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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Short time is hard time

An open letter to university / college students:

Final exams begin in six weeks or so. Perhaps it's a great stressor that final exams are coming up. Maybe it's the 'or so' part.

My experience in teaching tells me that this is crunch time for many students; a time to reflect on their performance in the last six weeks and six months. It is a time to pull up socks and engage with material. A time to jump into the game.

The weather is changing - spring is in the air. No wait. Employment is in the air! Jobs and money, work and reward.

Yes, it is time to successfully finish one journey and move on to another. If you are in a position at school that brings your success into question, consider the following:

  1. Time management - Everything you need to know about success in your courses is contained in your course outline. Read it again. Put every single date into your calendar.
  2. A calendar - If you do not maintain a calendar, do this NOW. Not in 5 days, not in 5 hours - NOW. Plan every single thing that you must do over the next 7 weeks, then work backwards so that it gets done. Daunting I know, but it must get done. (If you're not willing to build yourself a calendar, flip over to that blog on self-esteem. At least you'll feel better.)
  3. Working hard - Yes, you'll need to put in some hours reading, writing and studying. Good news is that you still have time to turn things around. Bad news, you'll likely need to sacrifice some of the other activities in your past activity list.
  4. Get help - Every student questioning their status right now should book an appointment with a faculty member to assess performance and get suggestions on improvement. Trying to succeed in school without feedback is like trying to get to the Olympics without a coach. Could happen, but not likely.

Six to seven weeks left. Keep it simple and straight forward.

But that's just my two cents.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When Sounding Smart is Pretty Dumb

Over the last few days, I’ve been struck by how often my jargon meter has gone off.

All right, I know what you’re thinking, so let me start off by calling out the elephant in the blog. Yes, I’m an academic by profession; with that comes a certain volume of jargon that crops up in our speaking and writing, especially when we are doing so for an audience of our peers. I have spent significant amounts of time discussing the differences between Derrida’s use diffĂ©rance and diffĂ©rence. I have argued about the correct hyphen placement between postpositivism and post-positivism, and yes, I can toss around statistical terms such as leptokurtosis.

I know jargon. So, let’s break this down. monkey404

Webster’s dictionary has three clear definitions for jargon. The first is that jargon is a characteristic language of a particular group. As a member of particular groups, I do not necessarily have a problem with jargon when it is language used by and within those specific trades or professions. Most professions have common language that only makes sense within context. Doctors and lawyers, carpenters and plumbers, they all use specific language within their chosen field. This particular use of language may not make sense to an outsider, but it’s not supposed to. So this type of jargon doesn’t set any alarm bells.

The bells do start to ring loudly in two different situations.

The first is what I’ll call ‘spill-over’: the language specific to one professional group spills over from the insider world to those of us out here in the regular world. Spill-over generally occurs when we fail to reset our language filters for context; put another way, we are just not paying attention to our audience. Say you are in a university course (I’ll pick on my people) and your professor starts referring to the curve on the board as leptokurtotic without ever having defined this term before. This would be a case of jargon spill-over and (hopefully!) just an honest error by the professor using a term without considering his or her audience very well. (By the way, a leptokurtotic curve is a bell curve that is kind of squished together with a tall middle peak. Take that to your next trivia game.)

The intention of the spill-over must always be assessed. Spill-overs can occur honestly, such as the example I tried to show above. It can also happen intentionally, a sin that needs to be challenged as often as possible. Some people choose to use jargon specific to their profession as a barrier of entry. It becomes their sword and shield of elitism that separates them from those who are not in ‘the know’, not part of ‘them’. When someone intentionally chooses to speak above their audience, the message is being intentionally masked. Here is Webster’s second definition coming out to play: to utter jargon is to talk unintelligibly.

As someone passionate about amazing customer service, there is absolutely no place in a service interaction for intentional jargon used to make others feel inferior. None, zip, zero.

If spill-over is happening in your business by accident, coach your way out of it. Learn to reframe and refocus with each interaction and think, really THINK about your audience. But if spill-over exists because of intent, this must be weeded out quickly. Customers will tolerate honest mistakes, but not arrogance.

Now, some of you are counting - I did mention three definitions of jargon. Webster’s simply calls this third form ‘gibberish’. This type of jargon often gets shuffled off as the evolution of language, but really, it’s just plain nonsense. Here are some examples: items that we can work on are now ‘actionable’, including an additional product or service item into the package now becomes ‘value-added’, playing to our strengths and opportunities is now considered ‘leveraging’, and copying the success of others is now referred to as ‘best-practicing’. So, you end up with people who appear to be reasonably intelligent coming out with phrases like:
“Our change agents will be actioning the identified best practices in order to create a value-added buzz which should level the competitive playing field.”
I heard most of this sentence the other day, not a word of a lie.

