Here I Am

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I’m tainted.

Yes, the verdict is in. I am beyond a doubt, tainted. Unsalvageable. Damaged beyond repair. Gone, baby, gone.

See, I’m not normal. Part of that is the anxiety that colours my everyday life. It permeates everything I do and everything I am. I can’t get away from that so I don’t even bother trying any longer. However, when you live with a dragon, you have two ways you can go; you can either cower in fear from it or make it your friend. I chose friendship.

Platypus

Platypus

That’s only part of it, though. I’m weird in lots of other ways, too.

I like things I’m not supposed to. Always have. For example, I am a fan of Bioware. I don’t just mean, “gosh, I really admire that company.” I mean, I am a screaming, tear out my hair, eyes crying for joy fan. I always have been. Why? A number of reasons. Bioware is Edmonton born and raised, just like me. More than that, they tell an awesome story. I know. I played Dragon Age and Dragon Age II so many times I can recite the scripts by heart. When I got to meet Dr. Ray Muzyka, I thought I’d straight out faint. It’s more than the local boy doing good. Bioware has taken storytelling and permeated it through their entire company. Even the walls of their Edmonton offices are like an art gallery of their games and stories. For someone like me, that’s as close to Nirvana as I’m ever going to get.

My oddities go far beyond my love of a gaming company, though. I do all sorts of things I’m told I’m not supposed to do at times I’m not supposed to do them.

When I’m at networking events I feel vaguely like a platypus amongst swans. I could stick a bunch of swan feathers to my back and make honking noises to blend in but I’d still be a platypus. Instead of trying to hide my platypus nature, I just go with it. The result is that I often say or do things that shock or amaze. I have been known to flirt, tell jokes (sometimes naughty ones) and give very blunt opinions. I’m not sure the swans know what to make of me.

However, there are a few people who smile and admire my outspoken passion. I’ve tried to be the swan, they are beautiful after all, but I eventually go back to platypussing. Now I just do what a platypus does among the swans. When I meet potential clients, I introduce myself as a platypus and I get one of two reactions; either they see me as a breath of fresh air or they walk away. A few feel the need to correct my platypus nature “for my benefit” but those assholes are few and far between.

These past few years I’ve learned a valuable lesson about myself. I’m not like everyone else. I have a few challenges such as my anxiety to figure out. However, I’m not going to change or pretend to be something I’m not just because a dissenting few think I should behave in this way or that. I am passionate and I bring that to everything I do. For those of my clients who are looking for something different, a platypus isn’t a swan but it’s still damn cute and I’m good at what I do. Sometimes a platypus is just what you need.

I guess that makes me tainted and I’m okay with that.

Edmonton’s Gay Pride Week

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Gay pride flag flowing in the wind

Gay Pride Flag

Since this week is Edmonton’s Gay Pride Week, I thought I would devote this week’s blog to that subject. I am a big fan of the LGBTQ community for a number of reasons so I wanted to give them this time to talk about them and their story.

My first experience with LGBTQ was in grade school. I had a friend I’ll call Derek (not his real name) that I would play with at recess sometimes. One day he was feeling particularly down and I asked him why. He revealed to me that he was a girl inside and didn’t want to be a boy. I digested this for a moment and, since no one ever told me otherwise, I simply asked him what his name would be if he were a girl. He told me Deanne (the name has been changed). I asked him if he’d like me to call him Deanne. We decided he might get teased so we shortened it to D. I don’t know what happened to him, he moved away and I never saw him again. I hope he finally got to have the body he felt he was supposed to have.

I had no contact with the LGBTQ community until I was a 20 something taking some secretarial classes at a small local college in Edmonton. I was taking a class in Alberta law and we came to the subject of marriage. Marriage, I was told, was a legal union between one man and one woman. My brain put the brakes on and I yelled out, “that’s not fair!” The instructor, amused, asked me what I was talking about. I said that everyone should be able to marry. What if two men or two women were in love? They couldn’t get married? The instructor laughed at me and said that “those people” gave up their rights to have a “normal” life. I got incredibly angry and said that it wasn’t fair to deny someone a right just because they weren’t like you. Several students agreed with me but the discussion was shut down. I was hurt. This was 1989, not 1889. We were changing the world and we couldn’t stop long enough to respect the humanity of others?

A few years later I made my first foray into “The Roost” which, as many Edmontonians remember, was the gay bar in Edmonton. I’d never been there before and my friend, a gay man I was secretly in love with, took me for the evening. When we got there I met the most beautiful woman I’d seen in a while. Since I don’t have permission to use her real name, I’ll call her Rose (also not her real name). Rose was a true beauty in the style of the Hollywood goddesses of the 40s. I was fascinated. Then she revealed to me that she’d been born male. I blurted out how beautiful she was. She then offered to let me feel her breast which she took out of her top and placed in my hand. I murmured something and the smile she gave me melted my shyness away. This woman had all the grace and style I wished I had.

