My Heaven Includes Bacon

IMG_5294I have been struggling to come up with a simple way to explain my change in diet. Basically I am a vegetarian for most of the week, and an omnivore on weekends. Why?

It’s not about religion, I am too afraid of picking the wrong denomination to ever choose just one. I can already imagine how ripped off I would feel if I lived my whole life by some strict code, to get turned away at the pearly gates (or equivalent) by a technicality! “You’re kicking me out for eating bacon?? Hey, my heaven includes bacon!”

While it is a great reason to reduce meat intake, the environment isn’t my reason. I am reducing intake of all animal proteins (including fish), not just the ones that chew up hectares of land and resources to produce.

It isn’t an ethical concern, since I can’t see where to draw the line on animals, insects or plants. Does the tasty cow deserve to live more than the yummy escargot? And we’ve all seen Avatar; how about plants??

So that leaves health, and yes that is the reason. I’ve read a fair bit of research that points to animal protein –not the common villain, fat– as the root cause of heart disease and many cancers. Completely eliminating meat is supposed to be the idea solution, but many health benefits can be gained by significantly reducing the intake to levels much lower than the typical North American diet.

Who Hasn’t Seen the ‘Last Lecture’?

Randy Pausch’s last lecture has come up in several recent conversations I have had, and I am always surprised to find people who haven’t seen it. I mean, the guy was on Oprah, everybody must have heard of this guy or his book by now!

We are coming up on the two year anniversary of Randy’s last public post to his blog (June 26th, 2008) before his death on July 25th 2008 of pancreatic cancer, so it might be a good time to remind the world (well my small world anyway) about his gift to the world: His Last Lecture.

If you still don’t know if you want to invest 70 minutes of your life on this, watch the 10-minute version that was on Oprah. But I challenge you to watch this, then not watch the 80 minute version; so pick… 80 minutes or 90 minutes.  😉

Save This Buddha!

Golden Buddah, Bangkok, ThailandI am watching with anxiety the events unfolding in Bangkok, where anti-government protesters are conducting sit-ins, and constructing barricades around areas of interest to foreign tourists, as a means to get the government’s attention. Initially, this all seemed like a great example of Ghandi-style peaceful civil disobedience (like when the protesters ground the Bangkok airport to a halt in 2008), but then the bullets started flying, with an accompanying Twitter feed).

My visit to Bangkok was one of my best travel experiences, a positive culture-shock, and one of my favourite places to take photos.

While the safety of the MANY citizens of Bangkok (10M+) is of the paramount importance, it always frustrates me that there doesn’t seem to be any way for the international community to protect artifacts and architecture of such cultural significance. When trouble breaks out, these artifacts become targets, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes by accident.

About 6 months before before 9/11, there were some very clear signs that all was not right in the heads of those ruling Afghanistan. In an effort to erase Afghanistan’s true cultural heritage, the Taliban decided to blow up two giant Buddha statues carved into a cliff near Bamiyan, in defiance of international protests.

Those are bullet holes!

Unfortunately, historic sites are often the most sturdy things to hide behind.

In Chris Hedges’ book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” he indicates that this is a very common element of the prelude to any war; erasing the past to create a new fictitious present. It is particularly prominent in wars that result in ethnic cleansing, like the strife in the Balkan states.

I can’t offer any solutions, only raise awareness. Protecting items of cultural significance isn’t about saving tourism, it is about making sure the truth about the past isn’t eradicated just because it is inconvenient to the present (or it is the sturdiest thing to hide behind when the bullets start to fly).

Are the Meat & Dairy Industries the Next ‘Big Tobacco’?

I have heard too many studies on nutrition to take any of them seriously. One study says X is bad, the next says X is good. Too much noise, and I have been filtered it out for a long time. I figured, eat everything in moderation and exercise will lead to good health.

You can have your cake, and eat your steak too (which is great, because I love steak!).

For the first time, I have come across research that seems to go ‘thunk’ with me, something that is actually changing my behaviour. I read the book ‘The China Study‘, and it has so much compelling detail that I just can’t ignore it. Here is a good video summary by the author… you’ll note that this guy does not sound like some kind of Atkins quack.