When you hear people talking like this, you need to stop them, if not for their sake, then for yours. Should you like them, you could have a private conversation and point out this little problem – remember, you want the best for them. If you don’t like them or are feeling devilish, you could ask them to immediately rephrase what they just said so that a Grade 3 student could understand it. Generally, this is met with uncomfortable silence. Me, I like to use a little bit from Lewis Black. When someone speaks gibberish, I tell them that they are using jargon. And if they still don’t understand, I toss my point just over their head.

In the comments section down below, feel free to share with me some of your favourite examples of jargon – I’d love to hear them! Because this is just my two cents.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

When the voices of tomorrow speak today.

 In 1989, during my first year of undergraduate education, I paid $1,100 for the year of school. Yup - for the whole year! Two semesters of school. Eight months. Ten courses.

Today, that cost is approximately $1,110. Per course. In 21 years, the price of post secondary education has gone up over 10 fold.

Metro News
I'm no expert, but it seems to me that this has been a rather large increase over the last two decades. Sure, everything has increased; the average wage has gone up, the cost of gas has jumped, even a can of Classic Coke (not new Coke - don't get me started on that) has increased. But none of these items have gone up 1000% in the past 20 years, have they? We don't put a ten dollar bill into the pop machine today and didn't pay workers a minimum wage of $0.96 in 1989.

So when I saw the students of Nova Scotia stand up and have their voices heard in a peaceful protest on February 2nd, I was nothing but proud. Here in Nova Scotia, our Premier has raised the cap on provincial tuition to 3%, up from the former increase of ... right - nothing. To compliment this increase, he has served our post secondary institutions with a 4% decrease in funding. Welcome to the second decade of the 21st century and a 'social' government.

If you're a fan of ice cream cones, this in analogous to getting less ice cream on top of a crappier cone. Plus a kick to the knee cap.

When we decide that budgets need to be tightened, why is it that we target those who are eating the least at the table first? Today, our students are saddled with personal debt. Parents, if they can, are having a tougher time supporting their kids to get an education. So, in debt they become, to the average tune of $28,000, with the greatest burden of debt falling to students in the Maritimes.

Nova Scotia is Canada's Education Province. We have 11 universities and 13 community college campuses. Students from our province can confidently remain in their home to earn an outstanding education; students from across Canada and around the globe flock to our schools. Instead of embracing the social values of an education for all, our most socialist government party has decided to turn capitalistic. This is something that frustrates me.

However, over two thousand students here in Halifax decided to take to the streets on Feb 2nd's Day of Action to have their voices heard. They marched in the middle of a snow storm strong enough to close the very schools they attend. They marched in the middle of the downtown streets in which their annual investment of tuition, books and recreational capital flows. They marched in the middle of the day, peacefully expressing their disgust at a tuition increase that serves political gains over provincial growth. They claimed their voice in a process that often moves around them without speaking with them.
My livelihood is made from teaching these young voices. I work with them everyday. And I am thrilled every time they take action, using their voices and intellect to stand up for their opinions and beliefs. They are the leaders of tomorrow. They are strong, smart and stellar, deserving the best that we have to offer. When they stand tall in one voice under one cause, all of those negative whispers of an apathetic generation are rightfully brushed aside.

Putting financial barriers in their path is not the way. They know it, we know it. Could someone tell our government? Better yet, we must encourage our non-apathetic youth to tell them in the next election. For the most powerful tool to bring in a government that supports funding education is through votes.

Politicians understand the marketplace. Show them that the demand is there and they will no doubt supply you with what you desire. They have the ultimate job in customer satisfaction and popularity. They know it and we know it.

From what I see, it's time to start shopping around. But that's just my two cents.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superbowl commercials - the proud, the creative, the efficient.

Like many folks, I'm watching the Superbowl tonight.

OK, to be technical, I 'will' be watching the Superbowl just as soon as I'm done this post...no rush or anything.

And like millions of people, I enjoy the game but LOVE the commercials (thanks goes out to @tonyrobbins and his tweet today). Tomorrow morning, we will all gather around at our respective offices or in our social media worlds (or tweeting about it right this second like @garyvee!) critiquing the creative investments that are the annual Superbowl ads.

