17 Jan

Teaching reset: “How do you want to use technology in the classroom?”

Every so often I do a reset of my teaching habits in order to see if I am in synch with my MBA students. They are mature adults with years and sometimes even decades of international work experience behind them. I want to be sure I am current with their professional realities. It is time again for a reset, so I used the beginning of the new term to ask them how they wished to use technology during our class time together.

I love turning the tables on my students and inviting them to take ownership of their learning process. Many are delighted with the invitation and eagerly embrace the opportunity. Others are unsure, as their previous learning experiences have been largely out of their control. Empowerment takes a bit of getting used to, as a Japanese student reflected to me at the end of the class.

I had expected the discussion of technology in the classroom to take a maximum of 15 minutes. It would be simple, right?  Use smart phones or not? Easy. Laptops or not? Easy.

Not so.  Each of my three sections of students took over an hour, with one section going to 90 minutes. Clearly, the topic touched on real concerns they had about the use of technology in the classroom and the workplace.

Some fascinating insights emerged:

1.  Personal use of technology is now the accepted norm in the workplace.

The old world of separation between work and personal life is over.  Not only is it unenforceable, but it is simply impractical. Even just 10 years ago the assumption was that when you were at work you were working. Only emergency personal communication was expected by your employer. You should be focused on your work when at work.

Now? While some old-school dictatorial type managers can still be observed in the wilds of the workplace, they are an endangered species.  It is now the socially and professionally accepted norm that you will flow between work and personal smoothly and without significant concern.  Only when you are clearly not getting your work done or are disturbing others with your personal interactions will a concern be raised with you.

This is the world of work.  Students feel that the classroom should be the same as the workplace:  Technology for personal use should be just fine.

2. You are always connected and reachable.

Again, even just 10 years ago when someone in your personal sphere wanted to connect with you they would hesitate if it was during working hours: “Is this important enough for me to ask for your attention?” might go through their subconscious.

Now? Send a text message. Initiate an online chat. Or call. Anytime. You are expected to be reachable 24×7 to friends and family now. For any reason.

3. Everyone must develop their own discipline.

My students were most vocal about this. Do not restrict our use of technology in the classroom or workplace. Let us learn the hard way to discipline ourselves. When we fail in our studies or in meeting our goals in the workplace, we will learn when to put the phone into silent mode and close personal windows on our laptops so that we can focus on what we have to get done.

The Pavlovian urge to check text messages must be overcome by the individual. They need results oriented feedback before they will begin to discipline themselves.

Personally I question this, but mostly for self-preservation reasons as a professor.  When a student fails in their studies their first reaction is that it is not their fault. Blame is projected outward and the blame gun is pointed directly at the professor.  And in this era of “the student is a customer mindset” of institutions, the student must be placated, if only for institutional marketing reasons.

4. Our classrooms and workplaces are 100 years out of date.

This is my personal favourite. We have “Master” centric classrooms with mechanical layouts that encourage students and workers to think and act like robots being prepared for 19th century factories when they graduate. Desks all lined up in the classroom so the teacher is the authority. In the same way, cubicles in the workplace de-humanize employees in the workplace. Yikes.

We brainstormed what the 21st century classroom and workplace should look like.  Tables with wireless charging built into them.  Groupings of tables so that teams can work together face-to-face to solve problems and construct things.  Wireless projectors so that students can easily project what is on their smartphone to the whole class. Continual, natural, and individual-driven use of technology, all the time. Co-working, an emerging evolution of the workspace, is an example of how positive change is happening in the real world, where technology is fully integrated into the physical place people work.

Ahhh….I love the smell of empowerment in the classroom.

But then I asked them:  “May I use my smartphone during class?”

Their reply:  “No! Not you. We paid for you to be here and teach us.”

Clearly, there are still some limits on the use of technology in the classroom. Well, limits on my use, anyway.  And of course, they don’t see the irony:  “Teach us, but we won’t necessarily be listening, engaging, or learning from what you are doing. We might be busy focusing elsewhere with our phones and laptops.  But keep going.  We paid you to do this, so do it anyway. And make sure that we get good grades, too.  Oh, and thank you for doing all that. ”

They are polite.  I give them that.

