Today is my first day back at the office since our team meeting at the beginning of the month. I've been travelling overseas, for the past 2 weeks, but consciously decided to disconnected entirely from the Internet for most of my travels. While my hectic travel schedule did not feel like a vacation, being disconnecting from the daily inflow of work communications was desperately needed. My last Internet detox occurred 7 months ago.
The difference between this detox and last detox -- was last year I created detailed workplans for every team member before leaving. Aware that the team required guidance and direction, I took it upon myself to pre-orchestrate operations and team outputs.
I left the office a few weeks ago with a different type of confidence. While I had high-level discussions of expectations of deliverables with some of the team members, I really left it up to everyone to see what they were able to accomplish without my guidance. This laid-back approach happened for two reasons: (1) I didn't have the mental capacity or time to micro-manage everyone's schedules, as I could hardly keep up with my responsibilities (2) I wanted to see how the team managed without my direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of SoJo.
My phone number was given to our key team members to get in touch if emergencies arose. Never once while I was away did I doubt our team's abilities to handle whatever came their way -- giving me piece of mind that I haven't yet experienced. It was great.
I'm now slowly catching up with the team to check-in on their status and progress. I was pleased (but not surprised) to discover that most things continued to move forward. Albeit I identified inefficiencies and know that some outputs would have increased had I been there to catch the bottlenecks, but all in all, the team did very well. Rather than get caught up on the things that didn't go well, I focused most of my feedback on what was learned and how things can be done differently next time.
My hands-off approach over the past few weeks is proof that the team is equipped to handle daily operations, providing me with the space needed to scale and grow SoJo.
Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:
"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."
And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.
I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.
The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.
2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life. With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.
2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting.
With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
- Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
- Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
- Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
- Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
- Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
- Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
- Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence
Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.
Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.
I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground
. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout
. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.
SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.
While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.
It's a word that I have a twisted obsession with: the more I hate hearing myself say it, the more I use it. It comes out of my mouth without a second thought, and I've become so comfortable with this word that I've lost consciousness of using it. My lack of self-control has forced me to outright ban this word from my vocabulary. The B-word being BUSY. Here is why: Busy is relative
While there is always a need to improve my time management skills and my ability to create more space in my life for non-work related activities or personal down-time, at the end of the day, BUSY is my new normal. I will never get through my inbox or complete the entire to-do list. Busy is a relative term. What is busier than busy? I've over-used this word to the point that it has lost its relevance. I must accept the fact that the demands for my time will always outweigh the amount of time that I actually have. As such I must be smarter about how I choose to allocate my time, and not let BUSY be my excuse for putting the effort to actually change my behaviour. Being busy is being rude
Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. When someone asks me to meet this week and I tell them, "I can't, I'm busy", I'm making the assumption that my time is worth more than theirs. If I make a commitment to participate in an advisory role and do not attend the meetings, I'm in fact using BUSY as a cover-up and am indirectly telling everyone I don't actually respect the other advisors' time, because if I did, I would honour my commitment. Being BUSY is fairly presumptuous and outright rude, actually. If I legitimately do not have time in my schedule, instead of saying that I'm BUSY, I should tell people when my earliest availability is and also reconsider ongoing commitments. Lacks articulation
When people ask me how I'm doing, my gut response is to say "I've been really busy." I've started to catch myself get too comfortable using the B-word as a catch-all-phrase. Using BUSY as a catch-all phrase belittles myself, as this word really doesn't mean anything. It is not concrete or tangible. Rather, I'm hoping the B-word Challenge will force me to be more articulate, and list out the actual activities that have been occupying my time. Perceived loss of control
As alluded to above, BUSY doesn't actually mean anything. If I cannot articulate the things that keep me BUSY, then am I really
that BUSY? Saying that I'm BUSY is most often followed with a sigh, anxious tone or frazzled look. BUSY is most often said in lieu of "I've consciously decided to allocate my time this way, and I'm in full control." If I'm consistently using the B-word, then it can be perceived as my inability to control my time. Busy is not synonymous for confidence. In my role, I must always sell SoJo and my ability to deliver on our vision. Always telling people that I'm BUSY doesn't emanate confidence or control. Not a badge of pride
A recent NY Times essay
states compelling arguments about society's obsession with self-imposed busyness. The writer refers to the 'Busy' Trap as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." I would like to be seen as someone who achieves results, not as someone who is always BUSY. In fact, I'm on personal mission to prove that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into ground, and with grace. BUSY is not graceful. By constantly telling people I'm BUSY, instead of the work that gets done, I'm essentially feeding into this vicious cycle of the busyness trap.
