving and actually really enjoying the 2 hour dance/movement class late in the week. Sure, I sweated, and was none too inspired during the “let your glutes dance the Vivaldi across the room” exercise, but hey, I had an awesome time. And furthermore, I can now say that I have, on at least one occasion, danced while sober!

Stella Adler Studio is a great training ground for those who want to act as a profession, and for those who know they could use a little more “performance” in their day-to-day lives.

When I stumbled out into the sidewalk at the end of the first week’s classes, I felt 10 feet tall. I was standing straight, walking from my pelvis, holding my throat clear, and breathing deep. When I ordered my iced quad expresso at the Starbucks, people turned and looked as my new voice reverberated around the walls!

When I got back to my place, I had a good long soak, and reflected on the changes that had happened in me, after only a week. I felt stronger, more centred, and more assured of the fact that I am fascinated by acting and want to make it an even bigger part of my career.

We’ll see what next week brings…

Do you know your customers anymore?

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use, Speaking 1 Comment »
Terminal City Club Vancouver

Terminal City Club Vancouver

I was part of a really enjoyable lunch and learn today in beautiful Vancouver, Canada hosted by SMEI at the Terminal City Club. I was asked to kick off the discussion by saying a few words on the theme of “Your customers have moved. Do you know where they live?”

I decided to start things off by broadening the discussion into the larger question of whether we even know our customers at all anymore, given the sea change in consumer behaviours that has occurred since the widespread adoption of social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

For example, do you know which online networks they like to hang out on? Do you know how they like to be communicated with? Do you understand what new levels of interaction they expect to have with your organization? Do you know when you are bugging them and driving them away?

 Part of the challenge is learning to listen again. Listening is possibly the most important sales skill out there, but how do we “listen” effectively with all the new media that is out there?

It all starts with some key, foundational principles. So here follows a bit of a manifesto for success in the new virtual neighbourhoods where our customers live.

  • You need to genuinely enjoy meeting and helping people. If that’s just not you, find someone else to look after your digital communications post. It takes all kinds to make a business succeed, and if you are not happy networking offline, online tools won’t change that reality.   Hire an intern or new grad from a local college or university. These social media natives are very well-equipped to be your eyes, ears and voice on social media. Many will appreciate the chance to make some bucks on the side while still a student. 
  • You need to be in it to help others. Blasting out endless Tweets about how great you are is not working, and is actually driving people away. In a recent study I conducted, one-quarter of the respondents indicated they are getting tired of social media and are considering scaling down their participation. The mood out there is in flux, and if you are not helping, you are annoying. You need to think in terms of “giving” not “getting.”
  • You need to build communities. This is an old idea that still has legs. Start a LinkedIn Group for your customers. Let them help each other, and let them give you input on your products and services. My research is showing that people want to be able to rely on their online communities for assistance in solving problems and coming up with innovative ideas.
  • You need to learn about the new cultures. This means listening before talking. Ask a lot of questions. Use tools like LinkedIn Q+A, LinkedIn Groups, and online customer surveys. Identify and befriend the “alphas” out there and learn the rules and protocols of engagement. Have a casual focus group over pizza and beer (be sure to invite me…) Watch how your competitors are handling the same environments and situations.
  • It’s not just about the tools! Sure there are lots of great tools out there, many of them home-grown success stories. But at their best, tools are simply extenders and enablers of existing behaviours. If you are doing the wrong things to begin with, cool tools just magnify your mistakes, and the consequences of them. Make sure your fundamental behaviours are sound before throwing caution to the wind and potentially alienating your customer base.
  • Become a trusted advisor. Freely offer your expertise and advice. Be a regular contributor to LinkedIn Q+A, and invest a half hour every morning helping people without expectations of a favour in return. Blog your own ideas, don’t just coat somebody else’s thoughts in your own wrapper and blast it out – editorialize at least! Make sure you would be on your customer’s “Top ten most helpful people” list.” Thought leadership is brand leadership.

How’s that for a set of starting principles? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this, and your additions to the list. Please feel free to weigh in here with your opinions!

PS. Some cool “Canadian” tools to check out:

StepRep (www.steprep.com) from Vendasta Technologies – helps you monitor and manage your online reputations

MashedIn (www.mashedin.com) also from Vendasta Technologies – builds trust by showing people how they are connected to you

HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) -  manages, monitors and analyzes multiple social media presences

Flowtown (www.flowtown.com) – builds social media profiles from a simple email address

To explore having me speak to your group or team on this or other related topics, please feel free to be in touch with me at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

A mid-career doctorate… are you crazy?

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use 1 Comment »
Doctoral gown

I admit it, the cool threads are part of the appeal

I am nearing the end of my doctorate in business leadership. My research is focusing on the role that online social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook etc.) are playing in fostering collaborative innovation and problem solving across organizational boundaries.

My hypothesis is that people are increasingly forming relationships through social networking that cross the traditional boundaries of organizations. Customers are now networked directly with product designers, and R&D engineers are Facebooking with their peers in the competition. Companies are sharing problems on LinkedIn Q&A, and people outside the organization are jumping in to help and add ideas. Is all this true? Ask me again in a few months…   

In this series of blog posts, I will chronicle my journey through the process of starting, working on and (touch wood) completing this mid-career doctorate. I am hoping this series will help those who may be considering more education at a mid-point or even later in their careers.  

Throughout my progress toward this degree, others have asked me (as I have asked myself many times) “Why would you do this? Why put yourself through the torture when you don’t need to? You’re already established and doing well.” These are all valid questions. My sailboat is sulking down at the marina wondering why we never go out anymore.