14 Aug

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

I watched a video on entrepreneurship yesterday.

Well, actually, I only watched the first 10 minutes of the video – it was an hour long.

During those first 10 minutes, the very well-intentioned university professor attempted to intellectually conceptualize entrepreneurship and say something meaningful.

I gave up after 10 minutes of watching him struggle to bridge the gap between what he wanted to do and what entrepreneurship is.   He wanted to make something active into something passive.

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

Entrepreneur:  “A person who organizes and manages…”   (Dictionary.com)

There are two verbs in this definition: “organize” and “manage”.

These are active.  You organize and manage.  You do these things.

And you get good at organizing and managing as an entrepreneur by practicing organizing and managing. By independently daring to do the organizing and managing.  No-one gives you permission.  You answer to no-one. You initiate and do them yourself.

Like riding a bike, you can’t really study entrepreneurship in a way that makes it passive.  Well you, can. And you can study how to ride a bike, can’t you?

But in the end, you learn to ride a bike by…riding a bike.

And you learn entrepreneurship by…organizing and managing a business.

Which leads to the paradox:  Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Lorne Fingarson figured out how to teach entrepreneurship.

Homage:  Thank you, Lorne Fingarson, for inviting me to develop “curriculum” and “teach” in the Business Incubator Program at BCIT – The British Columbia Institute of Technology – from 1991-1993.

Lorne figured it out.  He convinced BCIT to deliver a program where entrepreneurs would get the learning and support they needed to increase their chances of startup success. His stats showed that with incubator support, he could get the success rate of business startups from 10-20% up to 60-70%.

But my “curriculum” and “teaching” in the program were anything but normal “university” lecturing.  Instead, at BCIT I supported entrepreneurs in learning the financial and marketing skills they needed for their businesses to be successful.  Not by lecturing, but by coaching them during their active “organizing” and “managing” of their businesses.

And that is the key difference:  The focus was on the entrepreneur and their business, not on me and my knowledge.

Student centered learning – the “flipped classroom”

When I first took a case-based business course during my undergrad, I was hooked.  Cases opened my mind to how the world works and gave me a chance to solve real problems. My MBA was entirely case-based.

And when we actually had to “do” a business in another undergrad course – actually make a business happen – I was ecstatic.

It is no wonder, then, that my teaching these last 23 years has been student centered.

In Dubai I led a team of faculty in creating something unique:  An entrepreneurship-based e-business bachelor degree program.  With the brilliant Tony Degazon in the co-pilot seat, we pushed and pushed to see how much we could get away with in a post-secondary institution.

Could we create an incubator-style program where students created online businesses?

We did!  And what an amazing Program!  From laying out their “classroom” (including painting the room and laying out the “office”) to choosing their own businesses that they actually started, our students were at the center of the learning.  This was the true student-centered, flipped classroom.

And it worked.

Back in Canada after 6-1/2 year in Dubai, I did two things:  Teach business part-time at a university and start my own businesses.

I wanted to organize and manage my own businesses for the sheer joy of being an entrepreneur and I wanted to share my passion for “doing entrepreneurship” in the higher-ed classroom.

The organizing and managing of my own businesses has been a wonderful journey, and often quite profitable.

The entrepreneurship “teaching”?

Kind of “hit and miss”.

Entrepreneurship and universities:  An awkward fit

Despite my best intentions, the fit was never a strong one between entrepreneurship – an active way of doing business – and the more passive study of business, as universities are set up to do.

Oh, I write lots of case studies for universities, colleges, and corporate trainers all over the world.

And in years past I got away with teaching an international marketing course primarily through my students creating real international businesses in their 14 weeks in the course. And again, amazing outcomes resulted.  One student team created such a successful business that they had to shut it down to finish their studies – it would take too much of their time.  In the end, the defacto team leader told me that she wanted to get her MBA because she wanted to work in a corporation, not run her own business.

A successful startup business...in an MBA Program marketing course

A successful startup business…in an MBA Program marketing course

 

(Oh the sometimes startling agony in being a teacher:  The most successful online venture from all the teams in all the running of the course and the business gets shut down because it was too successful and not what the student wanted to do!)