Conclusion… the biggest competitor to the pharmaceutical industry, and the solution to the NA health care disaster, is likely a whole-foods plant-based diet.

Ironically our ‘low-fat’ health kick is actually INCREASING the amount of animal protein we are eating, which is exactly the wrong way to go.

Oh, crap…

TEDx 2: Ideas Worth CREATING

Just prior to attending my second TEDx event (this one in Waterloo), I got a lot of questions form friends and family:

  • What is the conference about?
  • What are you going to get out of it?
  • Who is going to be there?

I would just smile, and say “I’ll tell you when I get back.” I could have told them about TED’s tagline of ‘Ideas worth Spreading’, pointed them to the website, or have said ‘I am going to spend some time amongst other people –like me– that just love ideas’, but somehow those didn’t do a good job of explaining why I go. People are conditioned to want to know ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) or ‘what’s in it for you’ (WIIFY). I couldn’t explain TEDx in their ‘immediate payback’ terms.

Not being able to answer WIIFM would never stop me from doing something that I know is intuitively right, but for those that need to understand, I think I have figured it out: It helps ignite your brain and create ideas.

After two events –TEDx Ottawa and TEDx Waterloo– I have noticed that there is one thing I consistently get out of attending: The days after a TEDx event are filled with the relentless churning of my brain giving me ideas, so fast that I have trouble keeping track of them.

In brain science, there is an adage that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. New neural pathways are created a lot in your youth during your brain’s hyper-plastic phases, but as people get older they –and their brain’s wiring– tend to get set in their ways. Your brain is designed to find the path of least resistance, so as you get older you try harder and harder to use those existing neural pathways to solve problems, relate to the world, and to other people, because it required less energy (literally!). You may start to surround yourself with like-minded people because it is less effort than to try and relate to those that have very different views than yours. Group-think ensues.

When you are at a TEDx conference (and I would venture to guess, a TED conference) you are presented such a plethora of big ideas, that come from all directions, it forces your brain to start creating new pathways between parts of your brain that perhaps never talked to each other before. In the following short summaries of each presenter, I will talk about the new ‘Oh Snap!’ moment that each presenter gave me; that moment where my brain found two previously unrelated concepts and slammed them together.

Disclaimer for other TEDx Waterloo participants: your brains are different than mine, your results will vary.  I would be very happy to hear your own epiphanies in the comments field below!!

Terry O’Reilly on Friction

My friend Gary kept asking me I had yet listened to ‘Age of Persuasion‘, and two days before TEDx I got around to listening.  I was happily impressed with the quality and content of the show, took some notes, and filed it away. I hadn’t paid much attention to who was presenting at TEDx Waterloo, since I knew one of the key organizers, and his reputation told me it was going to be some great content.  Then Terry O’Reilly walks up on stage… I look down at my notebook and see that I am still writing on the same pages as my notes from his radio show?!  Find this hard to believe? Have a look at the dates and content of my notebook:

Weird Coincidence

For those cynical bastards that choose to think that I had just looked up Terry because I was going to see him at TEDx: You are a cynical bastard.

So what was the O’Snap moment? FRICTION can create CREDIBILITY

Terry gave several examples in his talk about how people were not willing to believe in products that seemed too miraculous: antiseptics like Bactine that wouldn’t sell because they no longer caused pain, and hair products that were marketed as working in 30 minutes (instead of the actual 2) because it was more consistent with the salon experience. Because the new product was so far from the customer’s previous experience, it lacked credibility. That credibility was only created by adding some friction (alcohol back into the antiseptic to create pain, or a 30-minute wait before rinsing in the conditioner) to allow the customers to believe in the product.  For those of you who have seen my presentation on ‘Made to Stick‘ and/or read the book by Chip and Dan Heath you will remember how important credibility is to make a message sticky!

A quick chat with Terry after the presentation (another great perk of TEDx) also allowed me to conclude two things: 1) I like the guy and 2) I am now a Terry O’Reilly fan.

