Author Archive

An Innovation Mindset: Silicon Valley’s Biggest Export

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Silicon Valley’s biggest export isn’t the iPhone, Google search or Tesla cars. It’s an Innovation Mindset and right now it’s getting exported at an exponential rate.

Over the course of the last 20 years, Silicon Valley has produced some of the most disruptive and game-changing innovations in the world. In just a 49 square mile radius you’ll find three of the 10 largest companies in the world by market capitalization: Facebook, Google and Apple. Dozens of others are making massive businesses by overturning old markets: Uber, Airbnb and Netflix to name just a few.

Virtually every major world city now has some form of Startup Hub, at least partly inspired by Silicon Valley. It’s here you’ll find the scrappy local entrepreneurs huddled in co-working spaces hammering out the next big disruption. And, virtually all of this is new in just the last 10 years.

Corporations are taking note that innovation is on an exponential growth curve and are fighting to not be left behind.

Spending for R&D programs worldwide is now at an all-time high with little sign of slowing and, among them, technology companies lead the pack. In a recent Global Innovation Study by PwC, it was found that nine of the top 20 R&D spenders were tech companies. Unsurprisingly, many of those names listed are the companies we’ve come to associate with growth and success.

Organizations are starting to respond: Corporate Innovation Officers and Head of Innovation roles, virtually unknown 10 years ago, are becoming a de facto standard in corporate America.

There is very little room to argue against innovation leading to success. Despite this knowledge, companies are struggling under this sudden “innovate or perish” imperative. Transformation doesn’t happen with business as usual, and change makers are increasingly turning to the tools, techniques and cultural approaches that created the Silicon Valley boom as their guiding light.

New thought leaders like Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, and Geoffrey Moore, creator of Crossing the Chasm, are exporting this knowhow to the world. Corporations are also discovering that innovation culture is at odds with their traditional quarterly-driven mindset and are looking for solutions.

On his blog, Silicon Valley guru Steve Blank points out that a business’ innovation practice needs to be uniquely accepting to experimentation and failure in order to achieve long-term success. Indeed, the “fail fast” and experimentation culture of Silicon Valley lore is starting to make sense for corporations that need to push conventional boundaries to remain competitive.

Innovation is hard, there is no doubt — and by any objective measure, Silicon Valley has led the way. As cities and companies battle to stay on top, it’s awareness of this that will separate the winners from the losers.

That’s why the Innovation Mindset is, and will remain, Silicon Valley’s biggest export.

Social Capital: The Currency of Networking

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Social capital and social proof are the currencies of networking and the glue that binds meaningful relationships.

If you don’t know what these are, how they work and how to increase your share of both, you are missing key opportunities to successfully build your network.

What is Social Capital?

Social capital is what we use every time we ask someone for something.

In the startup world, you’re typically going to ask for a connection to someone you do not know. For example, when a founder asks me to make an introduction to a VC (let’s call her Jane), I need to use some of my social capital with Jane to facilitate that introduction. 

This only works if I have pre-existing social capital in the bank with Jane. I need to know her or have interacted with her before. Otherwise, she has little reason to accept an introduction. The deeper my connection with Jane, the more of a trusted source I am for her and the more likely she will read my email and consider my ask.

What is Social Proof?

Now, social proof is when an introduction reciprocates value back to the person you are reaching out to with a request. In my example, I have to ensure the person I introduce Jane to is a valuable match for Jane herself.

Nine times out of 10 people that ask me for an introduction get it wrong. They assume this exchange is about what they will get out of it. For example, they want Jane’s experience, knowledge, money or access to their network. Generally, these are not reasons why Jane — or anyone — would accept a meeting. There must be value in it for the person you are introducing someone to as well as the person asking for the introduction.

How to Ensure You’re Creating Social Value

The goal of any introduction is to provide value to the person you’re asking something from. In my example, it must be clear why Jane would benefit from a meeting with my other contact.

The following are a few examples of potential value offered back to a Jane — aka providing social proof:

  • If your contact’s product would significantly enhance Jane’s company’s profit or efficiency.  
  • If it is a technology that Jane isn’t using but has proven traction in the market.
  • If Jane is professionally interested in what the contact is working on (she tweets about it or write blog posts on the topic).

How it Comes Together

When the introduction successfully provides value to Jane, after I’ve used my social capital and provided social proof, this now equates to more social capital in my bank for future use. A win-win for all involved.

On the other hand, if the introduction wasn’t a good one, which could happen for many reasons such as improper fit, the alignment was completely off, or the founder was ill prepared and wasted Jane’s time, then I will lose significant social capital and risk not being able to use that connection again.