In the end, universities are set up to study things, not do things.  And no slight intended: The world needs things studied.  But so does entrepreneurship need a student-centred or “flipped classroom” approach to succeed. Perhaps not something that hundreds of years of history, process, and tradition, called the university model, is designed to support well.

We need more Lorne Fingarsons and more business incubators

Start-up weekends“, Lorne Fingarson,  business incubators, community support,  and $100 Startup’s Chris Guillebeau and his World Domination Summit entrepreneurial culture creation.

These are events, people, infrastructure, and cultures where entrepreneurship happens and where it can be “taught”.

We need more of these.

Bring it on!

A final note:

Lorne and his wife Pat keep on giving to BCIT.  Inspirational.

29 Jun

Starbucks got it right: Their “Third Place” works for me

A “Third Place”

When Howard Schultz was building the Starbucks brand, he wanted each location to be “a third place between work and home”.  To this day, I tend to spend lots of time socializing, reading, working, and drinking chai lattes in one particular Starbucks location. This one is the most comfortable coffee shop among the several I have to choose from in the urban village that I like to call home.  To be clear, not every Starbucks is designed and arranged the way this location is – spacious, warmly lit, comfy seating, and friendly.  But there are many locations, like this one, that live up to Howard’s vision and desire for Starbucks to be part of the communities they operate in – a “Third Place”.

Why a “Third Place”?

Every generation needs a place to be.  Not home, which is safe and nurtures who we are,  and not work which defines other feelings, such as labeling what we do. A third place, then, is a place where we can be in community with others, express ourselves, and transition between work and home so as to not bring one into the other.

“I want to go where everyone knows my name!”

(Cheers:  TV – 1982-1993))

“No one drinks anymore!” When I heard this statement , it startled me.  To the 50-something year old person who spoke it, local bars, taverns, and pubs were their Third Place.  When I was young the television show called Cheers was all the rage, beloved by many. In this sitcom, a group of people make a pub in Boston, MA their place to be.  For some reason, the show Cheers never really resonated with me.  To this day, I don’t really drink much alcohol and don’t associate it as a social connector between myself and others. I don’t have any particular beliefs or judgements around alcohol, to be clear.  Alcohol, and establishments that make it central to the experience, are simply not my Third Place.

The Club

“We are going to the [yacht/tennis/golf/curling or whatever] club.”  If you have a specific  activity, belief, or passion that you want to identify with, and want to spend time with others who like the same thing, these clubs are for you.  Once you are “in”, you feel like you belong and can “be” there. Wonderful! I am happy that people can find these feelings from such clubs. But while I do many activities, I don’t really identify myself with any one activity. I am not “a golfer”, for example.  In one startling experience, a checkout person at a department store stated to me “You are not a shopper, are you?” when I declined joining the store’s “points club”.  No, I am not a “shopper”.

The Library?

The venerable library, once quite a comfortable place to be for young and old  alike, is now an often uncertain mix of internet access terminals, videos, study space, and what feels like oddly outdated books.  It is a place to hang out during the day for people in transition,  the homeless and semi-homeless, and an eclectic mix of others who are not engaged in  a daily 9-5 job.  Can you “be” there? Sure. Many people make it their place to be, and the diverse mix of folks in a library make it an interesting place to observe human behavior.  But you are watched. Carefully. The central branch that I use has a security guard posted strategically so that you won’t steal videos.  And in the end, a library still feels like a library.  Despite having visited dozens of libraries around the world, I have only ever found one that didn’t feel like a library, but felt rather like a community “place to be”.  It was in Ohio.  I don’t live in Ohio.

Ahhh…the Community Center, of course!

What about public community centers? Well, some are really sports clubs. Others are places where seniors hang out and hobby courses are run in the evenings. Some, a rare few, actually have nice space to hang out – places you can “be” without paying to get in. Open lounges, couches,  activity rooms that don’t have to booked and paid for – you can simply use them. Nice.  I don’t have access to one of those kinds of community centers where I live.

A new realm

Young people have found a new place to be.  It is called “online”.  I have observed that they can be in your living room, but not “be” there with you. They are elsewhere mentally, socially, and in spirit.  The first time I experienced this in an extreme form, it stopped me in my tracks. A young person, who was visiting my son for a couple of weeks, was in my living room alone and in the dark.  This person was doing something on their laptop, with earbuds in place.

