What we don’t say, but could.

A very busy day this week began with my receiving an email of thanks from a colleague.   For those of you that read my last blog entry you’ll be please to know that none of my email etiquette do’s and don’t were inadvertently broken.   I thought about how lovely it was to receive and then I thought about all of the people that inspire me every day.  I’m a fortunate man to be surrounded with so many great people in my work and play.  I’ve spent the last couple of days contemplating how best I could honour and acknowledge this act of kindness. I’ve chosen to share this note with you not because it says nice things about me (actually that takes me outside of my comfort zone of a self-effacing Canadian), but because it celebrates his kindness by sharing his idea to ‘pay it forward’.    This note is such a stellar example of what a difference a few moments of your time can have in someone’s else day.  My colleague (and friend) is open, honest, and witty.  I completely love the way he engages his right brain to do the work that the left brain is often terrified to do. Wouldn’t it be great if each one of us took some time today to write a wee note to a colleague, family member, or friend that inspire us — thoughts that we often don’t take time to say to them.
Hi Paul

A friend of mine told me yesterday that she really appreciated spending time with me because she learned a lot from our conversations. I found it very uplifting and It made me think that there are people I know who deserve the same uplifting message. I am compelled to send you a quick note of thanks.

I can honestly say that I have learned so much about myself and the world around me as a result of meeting you, and I truly appreciate it. Your entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to your community is inspiring to me, as is your drive to create a more positive and reflective world. And thanks too for introducing me to the community foundation – their work resonates with me tremendously!

Now, as this email is somewhat out of character for me and certainly stretches my comfort zone, I will proceed to use my left hand to force my right hand to hit the send button! 🙂

Have a great day!
(named omitted)
I’ve purposely left the name out, but it was there, so no email etiquette rules were abandon!

To send or not to send.

Email Etiquette

Email has been the bane of my existence for a long time, but today I got one that really burnt my cookies. So I’ve decided that it’s time to change the entire world with a rant — as if!  Email had its start as real physical mail, in messages we wrote to one another on real paper, made of real trees.  We wrote with proper courtesy and respect and then carefully sealled our message on paper in envelopes, sometimes with wax, and paid to have them delivered by horse and rider, steamship and train, to whomever we wrote.  Now cynical people call it snail mail.  Sure it comes slowly but let me remind you what a delight it is to receive a real handwritten letter or card from someone far away or just across the city delivered to your home by a real person, often wearing shorts and featuring nice legs and a smile.

Now, with bytes and fiber optics we can have our thoughts and feelings delivered in microseconds. No human hands actually touch our message.  No one holds it up to a candle and tries to decipher its contents.  No one crumples it, or drops it in a mud puddle. Email is becoming devoid of humanity. It’s delivered instantly, only passing through email scanning software looking for security secrets and moral misconduct.  While technology changed, why is it that the ethics and ritual of message writing disappeared? Why don’t we take time to think carefully through what we will say, review it to make sure that we aren’t misunderstood, and that we are respectful, kind, and courteous.  What’s happened?  Is it that the world has reached such speed that now we feel that the fine art of message writing can be dispensed with in lieu of the schlock that is sent around today?   Sadly many people have done away with even common courtesy in letter writing.  As Dave Barry says, ‘people have become too rude to even give you the finger.’

There should be some kind of licensing body that revokes people’s privilege to email if they can’t uphold certain standards of politeness and respect.  Recently I opened a email to discovered enough bad manners and thoughtlessness to make a pedestrian being splashed with mud from a passing car in spring seem  like they were receiving the citizen of the year award.  Let’s go over some of my do’s and don’ts of email etiquette.

Filling out the little boxes

The TO Box

The ‘To’ line is there to list people for whom the message is addressed and from whom you would like a response.  Do not list everyone and their dog in the ‘To’ line unless you do want a response from everyone and their dog.  The dog may not actually write, and neither will most of the people you list.  It’s like crying wolf now.  “Just another email from blah blah.  Probably doesn’t need a response but it’s hard to tell.”  Appropriate examples: Invitations to a party requesting RSVP, working with a group and needing feedback.  Inappropriate examples: chain letters, announcements to which you expect no reply, chain letters, telling people something for information only, chain letters.  Not that chain letters were ever a good idea.  From when I was 10, I’m still waiting for my free car and quickly delivered large sum of money ; I followed those instructions carefully so that an asteroid wouldn’t land on me out of nowhere.  Remember the more you use the ‘To’ line incorrectly, the more people will think of your messages as chain letters… DELETE, or worse yet they’ll just slowly slip down to the bottom of the list until it isn’t even worth consideration.

