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, September 24, 2011

Playtime: Get your creative groove on

At some point in our life, most of us shift towards the literal. Really literal.

Meanings and ideas become consistent. Things are easier to understand. We lose the ability or willingness to hold multiple meanings in our heads at the same point in time. Our interpretations become more static and our experimentation occurs less frequently.

We slowly slide away from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ideal design when he said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Remember when a butter knife was the best screwdriver in the kitchen? Many of us even had that perfect knife/tool at the back of our utensils drawer, the one with the tip that had snapped off. (We’d never put it on the table but it became an even better screwdriver!) Yet at some point, a subtle shift happens inside that compels us to search the entire house for the ‘right’ screwdriver because, for heaven’s sake, the butter knife is a ‘knife’.

Now I like to think of myself as a little creative, but still I find myself falling into this static thinking occasionally.  Luckily, I have a couple of rug rats here who do not suffer from any such debilitating issues of imagination.

In our house, Robin Hood is currently the story of choice. The books are read and the classic Disney animated film, with Robin Hood as a fox, is on high rotation. We even took the boys twice to see Robin Hood performed live by a local Halifax theatre troop.

Naturally, this leads to Robin Hood play from the boys. Imaginary arrows and battles erupt in their playroom. Costumes are donned and characters established. At the drop of a hat, they even break into song about their adventures!

This morning, the playroom was quieter than normal. Then I started to here clicks, followed by a small item bouncing across the floor. Click – tink tink... click – tink tink... Hmmm, time to investigate.

My two young ‘merry men’ had figured out that the car launcher from their Matchbox car racing track could be removed. They had also discovered that the tiny Yield signs from their city centre fit quite well inside the launcher. And they were both in full Robin Hood adventure costumes. Testing out their newly created projectile launcher.

Yes - they built a crossbow.

It was awkward and only pushed the projectile a foot or so. But it worked. And they were super pumped! Merry men indeed.

It’s on my desk right now. Letting them launch things at each other didn’t seem wise. They are off in their playroom building a new imaginary world out of pillows, a bouncy ball, a few fire engines and a monster truck.

I’m left amazed at their creativity. And also curious about why I didn’t think of it first. I guess I need to spend more time in the playroom.

How about you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leave it better than we found it

Anyone who is a parent understands that there are days (weeks, months...insert the timeline appropriate to you) where you feel that you are just talking into the air and your kids just aren’t listening. It doesn’t seem that anything you say or do is connecting. It can be frustrating; you never know if you’re making a difference. It’s not dissimilar to the feelings we can have at work with our students or customers. How much of what we are trying to communicate are they getting? It appears sometimes that they aren’t completely engaged – is our message wasted?

Fortunately, we get reminded every now and again about the impact we can have on those around us.

I’ve been away from home travelling on a 4 day trip. The main way that I get updated on the boys is through text messaging from my wife. Sadly, I miss a lot of the little things – their goofy games and imagination, as well as the dramatic intrigue that tends to develop between two brothers. The other afternoon, I received this message.

`Your son is picking up napkins off all the tables, because `Daddy said to leave it better than we found it.”

One simple text and I melted. I felt pride as I read this message, thrilled that my 5 year old could clearly explain why he was helping to clean up tables in the food court at the shopping mall.

As I think of this, I’m struck by two lessons.

First, we need to always be aware of the influence we can have on other people. Sometimes, our messages can have instant reactions; however, often our communications, actions and words have long standing influences that don’t immediately manifest themselves. Trust that those around you are paying attention to both what you say and what you do.

Second, shouldn’t we always be striving to leave things better than we found them? Why shouldn’t we pick up that napkin someone left behind? Sure, it’s not ‘our job’, but if we have the power to make things better with such a minimal action, why shouldn’t we help out. More than objects, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could leave people feeling better than when we found them through acts of kindness and compassion?

Pure idealism? More than likely.

But when my 5 year old is diligently picking up napkins to leave the food court better than how he found it, I think it’s time to strive for a more idealistic world. Because in that moment, he became the teacher.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sept 11, 2011: Mixed Feelings and Media Myopia

I’m having a very mixed reaction to the last few days.

Ten years ago, I, as with so many other people, heard the news about American Airlines Flight 11 striking the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. I watched on live television as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower just a few minutes later. The events continued as American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon while United Airlines Flight 93 was forced to crash land in a field in Pennsylvania. I can tell you where I was at each of those moments.

On that day, and many that followed, we watched first responders demonstrate incredible acts of heroism, running towards a scene everyone else wanted to be far away from. People outside the affected areas helped the best they could and in whatever way they could; 40 planes were accepted by Halifax International Airport, Vancouver International received over 8,500 diverted passengers while Gander International Airport accepted 39 rerouted planes, causing the population of Gander to swell by over 65% in hours.

