Although a little delayed, here's episode three. The Netherlands and gezellig coffee shops (the kind that serve coffee).
I present to you, episode 2!
In this episode, thinking through a new company's values and monkey bars in ancient cities!
Also, I've launched a Patreon page. Please feel no obligation but, if you're interested in supporting my endeavours to bring value through these podcasts, I'd love your support!
Admittedly, the name is kinda terrible, but is it the kind of terrible that catches on, or is the kind of terrible that remains a grating nail-on-chalk-board-until-it's-changed kinda name? Time will tell!
Friends, I'm working on another podcast called Service Please, but we're doing some really interesting stuff in our "normal" lives right now too. As I'm trying to get better at podcasting, I thought I'd create this irregular podcast about my life and share a bit about our travels, the formation of Ink & Feather, and whatever other interesting things I can muster up.
If you like it, subscribe on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts from).
There’s a lot going on right now. I’ve begun Ink & Feather Collective, I’m close to releasing the first episode of a podcast I’ve been working on, I’m doing some really interesting safety compliance work with an American company, and we’re travelling around the world with six kids (currently in the Netherlands).
Some people comment that our life is interesting – and I agree – but we’re doing all this because we believe the world is changing and the opportunity to help shape the next phase of our societies will depend largely on an understanding of other cultures, not just our own. My wife and I wanted to be exposed – and to expose our children – to more than we would have been sitting comfortably back home in Western Canada. We wanted to engage culture and see how we might learn from the people we would meet throughout Europe (for now). Everything we’ve done so far has lead us to what we’re doing right now, but I want to be more intentional about sharing what we’re experiencing and learning.
I’ll avoid writing to much about Ink & Feather on this blog, but, if you’re interested, you can follow our community’s musings here.
For those reading who might not know us personally, or be up to speed on our life, here’s the quick update in a single paragraph.
We have six kids, aged 3 - 13. We have spent most of our lives in the Okanagan Valley, on the west coast of Canada. In 2015 I accepted a role with Facebook and we relocated our family to Dublin, Ireland. Prior to moving to the Republic of Ireland, I had a spent quite a bit of time travelling the world as part of The Walt Disney Company. Travelling by myself for work was great and eye-opening, but often lonely. The opportunity to go exploring as a family was too good to pass up. So, after leaving Facebook, we decided to put all our stuff in storage and begin an open ended exploration of Europe. We first visited Portugal and then France. Now, we find ourselves in south-east Netherlands, near a city called Eindhoven.
As part of the upcoming podcast, I’ve been searching out great customer experiences and crafters of all things delicious and fantastic! Today, I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafés, Lucifer Specialty Coffee. It’s here that I first learned of the dutch word, gezelligheid. There’s not a great English translation so, the best I can do is warm or cosy. It’s more than that though, it involves the way a host welcomes you into that space. It’s hospitality within a wonderful space. It’s how I would describe many – if not most – of the dutch people we’ve had the privilege to get to know. We noticed it first in the Dutch we met while staying at a campsite down in the south of France. In fact, that’s why we decided to come to the Netherlands, we met some friends who offered us the opportunity to stay in their house while they go on vacation.
We’ve been here for just over a week now and I’m completely taken by this country. There’s so much going on here and I can’t help but feel Eindhoven will soon be a city most other cities are watching.
But, for today, I’m mostly thinking about gezelligheid. How does this become such an important part of a national identity?
Joshua, the first to introduce the word to me, talks about how Dutch people just want to come home and relax. He suggested it was a form of laziness, but I suspect it’s more than that. I wouldn’t describe the Dutch as “lazy” at all! Joshua is a great example of a passionate Dutchman who is insanely interested in a particular topic (coffee, in his case) and goes deep into the subtext of it.
I met another guy this weekend at the Feel Good Market. I didn’t catch his name – I regret this greatly – but he is a character, through and through. His market stand consists of at least three BBQs; all unique and smoking of promise. He had a large moustache and reminded me of a Dutch intelligentsia. His BBQ racks were lined with fresh buns and various kinds of sizzling meat. As he worked the coals, almost in trouper fashion, he pitched his offerings, not that anyone present was going to need too much convincing.
Or just down from him, another man sang the praises of his wife’s homemade jalapeño cheddar sausages. “You’ll never try a better sausage in all your life!” he confidently stated.
There’s a lot of pride in this country, but not a vague, nationalistic pride in something intangible. It’s the rich and charming pride of the designer and crafter; in the results of a job well done. Mix that with the warm hospitality – the gezelligheid – and you can begin to see how the world benefits from the Dutch.