The CC Box

The ‘CC’ line is there to list people to whom you want to send your message FOR INFORMATION ONLY, numb nuts.  Don’t put them in the ‘TO’ line.  Get it?  Just like a real letter when you use to list the cc’s at the bottom of the page.  The message is NOT to them, it is for their information.  They may or may not respond.  Don’t expect them to if you put their name in the CC line and for god’s sake don’t phone them up and berate them out for not responding.  Yes this has happened to me.  It’s like being called up and yelled at by a credit card  company whom you don’t deal with because you threw away there offer for an instant $10,000 debt.

The BCC box

This line is here so that you can send your well-crafted notes to others without anyone knowing except the receiver.  This didn’t exist before unless you consider making a copy of your message and then sending it along to someone else without the original recipient knowing.  Today this is very useful if you are sending out one message to a bunch of people but you don’t want them to know who else you sent it to.  Get it?  DON’T share people’s email addresses with a bunch of people they don’t know, use the BCC line to protect everyone.

The message

The Greeting

Put the person’s name or names that you’re writing at the top of the message, just like before with paper.  It’s really easy, for example if you are writing me, you would type the letters P a u l then put a comma.  Isn’t that nice?  Now when I get it I’ll know that it is for me and not for … say…  J o h n.  Get it?  The greeting, what great way to start your message, and you can even embellish it by using nice words like Dear, as in Dear Paul. You can even use informal greetings like Dearest sweetheart, or Heya Stud, or Lovely Friend.  See how this works?  Simple.  You’re almost there.

The Message Body

I could and well may go on at great length about the message body.  Here are my suggestions.  Don’t assume that the reader will know what you mean.  Don’t assume they will be neutral when they read your message.  You have no idea what they had for breakfast or what mood your message will find them in.  You really don’t want your message open to interpretation.   You can’t afford to dispense with tone.  The tone of your message is actually 50 percent of the message itself, if not more.  If you are feeling good about what you are writing, SAY SO.  If you are not happy, or confused, or puzzled, or over joyed make it clear.  Be very clear and polite,  otherwise the reader will impose their mood on your note and presto, you WILL be misinterpreted, and you may even create anger, resentment, or hostility.  Which means that in spite of modern electronics and speed, your message actually will not get delivered, instead you will have created a pile of beetle dung that you will have to clean up, unless you can get the dung beetles themselves to roll it away. So be clear, don’t assume, and be polite. If you are not sure you’ve got it right then sleep on it.  Don’t send because the send button is right in front of you, seeming drawing you to it, flashing and jumping up and down.  That exhilarating feeling of completion you get from pushing the send button will be overcome by the stench of the dung pile you may create by sending prematurely.

The Sign Off

For heaven’s sake, when did emaillers start to think that it was okay and even favourable to SKIP saying goodbye or even tell you who they are.  It won’t kill you to be polite and sign your name, most likely first name.  For example if your name were Kate, you would type the letters K a t e.  Easy peasy.  You can embellish this by adding a little something in front of it, like ‘sincerely’, ‘yours truly’, ‘respectfully’, ‘cheers’, or even ‘kiss my ass’, depending on the tone of the note.  Makes sure the tone of your note and your sign off are congruent.   Get it?

The Signature Line

I suppose that this is where my rant continues and ends.  I recently received an email that contained, in giant 36 point font, the person’s first and last name, followed by their position with the organization, their address, phone number, and fax number.  Remember letter writing 101.  The typewriter’s font size is the SAME… all the way through.  What does it say about you if you write a message in 10 point black font, and then have your name dumped in at the end without a sign off in 36 point font in fire engine RED.  Duh!  Not rocket science.  It says… incompetent twit, with a self esteem problems which may stem from either a giant ego or an inferiority complex. ‘Inferior about what?’  you ask yourself, even though you’ve long suspected.  If you really want to think of this as your signature, look at your signature on a real letter as an example and decide how much bigger it is than the font the letter’s written in. In your email, if it is too much bigger than your letter example it will appear like you have absolutely no idea what you are doing but just want people to think that you are important.

The Marketing Line

At the very bottom of many messages you’ll find a little marketing phrase, or a quote or some other message that has nothing at all to do with the message.  A few weeks back I received a note that broke all of my rules and then in addition to that, at the very bottom, right after the ginormous electronic signature in orange Palomino, was an itsy-bitsy, tiny-weeny, four-point font reminder to be kind to the planet, to think before you print.  What about being kind to the people you send the message to I asked myself, aren’t they at least as important as the environment?  How come this marketing line tagged on at the end was one kazillion times smaller then the name and title? How come it isn’t congruent to the tone of the message.  Ridiculous.  Don’t do it unless it is meaningful.