Cost for a 30 second commercial during the Superbowl
An investment it is too. The average cost for a 30 second spot is somewhere around $2.5 million US dollars. (It costs less in Canadian dollars right now because of our strong dollar, but on the flip side we don't get to see them live.) This investment makes those companies advertising during the Superbowl part of an elite club who can gather together incredible sums of money for promotion. The costs work out roughly to $83,333 per second!

When I bring this up to my students, or cab drivers, or random strangers waiting in the bank machine line up, the comments quickly shift to the ridiculous amount of money spend on advertising. Who in their right mind would spend $83,000+ per second on one commercial. There is no possible way to get your return on investment!

Hold the phone. Let's do the math here. Sure, it costs $83,000+ per second, but this also translates into $0.03 per customer view per commercial, or $0.001 per second of viewing time. It's the Superbowl - people will pee through the game and miss a play before they miss a commercial. (How many of us still kick ourselves for blinking during Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction?)

It is estimated that over 90 million people will be tuned into the Superbowl at any given moment; not watching the games, but TUNED in at any given moment. There is no other time of year in which one advertisement can gain such incredible buzz. Just ask Reebok's 2003 commercial with Terry Tate or Snicker's 2009 advertisement with Betty White (and Abe Vigoda!) On YouTube alone, they have been viewed 8,296,444 and 3,072,625 times respectively, after the Superbowl was over.

So, for all of you watching the game tonight, grab some chips and a cold beverage, root for your favourite team, and remember that we are part of an annual tradition which transcends a simple match up between two massive forces on the gridiron. We are at THE buzz moment for the advertisement world tonight.

Let the elite entertain us for one night =)


Saturday, February 5, 2011

QOTD: How to read a textbook

A few weeks back, I wrote about walking the walk on the first week back to school. In it, I discussed getting students engaged in the reading process. But over the last week, a number of questions have popped up with 'how to' questions. Specifically, how do we get through all of this reading when we don't have a lot of time?

Ok, this is a two part problem. The first part deals with time and time management. The second focuses on materials management and how to efficiently move through your materials. 

Sure, students today have full schedules and some need to work jobs to afford school. The reality is that there are 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, for a total of 168 hours in a week. Sleep should account for 49 hours - let's everybody get at least 7 good hours of sleep a night; too little and we'll get run down while too many eats up useful time. Many students are in classes for 15-20 hours every week; let's toss in 30 hours for work, 21 hours for eating, 4 for exercise and another 5 for pure fun. Everyone will have their own items on this list. If you're like me with young kids, then you know that a few hours everyday belong to them - this is as non-negotiable as time for eating. Whatever is on your list, you need to make it, monitor it, and manage it.

Based on this list of commitments above, someone would have 39 hours a week left over, or approximately 5.5 hours each day - lots of time that can be used to deal with reading, writing, research, and most importantly THINKING (another post on this at some point). The point here is to track your time and keep a personal schedule. Every day. If you're not willing to track your time and plan out your goals, don't waste time complaining that you are too busy.

All right, to the second part of how to read a textbook.

Textbooks are not like other genres of writing that you have encountered. Many of us read novels for enjoyment, entertainment, even to escape. Each word is read as we get swept into the story; we work our way through each page following the narrative path crafted by the author. When you pick up a textbook, don't do this.

Textbooks contain valuable information, facts, and examples that should explain concepts and provide demonstrations. Most textbooks that I have read fail to have a compelling narrative; the 'story' is terrible. It is my hope that authors will come to realize that they need to write for their audience and make the writing more interesting and engaging. Not dumbed down but pumped up. Until this happens, we will continue to  use these resources. So here's a guide for you to read textbooks more efficiently.
  1. Read the table of contents - this will give you a sense of major topic flows.
  2. Read the chapter introduction and conclusion - these two sections should clearly tell you what the chapter is about and some of the topics, without getting into significant details.
  3. Read the chapter in chunks - one section at a time. You can only take in a limited amount of information at any one time. Why would you expect to understand the whole chapter in one read through?
  4. Take notes in text as your read - The goal here is to identify important terms, processes, examples and information. The flip side is actually to get rid of the extra material that will not help you - the filler. (When you go back to read the content, you'll have shortened up the amount to read significantly!) I highlight my textbooks when I read. Some people think this is sacrilegious; fine, use a pencil and erase it later. Sigh...it's your book. If you're already thinking about resale before you've used it, your focus is way off target.
  5. Write these notes out - I'm 'old school' and use a pen and paper. Feel free to type them out. Whatever the method you prefer, you need to engage with the material and start creating your own resource.
  6. Go to the next 'chunk' and repeat step 3-5.
  7. Answer your assigned questions from your notes.
I find that most students can get through a reasonably sized chapter in about 3 hours with these techniques. Plus, they can break them up over a couple sessions. These are the building blocks of your course preparation.

