About Me

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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Moving: I've got new digs!

Hey there!

This is just a quick note to everyone who has joined my community with "The Education of a Prof".

If you haven't heard, I've got new digs! A brand new home at www.williamcmurray.ca where you can continue to find my blog, information about me, work that I'm doing and much, much more.

Like any new house, it's going through some 'decorating' as additional content gets added and features built. But it is my home. If there is something you'd like to see - send me a note!

While you're checking out the new place, be sure to sign up for the RSS feed (I hear Feedly has been getting lots of attention lately) OR put your email into the subscription area and be the first to get all the updates and new information.

I'll leave everything up on Blogger for a while. But all new posts, blogs and other information will be over here now. Come check it out!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Focus on shaping the letters

“I don’t LIKE writing!” he states emphatically.

It’s an all-too common scene. Sitting at his little desk, my son struggles against the work in front of him. Being six years old and practising basic writing skills can be daunting. In his mind, it’s a mountain to climb and he doesn't think that he has the gear.

The problem isn't that he can’t print; it’s the challenge of writing out a paragraph. That’s a LOT of words! Too many words! It’s, like, a whole BOOK Dad! (I wish.)

He’s overwhelmed and, in classic fashion, has dug in his heels.

And I get it.

As I sit here looking at my to-do list for the next few days, filling up the better part of a page, I'm overwhelmed. That’s a LOT of things to do! It’s hard to concentrate on taking action when the list is daunting. It’s easier to turn the list over, to pull out the toy action figures and fade into a land of imagination without lists. Without tasks or things to do. Without…writing a paragraph.

In 1986, I found myself working in a kitchen, the first of many kitchens I would work in over the next few years. A dishwasher in the truest sense of the term, washing most everything by hand with just the assistance of the tiniest of machines to help sanitize the wares. After the dinner rush, dishes would be piled everywhere. Bus pans bunched up on racks, filling counters, and arranged in rows down the hall. But I was strangely happy in that job because I knew the secret. Wash one dish at a time as well and as quickly as possible. Get that dish cleaned properly and I’d never have to wash it twice. The process became Zen-like as the dishes went by one by one until the kitchen was once again clean. A life lesson learned in the dish pit.

And I also know that I can write. I can write a single paragraph in a session - oh ya, I know how to do that. It’s a manageable task for me. I've learned to complete small, measurable tasks and I ‘try’ to focus on the doing the best I can on the work in front of me.  

As I remember this, I look down at my son, stuck at his desk, and tell him, “Don’t worry about the paragraph.” He’s confused.

“Let me ask you a question. Can you write one letter really, really well?” I ask. And he does it beautiful.

“How about another letter? Show me that.” Again, he does it in textbook fashion.

We continue this little back and forth for a minute, me calling out letters while he knocks them out. He starts to get it. The paragraph isn't important – the letters are. And he can do the letters!

Eating the elephant one bite at a time. Measuring twice, cutting once. We have lots of descriptions for this. But at the core, it’s about doing one thing at a time to the best of your ability.

Focus on shaping the letters; the words have a way of figuring themselves out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

With a great snow blower comes great responsibility

It’s snowing in Halifax. Surprise, surprise. It is winter after all and in this city, with winter comes snow.

And with snow comes the expected waist-high dump mountain of ploughed snow at the end of every driveway left, with love, by the city.

For the last two years, the neighbour on our left (your right) has, when the weather was particularly nasty, wandered over with his snow blower to help carve out the gift left by the plough. The first time we experienced this in 2010. I was busy focused on cleaning my steps when I heard the sounds of turbine blades at the foot of my driveway. There he was, machine in hand, pushing through what the city had left us. Arcs of snow rooster-tailed gracefully into the air as he cut through the hill of powder and ice.

I walked to the end of my driveway and had the first of what would be many chats with my neighbour. We talked of work and weather, family and fate. And as he attacked the hip-high hill, I would work on his lane, shoveling the smaller areas. We worked like tandem, moving snow in unison, each helping the other with the tools at hand.

Last summer, he moved away. I had lost my shovelling partner in crime. And today, during the big weather event, I missed him.