That’s it.  Those are my rules… but wait, there is one more thing. Please never say… ever ever ever… “please contact myself.”  It just plain makes me nauseous.

My challenge today is to write a real note, on real paper, to someone that you were recently thinking about.  If you get really fancy seal it with wax.  Send your note or hand deliver it yourself.  Let me know how it goes.

Dialogue is the epicentre of change.

I am a bundle of insecurity today — old luggage that occasionally resurfaces.  It is one of those days that I read too much into things people say, and don’t say.  Creating monsters where none exist.  I begin my day at my home office writing quietly and in spite of my discarded luggage making an appearance I manage to do some good writing.  I had to remind myself to trust my skills and abilities — to give myself space to think slowly and carefully, to not jump to familiar ways of thinking to readily.  I have to let it be messy and unstructured as I search for connections between ideas, instincts, and thoughts.

My colleagues and I are writing the draft report for a lovely community planning their future.  The process of understanding a vast amount of data collected from hundreds and people, and the making sense of it can be daunting.  What is the difference between and theme and a value and a vision and an action step?  When does an often repeated desire become an action,  or should it be a theme?  How can I be true to the voices I heard without imposing a structure that forces a specific way of thinking?  Over and over and around and around I went, getting closer with each minute and every discussion with colleagues.  In the end I think I’ve arrived at something useful.  Whether I’m convinced it’s the right balance is another matter.  It is another step.   Tomorrow I’ll reopen the documents and discover if sense is less illusive. I need to be sure that I’m not imposing a structure that doesn’t exist.  My caution is absolutely imperative.

To craft a brief document that assists the community in their own change process, and reflects back to them their thoughts in a clear and helpful way, is to say the least an interesting task.  Change is complex, but we do know that we move, each of us, in the direction of our dialogue, internal or otherwise, as do communities and organizations.  So the question then becomes how can a community create the kind of dialogue that would help to move themselves into a future that they desire?  What they talk about (the themes) will lead to their reality.  Themes in that sense become the epicentre of dialogue, and dialogue becomes the epicentre of change.  From this understanding of change spills the actions.  Values chose what the dialogue is about to be;  we talk about the things that we value.  Seems simple enough.

First thing this morning my friend Janice calls and within seconds we are talking about the nature of complexity and change.  How change is happening so fast around us that we barely have time to adapt before the next thing is upon us.  It seems I’ve spent the whole day thinking about change and I like the discoveries of the day.  It’s no less complicated but at the same time it reminds me that we can determine our futures by participating in honest and open dialogue with ourselves and those around us.

This morning I dialogue with myself and discover that the monsters aren’t really there, I’m loved by others, and can trust myself.  My insecurity wanes.

What will happen in the community we are working for as they continue their great community dialogue with themselves?

Psychological decluttering.

I’m nestled in bed, nice fresh clean sheets… mmmmmm.  It’s laundry day.  I realize that I haven’t written anything for over a week which isn’t like me.  It has been a busy week, marked with completion of so many small things.   Getting into the corners literally and figuratively.  Just ask anyone who’s been around me.  I like all of the psychologically decluttering that is going on.  It’s solidifying my world before I move on again.

This morning I wake this morning feeling a bit grumpy and can remember a dream I was having that wasn’t pleasant.  I was behaving badly, stemming from my frustration with slow progress at Sunworks, and I was scaring the people around me.  I was like Gordon Ramsey.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched Hell’s Kitchen before bed.  Nonetheless it reminded me to be kind with others today and to be more aware of my feelings.  Kind and cautious was my theme for the day. Several times I had to remind myself to be patient with my colleagues, with my clients, and with myself.

It’s days like this that perhaps I should spend working quietly at home, for planning, for catching up on phone calls, and paperwork.  Nonetheless I worked at the shop.  As a team we made significant upgrades to the store.  The electrician came around to finish up a bunch of loose ends that we’ve been waiting for for some time.  The lighting in the reading room is finally going in, along with some fans for cooling.  An old light fixture that I’ve hauled around for nearly 15 years is being rewired and will hang smartly above a new seating area that we are having built.  In fact the reading room itself is getting a bit of a facelift this summer. I met with the cabinet makers to discuss the next projects with include some new fixtures in the reading room and hopefully a ladder on a track to reach the tops shelves.

