Strength Become Weakness

Great companies evolve. Great people evolve. Great institutions evolve. Apple Computer has evolved. James Bond has evolved. LEGO has evolved. Bill Clinton has evolved. Hell, even Earls Restaurant has evolved.

Good organizations are built on strengths, but great organizations understand that those very strengths soon become their weakness, and they need to evolve in order to get to the next stage of growth.

Are cities any different? Let’s look at Edmonton.

Strength: a humble city of entrepreneurially thinking people and quietly profitable businesses that rally around any community initiative and provide anonymous donations to capital campaigns.

And …

Weakness: a humble city of entrepreneurially thinking people and quietly profitable businesses that rally around any community initiative and provide anonymous donations to capital campaigns … that doesn’t like to bring about any overt attention to its successes, yet wants to change its external image and become a destination for new businesses, residents, tourists and investment.

Yikes!! Could Edmonton’s humility be getting in the way of achieving its next stage of success? Does Edmonton and Edmonton-based firms truly understand marketing? Are Edmontonians ready to move from introvert to extrovert?

I suggest that we collectively need to invest in marketing in order to jump to the next curve … and by collectively invest, I mean starting with a serious look at our individual marketing budgets and ask the following questions:

• Are you spending a minimum of 1% of revenues on marketing (marketing, not sales)?
• Are your events held in public places and considered remarkable (worth remarking about)?
• How many stories in the press/media do you get every year (telling your story)?
• How much, and in what, are you investing to recruit new employees (and how many)?
• How do you celebrate your philanthropy to build your brand (community marketing)?

These questions are tough to answer for many Edmonton-based organizations, and will be the topic for subsequent blogs over the next month. This is a topic that is critical to our collective success, as the Edmonton story is simply an aggregate of our individual stories … corporate, institutional, personal, community or charitable. There are many things that we can do individual level, and there are many things we can do in the collective.

But be prepared to become more extroverted. We all need you to be.

Arrogance + Hypocrisy

When I was growing up, I spent many afternoons drinking Turkish tea with one of my mentors – a great doctor and Muslim leader from our community – who gave me lasting gifts with every conversation. We always discussed politics and religion and leadership … the very stuff we are told never to talk about … until the pot of tea was emptied … and then we would brew another pot and talk some more.

Mostly, I just listened.

“What is the worst combination of sins?” I remember asking.

After great contemplation, a long sip of tea … and then another … the wise elder leaned forward and whispered two words: “Arrogance and Hypocrisy.”

Long sip …

Five years ago, filmmaker and environmentalist James Cameron came to Ft. McMurray to observe the oil sands and made some public comments that came from a place of ignorance and ambition … another ruthless combination. Knowing little about the history, the geology or the science, the Hollywood director flew in on his private jet and aggrandized the unearthly degradation that was fueling the very things that heated his expansive home, built his movie studios and powered his luxurious choices of transportation … arrogance plus hypocrisy at its finest.

Some five years later, the oil sands now attracts withering celebrity icons on their personal “quests for relevance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Neil Young, Robert Redford, Daryl Hanna (how she is deserving to be on any list?) have all graced us with their presence, their pontifications, and their self-importance … serving out the dangerous cocktail … a double shot of arrogance with a twist of hypocrisy.

But sometimes the world surprises you.

Last week I was in Montreal and had the opportunity to hear James Cameron being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos. I braced myself when the question from the audience inquired about his latest environmental crusade. However, after five years of fact-based research and a boat-load of humility, this is how James Cameron answered the question:

“What I have learned is that 19.5% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and greenhouse effect is caused by animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sectors put together … all cars, trucks, planes, ships … everywhere. So with a simple food choice, we can basically switch off global warming. Now, what are the chances of people suddenly deciding not to eat meat and dairy? Probably pretty slim. But it is possible … as opposed to it is not possible to switch the entire energy and transportation grid to alternatives in one day.” James Cameron then went on with great humility to acknowledge some of his own past hypocrisies in his use of energy products and how his crusade has shifted from one of finger-pointing and condemnation to one of leadership through personal action.

