Thinking & Operating in 'the Gap'

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I’ve always disliked short work weeks. We’re all trying to cram the same amount of work from a five-day work week into four. This week is no different - lots of deadlines, projects to get done and last minute demands that are making me wish tomorrow wasn’t Friday.

I know, I said it (and I love my Friday’s!).

I AM working on some fun branding projects though this week, as well as content strategy and content creation for clients that I’m excited for. So there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

The one thing I did for myself this week was get the chance to sit down with someone from a leading tech organization in Canada’s ‘silicon valley of the north‘ aka. Kitchener. I’ve always loved the Tannery area of KW, in Guelph’s backyard. There is something about knowing the ideas that are being cooked up behind the walls of the buildings in the area that gets me excited when visiting.

The one thing the meeting made me realize, besides how fortunate I am to meet the people I am in my journey, is how not having the answer to all the ‘big ideas’ or ‘big questions’ I have is also part of this journey of this little thing called life. Right now I’m feeling so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by people from different backgrounds, experiences and who think differently, who are all excited to tackle big world problems and come up with solutions. Especially when many of these people seem to have one thing in common that we want to find solutions for: food/agriculture. One of my true passions.

It reminded me of this recent newsletter I read (thank you for the continued amazing content, Sarah!) and this idea of the gap:

“I call the space between having a question and knowing the answer, the gap. The gap is the unknown, the fear of making a change in your life when you don’t know what the outcome will be. Humans are really bad at the gap, we are terrible at operating in spaces where there is an unknown.”

I feel like I’ve been operating in the ‘gap’ for a few years now. Having ideas and not knowing exactly how to get to the answer.. but enjoying the process or journey to get there aka. the gap.

Its how I felt last summer when I was between my political job and starting my own business - again, the gap. I continue to operate in the gap even now that my own business is almost a year old.. the questions I have: what to do next, where to take things, should I scale, how do I scale. I’m operating in the gap.

Not to get too philosophical here for a Thursday but isn’t that really what life is all about anyways? Trying to think and operate ‘in the gap’ between the two things we know for sure are to happen to us, birth and death?

Sorry to go all deep on this rainy Thursday, it just felt necessary to share :)

What’s the other thing I learned in that meeting this week (among so many other awesome things)? That Jeff Bezos of Amazon writes a press release for every idea he has, as a way to work backwards from the idea to know how to make the idea a reality. How cool is that?!

Living in a Calculated World

Stories From a Country Girl

Its hard to believe it was 10+ years ago I first entered the world of blogging.

I look back on those days fondly.

{Now I know how most seniors feel when they talk the good ol’ days.. you know, those days before smartphones, technology and all this craziness}

But in all seriousness, even 10 years ago, the digital sphere was a different time.

(OK, now I definitely sound like a senior).  This may be the first blog post that ‘dates me’ as a human. Sigh.

Yes, it’s been that long since my ‘Stories From a Country Girl’ days for those blog readers who have so loyally followed me here all the way from then, to my Passionate Voice blog and now to my new home. Thank you to those readers for your continual support and readership throughout all these years 🙏 Even if there are only 6 of you 😉

I’ve been doing a ton of listening, conversing and reflecting throughout the month of January for work. It has me thinking of how we’re living in such different times than even a short 10 years ago from so many standpoints – in life, in work, with social media, technology, consumer behavior, disruption, the list goes on.

I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about the role of social media and the impact it has on our lives and our mental health. Its something that bombards us and inundates us both personally and professionally every day. We’ve never been properly trained in it and the research isn’t quite there yet to show the long-term lasting effects, yet we continue to use it at such rapid rates. I see firsthand and realize its benefits but I also see the cautions we need to talk about more, to engage productively and healthily with our social media feeds.

And this comes from someone who does social media for a living!

Even blogging 10 years ago was a completely different landscape. It wasn’t so ‘calculated’ as the entire world now is with blogging and social media. When we were blogging back in ‘those days’, we didn’t have to have well-curated graphics that had consistent branding with the ‘right’ fonts. We didn’t care about likes/followers, we just blogged about what we thought about and cared for and if the likes followed, then great but that wasn’t the end goal. We didn’t care about promoting our messages beyond our followers, trying to make our content ‘salesy’ for people to eat up and then buy from us. Hell, we didn’t even give the proper credit for graphics/photos when we searched on Google and used them for our blog posts.