We will soon have the proper lighting in the reading room and this makes me quite quite happy.  It’s been a growing part of the business for the past five years and now is becoming a major part of the store.

Also they will build for us the cabinets so that we can get the oven in the front of the store and finish up the kitchen demo space.   This all marks progress.  The wiring is in on the second floor of the garden room and so we can finally close in the wall which will make it look a lot better.  Where the money will come from I have no idea.  I’m hoping that sales will pick up again soon.  Valentine’s was a bit slower that we anticipated.  Perhaps love wasn’t yet in the air.

It seems that the reason that I haven’t written for the past several days is because I have been sorting out a number of projects.  There is a lot of concluding that is happening.  It feels great to be making this type of progress, even though it often feels invisible to me at the end of each day.  With the help of close friends, I’ve been to overhaul the content of the Swerve Living website and although there is more to do the majority is now there.  I’ve helped several people with their websites and made important decisions around the direction of the store.  Started a few new balls rolling.  This past weekend, I waded deeply into my manuscript and began to clarify and sort out the sections.  This has been incredibly satisfying. Yesterday I even began to tackle a box of things that has been sitting in the corner of my office for nearly 5 years.  Really there is not going to be much left to sort and soon I can feel the growing will start again. I’ve booked some tutourial time to improve my design and website development skills.  I’ve made future plans for growth.  New clients are appearing regularly.

My friend Glynis suggests that personal development takes place in stages.  Expanding and learning, followed by a period of consolidation and becoming comfortable in the newness of the learning.  Then expanding again.  I feel that I’m at end of a consolidation period and that I’m beginning again to press outwards.  It’s time for me to pack up my tent and journey on to new territory.  It’s really exciting.  Want to travel with me?

Over and over.

I when I arise it is off to the gym straight away for my Monday morning chest workout.  I workout with Pat and enjoy him very much.  He’s full of energy and enthusiasm and I appreciate that a lot.  I not sure how hard I worked today but think I’ll feel something tomorrow.  It’s going on 10 years that I’ve been working out regularly now.  I’m glad that I do. I’m still seeing improvements.  After I leave the gym I come home and check on the status of the newsletter that I managed to write and send this weekend.  It’s now been delivered to almost 900 customer with only 11 people unsubscribing.  Those are pretty great odds and I think about how well we are are doing at the store and how I lead the team in a culture of constant improvement.  Not unlike my workouts, some days are better than others but each day is step forward.  I need Pat to help me succeed with my health goals, I also need my personal commitment.  This is perhaps what starts me thinking about improvement and team work.  I couldn’t do was well without Pat.  My businesses couldn’t do as well without our teams.

I meet with our Swerve Living business partners at the Second Cup shortly after noon and we share the various activities we are doing to move our project ahead.  The most significant thing that needs to be done now is to complete the other 17 presales we need.  I would love to sit down with any of you and talk about Swerve Living and how it might fit for you.  Email or call if you are at all curious.

While I’m up at that end of town in all of those androgynous strip malls, I stop at the hardware store and pick up lighting, and paint for the store.  It feels good to be loose in a hardware store, makes the testosterone whosh though my body.  Leslie M is going to continue to paint later this week .  We have a nice soft shade of caramel for the wall which will mostly feature art.

I have been thinking about collaboration today.  I wonder why it is so hard for people to work to create something together.  Overall we do a great job of collaborating at the store now — but we wrestle daily with it.   It would be so easy for us to fall into a command and control, hierarchical arrangement.  Many days it seems that the staff crave it, and if I’m not on my toes I can catch myself making decisions for them.  I know that I sometimes think how much easier it would be if someone would tell me what to do, especially with Swerve. Interestingly, we are all happy there, we do like coming to work.

In fact I’ve began to think that collaborating and being committed to improvement is the reason that the store had so many record months last year, why we are headed for a record month this February.  I invite a staff member to work with me today on changing some of the procedures and reports to create more time for working with customers and doing other important things in the shop.  In the course of the conversation she tells me that a certain report that she uses is printing portrait instead of landscape cutting off some columns that she needs, and that it has been printing that way for quite a while.  She tells me that it doesn’t have all of the information on it that she needs for her to work quickly.  It takes me 10 minutes to make the change to the report and to correct the way that it prints.

I begin to think about what things that I do in my life the same way over and over, working around something that is inadequate because I’m either afraid to confront the question about possible changes or because it seems easier to do it the way that I know than sorting out a new way.  I think about what it would be like if I took my challenges to the group and ask them to collaborate with me.  I’m going to look at some of the tasks that I have on my desk tomorrow and see if there are something that I can do differently.