Philip Beesley on the  Hylozoic Ground

If I were putting on an event like this, I would start and finish with ‘sure things’; that is, presentations that will appeal and be understood by the whole audience (Terry and Amy were good choices!). Speaker #2 allows you to take risks with topics that might really challenge the audience to relate and understand.

Well, it was a challenge for me anyway. Philip’s current project is beautiful, shows great imagination, and I am really glad there are places in the world that nurture this kind of creativity. I hope some day to see his work in person, and that would allow me to have a greater link to the work he clearly has so much passion for.  While I found it hard to grasp, there were a couple of Oh Snaps! that got my brain churning:

In cities we stand on fragile ground, which is not a natural state for human beings. When you think about it, if you are standing in nature: on a beach, or on a mountain top, you are standing on solid earth that is (in human terms) immovable, solid and permanent. In cities, we stand on paved streets above the voids of sewers, subways or in buildings comprised of many layers of poured concrete hanging precariously in space. Does the human mind perceive this? Are we impacted buy it? I don’t know, but it certainly made me go hmmmm…

Almost contradictory to his previous point (but this assumes I understand it), using materials that are pushed to their structural limits, on the verge of collapse, leads to more sensitivity and a state of calm. This made me think of asian architecture where rooms are separated by paper walls and materials that seem engineered to be ‘just strong enough’ to fulfill their designed purpose. Does this actually have an impact on culture? Again, I don’t know… but it made me go hmmm…

Aimee Mullins on Dis-abled vs. En-Abled

TEDx organizers choose TED videos to be presented during the event that are consistent with the chosed TEDx theme. Being an avid TED video fan, I had seen Aimee’s (2nd) TED talk before, but TED videos are always best experienced in groups, so I was happy to see it again!

Oh Snap! moment: “That’s not fair!” With advances in science, people who in the past would have been viewed as ‘disabled’ could instead be viewed as almost super-human. For Star Trek TNG fans, you can think of Geordi La Forge, the blind officer who’s visual prosthetic allows him super-human vision. For a more recent example, you can look to the career of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee ‘blade runner’, who’s gets banned from races because people think his carbon-fibre legs give him an unfair advantage! Aimee uses the example of how she can vary her height by 6″ depending on the pair of prosthetics she chooses. Imagine using this to your advantage in a business meeting where (unfortunately) height still translates into higher salaries and promotions!

Ray Laflamme on Quantum Computing

I have a degree in Engineering Physics, which required me to take courses in quantum mechanics. If I had a professor like Ray, I might still be passionate about that field instead of afraid of it!

Oh Snap!: I have been trying to understand the concepts behind the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment for years, and Ray explained it for me in 10 seconds… If a bullet can be in two places at once (quantum superposition theory), and cat is shot, the cat can be both alive and dead. While it begs the question of ‘What do physicists have against cats?’ it finally cemented this concept for me after 14 years of trying. Thanks Ray!

<BREAK where I got to chat with some cool participants and speakers>

Paul Saltzman on The Beatles

You ever met a person who is funny without even having to try? That’s Paul.

He tells a story about how he bumps into The Beatles while trying to learn how to meditate in India. The Beatles had secluded themselves from the world, and their meditations led to 48 songs being written during a 7 week period. Paul S. has a picture of The Beatles whilst composing their hit ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, and speaks of profound conversations with George Harrison in particular (for the pic, see David’s great summary of the event HERE).

Oh Snap!: Nothing Changes Until You Do. Much of our focus is placed on how we change OTHERs’ attitudes or behaviours. How much time and energy to we spend thinking about how we change ourselves? If  life isn’t about the fans, the money, the ‘success’ but love, health and peace inside, (as George Harrison said to Paul) isn’t the time best spent trying to understand how you can change yourself to meet these objectives? That said…I am off to the gym.

