What seems like a full lifetime ago, I set a goal to interview a millionaire every month.
I was young and energetic, and had an insatiable desire to unravel the mystery behind why some of the millionaires I knew seemed so gloriously happy and others so painfully miserable. –Clearly, money wasn’t part of the equation as both sets had copious amounts of it.
What I learned very quickly, was that the “happy” millionaires seemed very unattached to the good and poor opinion of others; they cared deeply about what they thought of themselves. They had an infectious energy, an energy that when shared with me over coffee or lunch seemed to stay with me for days. They recognized their own limitations and seemed to have a unique capacity to laugh at their own mistakes. They never invested their energy judging others; in fact, critical comments weren’t part of their make-up. They lived in the present, they were full of gratitude. Jealousy was not something they could relate to; they had a very clear sense of self. In short, they lived by the adage: “What you see is what you get”. There were no masks, nothing to hide, I would describe them as transparent.
This paragraph describes Arlene Dickinson perfectly. –She is, as authentic as they come.
And, while I enjoyed our entire conversation, the piece that resonated with me deeply, the one I kept playing back in my head as I drove back to the office, was how she lives conflict free; how she keeps her “happiness quota up”. Arlene’s happiness is directly proportionate to the manner in which she honours her own parameters. But more than that, and I think this is one of the many things that makes her breathtakingly beautiful, is that she holds the space for others to do the same. She allows others to define what lines they are willing to cross or not cross; this is tolerance in action.
It didn’t come as a surprise when she shared at the end of our time together that she believes “tolerance” and “love” could change the world as we know it. For those of you who don’t already know, Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most renowned independent marketing communications entrepreneurs. After joining Venture as a partner in 1988, Arlene took over sole ownership in 1998 and has grown the company into a strategic and creative powerhouse for a blue-chip client list with offices in Calgary and Toronto. She has been recognized with several honours and awards including: Global Television Woman of Vision; PROFIT and Chatelaine magazine’s TOP 100 Women Business Owners; the Pinnacle Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence; Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 Hall of Fame; Ad Rodeo’s Lifetime Achievement Award; McGill University’s 2008 Management Achievement Award; and the 2011 WIFTS Lifetime Achievement Award. Perhaps the greatest honour was recognition of Venture as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies for three consecutive years. She is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Mount Saint Vincent University and NAIT.
In addition to her roles as CEO of Venture, co-host of “Dragon’s Den”, mother of four children and grandmother of three, Arlene lends her time, skills and leadership to benefit the industry and the community. Over the years, Arlene has served on various boards including Ad Rodeo (chair), National Board for Kids Help Phone (co-chair) and Calgary Municipal Lands Corporation (director). She is currently a director of Chaordix, and sits on the Advisory Committee of the Stratford Institute at the University of Waterloo, the Leadership Council of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Editorial Advisory Board of Marketing Magazine, and is the national spokesperson for The Breakfast Clubs of Canada.
What follows is the interview I conducted in Arlene’s Toronto, Ontario office; I trust you will enjoy it because, like Arlene, it is transparent.
The first thing I wanted to talk to you about is storytelling. And not even so much about what you wrote in your recent book, Persuasion, but the stories that we tell ourselves. –Because those stories define where we end up in life. Can you tell me if there was a significant catalyst in your life that prompted you to tell a different story?
You know, I think…we’re all motivated by something, right? I was motivated by my kids. So for me, the catalyst was becoming a single mom and not having full custody of my children. I needed to figure out what had led me there; I realized the situation I was in was fully my responsibility and I needed to figure out how I was going to rectify it. So it was based on a foundation of saying, “Society doesn’t owe me anything” –You know? I realized that I am my own master. That’s when I took control of my life.
That was the moment…
Definitely! It was definitely when I found myself divorced, alone, without my kids, not having an education. And then realizing, “Okay, what brought me here were choices that I made, and what can take me out of this, are choices that I make.”
And when I think about that in terms of how you responded to the situation you were in, really that’s all that it’s about in life – you can’t change what’s in front of you, but you can decide how you will respond to it. Why do you think it is that some people can’t change the story or re-write the story? Why could you and not someone else?