What are the techniques that YOU use to efficiently get through the material? Leave your comments below and we'll put them together in a future blog.

Now back to reading...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When in Canada, strap on your skates

When January arrives in the Maritimes, she is followed with the predictable icy weather and snow storms of winter; these are our annual gifts from Mother Nature. Sure, we make a pastime complaining about it with our daily doses of "Is it cold enough for ya?" and "At least you don't need to shovel rain..." when in line waiting for our double-double at Timmies. thumbnailCA2FH02Q

But as Canadians, complaining about the weather is tantamount to a birth right. We will not allow anyone else to out-gripe us when it comes to the weather.

I have no doubt that when Samuel de Champlain experienced his first winter on the tiny isle of Saint Croix, a smart-ass teenager from the Passamaquoddy band yelled over a rich-sounding phrase in their native tongue that loosely translated to, "Is it cold enough for ya?"

Yet, in the great words of Rick Mercer, "This is Canada. We have winter. Life sucks. Get a toque and embrace it.” This is where the rubber meet the road. We complain about winter, then embrace the deep freeze for skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and skating. We do actually suck it up, slap on our toque and embrace it.

So I’m a wee bit confused about the current discussion going on in our fair city of Halifax. In less than 10 days, the 2011 Canada Games begin in Halifax, and where the Games go, so goes infrastructure money. Built on the Halifax Common, we now have the Canada Games Oval, an outdoor ice rink designed for athletic competition. It is big – larger than 3 full NHL skating rinks, and has been open to the public for at least the last five weeks. FREE. Skating lessons provided every Saturday morning for up to 500 people. FREE. Daily bookings for school programs. FREE. Did I mention the free helmet rentals?

The discussion right now is whether or not to keep the Oval, rebuilding it every winter. There is a vocal opposition that stands against the idea, mostly based on costs. Estimates are that the Oval will cost $250,000 every year to rebuild and maintain, money that the opposition sees coming from their tax dollars. Not my tax dollars they say, not for something so trivial.

On the other side of the fence is a growing movement to save the Oval. You see, people are using the Oval in huge numbers, enjoying a skate outside, spending time with and within their community. Doctors have come out in support of the Oval as yet one more way in which people can stay active, especially during the winter months. And just last Tuesday, the “Save the Oval” Association presented a petition signed by over 9,000 people to the HRM Council. They have people lined up to support it, people willing to pay.

No one assumes the free skating will continue. It’s a tool to gain support and build excitement for the Games. So, some quick math is in order. To skate at a rink in the HRM costs approx. $3 per per or $8 per family. Assuming that just those 9,000 people used the Oval next year, say twice a month, that would total about 63,000 visits. At $3 per visit, this generates $189,000. Ok, we’re getting pretty close to cost recovery.

But wait, wherever 60+ thousand people go, so will follow industry. Concessions will absolutely pay to rent space; hot chocolate and those fantastic pastries (that look just like the tail of Canada’s national animal) are huge sellers when skating; just ask the vendors on the Rideau Canal. Coffee, the fair trade variety that my fellow Haligonians sip with great pleasure, and an organic snack would also be a huge hit!

Then there are the major players, whom I’ll refer to as the ‘Big ‘Blades’. The 1990 World Figure Skating Championships Legacy Fund wants to donate $100,000 to the fund over a series of years, no strings attached. Good Life Fitness has already volleyed the amount of $200,000 for the naming rights.
Once the people have actively demonstrated a demand, we won’t need government funding, just the space and vocal support for a healthy community hub. Think of the possibilities – sporting events that bring in sports tourism, or perhaps a Halifax New Years celebration that begins at the Oval and ends at City Hall.

Last Saturday, I looked out my kitchen window, watching kids and adults skate on our neighbourhood pond. Little ones were learning to hold themselves up on single blades; bigger ones were moving with the grace that skaters gain with years of experience. Everyone was sharing the unspoken joy of the community, out together in the cold, getting in the last few minutes before the sun dropped to bed for the night. As I watched for a moment, I realized that it was the infomercial for the Oval. Community, gathering, and happiness.

We cannot fight this joy of community and winter activity. We’re Canadian – it’s also part of our birth right.