Caroline Disler on the ‘Western Civilization’ Misnomer

Caroline explains how the term ‘Western Civilization’ is a very polarizing term that down-plays the significant –if not dominant– influences of the whole world (and the middle east in particular) in the development of what is now called ‘Western Civilization’. For example, we often credit the Greek philosophers as the origin of many of our concepts, including scientific thought. Caroline illustrated that the Greeks credit much of their thought to the Egyptians and Indians, and their knowledge was only allowed to be passed on by the patronage of Persians (Iran) when they were persecuted by the Christians. Ironic huh? Also notable was how the very influential ‘western’ philosophy of Thomas Aquinas was in turn influenced by works of arab philosophers like Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali who he cited 31 times.

Oh Snap!: I am going to wait until the next summary.  Caroline’s talk was like a perfect setup and complement to the next presentation, a TED video of Wade Davis.

Wade Davis on Endangered Cultures

This guy should get a short film Oscar for colourful use of hyperbole! Lines like “to have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with Baroque paintings and landing on a sea of electricity” brought uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Oh Snap!: Different cultures create different realities. Wether it is an Inuit hunter fashioning a shiv out of his frozen feces to kill food, or a tribe from NE Ecuador where  54% of their mortality rate is from spearing each other to death (but could track specific animals from the smell of their urine), or a culture where the children see their first sunrise at the age of 18, they see the world in very importantly different ways than our own culture.  I used to think that the increasing hegemony of cultures was actually a good thing… perhaps a side-effect of my own colonialist culture that actually celebrates Ethnocide as a form of developing civilization. I thought that the more we understand each other, or even become like each other, the less conflict there will be in the world. But wait, remember that ‘group think’ comment form earlier? You avoid this and increase the richness in the world by ensuring that cultures are not eradicated. This was the first time that I really understood the Canadian perspective of ‘multiculturalism’ vs. the American ‘melting pot’ concept.

A very tangible example of different cultural realities creating great contributions to the world is the work of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. VS is a neurologist who devised a means to alleviate phantom limb pain and fix limbs previously ‘locked in’ (paralyzed) by pain. In the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, he asserts that this cultural influence was key to Ramachandran’s discoveries:

In India, Ramachandran grew up in a world where many things that seem fantastic to Westerners were commonplace… the idea that living things change their forms was widely accepted; the power of the mind to influence the body was taken for granted, and illusion was seen as so fundamental a force that it was represented in the deity Maya, the goddess of illusion. He has transposed a sense of wonder from the streets of India to Western neurology, and his work inspires questions that mingle the two.

For me, the Davis/Disler double-whammy was the biggest Oh Shap! moment of TEDx Waterloo.

Madhur Anand on Restoration Ecology

This was a presentation that didn’t go clunk for me. I got the importance of Restoration Ecology, putting mined or logged environments back to their original state, not just ‘replanting’ or ‘filling in the hole’ but the link to poetry was lost.

Oh Snap!: I concluded that I have a really bad view of poetry.  As someone who loves how a few words can be very powerful in imparting a rich mental landscape, why do I dislike poetry so much? Did high school make me hate it? Perhaps I was just hung-over from The Davis/Disler Oh Snap!

Micheal Sacco on Horizontal Trade

For those of you who read my review on TEDx Ottawa or participated in the event, this talk reminded me a lot of Tracey Clarke’s talk about coffee. There was a common theme that treating coffee beans or cocoa purely as commodities removes a relationship with the growers and producers that actually is a net loss to consumers.

I spoke to Micheal after his talk, but his discussion continued to give me a crew cut as it went flying over my head. He gave me some great chocolate (thanks!) and I went on my way pondering the ‘so what’ of his message. Perhaps this ‘horizontal trade alternative to pure capitalism’ is something that has to be experienced to be understood. He kept reinforcing that the chocolate was just a symbol to remind us that other worlds were possible.

Oh Snap! Moment: It hasn’t happened yet, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t coming some time down the road.


Darren Werschler on Imaginary Media

He did his talk on several types of ‘Imaginary Media’ and their impact on us:

  1. Untimely Media like the Babbage Difference Engine, that –while not completed until 153 years after its design(!)– still had a profound impact on our thinking and the emergence of computers.
  2. Conceptual Media that are not just prototypes, but indicative of major shifts in media (Lolz Schrödinger’s Catz?)
  3. Impossible Media that expresses our desire for ‘perfect’ communication like the Star Trek transporter.