Said to me in a startled fashion when I said hello upon entering the living room:

“Oh, sorry. I am watching a movie with a friend in Toronto.”

In response to my utterly confused look they hastened to add:

“On this site we both watch the movie and we [text] chat with each other on the same screen.  It is like we are in the same room.”

The eyes went back to the laptop, the fingers continued chatting. I ceased to exist to them.  I stood there for a minute.  I felt like a stranger in my own living room.  Then I left the dark room, not quite knowing what to do there if I stayed.  In the time that followed during their visit I observed that rarely a live, in-person contact took place between them and myself.  However, online interaction seldom ceased, day and night. And it was not that there was any problem between us – it was simply that I didn’t exist in their reality. I was a ghost, floating in and out of their experience and occasionally startling them from their online interactions by speaking at them in-person.  And this, despite the fact they were physically in my home for an extended period of time.

The “connected young” make a significant part of of their life online.  In the extreme it seems the physical world is only a distraction from their “real” life online.  And while I find the online world enjoyable and useful, I don’t live there. It is wonderful to connect and chat online or by text message at times, but then the technology gets put down and I continue what I feel is my “real” life, in the flesh.

So, where can I “be”?

I am not a drinker. I don’t define myself by any particular activity or belief system. I do not see the current form of the library as a place I can be.  And I am not a senior who uses community centers – and won’t be for a long time.  I don’t live my life online.

So it has been Starbucks for me.  And it has worked pretty well.

A new place!

Today I visited a co-working space. Google the term “co-working” if you haven’t heard of what it is. This co-working space is a very cool place to work, hang out with independent peeps like yourself, and really feel comfortable in.  It has a coffee lounge complete with couches,  “hot desk” areas to work with your laptop, bike storage, lockers, meeting rooms, and more.  You pay for your time being in the co-working space, but unlike a commercial transaction, you pay a form of rent by the day or month that covers the cost of the communal space.  So you feel more like a citizen than a customer.  It is another place to “be” for people like me. Oh, and this co-working space is called The Hive.  As in “bee hive”.   Or “be” hive!  Delightful.

Now I have two “Third Places” I can be in. My favourite Starbucks, and a local co-working space similar to The Hive that I found the next day.

My lifestyle is getting richer.

06 Mar

A daring idea: The recipe for a perfect restaurant

I am a foodie.  And I love eating at great restaurants.  And I love small businesses and the passion that people put into running their own restaurants.

Put all three of these together and you have someone who wants to see people who create wonderful food in great restaurants to be successful in all aspects of their business.

You would think that a restaurant, an institution that has been around for thousands of years, would be pretty easy to get right, wouldn’t you? But no. 60% or more of restaurants close within their first three years. In cities where there is a culinary arts program at a local college or university? Higher failure rates.

Why the high rates of failure of what should be a pretty simple business?

Because getting a restaurant “right” is something that is actually pretty tricky. So I am setting our here to define what makes a perfect restaurant – one that has great food, is a place you want to hang out with, has wonderful people running it. and is successful in all ways.  Here it is:

The recipe for a perfect restaurant

1.  The perfect restaurant understands its customers really, really well. It knows that there are enough potential customers in the geographic area it serves.  The perfect restaurant knows what kind of customer they are – what kinds of food they prefer, at what prices they will pay, in what kind of setting they enjoy being in, and how they like to be served.

Common mistakes:

– Focusing on what you want to offer, not what the customer wants:  “I want to offer really lovely entrees like I learned in culinary arts school.” It is not about you. It is about the customer. Always.

– Wrong price range: “We will serve the highest quality experience, but it will be high priced as the “best” costs more to produce and deliver. ”  But are there enough customers willing to pay for the high prices for your meal experiences?

– Wrong process:  “We have a cafeteria style restaurant serving high end food with little signage. We will save money on servers. People will figure it out our process on their own.” No,  customers won’t figure out the process on their own and the discomfort they go through in trying to figure out your process will be the first emotional impression they have. And it will stick.  And if customers want table service? You will be out of business really soon.