Valentine's – Sunworks, stay out of the doghouse edition.

Stay out of the doghouse this year.  Valentine’s Day is coming, which means that it is time for you get into Sunworks and find those special gifts for the sweethearts in your life.  One of the most interesting products in the store is a Swiss Raclette.  It is perfect for romantic evenings, or fun dinner parties.  We tell our customers that it is like a fondue without the oil.  It’s a big flat stone grill that you put in the center of your table.  You cook on the stone and grill little trays of cheese and vegetables underneath. All you have to do is prepare good quality raw vegetables, meat and cheese, and a couple of condiments.   Wine and candles, and you should be all set.  Even the most unskilled man in the kitchen can pull this one off.  Healthy, fun, and perfect to promote conversation and cooing.  Remember spooning often leads to forking.

Our happy new promotional video

This week we approved the final version of a video for Sunworks that we have been working on for a few months.   As we continue to improve the store, it feels good  that we have something that we can share electronically with people that helps to showcase the shop.  Click on the link; we hope you enjoy it.   Feel free to send it around — there is a spot beside the video to do that very thing.  Terry did the voice over for this video and I think that he’s done an outstanding job.  He’s says that he wouldn’t give up his day job but he definitely has that sexy radio voice going on.


If you were in within the last couple of weeks you’ll have noticed that the music shop of the store is changing.  Finally we have all of the fixtures in place and have started to order the music to fill it.  It’s a $40,000 dollar investment that is going to take us time to complete.  Each month this year we have $3000 worth of CDs and vinyl coming in.  The last order was shipped and is estimated to arrived on the 11th of February.  Paeton is our music man and has been receiving compliments from customers and the suppliers for his selections as we grow.  I’m confident that you’ll find something that you’ll like.

Clearance room

Of course each year we have to look at the inventory and determine what needs to go and what should grow.  Where we’ll build and where we’ll adjust.  We’ve created a sale clearance room for things that we’ll not be carrying again or have minor but repairable damage.  There are many interesting and useful things there for you, marked down by 50 – 90 percent.

Facelift on the second floor

One of the things that we do well is to continue to upgrade the store, new and better products, stronger service, and more interesting merchandising.  This January and February we’ve undertaken to restyle the second floor with new paint, better fixtures, and more easily understandable sections.  Over the next few weeks we’ll continue these efforts.  We think you’ll be delighted to see the change.  There are new products arriving within the next several weeks.  I’ve mentioned the raclettes.  We’ll also have high quality bamboo bathrobes, Spanish glass, handcrafted beads, paintings, stoneware, and organic spices.  Arriving very soon are quality rock sugars with interesting and exotic ingredients like coffee and cardamon, chocolate and chili, ginger, lime and rose.  These sugars are named for the seven deadly sins;  Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust.

Harris-Warke Gallery

land of possibility

Photographs by Rocky Mountain House artist, Roberta Murray ASA, runs January 18 – February 19, 2010.

Roberta writes, “While exploring the landscape in a more impressionistic or representational context, I have become more attentive to the smaller details in nature that would normally be missed. It is like there is this unseen layer of reality that exists in an imaginary realm; a truth which exists for me alone. This makes me question if the idea of truth is a state that exists only in the mind of the individual. It is hoped through these manipulations I can encourage people to question how their own personal perceptions influence their views of reality.”

Red Deer culture

So often people come into Sunworks asking us were the Culture is in Red Deer.  We’ve started to create this map to include some of the places that we think you might what to know about.  Please feel free to send us additional entries, or if you really want to get involved we’ll give you edit access and you can build it with us.  It’s simple and fun.

View Red Deer Culture in a larger map

Conscious Evolution

Conscious Evolution — observations and insights through living on earth in the company of solitary travellers — is my personal website.  I’ve been quite active building this site to share my thoughts and insights about life.  As a community faciliator, writer, and artist I believe that I’m discovering ideas and ways of thinking that are helping me to make sense of the world and highlight what I think are useful questions to help us create an inspired future.  You may find it interesting to read and follow.  I share ideas, encourage thinking, promote collaboration and questioning, as well as post simple things like great recipes.  I link my site to sites of other thinkers and organizations that I find interesting and thought-provoking. I invite you to comment and participate. Tell me and other readers what your ideas and insights are.