Oh Snap!: It doesn’t have to actually work to get people’s imaginations going. The Babbage Difference Engine surprised me. I had always heard that Babbage was credited with the world’s first computer, but I had always assumed it actually worked! But then I started to remember how much science fiction was credited for actual inventions and even impact on media and culture. This reinforces Darren’s final point of his presentation: ‘ You must take the risk of trying.’

Matthew Childs on the 9 Life Lessons from Rock Climbing

Since you can go see the 9 life lessons by going to the website, I will focus on the Oh Snap! moment: Strength does not equal success (lesson #8) – Women often succeed where men fail because men too often focus on strength. Matthew gave the example of women rock climbers who are more consistent than their male counterparts because they have less ego tied to showing how strong they are; they find positions that leverage the natural strength of our legs. This collided with something else in my brain from a book I read called Born to Run where the author talked about how a much larger % of women complete the gruelling Leadville Ultra-marathon than men. Not sure what I am going to do with it, but an interesting observation.

Marty Avery on Nemaste

Westerners, and particularly men, grow up with the concept that strong people never show that they are vulnerable.

Oh Snap! moment: It takes great strength to be vulnerable. Marty gave the example of one of her high school teachers who –instead of being confrontational– appealed to her student (Marty) to help her with her inability to get key ideas across to her class. While a person in a position of authority –like her teacher– is loath to appear vulnerable to her subordinates, this teacher was able to create a bond with a key ally by being strong enough to show her vulnerability.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal on the 7 Notes of Life

Amy is a person that –much like Marty– exudes a large amount of positive energy. Amy loves the little coincidences you see in life, and has turned them into children’s books, books for adults, and viral internet videos. I had a quick look at one of her children’s books Duck! Rabbit! Have a quick look at the cover and see if you can get the theme of the book:

I’d bet that parents reading this book to their children get their own life lesson: how two people can look at the same thing, and see something completely different! You can also see the book performed HERE on Youtube.

Before I get to the ‘Oh Snap!’ moment, I want to summarize Amy’s 7-Notes on Life which I hope you will get as much out of as I did:

  • A – Always Trust Magic or ‘ATM’: embrace coincidences in life
  • B – Beckon The Lovely: what you look for is what you will see, why not look for the lovely?
  • C – Connected: we are all connected
  • D – Do: don’t talk about what you are going to do, it drains you… just do it!
  • E – Empty: choose to disconnect, get out of reaction mode and create
  • F – Figure it Out as You Go: you can’t plan it all out, get started
  • G – Go to It: ask not what the world needs, but what makes you come alive

If those are the 7 notes to life, it begs the questions: What key is it sung in, and What are the lyrics? Amy answered those questions as well. The Key to life is ‘You’ and the lyrics for the 7 notes are “MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME HERE”.

The Oh Snap! moment: When I heard notes D, E, F & G I immediately thought of a book I have *almost* completed Linchpinby Seth Godin. These notes resonate with many of the traits that Seth identifies with the indispensable ‘linchpin’. Linchpins ship (D & F), don’t spend time doing busy-work like checking Twitter responses and their page hits (E), and they do what they are passionate about (G). This is more supporting evidence for my endeavour to become a ‘linchpin’!

So for those of you who are struggling with how to generate new ideas in your organization here is an idea: Stop sending your people to ‘group-think’ trade shows, and send them to a TEDx event.  You won’t regret it!

I want to express my thanks to the whole TEDx Waterloo team for putting on an amazing show, that make it more than worthwhile for me to make the long trip from Ottawa, and a worthy sequel to TEDx Ottawa!

The Media Buffet – At One Reasonable Price

Early adopters experience new market opportunities before the rest of the market. By trying something new, they get the benefits of a new service or technology earlier than the rest, but they also experience the gaps that are inevitably created by the new thing.