Ten years later, the heroes should be celebrated and the dead remembered. Families and communities should come together, stand together, grieve and reflect together. Those who lost their lives were victims of an unimaginable event. Those who stepped up to help were heroic precisely because they jumped forward into action despite the inconceivable events transpiring.

Unimaginable. Inconceivable. The events of 9/11 were so large, so dramatically impactful, that they have become rooted as a chapter in the American story. Tragedy and triumph.

This I understand. Yet mixed feelings have surfaced again. Not around the magnitude of the attack or the tragedy of loss.

Mixed feelings come from the overwhelming rhetoric and coverage around this anniversary. Vice President Biden talked today about ‘a 9/11 generation of warriors’ galvanized around the event to fight back. News organizations like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, as well as our own CBC, have filled hours with footage of the attacks and follow up interviews with family members speaking 10 years later.

When I woke up this morning, the U.S. East Coast media was into full coverage. At 6:23 a.m. EST.

Why are feelings mixed?

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 victims lost their lives in a tragic, unpredictable, horrific terrorist attack. Lives were senselessly ended and no one saw it coming. Three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days later, all major news networks devoted significant portions of their day to the various ceremonies. President Obama made numerous speeches in New York and Washington. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton spoke in Pennsylvania. At Ground Zero, the name of each victim was read aloud. Ten years later, all attention was brought to bear on one event, one randomly terrible event.

If something could have been done to stop it, to change the course of events, to advert this tragedy, we would all have stepped up, right? There is no way that a civilized society would have let this many people die if there was something in their power to stop it? Of course not.

Before I go to sleep tonight, here are a few other events of note:
  • 2,740 kids died from malaria. Most lacked the simple protection of a mosquito net.
  • 6, 027 people were newly infected with HIV.
  • 9,795 people died from water-related disease because they don’t have access to clean drinking water.
  • 25,000+ died from starvation or hunger-related issues.

All of these deaths occurred today. That’s right – today. The same number of people died yesterday, the day before and each day before.  By rough count, that’s 13,700,275 deaths in the last 12 months around basic food and water needs, as well as a disease few in advanced countries ever encounter.

We know how to clean water and make it safe to drink. We know how to grow food and how to protect people from disease. But we haven’t yet taken action. The numbers continue to rise. Many people are simply unaware. Did you hear the name of one child who died from malaria mentioned on the news today? Me neither. Perhaps there just wasn’t room in the 24 hour news cycle.

‘Tragedy’ is when a disastrous event happens, and 9/11 was indeed a tragedy. When disastrous events continue to happen daily and we do little about it, well, that is simply ‘tragic’.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Purpose determines platform


I am a self-confessed 'active' user of social media.

I’m linked in on LinkedIn. My face is booked on Facebook. I was even able to get an early ‘plus’ during the Google+ beta launch last month. According to my analytics from TweetStats.com, I could possibly have a tweet-diction.

As a result, I find that I’m also having a lot of conversations about social media.

People seem curious about what I’m tweeting and why I’m tweeting so much. For me, it has mostly been about building relationships, having conversations and engaging with some very cool people. My enthusiasm about social media tends to seep through just a wee bit as I talk about what I call my ‘successes’: my conversations with top authors in the social media field, the recent invitations to guest blog on other sites, and especially about the day a wicked poster was hand delivered to my office simply because of a quick conversation (thanks @pirie and @kulapartners!).

From these conversations, some people have said that they would like to give social media a whirl. Lately, I’ve been trying to ask them one small question:

‘Why?’

What is it that you want to accomplish through social media? Before you jump into any particular social media platform, take a few minutes to figure out why you want to be there, what you plan to accomplish, and how you plan on contributing. Your reasons, and the outcomes that flow from those reasons, will determine which platform would best suit your purposes.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios:

  • If you are interested in connecting with people of similar interests, having conversations and perhaps building a community, Twitter is a great platform. I, for one, use Twitter a great deal and plan on having my students use it to engage with their industry community this fall.
  • Perhaps you would like to share video content – in this case, a YouTube account might be your platform of choice.
  • Are you interested in a more secure environment in which you can share longer posts, photos, links and other content behind some controlled filters? Facebook and Google+ are great platforms for this type of activity.
  • What about longer opinions pieces, thoughts or essays that others can read and response to? A blogging platform such as Wordpress or Blogger would be fantastic.
You see, ‘social media’ is a catch-all term; there are dozens of platforms at your fingertips that enable you to engage in various ways. Are you interested in collaborating, conversing, or capturing business? It’s in your best interest to explore as many of these platforms as you can, if only to increase your awareness of the available options. Before you commit to run down the social media highway, take a moment to figure out why you’re running.

Because, at the end of the day, your purpose will determine your platform.