I think anybody can. I think we get paralyzed by fear of failure. And one of the things I talk about in my book is that I would rather deal with failure than with the regret of not trying. And so what I’ve learned when you fail, is that you just move on. So what? So you didn’t do it! So what?
My dad used to tell me, “Arlene, what are you worried about? You’ll become five minutes of conversation at the dinner table and people will move on and talk about someone else.” He’d say, “So what? Toughen up. They might talk about you because you failed, but they’ll talk about you and then they’ll move on.”
We’re so obsessed with what other people think when we should be more obsessed with what we think about ourselves – not what other people think about us.
People can’t move past it, because they’re so busy looking outward instead of inward. We need to take responsibility for ourselves.
It sounds as though your dad was a great guy. In your book, you wrote about how he pulled you aside and asked you to be present to the moment. What a remarkable lesson for a young person. –And now that I know how insane your schedule is…(Laughter)
…I can’t imagine that it’s gotten easier for you to be present. I can only imagine it’s gotten more difficult! So there must be something that you’ve learned – some skill set or something along the way – so that you can be present in every moment. What is that?
I think it’s a combination of a genuine interest in people…when I’m with somebody (like right now, as we’re talking) I am not thinking about anything else. I’m with you. And, I think that that’s a respect that you have to give other people.
I mean, that’s not to say that sometimes I’m not multi-tasking when I’m in a meeting and doing things I shouldn’t be doing, I’m as guilty of that as anybody else – I’ll be on my BlackBerry when I should be paying attention. Or someone will stop by my office, and I’ll take a call when I shouldn’t. But I’m learning not to do that as much as I used to. Because, frankly, it’s just rude. And being in the moment means paying attention to what you’re doing and giving the people that you’re with, the courtesy of your time.
And I’d say that the other thing is that I’m probably not as good at is remembering…I’m in the moment, I enjoy the moment, I live the moment, but I’ve got a really crappy memory and sometimes I forget the moment! (Laughter)
So what I’d really like to work on is remembering and writing down more of the things that I’ve been doing. Because I’ve had this rich, full life, but it’s so busy that sometimes I can’t remember all the things I’ve done – even though each thing is remarkable, I don’t always get to remember it.
It’s old age maybe, I don’t know. I always tell people, “My hard drive is full”!
That’s probably more it. (Laughing) But what a great thing to attempt to improve on!
I was thinking about the education piece in your re-written story. I mean, I pictured you on your dad’s couch saying to yourself, “Oh my gosh, I have got to get up and figure out my life here! I put myself in this situation”. So, I’m wondering, when you decided to get up and start living again, did your internal chatter keep reminding you that you only had your high school diploma? What is it that you had to tell yourself (over time) as you came up against not having letters after your name, in order to achieve what you have?
Umm, well I think, two things: The first is that I realized I was very entrepreneurial and entrepreneurs aren’t hindered by traditional ways of doing things. And what that gives us is the ability to not be obsessed with doing it the way someone has always done it. We’re obsessed with just getting it done, right? That’s beneficial, but it also means that you’re going to make mistakes that you probably shouldn’t have made, because somebody’s done it before you who you could have learned from. It also means that you’re thinking about things in a more creative way, which is fascinating to me. I think that entrepreneurs are highly creative. Generally, in terms of how they view the task at hand, and how they want to execute on it.
Listen, if you believe that life is all about learning and you’re always trying to improve yourself and think about the things that you’ve done and how you can improve yourself – that’s what education does. It gives you a framework; it helps you learn lessons that other people have learned, it teaches you things (in a condensed period of time) that elevate your lifetime learning in a disciplined way.
Formal education isn’t better than the learning that you can have on your own, it’s just different. The reality is, if I experience something first-hand, that can write the textbook for the next person. All of the textbooks that have been written – everything that anyone has ever learned in university – is a lesson that somebody has learned in life.
So either you’re the person that’s writing the book or you’re the person that’s reading the book.
Either way, you’re learning something. And so I don’t think that somebody with an education is better than somebody who doesn’t have one, they’ve just learned certain things in a different way. It’s complex.
I’ve always said, you know, “I really regret not having a university education”. And people will say, “Why? You’ve done this and you’ve done this…” Well, I think it could have taught me discipline in areas that I don’t have discipline. And I never thought I could pass university, you know? And you do tell yourself that it somehow makes you “less-than”.