So, I’ve an idea for a Podcast, but I need some help! Here’s the premise:
The service industry is far more diverse and interesting than many people realise (or remember). For those in the industry, this podcast will show solidarity for you who are on the frontline of business while also providing inspiring and interesting stories. For those who are now beyond the service industry (or somehow managed to skip it altogether), it will be a reminder of what your frontline employees face on a daily basis; hopefully offering business leaders inspiration to pay more attention to their frontline.
The working title is Service Please - Stories From the Frontline.
Currently, I’m working on writing the pilot but need some folks currently on the frontline interested in doing an interview with me.
Additionally, I’d like to better understand these cities: Kelowna, Vancouver, London, and Brighton (for now). If you, or someone you know, gets these cities better than most, I would like some help from you too.
For anyone willing to help me with the first few episodes (or episodes after that), I’d be most appreciative. So appreciative, in fact, that when we next find ourselves in the same town, I’d love to buy you tea, coffee, or beer.
Interested, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm currently working on developing out some further offerings for my company. In doing so, I'm spending a lot of time thinking about my "why". Below is how I'm thinking about! Thoughts, challenges, and reactions are greatly welcomed!
As long as companies and their customers can keep the lines of communication open, products and services will meet the needs of our ever-changing global societies. This becomes a larger challenge than might have existed for many businesses throughout history who dealt directly with their costumers, face to face, on a daily basis. For larger companies, though, who might have operated at a national or even international level, technology has provided a way for these companies to connect with their customers in ways never before been possible.
We believe that this connectivity is critical to helping companies be successful, not just today, but in a decade from now. We believe that this sort of business mindset helps the economy better connect with humanity and will allow for more of the best parts of humanity to be found within more of the best companies, rather than very clever companies guessing and speculating what humanity needs and wants. When this happens, we believe that products and services end up dumbing down humanity and they put our economy at risk of becoming too consumer focused, and we believe this is a bad thing.
Our work allows us to work with the top companies in the world, helping them connect with their customers and engage them in conversation about how their products and services are helping them live better, happier, and more productive lives. Likewise, the customers can speak to the company, giving voice to their joys, frustrations, and ideas.
We are global because business is global. We’re inspired by the local barkeep, the ever-evolving artist, and the barista who knows your name and your drink.
I realized this week that, without really thinking about it, I joined a growing society of people who travel around the world, working from unique “offices” (read: the beach, a surf hut, the desk you poorly constructed to watch your children swim in the pool while writing a policy document...) while experiencing and engaging in new cultures. I've always envied the people who do this; mostly singles and seldom family people. But, here we are in Portugal – I'm working from a surfing lounge – with six kids, a wife, and a dream of doing this for at least a year or two. Perhaps we'll find a new home while we travel and we'll settle in but, in all likelihood, we'll travel to half a dozen countries over the next two years before settling into something more normal.
I've been a “laptop hobo” for many years, preferring the white noise of a hipster coffee shop to the potential monotony of an office, but I've always had a home study or office desk to be based out of. I don't yet know what this adventure will entail but, as we get started, I thought I'd share five tips on becoming a remote worker.
- Get the Right Tools (and keep them minimal) - Seriously, keep it light! There is an allure in having a lot of technology, and it's easy to go a little crazy (check out Woz's bag!). Make sure you've a good roaming plan on your phone (or go unlocked and get a local SIM). Get a light laptop (seriously, do you need all that power?!). I prefer the overpriced yet incredibly simple and elegant MacBook. Be sure you can jump into conference calls whenever you're needed, or others will quickly become frustrated with your workation; you really don't want that!
- Ensure You've the Right Job - We tried to do this a couple years ago; well, we kind of tried to do this a couple years ago. We moved into a friends beautiful cottage out on a lake and I setup shop in the garage. It's was a lovely rustic setup and I couldn't have been, more excited. At the time, I was working as a CXO for a great startup (Two Hat Security) hellbent on saving the internet from trolls and toxic users. At the beginning, the remote work was working well enough but, as the year went on, I was required in the office more and more. The result was spending my weeks in town and then returning to the cottage on the weekends. As lovely as it was, I wasn't so much a remote worker, I became a remote dad.
- Become a Pilgrim - My friend Corey wrote a paper about the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim. It's excellent and you should ask him if you can read it. Basically, tourists consume and pilgrims preserve and absorb. If you're going to become a remote worker in a foreign land, you can't just expect to consume a culture and become better for it. That's like saying that binge watching Friday Night Lights will make you a better American football player. Rather, seek to preserve the culture and blend in as best you can. When you can't blend in, be honest about it and allow the locals to teach you what it means to be local.
- Be of A Like Mind - If you're looking to do this solo, feel free to skip to the next tip. For those of you looking to travel with a partner, friend, or family, be ready to experience significant disruption to normality. You can read all the Lonely Planet books you want but nothing can prepare you for your first adventure in a non-English speaking country where things are just different from what you're used to. If you're prone to suffering high volumes of stress in your relationship when challenged by new things, consider working on that first.