Sunworks store hours

We are pleased to announce that we are now open Friday nights until 8, and Sundays Noon – 5 p.m.  The rest of the week the shop opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m.  Please drop by and explore — enjoy a complimentary Illy coffee, and customer service that truly independent retailers can deliver.

If there is something that you would like read about in future issues please email me back.  In fact all feedback is welcomed, we actually like to hear back from you and we’ll share your comments with all of the Sunworkers.

Mai Tais await.

I’m happily tired and relaxed after this interesting and productive week.  It concludes with the approval of a video for Sunworks that we have been working on for a few months.   As we continue to improve the store, it feels good  that we have something that we can share electronically with people that helps to showcase us.  I hope you enjoy it.   Feel free to send it around — Valentine’s Day is coming after all.  There is a spot beside the video to do that very thing.  Terry did the voice over for this video and I think that he’s done a really good job at it.  He’s says that he wouldn’t give up his day job but he definitely got that sexy radio voice going on.  This week has in so many ways been about enhancing the store and doing better at what we do well. Painting and merchandising, reflecting on our successes and our future, ordering, and creating new opportunities.  Tonight there is an art opening in the gallery.  As I think about it, there were so many enhancements to my life this week, not the least of which started last weekend when I completed building my new office furniture.  It feels as if I’m making good use of that handle that I found on life last year.

Tonight as I leave my office, I can hardly believe how productive, effective, and happy in my work and play I’ve been this week.  A solid week back to the gym after a 10 day break.  I worked out hard.  My desk is completely clear and there is a short list of things that will usher in the new week.  This week’s work is over and it is time for play.  Well there is the wee task of writing and sending a newsletter to all of our customers.  I’m going to put that on the fun side of the list for tomorrow.

It’s Friday evening; Terry and I are going to enjoy having a quiet evening with two of our best friends at our home.  It feels great to think about relaxing and to know that nothing truly pressing is nipping at my heels to be completed before the Monday.  Maybe I’ll finish my Christmas letter and manage to get that out for the friends and family that write annually in the old 20th century method.  Maybe I’ll start on the series of paintings that I would like to show in the gallery next year.   For now, off I go.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be in a bloggier mood.

Gifting to the future.

I am reminded today of the work done in the past by others that allows us to enjoy what we do today.  I know that this sounds so heritage-like, historical, and perhaps boring to many, this is not what I am getting at.  When Terry and I visited La Sagrada Familia In Barcelona, I was flabbergasted to think that this structure has been under construction since 1882 and is not expected to be completed until 2026.  It was a real eye opener for me, much of Europe was like that for me, from the Roman roads and walls, to Stonehenge, to railway stations.  Inside La Sagrada Familia  I could easily see that at least seven generations of people have worked on it to carry out the concept that was hatched before, electricity, telephones, airplanes, or the internet (However, not before street trollies. One struck down Gaudi, the very architect that was working the project. Very sad.) Yet there must be something completely compelling about this project to keep people interested and engaged in the work.  What is it?  These people had great faith that their work would benefit the future in some way.

What do we do today to create something better for those seven generations in the future, or seven years in the future, or even seven months in the future?  Is there something what we could vision and begin working toward that would inspire people to keep striving for 150 years?

I went to a meeting tonight with my colleague Janice to speak about endowment funds of the Red Deer and District Community Foundation.  Endowments are money that community-minded people put in place to benefit others in the future.  The money is held in perpetuity, adjusted annually for inflation with the remaining interest earned on the money granted out to important causes, like symphonic music, or education, or health and wellness, or blue bird preservation.

Red Deer is home to the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, and the board of that organization took steps in 1994 to establish an endowment fund with the intent to grow it over time in order to sustain the organization.  You may not know but the revenue from the tickets sales, of even a sold of performances, of the symphony can only cover part of the cost for them to bring music to the community.  That former board knew that if they started something and each new board carried the cause into the future that eventually the fund would grow into a significant source of revenue for their operations.  The board changed over time, and the fund sliped off the radar.  Then the board around 2003 began to think about it again, and the fund started to grow.  Over time the board and staff has changed yet again and the building of the endowment stalled, but still slowly continued to climb.  Tonight the board again visited the possibilities of the endowment and a new spark of enthusiasm appeared.