We will soon have the iPad to add to the already large number of means to experience media that includes:

  • eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader
  • Digital audio players like the iPod and Zune
  • Smart phones (Blackberry, iPhone)
  • Desktop & laptop computers
  • Internet capable set-top boxes (AppleTV, PS3, XBOX, Wii)
  • Traditional print media

Here is the gap: I am sure many other early adopters are finding it useful –but expensive– to purchase all the various potential forms of a piece of work.  For example, I may purchase an audio-book to determine if I like the work (and it allows me to read it quickly), then purchase the eBook version on a Kindle because I want to be able to highlight the material and look at diagrams, and even purchase the printed copy of the book if I want to share it with others.

Hopefully there soon will be a time where a content publisher will offer the “One Price Media Buffet” where one price is paid to access to the media regardless of the desired format.  Alternatively, an initial price can be paid, with small incremental fees for alternate versions.

You might wonder what is in it for the content publisher? Unfortunately, the current attitude of many people towards DRM (digital rights management) is quite confrontational. Users don’t see the DRM as a way to protect the artists that produce the media, but rather a cash grab reminiscent of the music business who would release a new format every 5 years to get you to buy the Beatles White Album again. This confrontation allows people to rationalize making illegal copies of media. This is money lost for publishers and artists alike. There is no DRM that yet exists that can keep motivated hackers breaking it, and the internet makes it very easy for hack to be propagated to less-tech savvy users that feel enough frustration to make illegal copies.

Here is a new opportunity for content owners to develop a more positive relationship with their customers and their artists by offering new innovative solutions instead of more complexity and frustration.

Is it possible? I can see at least one company who could offer a very good start at this: Amazon. They already offer content via audio book, print and eBook (which includes access via PC & iPhone, and in the future likely the iPad & Mac).  The only reasons for them not to offer the ‘Buffet’ would be existing contracts with rights holders (good reason) and the opportunity to charge their customers multiple times for the same content (not so good).

Come on publishers, surprise we early adopters in a GOOD way for a change! There is a WIN-WIN scenario.

Success at NORTEL

Now there is two words you probably haven’t heard in a the same sentence for a while!

During a presentation to a large consulting firm on Chip & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick’, things got rather casual/direct and I ended up presenting some of my challenges at moving forward with my next career (which we’ll call ‘management consulting’ for lack of a better term):

  1. How do I package the ‘Made to Stick’ principles for my purposes?
  2. How do I translate this information session into a consulting opportunity for me?
  3. And the biggie… How do I address the fact that the last 12 years of my career has been with a company the public associates more with management ineptitude, than an environment that could foster an effective ‘management consultant’?

One of the attendees said something which took the whole room aback: “Why don’t you use this ‘Sticky’ method to convince people that there was ‘Success at Nortel’?” After a pause, and about a minute of laughter from the room at what was clearly a joke, he says: “No, I’m serious, wouldn’t that prove your point?”

While others in the room suggested that the employee in question may be off some important medicine, I told him I really liked the idea, didn’t see a path to get there, but I would certainly give it more thought!

That challenge stuck in my mind until I had a lunch meeting with one of my previous Nortel managers (ironically).  I was discussing how my new venture was going to be focussed on a systematic process to increasing customer and employee engagement in organizations to boost productivity, boost profit and –in Seth Godin’s words– increase the level of humanity. He matter-of-factly said: “Wasn’t our network planning team exactly that [success via customer and employee engagement]?”


Some background: Network Planning is a function that exists in all companies that build telecom networks, but was rather unique at Nortel because we were a company that sold equipment to build telecom networks, and we offered this service for free. As a simple analogy, imagine an architect who works with you to help design your home for free, before you have have even committed to buy it.  Sounds like a bad business model doesn’t it?  Not so fast!