- Adventure & Purpose Await You - People have been asking us recently why we're doing this. There are a couple of easy answers but they'll end up being lies if we don't actually take up living while we're exploring. It's incredibly easy to find a monotonous routine within a completely different culture. For example, we've now been in Portugal for 3 days and we've completely lived in this one stretch of land between the beach and our villa. It's a great stretch, but it's what you do when you're on vacation (or you've created an entire community within this small area). It's unlikely that we'll learn to live within this culture if we don't find a community to engage with while we're here. That's scary though, especially as we've no easily identifiable place to start building this community from. Within the next couple weeks, we'll rent a vehicle and begin to expand our boarders. As we do this, we'll hopefully find a place to actually plug in. Perhaps it will be through a language school or maybe through a surf school. Perhaps we'll find a church to attend or some community group which meets regularly for whatever reason. The point is, adventure and purpose aren't found by hiding, they're found by living and being bold. My wife's friend recently sent her a quote. Beautifully illustrated, it says, “Be you boldly”. When in a new culture, that needs to be lived out carefully as sometimes our boldness becomes arrogance in a culture yet unknown to us. But, assuming you carry with you the heart and humility of a pilgrim, boldly go and become a cultural ambassador for both the cultures you've already learned about, and the culture that you're now a remote worker within.
I've been travelling quite a bit of late. In the past, I'd fight the desire to go to bed early and suffer waking up at 4a as little as possible. The past few trips, I've stopped fighting it and embraced this arrangement of the body instead.
It's by no means a perfect rhythm yet, but here's what my morning looks like.
Although I set my alarm for 4:30a, I wake up naturally just before 4a. I know that many have written about the importance of not looking at your phone right away but, when I travel and am away from my family, the first thing I want to see is if any of them sent me something during the night. I normally then give them a call (I don't know how people travelled away from their families before things like FaceTime).
I try not to check Slack or email at this point of my morning, although I'm still working on this discipline. My faith is important to me, however, in the last year, I was too quick to get going to work and allowed my quiet time of reflection to become a far too infrequent part of my morning. Getting up at 4a gives me all the time I need to spend time reading, thinking, and praying. Although, I'm still fighting the urge to get going as though everything else is more important; like I said, not yet a perfect rhythm.
A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to spend some time with my sister who is a certified fitness trainer. She walked me through two excellent workouts that I can easily do while travelling. It's been a struggle to consistently keep this as part of my routine but, with so much time in the morning, even when I talk myself out of it, there's still plenty of time to talk myself back into it. If I got up any later, I'm afraid this discipline would be the first to be dropped.
So far, I'll have spoken to my wife and children in various mixes (one of the funnest parts of having a big family) and had my first cup of coffee... okay, let's be honest, I'm drinking at least 3 cups of coffee before 7a.
Lately, I've been getting into reading a newspaper over breakfast. I remember seeing the other businesspeople doing this as they ate and always held this as a slightly romantic, if not antiquated, activity. There's something important about digesting the world's events in more than 140 characters, though. I'm still not sure which paper best suits me but, when in Canada I've been reading the National Post and when in Europe I've been reading either The Independent (Irish) or The Guardian (UK). I've never gotten into reading digital versions of the newspaper, but I'm considering subscribing to a couple to see what it's like.
By 8a, I've accomplished a lot on the personal front. I've probably delved into a few work topics already too, if I'm honest, and I'm ready to engage on the work front. I feel like I can approach the day with my eyes wide open.
There are other elements that I'm exploring during this time as well. For example, it's 6:30a at the point I'm writing the first draft of this post. The sun is just starting to rise, and I find I'm able to write more leisurely. I also intend to look at changing the time of my workout to after-work as a means to create a buffer between work and personal time. As I intend to begin my MBA soon, my evenings are going to need to be focused on schooling, and I need a way to ensure I can fluidly switch modes.
With this new routine, I've struggled to stay up past 9p. Some nights I've not made it past 8p. Ideally, I'd like to make it until 10p, thus allowing an hour before I go to bed to turn off everything and enjoy the stillness of the evening with my wife.
I've still a lot of work to do to refine this schedule, and I'd love to hear about other people's routines (please share yours with me). I'm a very free thinking person and have struggled with the thought of creating so much routine but, the older I get, the more I realise that routine gives me freedom. So, I'll keep on pursuing this and see where it leads.
Many years ago, I decided I would pursue the life of an artist. I believed that through creativity, I could influence people and make the world a better place.