But something interesting happened...

My wife came down to my office to inform me that our other neighbour on the right (your left) was in our driveway carving a path through the waist-high mountain of snow left by the street plough. Of course, I needed to gear up and get out there! You cannot let someone show that type of spirit with making an appearance. There he was, red snow plough in hands, cutting into the pile. I walked out to him so that he could see me wave in appreciation. So that I could make my thanks evident.

He turned off the machine and smiled at me.
“I didn’t know you had a snow blower! Thanks so much for the help.” I said.
“Just got it this year – bought it off of Paul when he moved. Happy to help!” he replied.
Paul was the neighbour on our left (your right). It’s was Paul’s snow blower.

It seems that the new owner had not only bought the snow blower, but with the purchase, acquired the ‘responsibility’ that came with it. He now had the means to help those on either side of him when he could, using the tools at his disposal when the right time presented itself. He understood the tradition and stepped up to the responsibility.

School was in session today. The school yard was snowy and the lesson came in arcs of snow. Perhaps one day, I’ll be in possession of the snow blower, running the red machine between houses of shovellers hard at work. If that happens, I’ll take the responsibility seriously.

After all. It's the human thing to do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A thought on service: "Does your coffee cup fit?"

Last week, I was on the road for business. Five hotels in five days meant that I saw a wide range of facilities and met a lot of people. From simple to fancy, happy to apathetic, you see quite the variety over the period of a week.

When I wake up in a hotel, it doesn't matter what hotel, I normally need coffee. See, I don’t sleep well in hotels when I travel on my own. After close to 20 years of marriage, I sleep well when my wife is lying beside me and after I've checked one last time at night that the kids are comfortable in their beds. My body doesn't understand alone – and I'm perfectly alright about that. This being the case, to me, coffee in the morning in a hotel room is very important.

Every hotel seems to offer a different in-room coffee experience. Some have the older classic two-cup pots; others have upped their game with single serve Keurig machines. In one of the rooms I camped out in, they had a low tech, single cup machine. To add ‘value’, they provided take out cups. No mugs, just the to-go cups. Fine – a trade-off to keep the coffee station simple. I can live with trade-offs.

Unfortunately, all this good intention was scuppered by one small detail. 

The to-go cups were too tall to fit into the coffee maker.

Yes. The one vessel in the entire room that was put there for the sole purpose of capturing the beautiful coffee nectar as it came forth from the machine (I did say I needed coffee...) didn't fit into the machine.

I was stunned. How had no one bothered to see if the travel cup they provided, an intentional decision made most likely with the best of intentions, actually fit into the machine?

So what do I do? Being me, I change the cup and make it work. I carefully fold, twist and crush the edges of that cup down until the rim is low enough to fit into the machine. Once the coffee fills the ‘modified’ vessel, I pour it into the other non-mutilated cup. I have found a solution to an operator’s problem, one that impacts the overall value of the experience.

Here is the real question. How many times have you done something for your customers with the best of intentions, say change a segment of a product or a service, but failed to check and see if it fits within the existing delivery system? Are you making decisions from the position of a disengaged operator or through the eyes and actions of a customer? 

Too many business operators think that when we preach about amazing service, we are simply putting personal interactions above product interactions. This is where you would be confused.

The second that my coffee cup doesn't fit into the coffee machine, we have a service delivery breakdown. My private interaction with the coffee cup, a product interaction, has created mental disharmony and service disappointment, a personal interaction. They are combined, intimately related and ultimately inseparable.

Service is about every moment that your customer interacts with your brand, whether that is a person or a product. Customers don’t differentiate disappointment.

So – go check. Does your coffee cup fit?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curiousity & talent are a powerful combination

I've been teaching over a decade now and have seen a lot of students.

Some show up, some don't. Some do the work, some don't. I know the game, having been a student myself for the better part of my life. I've had the pleasure of meeting and teaching some great ones, students who have gone on to solid careers and success. I've also met my share of challenges.