When I came out as pansexual to my friends, the only person who was shocked was me. I thought it was something I’d kept secret but really no one was surprised. I dealt with the jokes about having sex with pans that casual acquaintances make and persevered to be me. I’ve never told my family but they never deserved to know. They didn’t deserve to be involved in that part of my life. When I hinted to them once by suggesting I bring a female date to Christmas, my sister said she’d disown me for “disrespecting Jesus like that.”

This past little while I’ve been slammed by groups who use hate to further their own agenda. Some of these groups use their anger and hate at another group to place blame for their situation. It saddens and sickens me. Using hate to fight hate never makes sense. When I decided to write about my experiences with the LGBTQ community I was struck by the realization that this is one group that has never used anger or hate to gain their rights. The LGBTQ community has always used understanding, tolerance and respect to further their push for equal rights. I think we could all use to follow their example.

This week marks Gay Pride in Edmonton. I am proud to support the LGBTQ community and am grateful for the strides in tolerance and understanding they’ve made. We have come so far but there is so much further to go.

Tiananmen Square

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I was given some advice to alter my blog into advice for people who want to know what Corporate Storytelling is. For the past two blogs, that’s what I’ve done and, frankly, it isn’t working. Yes, my readers like the advice but people want to see it in action. So I thought I’d go back to my old style of blogs and talk about what’s important; stories.

A crowd gathers to protest in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

A crowd gathers to protest in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

25 years ago, students marched into Tiananmen Square. People read the stories now and try to imagine what it was like but they fall short. The true horror of that day lies in part what happened on that square but also in part of the time.

I grew up in the 80s and much of what we did during that time shaped me and how I think. The 80s were a time of excess and rampant self-indulgence. It was a decadent time when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher shaped history. However, there was another side.

The green movement was just starting to get into full swing, computers were making their way into homes, the Internet hadn’t been born yet and there were nuclear weapons all over the world.

I was in high school when I learned that Edmonton was the fourth top spot in the world to hit with a nuclear attack. Not only were we the gateway to the north, we had three serviceable airports and two armed forces bases. The Cold War was heating up and people finally started taking notice of what was going on. All around the world, people were protesting and making noise about injustices. This was the age of “Live Aid“, and other projects that brought A-list performers together to raise money for a common cause.

Because we had so much, we were learning how much we had to lose.

These protests took many forms. Some were movies, some marched on governments. We all tried to change the world in our way. By 1989 the Berlin Wall was coming down. So, when a group of students gathered in Tiananmen Square in China to protest the brutal conditions, it should have been a peaceful demonstration. Instead, it turned into a bloodbath.

Tiananmen Square was a brutal wake up call for everyone. We now realized exactly how high the cost of protest could be and we mourned those people who simply wanted to make their world better. For those who watched the horror unfold, there were no words to express what we saw. It changed everything.

Now it’s 25 years later and it’s hard to fathom that day is just a memory. China has never paid for this atrocity or the other violations they’ve committed since. 25 years later, it looks like they never will.

Corporate Character

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Pile of coins

Image Can Build a Business

I am fascinated by businesses. Every company has a story and the journalist in me wants to find out what it is. I will happily listen to a company’s history and views, what’s important to the company and how they move forward. It builds a story in my mind that engages me. However, when I ask about the company character I either get a blank stare or a diatribe on internal workings. What I don’t get is company character.

A company’s character is as important as its story but what exactly is company character. Some people will tell you that’s a company’s image and end there. That’s part but not everything. A company character should be as lively and engaging as any character in a novel or movie. It should be three dimensional with wants and desires as well as obstacles to overcome and ways it can grow.

So what is company character? The company’s character is that aspect of the company that embodies the values, history, desires and obstacles of the company. Like any character, it has dimension and depth. It both motivates people, such as clients and employees, and helps shape events but it is also motivated by those same people and events. In short, it’s the embodiment of who you want your company to be.

How, then, do you create a company character? Shouldn’t it just develop naturally out of the business itself? That’s not really a good idea since the character of your company is fundamental to its image. Leaving it to chance does not give you control over the direction your company takes and how it interacts with employees and clients. You do have the ability to create your company’s character, though.

Here’s an exercise every entrepreneur should do. Go and grab a coffee and sit somewhere you can think. A pad of paper and pen might come in handy for this as well so grab those. Make sure it’s time when you won’t be disturbed. This exercise will take a while and you need to do some deep thinking.

Close your eyes and think about your company for a moment. Really take a moment to get it fixed in your head and think about the vision, the history, the mission of your company. Think about where you want the company to go and how you want it to get there. List off the challenges your company faces now and as it grows.