But it really, really doesn’t!
No, it doesn’t.
And so you say “regret”. I don’t believe there should be regrets – it all adds up to the moment that you’re in. You would just be a different person had you gone down the traditional education path. Is that something you think you still might want to do?
No, I don’t think it’s in the cards.
You could teach…
(Laughter) No, I don’t think that’s in my cards either.
No. I mean, I’ve been blessed, I’ve had a couple honorary degrees – and I’m totally bowled over that someone would give them to me – but I won’t be going to university. I’ve got too many things I want to do. And the thought of spending that kind of chunk of time, right now, at this point in my life…nope, not in the cards.
And what are those things?
(Laughter) Oh, it’s a long list!
Do you write it down?
No? You just know…
I kind of let them find me. I think you have to be open to possibilities. When you’re so determined on one path you sometimes don’t see the other paths in front of you because you are so determined – one path, one way.
Do you feel Dragon’s Den would have missed you had you been applying a single-minded focus mindset? Didn’t the opportunity sort of come out of left field? (Laughter)
Totally! (Laughter) …Maybe, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve lived nine lives – or ten lives, or a dozen lives (I don’t want to say nine because it sounds like I’m at the end of my life). I feel like I’ve led so many unique lives.
In each chapter of my life I’ve been a different person.
I know what you mean. I completely know what you mean.
Yeah. People say, “You know, I’m the same person now as I was…” And I’m thinking, “No…”
But that’s a function of growing from the learning, right?
I believe if you’re not growing, you’re slowly dying and so it’s important to keep reinventing.
There are people in music that have done it – Madonna! There’s a great example of somebody who has, in the public eye, reinvented herself generationally to be a different type of voice, music, you know?
She shows up differently in terms of how she looks. Not that she’s a role model, that’s not my point. My point is that there are people out there that are always reinventing themselves, you know? Angelina Jolie is another one. There are interesting people that are figuring out that you can grow up in the public eye.
When you were getting yourself off your dad’s couch, did you recognize at the time that the space was very temporary? Or did it feel like it was going to go on forever? Did you take that as a life lesson with you – realizing that no matter what you’re in, it’s a temporary piece of the greater journey of life?
Umm, I didn’t think about it that way.
I mean, I knew it was temporary because I knew I couldn’t stay there forever. He and my stepmother really helped me. They gave me something that people can give to somebody else, and that is guidance, but no direction.
They gave me a lot of input, and then they let me choose for myself. They let me talk, they listened, you know? They let me cry, they comforted. But at the end of the day, they let me choose for myself what I thought I should do. I think that’s what a good parent does. And so, I never felt like I was going to be there forever, but I knew that I could stay there as long as I needed to.
And do you feel that that’s a gift that you’ve been then able to give to your own kids?
I try. I tend to direct them a little more than I should. (Laughter)
Authenticity seems like it’s a real core value for you. When I was reading your book, I was thinking in the back of my mind about how you didn’t always feel as though you had a voice, or a say, or that you were using your voice. Others spoke and decided things for you on your behalf. So when you found your voice, did you determine it to be based on a foundation of authenticity?
I’m still building on that. I mean, I think we all make mistakes – not think, we all do make mistakes. And my mistakes really helped to shape me and they helped me to understand what I would tolerate for and from myself. …I’m learning.
I’m not on this huge integrity thing that says, “I’ll never do anything wrong”, because you know what? I’m human, I’m going to make mistakes. But I learn constantly where my line is. My line has shifted a lot. And that’s part of these different lives I’ve lived where I feel like the line of what I believe is okay for me personally to do – without being judgmental of others, just saying what’s right for me – has shifted.
And so, I’m more sure as I grow older, what that line is. And it helps me feel better about myself because I’m clearer, I have parameters that I know I can operate in to keep my happiness quota up. And when I step outside those parameters – that’s when I’m unhappy. The line is different for everybody. My line doesn’t have to be your line.
(Laughter) Absolutely. Culturally, we’ve been taught that it’s not okay to be who you are at work and at home, and that there are different masks for who you are. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve challenged that.
It is crap. But at what point did you learn that? When did you say, “You know what? Exactly who I am is exactly who I am!”?
I didn’t know to act any different. (Laughter) It wasn’t that I learned it, I just didn’t know any different.