James Cameron sipped some Turkish tea.

Now, I’m sure James Cameron would still like us to reduce our energy footprint. But what I was impressed with is ability to sit quietly and reflect, and to recognize that the supply of energy is not the problem in a world with insatiable human demand. Human demand is the root cause, and that knows no geography.

“What if the billions of dollars spent on environmental activism was spent on education and marketing – the changing of human behavior?” I ask.

Hmmm …. that’s a question that requires another pot of Turkish tea.

April 7th: Intervention Day

After four days in Quebec City, I’ve returned with a renewed sense of confidence about Alberta. Yes, I stepped in many puddles because I was riveted by the twitter feed surrounding the resignation of our Premier while walking the streets of Old Quebec. Yes, I was fascinated with how the soon-to-be wannabes started to position themselves for an upcoming leadership race. And yes, I watched as the opposition, media and self-proclaimed journalists licked their lips as fresh blood lingered in the air.

But when I step back and reflect on the tragedy of last week in Alberta, and compare it to the multi-generational calamity in Quebec, I remain conflicted with the fact that Alberta is repositioning for a prosperous future while Quebec is degenerating toward isolated antiquity.

The relentless quest for independence by the Parti Quebecois (PQ) continues to spread the idealism of blind hope and fiscal denial across a province that has such great potential for reinvention. But for 30+ years the province has held onto a strategy of rural tradition, political intimidation and backroom corruption that has led to a culture of dependency and economic decay.

The status quo can go on no more.

The youth in Quebec will soon rise up and demand a new world of openness, acceptance, tolerance, connectedness and transparency … a new world of opportunity. These will not be rallies for independence; rather, they will be upheavals of the old guard and generational mistrust. Today’s youth is activated: they will not be kept down; they will not be blindly led; and they will no longer be sacrificed for political gain. We witnessed it in the student rallies of 2012 and we are seeing it again in the resurgence of the Quebec Liberal Party.

As I walked through the narrow cobblestone streets of la Belle Province, I could feel the retrenchment of the PQ leadership in the air … its quest to campaign on fear … fear of population growth, multiculturalism, expressions of religion, inclusion of new voters, economic realities and the fear of discussion on the future for today’s youth.

The quest for independence will soon come to an end.

It is time for an intervention, and it will come on April 7th. Surrounded by an abundance of natural resources and beauty, it is time that for the youth to take control of the future of Quebec and start the new quest forward.

Back in Alberta, we will do our part to build a strong country through the building of strong provinces. Regardless of location, let’s ensure a culture of entitlement and dependency is never allowed to flourish across Canada.

Speed of Edmonton

What is going on out there??

That’s what people keep asking me regarding the traffic situation these days. And I am preparing myself for that question to be asked over and over in the years to come … be it spring, summer, autumn or winter.

Let’s take a look at my back-of-the-napkin math today at lunch:

  • Our 1,200,000 population in the Edmonton region is growing at ~3.9% per year, which means that we are adding ~46,800 new people in the Edmonton region, and adding ~20,000 new cars on our roads … every year. It’s also likely that ~3,500 of those new drivers have never experienced snow before. Yikes!
  • Our $78 Billion economy is growing around ~3.7% per year, which means that we are adding ~14,500 new commercial vehicles on the roads … every year … on top of this year’s additional ~17,000 new commercial trucks carrying products and materials throughout the region each and every day.

Ouch! No wonder we have congestion … and not just in our sinuses.

No wonder expanding our LRT Network is the #1 Priority of Edmonton City Council.

We are not only a winter city … we need to be a student-friendly city, a green city, a fast-moving city, an efficient city, a scalable city, a downtown-friendly city and an affordable city for us to continue to be an economic and entrepreneurial engine for Alberta.

We are a high-cost jurisdiction when compared to many locations. In order for our economy to boom and our businesses to be competitive, we need to focus on the speed at which our people, ideas and goods can move.

Expanding our LRT system is a key investment that accelerates Alberta.

Let’s make it happen.