red line  THE AMPERSAND  red line

Bringing people together in a more personal, authentic way
than an ‘and’ could ever do.

2020 Vision – The Ampersand December 2019

December 3, 2019

Dear Friends & Colleagues,


November started with an intensive two-day off-site firm strategic planning retreat. Funnily enough, before opening this firm I only worked at large national or global outfits and, whilst there, always found the pom-pom-waving-rah-rah-do-more-be-more corporate Kool-Aid chugging competitions a bit nauseating. But when it’s your own enterprise and you feel the unceasing burden of doing right by the clients you serve and the people you employ, ensuring both are set up for success, tirelessly rallying them around a common purpose, turns out these annual planning get togethers are actually not entirely useless.





Amongst other noteworthy accomplishments at the retreat, we created – for the first time – a Vision and Mission statement for the firm. Finding consensus on one concise statement that succinctly declares the purpose we serve to our clients (the mission) and another that describes where the firm aspires to be after achieving this mission (the vision), ain’t easy. But we did it, with limited bloodshed, and it has been remarkable how this relatively benign exercise has helped us find our North Star.



“In business, the North Star represents a company’s unwavering definition of its purpose, its products, its customers and potential acquirers. Clarity about a company’s North Star leads founders and companies toward their goals and helps investors envision the company’s future growth.” 


It’s Never Too Early to Establish Your Company’s North StarChiefExecutive.Net
– Gary Shepard


And so it was, that after a lengthy and spirited discussion, we arrived at the following Mission Statement:


To build stronger organizations with exceptional people through an uncompromising commitment to client, candidate and community.


And our Vision:


To unleash success through the power of people.


Though not done deliberately, it is revealing in hindsight that the word “people” is central to each statement. Perhaps not surprising for a firm whose tagline is “We Know People” but maybe a bit unexpected in a world of increasing automation. Somewhere, I’m guessing, there’s a firm striving to unleash success through power of technology but if they’re in a people driven business, I’d suggest they’re on the wrong track.


Why? Because when combined with the unique leadership challenges presently facing our local economy, and the even greater threats posed to the planet earth with the divorce of conscience from truth, the escalation of fake news, and the apparent sanctioning of lying as acceptable, we submit that the discerning skills and human aptitudes unique to homo sapiens matter more than ever.


And they matter in every organization, at every level. What Board doesn’t want those who serve upon it, what management team doesn’t want those who report to it, what client doesn’t want a service provider who counsels it, to bring to their daily toil a constructive, human, and critical outlook?


And so I read with interest this article by Bernard Marr, self-proclaimed “internationally best-selling author, keynote speaker, futurist and strategic business and technology advisor.” The article, entitled The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will be Looking For in 2020, lists the following 10 skills:
  1. Data Literacy
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Tech Savviness
  4. Adaptability and Flexibility
  5. Creativity
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Cultural Intelligence and Diversity
  8. Leadership Skills
  9. Judgement and Complex Decision Making
  10. Collaboration


I find it telling that almost every listed skill is a uniquely human one unaided by robotics and unaltered by automation. For notwithstanding a world in which I can start my car from my phone, bark orders at Alexa and have Siri address the questions my kids ask that I don’t have the answers to, it has never been more important to Know People (as we do) in the understanding people sense. The value we bring to our clients is centred on our ability to do for our clients and, in turn, to find for those clients employees who will do for them, all those very human things on Mr. Marr’s list.


Sure, there are days when I wish I could just ask Siri to find my client a CEO, but she can barely divide zero by zero without telling me I have no friends (try it). Sure, Amazon touts a world where 30 minutes from order to front porch drone-delivery is a reality.  And sure, as my Partner Ranju Shergill wrote in her recent blog post, Erica, an Ex Machina-like android who can express connection through her gaze and emotion through her sophisticated synthesized voice, is likely soon to procreate.


And sure, Andy “Automation is King” Whitehead spams me with the tantalizing prospect of being able to achieve freedom through automation of my search business, like Nick Hoadley did(!!).



Compelling. Yet, I continue to cling stubbornly to the belief that those very human skills enumerated on Mr. Marr’s list will continue to win the day a while longer. And I stick unhesitatingly to the view that the one I would take to the desert island with me for eternity, if I could only take one (along with The Godfather, the entire Breaking Bad series, and The Joshua Tree) is Critical Thinking.


Coming off two straight weeks of binge-watching impeachment hearings, I am convinced that critical thinking is the single most important attribute required not only in the people you employ, but in all humanity in order that we might stave off the looming apocalypse. That any sane person can’t (or won’t) see Donald Trump as a fraud, blindly enabled by his gaggle of conspiracy theorists and sycophants, is a sad commentary on the renunciation of critical thinking as an essential attribute required to navigate today’s world. Absent critical thinking we either blindly accept, or worse – are willfully blind to – a world in which the truth no longer matters.


“There’s no shortage of information and data, but individuals with the ability to discern what information is trustworthy among the abundant mix of misinformation such as fake news, deep fakes, propaganda, and more will be critical to an organization’s success. Critical thinking doesn’t imply being negative; it’s about being able to objectively evaluate information and how it should be used or even if it should be trusted by an organization. Employees who are open-minded, yet able to judge the quality of information inundating us will be valued.”


                  – Bernard Marr, The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will be Looking For in 2020


Sure, most of us can spot a fake Nigerian Prince urgently requiring bank account information, or the Canada Revenue Agency leaving us ominous voicemails threatening arraignment if we don’t immediately provide our social insurance number or phishing emails imploring us to open an important attachment. Yet apparently, about 60 million Americans including all 197 Republicans in Congress choose not to think critically, even in the face of a parade of witnesses so credible, so educated, and so accomplished that you’d want any of them on your JEOPARDY! fantasy team.


I don’t approach this as some partisan liberal. I approach critical thinking in the same way I look at exercising or eating my vegetables; I don’t always like it, but I need to do it. In fact, I actually force myself to watch Tucker Carlson on Fox. I hate myself for it but I feel the only way to stretch the objective thinking muscle in my brain is to actually listen to the other, um, perspective and challenge myself both physically (to not throw something at the TV) and mentally (to articulate a considered rejoinder in my brain). I don’t recommend this to everyone. Leaping straight to Tucker can result in a torn frontal lobe.


People! It’s about people. While our reliance on technological tools that simplify our lives has changed the world for the better in so many ways, we run the risk of irreversible atrophy setting in.  Just as kids aren’t getting exercise by playing Fortnite instead of riding their bikes, adults risk similarly shriveling their brains by absent-mindedly scrolling through their Twitter feed for news. Not only does that lack of critical thinking make you less employable and less likely to advance through your career, it also makes the world a more dangerous place.


Resisting the urge to live in our own echo chamber and actually thinking about what you’re hearing, and assessing it critically against your own value system of what’s right and wrong, true and false, fake and real, requires you to see it with your own human eyes and hear it with your own human ears.  Neither Siri, nor Erica, nor Alexa, and not even Andy “Automation is King” Whitehead, can do that for us.