Vendor-provided network planning services started at Nortel (AFAIK) and became an industry table-stake over the years as clients clearly decided to do more and more business with companies that would help them design their networks, evaluate new technology and specify the equipment required. This was widely replicated by our competitors with all companies in our product segment –even the smallest startups– having this function in some way, shape or form.  Some will charge for it (a bad idea, but that is worthy of another post), others offer it as a free service.  I joined Nortel to become part of the planning team, stayed in it for 7 years, unable to find a more appealing job in the whole company.  Anyone who had experience in Nortel Network Planning will tell you how great a team it was, and most of its alumni have moved on to great success in roles such as PLM, market development, sales and planning leadership roles at other companies.

Gallup Research, in their fabulous book Human Sigma (little to do with Six Sigma by the way) identifies two hierarchical pyramids that characterizes what is required for customer and employee engagement to exist.  Gallup asserts, and I certainly concur, that companies that strive to engage customers and employees significantly improve business results. I am going to apply the elements of one of these two pyramids to Network Planning at Nortel to highlight why it was so successful:

Elements of the Customer Engagement Pyramid

  1. CONFIDENCE : Can I trust the company, and do they always deliver on their promises? The kind of business Nortel is in has long product lead-times and product cycles. It is often very hard to develop a rapport with key decision makers purely through standard interaction on products, especially since these decision makers are far removed from the products themselves (they may never actually see them). The planning function allowed for regular and deep discussions about what the customers problems were, allowing us to help them do their job.  By doing this with great competence, and to schedule, we could build trust and deliver on our promises in a parallel stream to our products. To perform this function needed great trust between the carrier and vendor, because we often had as much –or more– information on their network than they did to do our job well.
  2. INTEGRITY: Does this company treat me fairly? Again, planning was in a position to develop a rapport with decision makers that sales or operations could not.  Sometimes this was even taken to extremes: I can remember one case where the customer was under time pressure, and asked us to rework a network design over the Christmas break, which we did (it showed we had engaged employees!).  Reactions like this clearly showed the customer that we were committed to their business and –more importantly– to the individuals that were decision-makers.
  3. PRIDE: Am I proud to be their customer, do they treat me with respect? I think another company providing you with extremely bright and energetic people to help you do your work is a great sign of respect! The planning teams were often providing these clients with detailed network designs and studies which would in-turn be presented with great pride as their own work. In other cases, the planners themselves became an integral part of the customer’s team, even assigned their own office space in some cases.
  4. PASSION: This company is perfect for a person like me, I can’t imagine a world without this company. What more proof do you need of this than the customers hiring the planners to be their own employees? This happened in several occasions. Because the roles of the people we were interacting with were typically cost-centres (not revenue generating) they were often under-staffed and under-appreciated.  They were asked to evaluate many complex options of how their networks were to evolve, and had many potential vendors & products to consider.  Nortel would come in with great talented people and give them a helping hand, and make our customer contacts look like miracle workers with their own executives. If you had someone make you look like a star to your boss, could you imagine a world without them?

So according to Gallup, we had created a function that created a very high level of customer engagement!

Were the results of having the planning function directly measurable? Unfortunately not*, but here is a few data points:

  • The function still exists to this day. It would seem obvious that functions that do not directly contribute to revenue were great opportunities for trimming in a company with severe financial trouble, especially after >80-90% of the workforce has been cut! The function had such a reputation in the industry, and was so leveraged by other teams like market development, sales, R&D and PLM, that I don’t think it was ever considered for the chopping block, even while many other valuable functions were thrown over the side.
  • Alumni of this function were heavily recruited by established industry players and start-ups because of the relationships these people had made with customers, and their broad network & business perspective.
  • As already mentioned, planners were regularly imbedded as key members of the customer’s own organizations or even hired by our customers.
  • Many of the networks in existence today were designed by planners from Nortel with Nortel equipment (the latter was the big payoff).

If I need to make a case for ‘Success in Nortel’, I would have no trouble positioning the network planning function as a great success story that was about engaging people and not technology.  It built stronger relationships with our customers, allowed a deeper understanding of the customer’s challenges and requirements, and helped Nortel build better products while creating a large pool of Nortel employees who could speak the customer’s language.

So now I have the content of the presentation, now I just have to go put it together.

*I have since figured out a way to do this, but you will have to drop me a line for that advice.

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