At some point on this journey, I became a business person; quite by accident. I didn’t intend to sit at this desk nor carry around a constant connection to the work I’m doing (my phone). I didn’t intend to sit across the table from people and invite them into a company or expel them from the company. I was hopeful never to have to look at a spreadsheet nor learn the term “deck” as a regular way of talking about how I might communicate to a group of people.
I fully intended to inspire people by creating abstract works of art which beckoned to one’s heart and imagination. I hoped to hear acclimates proclaiming my genius with a pen or a piano. When I’d write, I’d write about worlds yet unknown to the reader and of characters who would perform amazing feats; I would sing intricate melodies interlaced with haunting counter melodies and dissonant harmonies.
Yet here I am. Yesterday, I had to let someone go and tomorrow I’ll be making an offer to a brilliant young lady from India. I write policies and create decks while preparing meeting after meeting to help bring a product into the world.
I’ve deeply struggled with, what has felt like, the betrayal of who I was created to be.
But a year ago, a friend and client told me that he valued me for my “contrarian ways”. He told me that I saw problems in a unique way and approached them with an equally creative resolve.
When building the safety and support teams at Club Penguin, we hired bohemians rather than call-center employees. At Two Hat, we found cultural ambassadors to man the task of building the world's most comprehensive list of bad words. Within the various businesses I’ve had the honour to consult for, we’ve stripped the problem down to the problem which had previously been unknown and reimagined what it would look like if we built something completely different.
We’ve created artful culture; developing a theology of how people sustain an economy while helping humanity find it’s relationship to God.
I’ve decided this week that I will be pursuing my MBA, a sure sign that I’m accepting my fate as a business person. I’ve also decided though that I will not hang up my hat as a creative, but rather I’ll commit to a newly discovered canvas to paint on.
Lesson 1: Learning a Melody
I grew up taking piano lessons. My piano teacher may be the greatest influencer on my life outside of my family; she was (and remains) amazing!
I’m not a perfectionist but I like to revel in the good moments while growing easily frustrated when I loose my way. In piano, this manifested in how I would approach a new song. There might be a beautiful melodic line and I would want to hear it, or rather play it, in it’s entirety. If, at any point, I messed up, I would want to go back and start at the beginning so I could hear it all together. This isn’t how you learn though. I needed to keep on going or stop and fix the part which foiled me. Likewise, when I’d finally get the problematic line correct, my tendency was to completely freeze whence I approached the next section; I struggled to anticipate what was coming up next.
Lesson 2: Serve, then Return
I wasn’t a huge team-sport kid, I preferred sports like tennis and golfing.
My father started teaching me tennis when I was around 10. Our family loved going to any number of beautiful public parks in Kelowna where we would seldom have to wait for a court to free up. Learning to serve was a real challenge for me and it took many weeks of practice to get even 50% of my serves to go where they needed. When finally I was able to get the ball to the right place, I was so excited that I often found myself lost in pride while completely neglecting to get into position for the return. Often, this was how I’d loose a match in my early years; I’d be too excited about the first play to anticipate the next.
Life is a series of complicated melodies and difficult matches. We don’t get to put a hold on too much nor do we get too much time to revel in our success. It’s the accumulation of all the little things done successfully in sequence that create the big wins. And it’s the times we stop to master our challenges which produce the ability to play out an entire event with finesse and skill.
There's an old adage that goes “the customer is always right!”
...until they're not and then, dear support rep, it's your fault for not helping them see the fault of their ways at the point of purchase.
Customer Service is tricky business!
Most people's first job is going to be either some form of grunt labor or working for minimum wage in retail or food services. Mine was guest services at Bedrock City, a Flintstones themed park, in Kelowna, Canada. The goal for most people is to get out of there before becoming a permanent fixture. People don't want to spend their life serving others.
Why? What's wrong with serving others?
The word service itself has it's issues. We use it to talk about servants for the relatively wealthy and we use it talk about the public servants which run our countries. In both cases, whether we feel they're an accurate way of describing what really happens, the idea is that service is about uplifting or supporting a person or group of people to achieve more. What if anyone in customer service took this belief about their role?
Imagine coffee shops where the barista is there to do more than simply make your coffee or someone in a clothing shop actually striving to help you find the best possible clothing for you. Imagine if this was done with pride and not from a place of being in a lesser important role. What if the relationship became symbiotic rather than some remnant of an aristocratic society? What if the service industry became a skilled industry and people trained to become the greatest servants they could become? Not to serve the more important but rather to help their equals thrive because they had the best support in every situation.
As I think about the teams I've helped build and some of the amazing companies I've worked with, the greatest moments have been when we cared more about those our company was serving than about our own success. Incidentally, these were the moments when our company seemed to be the most successful as well. Success seems to happen most when you're focused less on it and more on what you originally set out to do.