Occasionally, I run across a student that pulls my attention away from the centre mass of the group. One that pulls me in a way I did not expect. One that has talent, but that's not enough. I've had many talented students, gifted to solve problems. To them, answers come easy and solutions are apparent.

But every now and again, a curious student pops up. Ah, that sweet fresh air of curiosity that blows in like a spring breeze. A curious student brushes away all the mild frustrations of those who are just going through the motions. They reignite a slow burning fire to do more. And normally they show themselves with a question.

'I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a question."

They are humble. You see, curiosity doesn't have space for ego; realizing that there is more to learn and asking questions removes all the space needed to hold onto the notion that you might know it all.

I have one such student right now, every week asking deep, well constructed questions outside of the public eye of the class. Asking me to dig a little deeper and provide a well thought out answer to topics not covered by the curriculum. Because a course outline isn't why they are here. It's the quest, the hunger to dig deeper. To ask questions because, well, there are questions to be asked.

Suffice it to say that when someone apologizes for asking for more knowledge, not only is it my job to step forward and engage; it is my pleasure. I too am a student. I too am curious and you have opened up a new lesson for us to challenge.

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Caritas Day & an invitation to guest blog

Last year, I experienced my first Caritas Day here at Mount Saint Vincent University. It is a day when classes are set aside and the spirit of giving selflessly is embraced. My thoughts are that first experience were captured in the post 'When the Sisters schooled the Prof'

I am honoured this year to have been invited by Dr. Ramona Lumpkin, President of Mount Saint Vincent University, to write a guest blog for 'A View from the Mount' about Caritas Day and the importance of being socially engaged with your community.

Please take a minute to connect through and read about our traditions. Don't forget to leave a comment too!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Holiday Traditions

Christmas time is full of traditions. If you celebrate the holidays, you likely have your own.

Growing up in my house, we always put the tree up the weekend after my birthday. That was the rule; I’m a December baby & never wanted the two celebrations to overlap. Wrapped presents slowly found their way under the tree. Christmas Eve became the family’s twice annual pilgrimage to church, if only to listen to the choral service. Before bed we were always allowed to open one gift; my mother would use her Jedi-elf skills to magically find those new pyjamas hidden under the tree for each of her three boys. Unwrapped Santa presents waited the next morning for the kids as Mom put together a full breakfast before the full-contact sport of present opening began. It was joyously the same every year. Our family traditions.

Traditions like these give the season a sense of ceremony, and families bond with shared history and stories. But this story isn’t about my traditions; it’s about when I discovered some new ones.

Christmas 1992

The Tree

In 1991, my girlfriend Andrea and I both attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Early that spring, we had decided to move in together, sharing our living space and our lives. That year for the holidays, we returned to our respective family homes in Toronto and celebrated apart. We quickly realized that didn’t work for us. So the next year, we committed to being together. After negotiations, our first Christmas together would be at her family’s home.

Between late fall exams and busy work schedules, we didn’t arrive in Toronto until early Christmas Eve. The first thing I noticed was that there was no tree. I was quickly informed that the tree went up later that afternoon. The tree was already here, of course, waiting in the backyard.

All right, I thought – this is different.

Andrea’s father went out to the backyard with saw in hand, made a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree, popped it in its stand and it was carried into the living room to warm up. You have to let the branches drop, I was told. Have to let it get comfortable.

Over the next hour, the scent of spruce filled the house. Boxes were dug out of their storage homes and laid out on the dining room table, boxes full of family ornaments and tree decorations. When the tree was ‘ready’, the lights were strung and garland wrapped around the tree.

Then it began. Wine & egg nog were poured. Slowly, people started selecting decorations, holding them up and telling stories. “I remember this one – I made it when I was seven.” “Didn’t you make this one for our presents six years ago? Or was it seven?” Over the next hour, the tree filled up with history and glass balls, homemade beaded hangings and memories.

There was no rush, no hurry. Just time together. It was the commencement of the celebration.

Bing. You’re Asleep.

Later that evening, I was presented with my very own stocking. You see, everyone in the family has a stocking made by Andrea’s Mum. Tradition. And not those tight, felty ones either, but crocheted; the stretchy kind that looks just like a sock but is easily manipulated into any shape so as to accommodate an overflow of stocking presents.