It's going to be difficult to go cold-turkey and omit a word entirely from my vocabulary that I use multiple times a day; hence my public documentation of this challenge. To help hold me accountable, everytime someone from my team (the individuals who interact with me most consistently) catch me using the B-word in context, I will have to buy them a gift. If anything above resonates with you, then I encourage you to take on The B-word Challenge with me.
Yesterday I was honoured as one of Canada's Top100 Most Powerful Women by the Women's Executive Network. In its 10th year, this award recognizes the professional achievements of women in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Canada. Winners are selected based on their strategic vision and leadership, their organization’s financial performance, and their commitment to their communities. See SoJo's Press Release
All of the winners were invited to an exclusive forum yesterday morning, where leadership challenges and stories were discussed very candidly. In the afternoon, we all participated in a broader leadership summit called "An afternoon of Inspired Leadership" where past winners shared their insights and knowledge on how we can advance ourselves in our careers and how to be better leaders.
It was humbling to be among a group of such distinguished and accomplished women across all disciplines. And although I was one of the youngest individuals in the room, it felt as though there was no hierarchy or distinction between myself and the CEOs and Directors of some of Canada's largest organizations.
As a early-stage startup entrepreneur, going to professional development seminars always felt like a luxury. Most leadership development programs are expensive, and never seemed to be a priority. Without any direct reports, I've been forced to learn much on my own; through experiences and from the advice of others. Yesterday was different then other conferences that I've attended. Being among my peers, with a focused agenda, and poignant and relevant facilitated discussions was a treat.
Even though I was among my peers, being on the earlier side of my career allowed me to use this opportunity to be a sponge and soak in all the knowledge and insights shared throughout the day. To top off an incredible day, all of the winners were honoured at a glitzy gala dinner. A celebration indeed.
I am now really excited for what belonging to this network means. A re-occurring theme was the idea of women supporting other women. I'm hopeful being part of the Women's Executive Network will open some new doors and that this incredibly powerful network will help me further advance the work and vision of SoJo.
While strolling the streets of Florence, Italy, a pair of lime-green suede pumps in the window of a shoe store caught my attention. Even though I was on vacation completely unplugged from work, the first thought that came to my mind : those are SoJo shoes! They were one size too small, and the heels were a little taller than what I was accustomed to, I still purchased the shoes with very little hesitation (it helped that they were 80% off and practically free).
Having never worn shoes that are not brown or black, I was a little afraid of looking ridiculous, nor did I know when I was going to wear them, regardless I was compelled to make this impulse purchase, despite any potential fallouts. I reasoned myself into making the decision; the colour matched SoJo's green almost identically and who knows if I would ever see such beautiful shoes again. They had my name written all over them.
This weekend at SociaLIGHT I was excited to wear my SoJo Shoes, as this was an event all about celebrating SoJo and wearing SoJo with pride (literally too!). Not only were the shoes noticed, they were the subject of many conversations and tweets. Here is a sampling:
Going on stage in front of 1000 people with bright spotlights shining on you was nerve-wrecking, and as corny as it sounds the SoJo Shoes did give me an added boost of confidence and reassurance. At first, I didn't want to look like a tacky walking billboard, but wore the shoes anyways and I knew how important it is for a founder to assume and personify the brand of your organization, both through actions and appearance. These shoes showed me that it is possible to do so with class and elegance.
Showing off the SoJo Shoes at our Booth
In many ways, SoJo flat organizational structure has contributed to the strong team culture
that we've built over the past year. The team is SoJo's greatest strength, and when some of our team members are asked what they appreciate most about SoJo, many have mentioned their appreciation of not having a pronounced hierarchy -- where they felt like an equal to everyone else on the team. We're all collectively working towards the same goals and up until now there hasn't been a need to formalize the internal team structure.
A result of having a flat organization was having almost everyone report up to me. Being the only full-time team member, I was naturally the most accessible and fully present to everyone, and culturally people became comfortable and accustomed to reporting to me. I was directly involved in more activities than what I should have been, and as a result stretched myself thin
to the point that led to a burnout. I also grew frustrated as I wasn't able to provide certain team members the individual support that they needed to excel in their roles.