Now with those thoughts in your head, create an image in your mind of a person. Are they young or old? Sophisticated or innocent? Do they wear a suit or jeans? Is it a male or female or gender neutral? How do they speak, walk, act and react? This image is not the same as your ideal customer. Rather, it is an embodiment of how you perceive your company.

With this character in mind you can now drive the image of your company and the direction your company takes. This character can also help you decide how you want to handle the challenges your company faces and how you want to interact with employees and clients. It will help you to gain control over where and how your company grows.

Why Corporate Storytelling?

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Every company has a storyPeople often ask me, “what is corporate storytelling and what can it do for my business?” This is such a loaded question that it takes a bit of explaining to fully understand what it means. Not that it’s complicated but, rather, that corporate storytelling is so fully integrated that it encompasses more than can be explained in a 30-second sound bite. What it can do for a business goes deeper than a surface-level explanation.

Let’s start at the beginning. Every company has a story. The story is a mixture of the vision statement, the mission, the history and the people that compromise the company. However, how does all this come together to create a story?

A Corporate Storyteller changes the company from a thing into a character and gives the company depth and personality. So if we start seeing the company as a person, rather than just a thing, we see that it becomes a three-dimensional being with drive and momentum. The history shapes and molds the character, giving drive to their actions. A character’s wants and desires sends them on their path and defines their mission. In this way the company becomes a living, breathing entity rather than a nameless, faceless machine.

So what happens when you change a company into a character? Just like our favorite books and shows, a good character draws us in and makes us want to become involved. A great character lets us make an emotional investment in their well-being and the adventure they are embarking on. We live vicariously through them and broaden our experiences with them. A well-loved character is cherished long after the book is put down or the show has ended.

Imagine, then, if your company became a well-loved character. The kind of character your clients want to know more about and join the adventure. What if your employees invested in your company’s well-being so that they could broaden their experiences through your company. What could that mean for your company? Clients who invested in your long-term adventure and employees who felt as though they were living in the story.

This means that you may not get the initial sudden rush of clients that a television ad might get you but you will get clients who are willing to stay with your company for a longer duration. Employees that are more invested in your company means that they will stay longer. This, in turn, means a lower turnover rate for you.

The company story is one that develops over time so rather than investing a large sum of money every few years to freshen your marketing campaign, there is a lower cost spent over a longer term. The story revitalizes itself as your company changes and grows so there is no need to reinvent your image. Your story fuels your marketing rather than your marketing fueling your story.

Perhaps you’ve been unfamiliar with corporate storytelling and unsure if this is a benefit to your company. Long-term clients and employees build up your business by helping them invest emotionally in your company. Every company has a story. Isn’t it time to tell yours?

I’m Not Good Enough

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Debra DiGiovanni

Debra DiGiovanni

I have a list of celebrities that make me giggle like a schoolgirl and sigh longingly. They don’t include the likes of Hugh Jackman, although he’s great material for the movie I have going in my head when I’m in the shower. No, my list of A-class celebrities include people like comedienne, Debra DiGiovanni and actor, Gideon Emery among others.

When I think of Debra or Gideon, I see two people who have made it to a place I’d like to be. They’re in Hollywood, man! Movie stars, swimming pools. They get to have adventures and meet people. Plus, they’re beautiful people. Debra has a smile that can light up a room and an attitude that gives her strutting rights. Her wit is sharp and cunning and I love a woman who can make me laugh. Gideon is not only an amazing actor, he’s also got a voice that can make a celibate nun reconsider her vows. Don’t believe me? Listen to his character Fenris on the game Dragon Age II say, “I am yours” sometime. Yes, I’m a huge fan of both of them.

Recently I had a bout of self-doubt. You know the kind I mean; where you look at your life and wonder what the hell you’re doing. Since I have anxiety, there’s an extra bonus of a panic attack every other day. I have a rule where I try to find three things to be grateful for each day but when you’re down to being grateful for cold water, you’re really reaching.

There are times when I feel like I’m dancing a polka to Blue Oyster Cult. Not just out of time but out of sync as well. It’s at times like these that I reach out in all directions for some help. I did that and was amazed. Did you know that even those who have made it like Debra and Gideon have self-doubt? Shocking, I know!

There are those who may think I’m being sarcastic here but I’m not. I was honestly surprised to find out that stars like them had problems with self-doubt. I mean, they’re working in the field they love. They don’t have to worry about rent or groceries or hear from some company because your bill is three months overdue.

Do they?

We all suffer from insecurity from time to time and that’s normal. We all stop and wonder if we chose the wrong path in life. That leaves us wondering about the path not taken. Did we make the right choice? Shouldn’t there be a sign that we’re going in the right direction? I’m not big on taking things on faith. I need evidence that the way I’m going is the right way and finding that evidence isn’t always easy. Yet it’s there if we really look at it.