I was touched at receiving it. It was a symbol of acceptance. Perhaps moving in with their only daughter was ok, I thought. Needless to say, I was a tad concerned that soon after I had received such a wonderful gift, it had disappeared. When I asked quietly if someone had seen my stocking, I was introduced to a new family saying.

“Don’t ask silly questions at Christmas.”

All right, I thought – this is really different.

The evening was full of food, homemade chilli and fresh bread, and games around the table. There was lots of laughing and silliness with just enough competition to keep everyone on their toes. As the evening wrapped up, Andrea and I retired to the basement; it was agreed upon weeks prior that we would be allowed to share a room. Normal ‘sleep wells’ were passed around. The tree lights were turned out. The house settled down for the night.

As Andrea and I just were beginning to tuck in for our long winter’s rest, a knock came at our bedroom door. As it slowly opened, there stood her father looking quite serious. He starred at me for a long, silent beat. Then, he said the following words to me, words that I will never forget. He said,

“Bing. You’re asleep.”

Pardon, I thought. Looking over to Andrea for clarification, all I found was my girlfriend, head on pillow, eyes closed, it the position of sleep. Great, I thought. I’m going to close my eyes and Dad gets a little revenge.

Eyes closed. Head down. Waiting...

After just a few moments, our room door closed. I opened one eye. Safe. Then the other. All clear. Andrea was going about her bed routine as if nothing had happened. I, of course, noticed two VERY full stockings hung with care at the end our bed. I pointed and was about to ask about this appearance when I was quickly cut off.

“There’s nothing there.” Andrea said. And that was that.


Before going to sleep, I asked Andrea, “What time do things start happening in the morning?” Without hesitation, she answered, “7”.

Seven? A.M.? There was no way a house full of adults were going to be up at 7 a.m. to start unwrapping. I let this pass. We’ll see what happens when everyone wakes up, I thought. Go with the flow.

Now I can tell you that I didn’t get woken up by any alarm the next day, but rather a strange, high speed vibration coming across the mattress. I opened my sleep-covered eyes to be greeted by my bedside clock that read 6:52 a.m. As I rolled over, I found Andrea curled up in a ball in the top corner of her bed, knees pulled into her chest, a pillow hugged tightly. She was shaking with pure childhood excitement about Christmas morning, physically quivering enough to send vibrations throughout the whole bed.

As her eyes moved over to me, she quietly whispered, “I was hoping not to wake you up!!”

Then she reached down to the foot of the bed, unclipped her stocking, and held it up in front of her at arm’s length. Looking right at me with the grin of a six year old, she exclaimed, “Presents!”

All right, I thought – the woman I’ve fallen in love with is crazy.

I unclipped my stocking. I held it out, nodding my head up and down in a coffee-deprived haze. “Presents” I said. Best to mimic the natives lest they turn on you, I thought.

At the strike of 7 a.m. she opened our door and we quietly crept up the basement stairs. We were returning to the land of logic, I thought. Her brother, whom I had known for over six years now, was practical and level headed; I’ll sit close to him, I thought. As we reached the top stair, the basement door opened. There, standing at the top of the stairs, arm stretched out with a full stocking in hand and a grin from ear to ear was her brother. “Presents!” he exclaimed. And we were quickly ushered into her parent’s room, everyone piling up on the bed, to start the day opening our stocking together.

I married that wonderfully crazy woman just a couple of years later. Over the years, we have blended our traditions, bringing together the best of both families.

On December 25th, 2011, for the twentieth year in a row, my wife and I will be celebrating Christmas together. My in-laws will have the comfort of our guestroom in Halifax this year; my brother-in-law and his new bride will be here with us as well. At the crack of 7 in the morning, our two young sons will come running into our bedroom, their stocking, handmade by Granny and stuffed by Santa, held high. We will all pile onto our bed to start the day.

I will be holding my stocking, that same stocking from my first crazy Christmas twenty years earlier, at arm’s length. And with a grin, I will exclaim, “Presents!”