I thought, you know…because I wasn’t trained in business, because I didn’t understand how you built the type of business I’m in, my only choice was to be myself! So what I was at home was the same as at work.
It was only when I was in business that I started to realize that people had different faces. And that you couldn’t always trust what you saw in business to be the same as what you would see in person. It really surprised me. I had no idea!! (Laughter)
Was there ever a price you had to pay for that as it
related to your authenticity? Has there ever been someone who has taken advantage of that?
Sure. And I would say that people always ascribe motives to me that I am shocked by. People say, “Well the reason she’s doing that is…”
…When you have no hidden agenda! (Laughter)
And I think to myself, “I hadn’t really thought about that…” (Laughter) Perhaps I have at a subconscious level. A level that is so deep that I don’t even know that I’m doing those things (there’s probably a whole psychology degree there), OR I am far more transparent than that!! And I always think, “No, that’s not what I was trying to do or say, why did it come across that way?”
And we do that with people in the media all the time. We’ll read something and say, “Oh yeah, I always knew that they were like that.” We love to cut people down because we think they have motives, but the reality is, no one really knows!!
Interesting. And was this belief born out of the notion that we shouldn’t care about the good or poor opinion of anyone? That we’re responsible for our own intentions?
I can go online to blogs and stuff and I’ll see, you know, negative comments about me and I’ll see things and I’ll go, “Okay, I can see how they think that”. And I can choose to let that define me, or I can just not care. I ask myself, “Can I learn from that? Is there something in my behaviour…is there truth in what they’re saying? Should I pay more attention to that?” If it’s not true, I just dismiss it. It used to be that I would hold on to that stuff and I would focus on that negative side. I’d say, “Yeah, that’s awful! I don’t want somebody to hate me.” And now I think, “But that doesn’t change my life, that’s not who I am.”
Television would have taught you that lesson quickly!
(Interrupting) I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go on television in my late forties versus in my twenties.
I couldn’t have handled it! I think of all the pressure…
I understand why the Britney Spears’ of the world explode! The pressures for huge celebrities must be enormous! To be in your early twenties with two kids – and again, not to in any way to say she’s a role model, but my point being, it is gigantic pressure! And when you’re in your late forties, you don’t care as much about your physical appearance. You just say, “This is who I am and I’m okay with it.”
It doesn’t mean that I still don’t look in the mirror and say, “Gee, I wish I was thinner” or “I wish I was younger” or “I wish I had less wrinkles”. Of course I do! I do…but that’s me saying that about myself, not me wondering, “Does she think I have wrinkles?…” (Laughter)
Can you tell me what you mean by, “Principled Persuasion”? I think it’s a great term.
When people think of persuasion…they generally ascribe two characteristics to it; they say it’s either manipulative or conniving. And I think persuasion is exactly what I say in the book. If you’re genuine about who you are, if you’re authentic and honest and if you believe in a win/win – if you believe in reciprocity, then you can persuade someone to do anything. And that type of persuasion isn’t going to harm them, it’s going to get them where they want to go to because they’re going to understand your agenda, they’re going to know who you are, and they’re going to want to follow you and do what you need them to do – but they’re going to win in the process too.
And so principled persuasion isn’t about getting someone to do something they don’t want to do, conniving someone to get something that only you’re going to win at, or convincing them to do something that’s going to harm them in some way so that you can win. That, to me, is unprincipled persuasion.
And while you’re on the show, is that the space that you’re in as well? You’re looking for deals to be completely win/win? …Where there’s no taking advantage?
I don’t do deals where I’m the only person who wins. There’s absolutely no benefit to me.
What would be the advantage? I might win in the short-term, but what do I win in the long-term? –Nothing!
It doesn’t mean I won’t structure a good deal for myself. I will make sure I make a good deal. But I won’t do it (hopefully) at the other person’s expense.
Where did you learn that you don’t have to be aggressive or loud to be heard? Was there a particular time? Was it over time? Did you have a great mentor?
(Interrupting) A little bit of both. I don’t speak loudly; I don’t project in a meeting.