It’s long term thinking and planning.  In today’s fast-paced world we each seem stuck in doing things that we can immediately see the benefit from.  We focus our efforts on fund raising for causes, rather than the longer term possibility of fund development and endowment building.  I believe that sometime in the future, the efforts of former RDSO board members and staff, and the efforts of this current group will be rewarded.  There is no way to tell who may have put a bequest in their will that could significantly change the landscape of the organization.  Gifts coming from bequest are often significant.  The Community Foundation itself was started with a one time gift of over a million dollar from anonymous donors, who then left further funds in their wills when they past.  That was 20 years ago, today the Community Foundation has over 10 millions dollars in permanent endowments and knowledge that many citizens have bequests in their wills.  20 years from now the Community Foundation will have over 50 million in funds and some of those will be designated to the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra.

As individuals we each need to be aware of the legacy that we create through our actions, our gifts of service and of money.  I wish that there were some way that we could be aware of the gifts that the past have given us as we wake into the future.  It seems to me to be easy to lose our way into the future when we don’t acknowledge and attempt to understand our pasts.  These things are not found in dusty museums, they are found in the streets that we walk on daily, the buildings around us, the innovations that we enjoy, and the characteristics within us.  I have ways of talking and acting that came from my grandparents and parents, and they carried them from their grandparents and parents.  Yes, we are a rattled bunch.

It’s my challenge to you for tomorrow to look around you and really see the gifts the that past offers us, then think about the gifts that you have to offer the future just by being who you are, perhaps your ideal self.

Praxis in action.

Just yesterday I thought to myself, “writing in my blog is starting to come back to me, I could be interesting again.”  Now I sit here looking at the blank page and wonder what it is that might be interesting today.  I’m not sure, and that is kind of boring to write about.  I find that sometimes if I just begin the words do come and there is something interesting for me to reflect about.

The staff meeting this morning goes well.  I ask the question that I proposed here yesterday.  “What did we do right during those particular record breaking months from last year?”  The conversation almost immediately turns to the three months that we did so poorly, and all of the external factors that we can’t control — possible reasons why we did badly in September, October, and November.  I try a couple of times to reroute the conversation and Leslie M works at it as well, and finally we get there.  Here it is:  a customer commented yesterday that every time she comes into our store it gets better and better.  Then we talk about how we are in the state of constant improvement, that we upgrade what we’ve done in the past and do things a little better as we learn.  We point to the example of the second floor.  It was only two weeks ago when Alan attended the meeting that the group  hatched the idea of creating a sale room, painting, reorganizing the fixtures, and tightening up the displays.  The second floor is transformed and new ideas emerged today to make it even better.

In facilitation work, and I suppose in life, I am absolutely committed to the idea of inner reflection — to praxis.  To stop for a moment and do ‘praxis’, that is to ask questions about our shared experience of actually doing the exercise that we were doing.  So today, we stop the discussion to do praxis together.  We ask the good questions, what are we doing when we ask these questions? why are we doing this? what is is like for you personally? how does it feel?  The most amazing discussion quickly appears, led but Heather who speaks about how it gives us a chance to feel part of the business and to honour one another.  Liz says how nice it is to feel belonging.  Everyone has interesting and thoughtful comments about what we are doing together.  The air feels electric with connection and everyone seems to feel that they have a voice.  I hope they feel that way, since we work so hard at it.

I reflect for a moment with the group on an insight that I had, and that was that it seemed hard for all of us not to go to the negative and instead focus on our strengths and not our weaknesses.   Everyone agrees that they experienced something similar.  I wonder how often we sit with ourselves individually and begin with a question about our accomplishments, and soon find ourselves focusing on the things that are not done at all, or not done well.  Why is it that we are so hard on ourselves when we have the power to give ourselves space to celebrate our successes?  Here I am, a living example of this very thing.  I notice now that I opened this entry with just such a statement.  Since what I write today is so related, I’m going to leave it as an example. Often I delete the opening paragraph after I’ve found my way into the writing.

Later in the afternoon I would on crafting a workshop about questions that create community change and my mind goes back to the morning. I think about how do you craft good questions together.  What real techniques, examples, exercises will help to create the very best questions?  Then once we have those questions how can we begin to explore them with new questions that will add detail, illuminate, refine, and expand our thinking not contract it and bring us down into a place where we are focusing on the weaknesses.  We must built and encourage our strengths and our ability to question well in such a way that the weaknesses and factors beyond our control are no longer pertinent or credible.  It’s a bit strange that we give power to unknown factors, instead of focusing on the things that we do know and letting that inform our future.

In the doing of these things today, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that when we work on anything we have two parallel processes taking place.  Those are: the activity or exercise that we are undertaking, and the reflection on the shared practice of doing the activity.  If these things can be done in harmony then we can achieve alignment of purpose in the doing both, and we can make our activity congruent with our reflection.  We use the same process to do the activity as we to do reflect on the activity.  One informs the others.  It’s a self adjusting system that offers us great internal wisdom.