The solution: Share responsibilities and accountability among different members, and introduce a hierarchy to remove the dependency everyone had on me to advance their own responsibilities. As SoJo enters its first phase of high-growth
, it is important that the team and organization change accordingly.
A hierarchy was challenging to integrate before, as the other part-time team members did not have the capacity to assume the responsibility of coordinating and managing another team member. Now that we have some full-time team members, there is a greater ability to accommodate a change in structure.
In theory, I thought it'd be easy to divide the team up in key focus areas, assign a team lead and place members in their appropriate section. However upon further development, the structure became more complex. Reporting relationships do not always match functional relationships. Even with defined responsibilities, SoJo operates in a very fluid manner and team members collaborate and interchange roles among different functions regularly.
Knowing this would be a difficult exercise, I began by writing out everyone's name on post-it notes and moved them around (many times) until I finally settled on a structure that made sense. This is not static, and will evolve as our team evolves. That being said, I foresee our greatest challenge keeping to this structure, as many team members will need to re-condition themselves to working with different team members.
As difficult as it is to transition a flat organization into
one with a hierarchy, I'm hopeful that this change is a necessary step in building out the infrastructure to support SoJo through this exciting growth phase.
Yesterday SoJo hosted its second-ever team-wide meeting. The first meeting
took place 5 months ago and it was imperative at getting the team better connected to SoJo, aligned with our core values and fuelled the momentum that led to our public launch shortly thereafter. For most of our team members that joined in the Spring, the honeymoon stage was now over. The Fall is always a busy time, however it was apparent that some of our team members were over-worked and found it increasingly difficult to manage their SoJo commitments in addition to other commitments.
A team meeting was long over-due. It was important to bring everyone together to welcome the new team members, get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, re-energize the group and reconnect everyone to the greater vision that we're all working towards.
The meeting kicked-off with a surprise in-person appearance from Trevor. Being based in Calgary, this was his first opportunity to meet the team for the first time, which was motivating to the group. He used this same opportunity to formally say goodbye
to the team as he heads off to his Asian adventure. While we're sad to see Trevor leave, November 1st was the first day of Zainab's full-time position with SoJo. Jesse started working full-time with SoJo last month and it is great to have a full-time team work with me to bring SoJo to the next level. Both Jesse and Zainab opted to join SoJo full-time at virtually no pay over the stability and security that comes with full-time jobs. Although SoJo doesn't have the cash in its bank account to pay their salaries Jesse and Zainab are taking a risk and hedging their bets in SoJo's favour. Fingers crossed that our fundraising mission comes through...
It is an empowering, validating and humbling feeling to have very smart individuals who I respect greatly share a similar burden and commitment with me. The responsibilities and expectations of the full-time team members will increase which will allow us to accelerate our outputs. But it is also my hope that they their increased commitment will lead to an increased connection, excitement and belonging to SoJo!
Zainab and Jesse, SoJo's newest full-time team members holding SoJo's Manifesto
"The future of technology is what you make it"
Those were the words of Nathan Masyuko, when speaking on stage at the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) yesterday in Montréal in front of thousands of the worlds leading business leaders and thinkers in information technology. Next to him was the president of one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies who so eloquently said that he wishes to put more (dumb TV shows - name omitted for obvious reasons) into the hands of more people.
It was quite a contrast. I've been to a handful of technology conferences over the past 2 years and spoken at many over this past year. I'm accustomed to hearing the latter statement. The themes at tech conferences are fairly predictable: big data, attracting talent, connectivity, etc... I had yet to attend a panel or hear a keynote focused exclusively on how to use technology and the data at our disposal to channel creative talent and energy to better connect and support people in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Or better yet, hear every speaker and exhibitor talking about that.
The World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA) is an annual international competition for digital and social innovators under 30, and was held in parallel to WCIT this year in Montréal. Over a thousand youth who have built an innovative idea using technology to address the UN's Millennium Development Goals applied to this award. The winners were invited to a 3-day event, which I felt privileged and honoured to be apart of.