I remember my business partner Tom Wood saying to me, “You know, the best lesson I’ve ever learned is speaking softly in a meeting.” Why? Because people always need to listen hard to what you’re saying, right? I agree that you don’t need to yell to be heard. But I do think you have to say something of meaning when you choose to speak. If you’re going to be the soft person in the room, you’ve got to make sure that when you speak, you’ve really got something to say versus just being the quiet person in the room; because the quiet person doesn’t get heard.
It’s about being quiet and meaningful that gets you heard.
But it sounds as though you’ve had some partners who’ve said, “It’s okay to be who you are.” I mean, they didn’t turn around and say, “Look, you need to…”
What I’ve had, is an openness to feedback – because I’ve had a lot of it (Laughter). I get a lot of people telling me what I do well and what I don’t do well. I’ve (thankfully) had a lot of really good, senior people work with me and alongside me who haven’t hesitated to tell me how my behavior impacts others. And that’s been a fantastic learning opportunity. I’ve listened – and sometimes it’s been hard to hear it – but I’ve always listened and I’ve always gone away and thought, “You know what? That’s fair”.
Yeah, on first blow not so good, but… (Laughter)
When you own a company and you say something – and you say it flippantly or without thinking – I am often surprised when people go and do something about it immediately…I remember saying to an employee, “Well I was just saying that, I didn’t mean you should go do it”. And they said, “You know Arlene, you don’t understand. You’re like the person with the bowling ball; you roll it down the alley and then you’re surprised when you knock pins over” (Laughter). “What’d you think was going to happen? When you say it, people think you mean it.”
…So I’ve learned how to say things a little differently as a result.
In measuring risk, it sounds as though you have the same philosophy as I do in asking, “What’s the worst that can happen? Give me the worst case scenario and then I’ll move forward.”
When you were measuring the risk of Dragon’s Den, what came up in your mind, and then did it come to pass?
Ahh, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” was kind of, “You could make a fool of yourself on network television” (Laughter). And by that I mean, “You might not be able to stand up and sound intelligent against the group of people – just not hold up”. And you know, there are times when I see myself and I think, “Do I wish I could re-do that?” And then I think, “No”.
Let me put it this way: When I started, there were a couple hundred thousand people watching the show. I never thought there would be a couple million people watching the show (Laughter). So the worst thing that could happen at that point was that I might not say the best comment in front of a couple thousand people; which I was ready to bear. Now I’m going, “Okay, well now the worst thing that could happen is…” (Laughter)
Yeah, “A lot of people see this!”
But it’s okay because I’ve realized over time that there is no worst case scenario here. It’s been a great experience.
And it is okay, because you think back to your dad’s advice where he said, “Well maybe they’ll talk about you at the dinner table for ten minutes, then that’s it…done”. Like, “Don’t think that highly of yourself!” (Laughter)
Exactly! I get past it. I’m not their life and death that day. I keep it in perspective.
Right. I really like the story that you shared in the book about the student that sat beside you on the plane. He shared what he wanted to accomplish in life, rhyming it off as if it would be the easiest thing in the world to just go do. And you judged him, and you were able to observe your prejudice!
I really loved that, and I wondered if your prejudice came out of a new archetype that you’re seeing as you hire this new generation – because generally, we talk about this younger generation as being “entitled”. So is that where that came from? –From your personal experience of young people applying for work but not really having any real concept of the hard work and sacrifice that would be required to achieve the success. I guess I’m asking, “Was the prejudice born out of your own experience in hiring?”
You know, I think it was because he shared where he lived in the city and talked about going to a certain type of school and he painted a picture for me, one that sounded like a very entitled childhood. And he wasn’t doing it purposely…
…He was just telling me some things and I thought, “Here we go, a rich kid”. And I immediately disqualified him as someone who could have depth.
And shame on me, you know? Totally shame on me! But that’s happened on the show, somebody will come in and I’ll think, “Oh my gosh, look at the way they’re dressed or…” And then they speak and I think, “Hooooly smokes! Was I wrong!!!”
So you judge a book by its cover, or you judge a book without really reading it. All you’ve read is the content, you know – the first page or the preface, and you think you understand the whole book, which is what I was doing with this guy on the airplane.
And I don’t know if it’s a generational thing; I think it’s a human nature thing. Where we tend to try to pigeonhole people quickly so that we can, you know, kind of outsmart them eventually because we think we know more about them than we really do.