Now I think about the question from this morning in the quiet of my office.  Why are we successful?  Why did we have a record breaking year in the midst of a recession?  Perhaps it is because we are reflexive, that we have started to internalize praxis, that we reflect with one another in a way that allows us to honour one another. Perhaps it the practice is a safe place for respect to grow and that in turn results in giving each of us a voice with the others.  If this is one thing that we have been doing unconsciously, what will comes of us and the store as we make this part of our retail practice?  How does this relate to the feeling we have of belonging, or the customers’ feeling of belonging?  Gosh I am excited to see where this all may go, but one thing is quite possible.  Sunworks could have another record year and customers will continue to come in and notice that thinks are getting better and better.

Functioning within normal parameters.

Sunday last, I realize that it is the last day to submit a proposal for a show at the gallery.  It is Sunday so I don’t have to do other work.  I spend the afternoon writing and putting together the required images, CV, and artist’s statement.  It is amazingly helpful to write the artist’s statement.  As I think about it now I feel a growing need to paint.  I have a sense that the doing of art in my life will help give me balance in my work life.  It’s balance that I need, even though I’m quite pleased with the way my work is going.  There’s a possibility that I could completely clear out the ‘do to tray’ by Friday.  That would certainly give me space this weekend.  No! This is not your clue to give me anything else.

Today I am up just before dawn and can hardly believe how refreshed and clear I feel.  It’s a great contrast to yesterday.  I drive to the gym in the cold and gray, the sky is the same muddy gray colour as the ground.  My work out once again goes well, and I decide to stop at the store and do some work before the staff come in.  I sit and do some analysis on the store projected revenue with all of the numbers since we started at the farmers’ market in 1996, 14 years ago.  It’s incredible to think that Sunworks is that old, or that I’m that much older.  We have steadily grown in sales and experience and are getting better at what we do.  Last year in spite of the recession 8 of the 12 months were the best we’ve ever achieved.  One was the second best.  September, October, and November were absolutely abysmal.  Overall we had our best year.  I sit there and scratch my head about why those months should be so bad compared to the rest.  I show it to Leslie M when she comes in.  Then it occurs to me that it really doesn’t matter.  The question that we need to answer is “what did we do the other 9 months, that created so much success?”  We’ll talk about it at the staff meeting tomorrow.

It takes me a couple more hours to sort out the projections for 2010 and to input them into our software.  I’m happy that my database skills are intact, and I enjoy myself very much… all except for the one moment that I thought I deleted three years history.  False alarm.  Our IT specialist, Byron with Advanced Systems, installed the software I need to do all sorts of queries on our business data, and I’m looking forward doing this analysis.  Okay, I’m a geek… you see now why I have to paint?  In between canvas I’m going to put my logical left brain to work as the king of Structured Query Language (SQL), my claimed title from college days.  I suppose this is a form of asking questions too.  Hmm, that’s interesting and just nerdy enough to thrill me deep inside.   It fits in the same category although side the fact that I have a Tricorder Application on my iPhone.

Did you know that according to research of business teams, high-functioning business teams ask 20 questions for every one statement they make.  Low functional, and I’ll add dysfunctional teams make three statements to every one question they ask.  Questions like ‘what if?’ ‘what’s next?’ are not often in their minds.  As I go to the staff meeting tomorrow I’ve got some good questions to ask.  I wonder what other good questions will appear as work together.  I wonder how the store will do this year.  I’m sure I’ll have some queries to write!  I’ll think of these as digital questions. Exciting.

It is in the asking of good positive-based questions that motivation and good ideas are found.  As I work through the analysis today, ut’s really nice to be reminded that the store is continuing to do well and to grow.  Now as we come out of the recession, will be expect that good service and doing thing right things will continue to serve us in our growth.  I have a sense they will.  Tomorrow we’ll upgrade our way of working together and create new possibilities.

That’s it. I head for home and never go back to the office.  Do I write my long over due Christmas Letter?  No.  Do I paint?  No. I work on the Swerve Living project, visit with my best friend Alan, do laundry, start scrubbing the kitchen floor.  In the late afternoon I drive to Sylvan Lake for a massage.  I notice the gray skies and think about the coming sunshine,  think about my art application, and question where life could be this time next year.   I wonder why I feel so different today than I did yesterday.  Perhaps my Borg implant isn’t functioning within normal parameters.