I had the opportunity to play with haki, a mobile game built for a Nokia phone (the most widespread device in Africa) that educates its users on environmental degradation. Nathan, a Kenyan, co-developed this game and it’s been downloaded by thousands of people in the developing world. Beyond mobile games, there were online localized educational platforms, multimedia applications to build self-esteem among vulnerable populations, SMS services to deliver relevant information to farmers to help them yield better crops, a web-application that displays public finances in a more user-friendly manner to provide open access to data, and a tool that keeps Presidents in newly democratic countries accountable.
I walked away from the past three days inspired and energized. Inspired by the incredible stories of the WSYA winners, the creativity of their projects and exciting use of technology to solve some of the worlds most pressing challenges; and energized by the sheer enthusiasm and passion that I saw around me. This was no boring tech conference with people in suits talking in buzz words; I was surrounded by energy, passion and brains.
I've always been hopeful about the future, but I'm now more reassured that the future of technology is brighter than ever. The WSYA winners are living proof that it’s possible to make tremendous impact with an idea, an incredible amount of tenacity, and of course, technology as the vehicle.
I'm delighted to announce that SoJo will be working with these incredible individuals and projects to bring them to the next level.
Almost all of my greatest insights have come to me during the weekends. Not being connected to my inbox
and daily operations of work definitely helps to take step back and reflect. I suffered from a burnout
in September and October has felt like an off month all around. Over lunch with my brother on Saturday, I told him that I was concerned with how much SoJo feels like its taking over my life; and my inability to control my schedule (as evidenced by working on 12 hour days when I set a goal for myself to NOT work around the clock
). Only when I said this fear out loud was I compelled to actually make some changes.
Solution: find the root cause of these persistent feelings of being stretched. I was instructed to list out all of the activities (whole projects, not tasks) that myself and the team worked on over the past week. Despite having only 4 days in the week, I effortlessly listed over 30 ongoing activities; myself being directly involved in about 25 of them and solely responsible for 10. Its not that I have trouble delegating ( the team at SoJo will be quick to acknowledge my comfort with letting go and giving responsibilities to the team). Being the only person that understands all moving parts of the organization and the vision, I'm often called up for input to keep everyone on track. SoJo is a flat organization, and building in reporting structures has been difficult because most of our senior team members barely have the capacity to deal with what's on their plate, let alone manage and provide necessary support to other colleagues. Strategic planning
has dragged out over 2 months and no clear changes have emerged.
SoJo grew incredibly fast and as such the scope and depth of the work at hand has grown exponentially. The problem is, our team hasn't grown at the same pace -- in fact, it has shrunk. Most of our team members came together
only in the Spring, they had a lot of time to devote to SoJo and were fresh on energy. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, irrespective of where you work. 15 hours of commitment per week over the past 6-8 months has since shrunk to 5 hours. I'm extremely grateful to have product lead Jesse full-time with SoJo, but its not enough. Some of our team members are burnt-out from having to manage SoJo and other personal activities and have been forced to take a step back. A lot of the momentum from the summer quickly fizzled away in the Fall, as everyone's other schedules ramped up.
Making myself personally available to 10+ team member's part-time, fluctuating schedules has taken a toll on my personal health and wellbeing. I no longer have evenings, as I make myself available to people's consistently changing schedules our team members who can only come into the office after their day job finishes. To top it off, there is little consistency as SoJo is understandably not the top priority (so it is common for people to fall off the grid for weeks and I am left with no choice but to understand). These inconsistencies get me frustrated and the bottlenecks that occur as a result affect the momentum of the entire team.
All this to say that these are the trade-off with working with an a part-time unpaid team. I will say with full confidence that SoJo has an exceptional team
which led us to all of SoJo's successes thus far, but in its current form will be unable to sustain the inevitable growth that has already hit us. I'm actively finding solutions to our staffing challenges (finding money needed to bring on some of our team members full-time), however in the interim need to make some changes and trade-offs.
Some of these changes include:
- Reducing the scope of activities the team is actively involved in and fine-tuning our focus even more
- Prioritizing need areas and tackling them one-by-one (rather than all at once)
- Un-flattening the organization to get me less involved in activities that I do not need to be involved with, so I can focus my energies on driving the vision forward
The changes noted above are going to be difficult as everything feels equally important. The Forbes article
from this month nailed it: "Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SoJo can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SoJo needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here."
With growth comes change. Change is never easy, but I'm thankful that I've started to recognize the need to learn and adapt now, and not when its too late.