2.  The perfect restaurant makes their customers feel really, really comfortable in the restaurant. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • nice warm lighting
  • appropriate decor
  • clean smelling and looking
  • fresh appearance (not dated)
  • enough privacy for each table – specifically psychological privacy and personal space
  • friendly and welcoming greetings upon arrival
  • a clear process for being seated
  • comfortable waiting arrangements if there is no table free
  • clearly understandable menu and ordering procedures
  • clear payment processes.

Common mistakes:

– Uncared for internal and external appearance:  An ugly, dirty, dated, smelly, and/or dark and gloomy setting.  Enough said.

– Unclear processes:  People get really uncomfortable when they walk in and are not greeted, don’t know if they should seat themselves or be seated, what the menu means, how to order, etc.  This first emotional impression of discomfort (not wanting to look stupid, being potentially embarrassed, etc.) really sticks. A bad first impression to make.

– Process oriented service:  A restaurant meal is not a drive-thru. People want to be promptly greeted immediately upon entry in a warm and friendly manner.  All aspects of service should include warmth, friendliness, caring about the meal experience, and appreciation of the customers patronizing the restaurant.

3.  The perfect restaurant makes food that meets customer expectations.

Really! You would think this would be a no-brainer!

Common mistakes:

– small portion sizes.  No-where in the world does small portion sizes  meet customer expectations, except in a few rare and really fancy places.  But those are the very rare exception. Small portion sizes = a focus on taking my money and giving me the least possible for it.  Generous portion sizes?  “You wish to provide abundance.  Thank you!”

– beliefs-driven food that limits the customer’s sense of value.  This includes small portion sizes, food that doesn’t satisfy (“But is is low fat and low salt!”), a partial meal that does not offer a complete food experience, freaky dishes that taste weird, and food that is overly expensive “because ingredients are locally sourced.”  No, don’t try to argue this.  If your values are to promote organic food, and if there are enough customers who will pay for organic food, hurray!  If there are not enough customers willing to pay your prices,  in your catchment area, don’t offer high priced organic food.  Don’t want to run a restaurant unless it is organic but you don’t have enough customers?  Don’t run a restaurant at all. Save yourself the bankruptcy costs now.  Offer your gift of organic food to your family and friends… only at home.  Do something else with your time and passion, but don’t run a restaurant driven by your values if there simply isn’t enough demand for what your values dictate you must offer.

– food that is yucky. Poor tasting, poor appearance, bad ingredients. Enough said.

4. The perfect restaurant is set up for financial success.  This includes:

  • Being in the right location.
  • Having a manageable overhead (rent)
  • Having enough tables.
  • Having enough working capital after the restaurant capital expenses.
  • Knowing how to advertise and create word-of-mouth awareness.
  • Having enough staff to run the restaurant properly, but not too many.
  • Knowing how to manage ingredient ordering to maximize freshness and availability, but limit waste.

Common mistakes:

– wrong location:  “But the rent was cheaper here!”. Yes, but if you have no customers, who cares if your rent was cheaper?

– too high rent for the type of restaurant:  It takes a zillion orders to generate enough margin to pay for high rent, if your meals are low-priced.

– cutting corners:  Raw materials ordering to maximize savings instead of freshness, small portion sizes, too low staffing, narrow opening hours, cutting out lighting & heating, not cleaning thoroughly, not renovating & updating often.

Does the perfect restaurant really exist?

Absolutely. I frequent many that get it right – they are perfect restaurants.

I just wish that the restaurants that aren’t perfect would frequent the ones that are perfect, and learn from them.

05 Nov

First impressions of Guatemala

Our first few days in Guatemala have been delightful! Having been to Mexico many times, I was ready for more of the same: Constant forced interactions with street sellers, a machismo vibe, and a steady underlying tension in the society.

To my delight (and relief), Guatemala is not the same as Mexico. While there are certainly street vendors who want your attention and money, even in the most touristy areas they are neither as aggressive nor as constant. And rather than a machismo vibe, there is a very grounded family feel here – a much more feminine and balanced energy to the place. To be clear, we haven’t seen the whole country – these observations are only for the several places we have visited and toured so far.

I was surprised by this grounded feeling here as I have read and heard of the strife in the relatively recent past. And finally, unlike Mexico, there is a dynamic energy here, but no tension. Again, this might just be in the places we have visited, but there just isn’t the heavily armed military and police presence that I have come to expect in Mexico. Even coming through the airport was smooth and free of tension of any kind.