Often times people will give you one pass for a bad intro, but usually not two.

So, if you’re asking someone to go out on a limb for you make sure you do your homework and provide value in return for that person doing you a favor.

Not only will it increase your chances of success exponentially, it will provide for the best possible outcome — more social capital in the bank and value for the person offering their time.


3 Practical Steps to Increase Gender Diversity at Your Company

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

In 2016 women held only 21.6% of board seats in Canada’s largest corporations by revenue, according to the Canadian Board Diversity Council.

While this is an improvement from 2015’s 19.5%, many companies still appear to be lagging behind adding women to their boards. A 2016 survey by the Ontario Securities Commission found that 45% of issuers did not have any women on their boards. Something needs to change.

Enter theBoardlist, a talent platform that engages the tech community to increase gender diversity on boards. Launched in the U.S. in 2015, theBoardlist currently has over 1600 board-ready women. For the past six months, I have relentlessly worked closely with founder Sukhinder Singh Cassidy and the team to support the expansion of theBoardlist to Canada.

If you know a board that needs more women check out theBoardlist to see how it can help. If you know a highly qualified woman who would be an asset to a board, why not nominate her right now.

If your company needs more gender diversity at all levels, you’re not alone. While working with companies of all sizes, I’ve learned these three steps can make a significant difference:

  1. Visit community colleges to find potential employees instead of Ivy League schools.
  2. When looking to fill a position at your company, demand that your HR department or staffing firm show you at least 50% female candidates for the role.
  3. Be a voice for change by calling attention to the number of women at every meeting. When numbers are low, relentlessly ask what can be done to improve it.

3 Must-Dos After A Conference

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

How do I know I’ve attended a quality conference? I leave energized, inspired and with a stack of business cards.

At most conferences I meet fantastic people and am inspired by a ton of fresh ideas and endless possibilities. I walk away with a long list of practical suggestions and some game changing strategies, and then reality hits:  

  • I am days behind on emails
  • I have a pile of new contacts with varying degrees of value
  • I have ignored colleagues, projects and life in general

So I hurry back to my office and before I know it, I’m back on the hamster wheel.

Sound familiar?

Recently after leaving a two-day conference, I realized this had to change. Almost all the value from a conference was lost because I didn’t have a moment to thoughtfully plan how to apply my new-found knowledge. I decided that I either had to stop spending money on conferences only to discard the learnings, or do something different that made the conference worth my time and money.

I decided to do something different and it’s working. Here are my tips for acting differently the next time you re-enter reality after a conference.

Starting with the obvious, you should do things, like:

  • Connect on LinkedIn (take 30 seconds for a personal message)
  • Send an email that says ‘great to meet you’ within 48 hours
  • Follow up with anything you promised a new contact, like web links, an introduction, meeting time, etc.
  • If a new contact really impressed you, mail them a personal, handwritten thank you card. No better way to stand out in a noisy online world.

But to upgrade your conference experience, I challenge you to try these three not-so-obvious must-do’s after an event.

  1. Set aside 20 minutes to use the new insights you’ve learned
    For me, the best time to do this is shortly after I leave — usually on the flight home. I set an alarm for 20 minutes and reflect on the key insights so I can organize my thoughts. I think about how I can bring the inspirations and tactical ideas back to my team. Your company can benefit from your conference experience by taking time to thoughtfully bring back new strategies for consideration.
  1. Make the first move
    If you’ve done a conference right, you’ve left with a healthy number of business cards, new LinkedIn connections, and Twitter, Instagram or Facebook followers. But let’s face it, not everyone adds the same value to you or your business moving forward.For those that can, devise a plan to stay in touch. For example:

    • Is there an event that you could invite them to speak at?
    • Is there information you could share, such as industry trends or hot new startups?
    • If you’re interested in what they are building, then consider being more actively engaged on social channels

When reaching out in today’s social media world, remember to use tools and platforms that are easily accessible and give you the best chance to stand out.

  1. Commit to changing one thing for the better
    We learn more than tactical skills from a conference. We learn how to be human. I once heard a CEO of a large company say on stage that during an elevator ride he asks employees what project they are working on. It gives the employee time to share (and shine) and provides insights he might not normally receive. This small change in behavior can make you a better manager, CEO or leader. If you listen for the non-tactical messages and commit to applying one, you could benefit in ways that will surprise you — and your team.

For me, the best conferences are the ones where I feel I’ve made meaningful connections and applied the messages I heard on stage to my personal and professional life. It really begins with taking 20 minutes on your way back to reality and then taking action.