Mmhmm. And has that been a neat function coming out of the show as well? For you to, again, be able to observe your own thinking almost? It’s like, “Isn’t that interesting, I think like this!” Your wheels would be turning continuously, I’m imagining. (Laughter)
Totally, I mean, I remember one girl coming in who had a great figure, blonde – I right away stereotyped her. And I said on the show, “Shame on me for doing this!” Because when she spoke, I thought, “Holy smokes, she’s running a great business! She’s done good things.” And I’m learning. I think I’m actually very good at that – I don’t stereotype, I really try not to. Because I don’t want to be judged that way, so I don’t want to judge someone else. But every once in a while I’ll do it…I just gave you two examples.
Amazing, because it’s a reflective process. –It ends up a gift.
I’m wondering, as Venture Communications has grown, what parts you miss from the start-up phase and how you remain connected to your employees as it grows? How difficult has that been for you? Is there a piece that you miss? –Or no?
I think there are cycles in every business. You know, in every business life, or in every business path, there are cycles of highs and lows. There are periods where I say, “Wow, that point in time was so amazing!” and “This point in time was not so amazing”. But I realize now, they’re all just different. It’s kind of like we said earlier, it’s like your life path – there are different lives you live and businesses go through
I have this amazing management team that runs Venture. I’m not running the day-to-day of the company. My President and my Chief Creative Officer and my Chief Financial Officer, frankly this threesome, manage the day-to-day of the company; I’m really blessed.
So I get to be involved and engaged in a different way now with the company. And my relationship with my team is far different. It’s not a relationship of a day-to-day manager, it’s more of a relationship with somebody who has the vision and the presence to guide the direction of the company overall, not day-to-day. So I’m really lucky.
I’m not doing the same job anymore.
I guess it’s not that different than when we raise our kids and someone says, “Well what was your favorite age?” And we answer, well, I loved when they were two, but five was good too, and now they’re at fifteen… it’s just different, right?
Why do you like Blaise Pascal’s quote: “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”?
(Laughter) Well, because you can spend your life being bitter and resentful and really the only person you’re hurting is yourself! I talk about this subject a lot with people. People will say, “I hate this, I hate that”, and I’m really trying hard not to use the word “hate” because even if I go back through my life to the people who have been the most unfair in terms of how they’ve dealt with me, or how they’ve offended me somehow, or done a business deal that somehow got messed up, I still can’t comprehend how someone might consider this a level of hatred. It’s burdensome. I think that when you’re using this type of language, you end up harming yourself. So what purpose does hate serve? It doesn’t.
Bitterness, anger toward somebody, only hurts you.
So there must be a link there to forgiveness.
That’s a good point. Maybe. I would say…I can forgive you, but I won’t forget what you did to me. I’m not bitter, but I’ll remember it.
You mentioned in your book, Persuasion, that anger is seen as a sign of strength in business and crying a sign of weakness. –Why does this bother you?
Ahh, because I think they’re both just an emotional reaction to the same thing!
When someone gets angry it’s an emotional reaction of some sort. It’s usually fear and something else combined that creates anger – it’s usually fear and frustration is how you get to anger, not always, but I would say that’s kind of the basics of it. Crying can sometimes come from fear and frustration as well!
And while crying is seen as emotional, anger is seen as strength!
So, you know, a man will get angry and say, “I don’t want to do this!” or “Don’t do that!” and it’s seen as strong. Whereas a woman will say, “I really don’t want to do that, it makes me feel bad!” and will cry, and it’s seen as weak.
Neither one really has a place in business – crying excessively or being angry excessively. But I think it’s totally fine if there’s some anger and some crying, they’re just emotional reactions that people have to manage. Do you know what I mean?
Mmhmm, I totally know. And it’s interesting because they’re both out of control yet one’s valued and one’s not.
And the point is that neither one of them should be out of control, but they’re both present. You need to accept that they’re just the same but just a different chemical reaction – a man is probably more quick to anger, and a woman is more likely quick to tears. – Is that right or wrong? No.
Right. And there’s a judgment – culturally.
What book has had the most profound impact on your life?
Hmm. My dad’s book. We only printed a few copies of it, but my dad wrote a book about his journey with cancer that changed and helped me understand him and his life story in a very unique way. It meant a lot to me personally, so I would say his book. But I’m a voracious reader, I read all the time.
So I always have a favorite new book.
And do you pass those on to people? Do you tell others, “You have to read this!”?
All the time!!! (Laughter). I give away my copies!!!
And then they’re gone. (Laughter) But that’s okay!
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? I’m sure you’ve received lots over the years but has there been anything that has stuck out in your mind?
Tons! Umm, I don’t know what I would characterize…I can pick out certain parts of advice based on certain types of business advice – whether it’s financial advice, or it’s growth advice…I’d say overall, the best advice I’ve gotten in business is not to stand in the way of the business.
And the person who told me that was talking about making the shift from being an entrepreneur to the manager of a professionally managed organization. Most entrepreneurs can’t see the impact they’re actually having on their business. –And how at some point in the business, it can be a negative impact for growth. Many entrepreneurs can have a difficult time looking in the mirror and saying, “Am I adding value now, or standing in the way?” And that, is probably the best advice I have received!
Have you been able to forward that on to someone? To pay it forward in a moment where someone was in a similar situation? Where you’ve been able to say, “Hun…I really need to share this with you…”
(Laughter) My whole business is about giving advice like that, right? We do strategy advice for clients all the time. I think I’m an expert at exactly that!! I help people sift through their behaviour in order to have clarity in what they should be doing. It’s about condensing it and distilling it to a perspective that they can’t see themselves. So I would say that is what I do, and that is what I enjoy doing.
And quite honestly, I don’t think you could ever get a degree in that! (Laughter)
Which is the amazing thing. I mean, you could never have ever been taught that in a formal education setting – it’s innately who you are.
So why the Perimeter Institute? You know I’m from Waterloo Region, so I’m curious to know the story behind why you have chosen to invest your time in an institute that’s passionate about promoting the importance of quantum physics.
Well, I write about Neil Turok in the book and I talk about meeting him. Neil is the head of the Perimeter Institute; I met him at a function and he just so impressed me. I just so enjoyed the conversation with him. He has this amazing ability to distill complex thought into simple, easily understandable words.
Very. The smartest people I know are the people who say the simplest things because they’ve been able to distill down the complexity into something that you can grasp. Not because they’re saying simple things or think simply, but because they’ve been able to take complex thoughts and make you understand them.
The Perimeter Institute and how physics impacts our world, and what they’re about in terms of innovation and what that does for Canada is very important. I love the fact that this is about bringing great minds together to be creative in the field of physics to give birth to innovation. And how out of that innovation could come technology, or…who knows what could happen! And out of that, you can change the world.
That ability is fascinating to me. That potential is sitting right there in Waterloo and I got asked simply because I had created a connection with Neil (I’m sure) and he, you know, saw the opportunity to help me – to have me be a voice in the market about the good work that they’re doing, it was…
…A perfect match, as you say it that way. Because, as you said previously, you understand the importance of being open to possibility. And there’s probably no other place that’s more open to it! It’s like, a perfect match. And, I imagine if you were impressed by him, he must have been infinitely impressed by you because you had the capacity to see what they’re trying to accomplish.
Yeah. (Laughter) Well I get like that. I don’t know about String Theory or, you know, cosmic physics – I don’t understand it. But I don’t need to understand it; I need to understand what comes out of it. The outcome of it. I don’t need to understand the math equation to understand that the rules that govern our world come out of somebody who does understand that. It’s fascinating!
It is fascinating.
If there’s one piece of advice that you could give that you think would fundamentally change the world forever – what would it be?
You know, this thought that we’re better than, or…you know, if you could just let everybody kind of live the lives that they’re living – as long as they’re not harming anyone else. And by that I mean there’s an intolerance that can sometimes create wars.
Alternatively, I guess the word would be “Love”. Because I do think that the lesson that we need to learn is that you can solve a lot of problems by loving somebody else. You will never solve problems with hate. Ever. – Right? You will create a lot of problems, you will create a lot of tension, you will create a lot
And I don’t want to oversimplify the complexity of why we go to war or why dictators should be overturned – we should never harm people, but if we start from a place of love then people would never get harmed. It sounds a bit lofty, but it’s what I believe.
Thank you so much for your time and for sharing from your heart!
It’s been my pleasure.