Getting into the country

Formal visit visas for many Western countries, including Canada, are not required. You simply show up, fill out a Customs form and they stamp your 3 month visitor visa. And you can renew it for another 3 months if you want by visiting an office in Guatemala City. We found the process of going through the airport on arrival very painless.

No, English is not the semi-official language here

Spanish is the language spoken here. Yes, I know you knew that. But I mean that it is really Spanish spoken here, not “Spanish, but everyone also speaks English”. While you will find some people who speak English, you must be prepared to work with most people who only speak Spanish. Even most people in the tourist trade speak at best a few words of English. While they like the foreign tourist income, they do not adapt their interactions to it – the language aspect being one example.

Friendly, friendly, people and place

Dog, cat and chickens...all getting along

Dog, cat and chickens…all getting along!

Guatemalans are really friendly, warm, and welcoming. Though they don’t speak English, their beaming smiles, gentle body language, courtesy, and genuine warmth are clear and evident everywhere we have been. I always like to test layers of a society to see if what is true for one group is really part of the place. Well, this photo says it all. On my early morning walk in Panajachel I passed this front yard scene. Cat rubbing up against dog. Dog with chickens, rooster puttering around. In peace. And the very relaxed perro in the next picture really sums up the Guatemala I have experienced so far.

Guatemala…for Guatemalans

A very relaxed dog in Guatemala

Dogs in Guatemala are very relaxed!

Guatemala is for Guatemalans first and foremost. Unlike Mexico, which has a very strong U.S. influence, Guatemala is a country set up for Guatemalans primarily. This is not to say that there aren’t facilities, signs in English, and the ability to get things done here as a foreigner, just that most of the country is set up for their own citizens, not to meet the needs of foreign tourists. For some people this will be a delight as you can more easily view and experience authentic aspects of Guatemala. For others, this will be an irritant as they expect to be treated with special attention and have the focus on them. And yes, I witnessed visitors from some unnamed country who expected to be treated as if they were royalty and were verbally clear on how much they disliked not being the centre of attention.

Get used to relationships…or don’t – your choice

Guatemala is very relational. We witnessed a younger female European getting very upset and even angry at the lack of exact punctuality and other process-oriented faux pas. And I noticed the discomfort of some visitors who were at a loss when faced with no goals to accomplish. Anyone coming with either a strong process orientation or strong goal orientation will have to adjust. Guatemala: Family and relationships come first.

Guatemala: A fixer’s dream country

Many visitors come here to work on fixing Guatemala. They are here to have their altruistic experience. No judgement here, just that it is clear that good intentions are mixed with the desire to have that “I am doing good in the world” payback. Does Guatemala need help? Like many places in the world, I am sure they do. But humorously, I was told that there at times multiple levels of NGO’s, charities, and volunteer groups working on the same communities and trying to do the same things, almost competing with each other to try to fix the Guatemalan people’s lives.

A country in transition

I love dynamic, changing, and transitioning place. Guatemala is one such country. A country on the move is how I would describe the Guatemala I have experienced so far. This time of change won’t happen without teething problems, but it will happen. And some of the changes won’t be liked by foreigners who are pleased with the Guatemala they are experiencing now or loved in the past.

Would I want to live or retire here?

It would be too early to make a decision about living or retiring in Guatemala from my limited experience here. Many foreigners are living, working, and making out their lives here, so this bodes well. But I have not seen many traditional American retirees here – gated communities, condo towers on the ocean, enclaves, etc. An eclectic mix of nationalities dovetail their interests and lives in Guatemala, but I have not seen a lot of retirees looking for a safe, warm, cheap, familiar haven to relax in. This is primarily because it not a safe and familiar haven – it is a country in transition and a country or Guatemalans, not retiring foreigners who want gated communities.

Alex on the steaming lava field of Volcano Pacaya

Alex on the steaming lava field of Volcano Pacaya

Volcanoes!

Finally, you gotta love volcanoes here. They are plentiful and play a significant role in the country…we climbed onto the lava fields of one that erupted 2 years ago, with steam vents and a lava cave for us to explore.

Signing off from the town of Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala!