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The Struggle is Real – The Ampersand June 2022

June 1, 2022

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,


There are four criteria that must be met for an Ampersand blog post to be publishable. We shall call this The Test.


First, it must be well written, preferably with humour, always with candour and it can in no way resemble the usual ‘tips ‘n tricks’ drivel pumped out on LinkedIn or other mass mailers.


Second, it must demonstrate real thought leadership; not mere musings, but actual, thoughtful, and informed insights – ones that should be disagreed with respectfully and debated hotly – but not before causing all sides of any issue to pause and think for, like, 10 seconds.


Third, there must be some sort of a tie-in to the executive search and leadership development industry, generally, and to the work we do here at Pekarsky & Co., specifically. There are smarter people who can opine on myriad matters more credibly than us, but for a firm with the tagline We Know People any Ampersand-worthy post must, at a bare minimum, string the people thread through the logic needle.


Finally, and most importantly, it absolutely must be worth your time to read. The Test always asks this question: why should someone care?


It is a very high bar we set, and one (I’m occasionally reminded) we don’t always clear. Yet, here we are, 13 years and 162 editions later, still trying. The pressure to publish on the first of every month, we realize, is entirely self-inflicted. You didn’t ask us to write this and if we skipped a month, you likely wouldn’t notice. But we would. And if ever there was a month to use a Get Out of Jail Free card, this would have been it. Five consecutive weekends of stacked up and overdue family-related travel commitments, a similarly overdue playoff push from my beloved Edmonton Oilers, including a memorable Battle of Alberta, and, most problematically, a very hard time re-entering the post-Covid atmosphere after over two years of floating rather peacefully in a surreally timeless and nearly obligation-free ether, made this – like so many other familiar tasks – a heavier burden than in the Before Times.


And nowhere does Parkinson’s Law, the adage that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, apply more than on this keyboard. The Test, itself, is achievable enough, but accomplishing it with the clock ticking? Let’s just say the first of the month comes quickly around here. Particularly so these days with the sped up post-Covid franticness I, for one, am experiencing. I’m like a glitchy computer with no disk space, one that requires deleting one file before you can download another. The living, breathing, human personification of the spinning beachball, that colourful revolving wait cursor indicating processor-intensive activity. Short of a reboot, rediscovering my pre-Covid cadence in this post-Covid world is proving harder than finding my misplaced wallet or the reading glasses inevitably retrieved off my forehead.


Nowhere has this jangly stutter-step been more apparent than trying to write this post.


Like some sort of timed death match between Words and Ideas, no singular coherent thread was able to complete the long and tortured journey from my brain, down my arm, through my fingers and onto my keyboard. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. So many ideas stalled and idled along the shoulder, there wasn’t so much a literal, as a literary, traffic jam with blinking hazard lights replaced by a flashing cursor, taunting me. (Did you know that your cursor will blink 27 times in 32 seconds before it takes pity on you and stops, only to torment you anew the moment you hit the space bar or muster the strength to depress a key?)


I have been experiencing this herky-jerky Covid emergence for weeks, now. Though obviously tragic for so many, I have been mostly fortunate during these 26 months. Able to work from home, embrace long walks, spend more time with my wife and three kids, whom I adore, and adapt to a new schedule, one that was simpler, calmer and quieter. Like a sleeping baby in its mother’s womb, warm and fed and unhurried only to emerge into the cold, fluorescent, and noisy world rather abruptly, I have found meeting deadlines, meeting people and meeting expectations much harder than before.


Exhibit A? You’re reading it. In fact, on the very first day of April, moments after publishing our piece about Brussels sprouts, so convinced was I of my inability to meet The Test one month hence, that I promptly deputized our newest and, therefore, most eager and unsuspecting hire, with writing the May 1 post. Not only did Shannon Leo of our Toronto office write a great piece about retaining talent but she bought me time – 61 days of it – before I was obligated to publish again.


And so, here we are, the last day of the month, leaving to the final second no near time enough for Kiara to work her magic and bring my words off the page and onto your device in an aesthetically pleasing way. Indeed, the ideas are still gestating somewhere over Manitoba as I fly east to inspect our Toronto plant. Sorry Kiara. I got stuck in traffic.