As I move through the process of writing my final two dissertation chapters, I sometimes reflect back on why I chose to do this, this behemoth project that has disrupted my life for almost three years, sucking up countless vacation days and vast amounts of mental disk space. Thinking back, I know I had my reasons. Here are a few of mine and a few more general reasons:

  • Enhancing your ability to add value. This is especially true of the newer breed of executive style doctorates. These applied degrees allow you to focus on an area that is applied, practical and immediately relevant to your work situation or those of your clients. In my case, I had often wondered how silos form and persist in organizations, and what can be done to stimulate increased collaboration. Then I became engrossed in LinkedIn, and interested in ways to foster collaborative innovation and… Shazam! – I suddenly knew I had found my research topic. My research is not only something that I am passionate about, but something that is useful in my work as a manager and professional speaker. 
  • Dusting off and renewing your prior education. In mid-career, your past education can grow stale. I have a solid MBA that has opened a lot of doors for me, but let’s face it – that education, though timeless, dates from the pre-Web era. It’s time for a major new credential, not just a handful of one-off courses.
  • Giving your brain a huge mid-life workout. Brains work differently as we age. Accumulated experience and repeated sound judgements (and mistakes) all add immensely to your situational processing power, but you may not be able to flash-memorize a calculus equation the way you could in your twenties. Tackling a huge intellectual research challenge in mid-career is like deciding suddenly to do your first ever marathon out of the blue. Survive it, and you’ll learn that you still have big guns.
  • Regaining the leading edge in terms of content. You had it once, but have you found yourself struggling with multiple remote controls on the sofa, and dreading the next major advance in television technology? Do you honestly know what blu-ray is? Have you downloaded an iPhone app? A doctorate gives you the chance to focus on something that is extremely timely, to become an expert in it, and to add new knowledge to the field. How many people do you know with a doctorate in the hottest new thing? Exactly - and with a 3-6 year typical time to finish a doctorate, you can can carve out some interesting lead time over the competition.
  • Turning age perceptions on their head. To a large extent, being out of date is a lifestyle choice, and probably not a smart one. You are only as old as your thinking is, and clobbering a hiring committee or board over the heads (in a nice way of course) with a newly minted credential in a leading edge area is a great way to steer the conversation to more interesting things - like what you can do for them - rather than dwelling on the unspoken question of whether or not you can relate to, and function in, the modern era!

 

Rob on boat

Where I'll be after graduation!

As this series progresses, I will share some thoughts on areas such as choosing the right kind of program, choosing a great topic, integrating your research and your work-work, and others. In the meantime, please feel free to weigh in here with a comment about your own journey through mid-career education, or similar thoughts. I can also be reached at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

What leaders can learn from primate behaviour

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baboons together

Another day at the office

I find primate behaviour fascinating, with its tribalism, social relationships, grooming rituals, quests for dominance and power plays.

In many ways, the organizations we work in are mirrors of primate life.

baby baboon

Yum, melon rind...

I recall being at the Brooklyn Zoo a few years ago, catching a break from the heat and watching a troop of baboons act out their daily routine.

At the centre was the Boss baboon, all alone, surrounded by heaps of melon pieces and rinds. He had all the food to himself, and no other troop members would go near.

After a few minutes, one or two of the older baboons would go up, pick a few nits out of the Boss baboon’s fur, and generally groom their way closer to the food.

After some appropriate grooming, these inner circle baboons were allowed to help themselves to some melon.

Emboldened by this display, a baby baboon ran into the inner circle and – not knowing about the grooming rituals – grabbed a piece of melon rind and wandered away.

baboon fight

Oops - looks like I violated a protocol...

The resulting outburst was fearsome! The Boss exploded in a rage and everybody literally went ape.

The baby baboon shrieked and darted up onto the safety of a ledge, and kept shrieking and shaking as if to say: “What did I do wrong???”

Good question. What are the organizational lessons here?

  • Learn the social norms before helping yourself to the food. There are established patterns of social interaction in all organizations, and we ignore these at our peril.
  • Pick some nits before picking fights. Everybody likes being groomed, and a well-intended kind remark helps build social cohesion and strenghtens relationships.
  • Don’t freak out if you make a mistake or two. Nobody was going to hurt the baby baboon who made off with the melon rind. It was sufficient to scare the heck out of him, and help educate him on the norms of the troop.
  • Learn from your mistakes. If you keep repeating the same behaviours that freaked out the troop, sooner or later someone is going to sink their fangs into your backside.
  • Remember, it’s all about harmony. When everybody feels comfortable and relaxed, we can all get back to work.

What do you think? Feel free to comment on this post and share your own “primate lessons”.

To learn more, or to explore having me speak to your group or team about leadership, please contact Rob Duncan at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

Leadership lessons from the 2010 Olympics, part 1

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Rob Duncan - Vancouver 2010

Rob Duncan - Vancouver 2010

Okay, I admit it: the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are shaping up to be cool – real cool! I have to think that the leadership behind the games has been largely responsible for what is shaping up to be a terrific show.

I haven’t always been convinced we were going to pull it off without a hitch. While it was exciting to see all the buildings being erected and the city decorated, the Vancouver Olympics were facing many challenges. Limited parking in Whistler, not enough snow on Cypress mountain and multiple transportation and accommodation shortages being some of the key issues.

Fortunately, many precautions were put in place to help the Olympics move smoothly, things like closing schools and implementing driving permits to reduce traffic and increasing the use of buses to service displaced drivers.

I will be observing the games with an eye to divining just what the leadership “secret sauce” was that contributed to the success of the games. I would love to hear your thoughts on leadership lessons from the games. Go Canada!

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