I’m a Corporate Storyteller and often say the evidence is there in the story. So, in the depths of my anxiety I looked to my own story and saw the evidence that I needed. I’ve come so far in the two years since I’ve started this journey and I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished. I’ve found my path again and I’d like to share some thoughts on how to overcome your own self-doubt.

  1. Use your story. All stories have a beginning and an end. Where did yours begin? Where are you now? I’m willing to be that if you really take a look at your journey, you’ll see just how far you’ve come. Celebrate that.
  2. Identify your marker points. At the beginning of your journey you set out certain goals for yourself. Like any story, these are your marker points. They tell you where you are in your journey. Maybe the reason you feel lost is because you’ve lost sight of them. This is an opportunity to reorient yourself. Or, perhaps your story has changed and you’ve hit new marker points. Great! This means you have a new story. Celebrate that.
  3. Your story is unique. There’s only one story like yours and you get to write it. If you don’t like how the story is unfolding, take a look at it. Look at the characters involved, the marker points, the setting. Is there something that isn’t working with your story? Maybe you’re located in Vancouver but really feel like you should be in New York. Well, you have control over that. This is your story and you get to write it.

We all suffer from insecurity but your story is yours. Write it how you want it to unfold. Some days things are rougher than others and it’s harder to see your story. It’s there and when you need to reorient yourself, it can help you find your way.

The Value of Customer Service

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Cat on a phone pretending to be tech support

Tech Support Cat

I am a big believer in great customer service and I am very hard on those companies that have poor customer service.

Yesterday I read a news story about an Australian company called Kogen who went above and beyond in their service. An elderly man wanted to make a purchase online. However, not knowing how, he simply mailed in his money with his item purchase. Kogan founder, Ruslan Head, not only sent his purchase but a $100 gift card and an offer to help teach the man how to make purchases online. Wow. Amazing customer service.

Going the extra step and giving your employees the ability to go the extra step means great customer service. I worked as a customer service agent for years and I know that even the most pleasant phone call can go one of two ways – up and positive or down and amazingly negative. So I thought I’d give some advice on how to ensure your company has great customer service.

  1. Listen. The first rule of customer service is listen. You’d think that’s self-explanatory but after I once spent over a week on the phone to Microsoft I learned that it sadly isn’t. Customer service people get bored hearing the same complaints over and over so they stop listening. They already know the solution. However, for the customer, this is a new event and they want it to be treated as something special. Here is an opportunity for the owner to listen to their agents and find out where the problem areas are. A common complaint means there’s an issue to be fixed.
  2. Be active. “There’s nothing we can do” is one of the most irritating and escalating phrases I can think of. A mildly annoyed customer will quickly escalate to angry upon hearing it. The customer doesn’t know your day to day operations and doesn’t care. They have a problem. They want the problem gone. Do that. Dump that phrase out with the kitty litter. A customer is often happy with an explanation as to why the problem can’t be fixed. Here you have that opportunity to create great customer service. Perhaps there’s an alternative or a discount that can be given. Knowing you’re doing something goes a long way with customers and if they get that service regularly, they’ll be loyal customers.
  3. Empowerment. Empower everyone! If your customer service agents feel like they have the weight of the company behind them, they’re happy. Happy customer service agents means happy customers. Origin is always a good experience for me. Their agents are happy and having fun. When I call, I can joke around and laugh with them. Microsoft, by comparison, is a complete misery. I’d rather disembowel myself with a chopstick than call them. If your agents feel empowered, they pass that along to the customer and they will do that little extra that means so much to the customer.
  4. Ethics. I’ve worked in some situations where an unethical employee tries to get one over on the company. For those companies that were lax and didn’t pay attention to the customer service, they got away with it in spades. However, one company I worked for had such a strong sense of ethics that no matter what the employee tried, he was stopped by the other employees. The employees believed in the company because the company had a clear sense of where it was in the world and what it wanted to accomplish. Customers enjoyed interacting with employees because it was always a pleasant experience and they knew they could trust this company.
  5. Follow through. I once had to call a company four times before they did what they said they were going to do. I don’t shop there anymore. On most things I’m willing to be patient but my patience only stretches so far. Customer service means nothing if you don’t follow through and do what you say you’re going to do when you’re going to do it. I’m convinced this is where a lot of companies lose customers.
  6. Be timely. No one wants to wait, least of all your customers. Do what you say you’re going to do when you’re going to do it. A reputation is quickly made or broken on how well a company keeps its word.

Good customer service is worth more than any marketing plan ever devised. Bad customer service is a demon that will destroy a company quickly. It takes so little to go that extra step and means so much to your customers.

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