I know what you’re thinking. Writing a piece about not being able to write a piece. An easy out. A poor imitation of the Seinfeld pilot. No, this post, our last before our annual summer hiatus, is not about nothing. It’s an allegory about how challenging it can be to do even the easiest things – for usually this is easy – under a new, if familiar, set of circumstances. It’s about the journey and how, sometimes, it matters more than the destination. All these false starts and stranded ideas littering the ditch aren’t wasted. They are a humbling reminder that sometimes even easy things are hard. Besides, I expect I’ll write more fully about some of them when we resume in September, and I’ve rebooted. But right now, the Covid jetlag is kicking my butt and the words roll off my tongue like broken glass.


So, what does the overflowing recycling bin of crumpled ideas in the corner of my mind look like, you ask?


Idea! Trusting Your Gut


Relying now, more than ever, on your own gut instincts…


Not just in life, but when hiring someone to your organization or when pursuing a new opportunity, yourself….


Articles like this one support the thesis.


Highlight the difficulty in balancing our increasing reliance on psychometric assessment tools with our own human instinct.


Draft intro: The existence of psychometric assessment tools to assist in the executive search process is not new. In fact, you could trace it as far back as 1943 when Isabel Briggs Myers introduced the OG personality test. World War II was a huge influence on the project’s development. In fact, Myers believed that if people understood each other better, they would work together better and there would be less conflict. Adorable.


Possible Gladwell quotes:


“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”


“We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it.”


Ultimately, recruiting is a very human undertaking best done by humans relying on human experience and intuition.


Yaaawwwn. Pull over. Blink. Blink. Blink.  




Idea! Alberta Beef


Provincial rivals battling for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, yet in the process giving the province a much-needed shot in the arm; a two-week economic boost and welcome distraction from the two years that preceded it.


Strangers packed together, some in yellow and red, others in blue and orange, high fiving, crying, cheering.


The hook? The beautiful uniqueness of Alberta. That even as I walked through the Saddledome in my orange and blue after the series clinching win in Game 5, hugging my kids in the shared relief of so many seasons of disappointment, Calgarians quickly rallied around the Alberta flag. “Oilers suck, but let’s go Alberta!”


Query: If Toronto and Ottawa were ever in a similar situation would fans in either Ontario city rally behind the losing squad and around the Ontario flag? Habs-Nordiques? Doubt it.


Pandering. Trite. Been done. Fails Step 3 of The Test. Not even sure it’s actually true.


What if… tie to Premier Kenney’s resignation, failure of leadership, contrast to Connor McDavid…


Nope. Weak. Too long of a walk. Steps 2 and 4 not met. Pull over. Have a nap.




Idea! America the Pitiful


School shootings and abortion laws. Return to Gilead. What happened to our friend to the south?


Way too dark. Fails Step One, Three and Four. Too depressing to write, let alone read.




Idea! Executive Search Rebrand


It’s not so much about search anymore… We can find the people… Largest Rolodex no longer wins. It’s about the ability to take a compelling story and tell it. The candidate’s story to the client; the client’s story to the candidate. It shouldn’t be called Executive Search but rather Executive Found!!


Oh my goodness, really? Turn on the hazards. Tk-tick. Tk-tick. Tk-tick.




Idea! Customer Dis-Service


How to stand out? Exceptional client service, of course!


Post-Covid there is so much bad service everywhere it seems. Has anyone travelled by air recently?!?


Discussion – why service levels are in decline and how those companies that can find a way to deliver amazing service as others falter, will grab market share and excel.


This has potential.


Hey, look…squirrel!! 




Idea! Culture Cancel


Have you noticed how much easier it is these days to cancel plans? Hey, me too.




I read a great book while on holiday during my 61-day newsletter break. Okay I started one, for I am having difficulty finishing things: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Full of so much brilliant writing that I blame him for much of my torment. How can you possibly pass Step One of The Test – that it must be well written – when there are people who can write like that?  Like this:


“What matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”


I have ventured forth and I am most uncertain of acclaim, but I may just have passed The Test. In our post-Covid world there will be things we have to do that we don’t want to do that we used to do less questioningly and more enthusiastically. Like having to meet others and their timelines and their expectations. We again wait in long lines. Attend rubber chicken dinners and press the flesh. We again pay $7 for a latte. Sit in traffic. Wear pants.


And we again write newsletters. But not until September. 93 days from now…