Some of our major breakthroughs and insights have happened for us – business-wise, as well as in our relationship – outside of Vancouver. Sometimes those places have been exotic and/or distant destinations like Kampala, Amsterdam and San Francisco. This time, considerably closer to home, some really great things happened in (yee haw!) Calgary, Alberta.
When we were invited by a major national bank to speak at an event they were hosting for their women entrepreneur clients, we were more than a little surprised: we’ve never been invited by a mainstream organization of this size to do anything, let alone speak at one of their events. And yet apparently such places are looking for new ideas and inspiration from people like us: it was time to stop navel gazing, give it our best, show up and see how it feels to move from the fringe to centre stage.
“Centre stage” may be a bit of an exaggeration, given the relatively small (40 people) size of our audience – however this was a new demographic for us: mainstream (ie non social/impact-defined) entrepreneurs in the middle of a major economic downturn, their enterprises ranging from environmental science to equine leadership training to interior design to commercial leasing.
Our given topic was Entrepreneurial Innovation in the Age of Constant Disruptive Change: how’s that for daunting? As cool-sounding and timely as it may be, it initially struck us as a bit overwhelming and kind of scary. I spent the first few months of this year attending the newly-minted Vancouver home of the THNK School of Creative Leadership, and if I learned nothing else there (more to come on that front in future posts), the technique of “reframing” will forever be with me.
It’s a basic concept, that in THNK’s hands gets taken to a whole new level: essentially, “flipping” negative or limiting ideas to explore new possibilities. To illustrate the point, halfway through the presentation (which we started under the original title), we instead offered Dancing in an Infinite Landscape of Freedom and Innovation as an example of taking a different approach.
Similarly, our take on VUCA, an increasingly common “how it is these days in the business/world” acronym for the military-originated construct of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – we reframed as CODE, or Colourful, Opportunity-Rich, Diverse and Evolving.
Consider how each one of these definitions of “reality” or “the future” make you feel. They both contain essentially the same elements, however if you believe – as we do – that how you feel (scared or excited, as one example) about your business, the future – or basically anything – can affect its outcome, then this type of creative reinterpretation of “reality” can be highly empowering.
Which is not to say that it changes the situation, it just changes how you react to it: the degree of confidence or optimism that you bring as a leader can radically change how you approach your path forward, and even the entire game. In sharing our stories, we further suggested that applying our inherent skills in feminine leadership (regardless of one’s gender) are the very tools that have helped us to find our path in the “VUCA/CODE” environment.
Within a few short hours we went from feeling like rebel outsiders to being part of a likeminded tribe, sharing our wisdom, experience and creativity to find new solutions in changing times. Insight: institutions are not people. While large companies may be less nimble than small, entrepreneurial ones, they are highly resourced – and even willing – to champion change and leave a positive legacy for the future. We loved the day’s leaders’ curiosity, openness and genuine desire to support their clients and build community among them.
There are arguably bigger problems to solve than Alberta’s failing extraction-dependent economy, however if we can be part of that, then let’s do it: who knows, perhaps the women (and other creative and/or impact-minded) entrepreneurs will be the ones to lead the way to a more sustainable future?
Thank you BMO Bank of Montreal for initiating this transformational conversation and for hosting us in true Calgarian style. Our 10-gallon hat also goes off to the remarkable Marysia Czarski, whose facilitation skills were world class.
And finally to the tenacious and committed women entrepreneurs of Alberta, for co-creating an extraordinary day of possibility: we are beyond grateful to stand with you. One of our favourite things to do is be with other entrepreneurs, as we always learn and feel energized from our shared challenges. Moreover, receiving such overwhelmingly positive feedback left us completely buoyed by the whole experience. Let’s do it again!