Side note: If you previously read my SFACG blog when I first started, yes, the image above is my old header and no, I didn’t end up purchasing the image for $20 but I am at least giving image credit below 😉

I sometimes wish we had that type of freedom again.

To read blogs written in the ‘old school way’ of blogging. Or think in that easygoing way #FreeThinking. Or blog in the carefree way, whenever we wanted too, without the branding, the content calendar and the perfectly placed hashtags. Blogging in a world where we didn’t have to worry that if you said something that not everyone agreed with, you didn’t have to face the social media wrath you probably would today. I wish we all had that freedom to only care about ourselves and what we thought. And not in a selfish, narcissistic way, but a way that was healthy for us. A time where if you had something to say and wanted to passionately say it, you just said it (HECK YES!)

I really do wish some days we were living in a less calculated world. I miss those days of off-the-cuff randomness. Whose with me?

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Why 'STEM' Should Be 'STEAM'

Today marks Agriculture Day in Canada.

I’m not sure how many Canadians knew this day was being celebrated by people like myself - a dairy farmer's daughter whose passion for agriculture and communications (with politics thrown in there) led to an agricultural communications role working in provincial politics at Queen's Park.

Agriculture is an industry I really love working in.  

According to my Instagram poll late tonight, which includes a mixed audience of both those in and outside of agriculture, thankfully 67% (or 130 respondents) knew it was #CdnAgDay.

Whether you knew it was Ag Day or not, or work in agriculture or not, we all have one major thing in common - something we can relate too - and that is food.

The other thing we can all most certainly relate too, is having a job.

We all need food to eat and most of us have a job or aspire to have a job. So there, we at have at least two things in common now to continue this productive conversation.

On a day like today, in some instances, it feels like we in agriculture across Canada are a passionate group of people..... who preach to the choir.

It is on days like today, I am reminded of how our industry needs to position ourselves in a way that catches the attention of the 98% of Canadians who do not come from a farm or know anything about agriculture-food.

We need to sell our agri-food industry in a way that is cool and makes young graduates and people WANT to come work with us, much like how the STEM movement has captured the attention of many soon-to-be high school graduates and young career professionals.

Its why I think the movement around STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) should actually be called STEAM, with the 'A' proudly standing for Agriculture.

I am fascinated by the conversation around STEM-related careers. Even here in Canada, we have made it a trendy topic, promoting STEM jobs to Canadian youth. Our Canadian government even launched a campaign in 2017 to encourage young women to choose science. Bravo!

In a fast-paced digital society that is becoming more of a knowledge-based economy, attracting top talent to our agri-food sector will be imperative to fill the more the more than 100,000+ jobs we are going to need to fill in the next decade.

The crazy part? The demand for students with an agriculture-related degree far outweighs the supply of graduates! Just read this University of Guelph report that states "there are 4 jobs for every OAC graduate entering Ontario’s food and agriculture sector."

In all the excitement discussing STEM, we're missing a critical industry that continues to push the envelope in innovation. Agriculture.

An industry that really, in some instances, combines science, technology, engineering and math ALL in one. Agriculture and food combines practical know-how, research and application to create things that we use every day and perhaps take for granted. Things like environmentally-friendly coffee pods, the Yukon Gold potato and for some Canadian dairy farmers, an app for their smartphone that helps farmers monitor and treat ketosis in their dairy cows. How cool is this?!

[Side note, people maybe don't even realize just how tech-savvy farmers really are and how actively they use their smartphone to do business and participate on social media! If you're looking for some examples, just ask me for some savvy farmers and agri-food professionals, I'd be happy to share]

These examples above are just a few that showcase leading-edge technology, research and innovation that takes place every day in our Canadian agri-food industry that consumers and industry benefits from. Examples that combine science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture to produce some pretty awesome results.

Agriculture has even embraced the conversation around the much-needed role of more women in our sector. Groups like Ag Women's Network in Ontario and Saskatchewan Women in Ag, have created a positive atmosphere to promote more women getting involved in agriculture and food. In fact, in the 2016 Canadian Census, the proportion of women who are farm operators increased to 27.8%, for the first time in 15 years! Its been a breathe of fresh air to see this movement take off.. and its a movement that is here to stay.

Canadian agriculture and food needs more savvy individuals to help us in our sector.

Enthusiast individuals and young graduates who can help us grow food; create sustainable and sound food policy; get food from farmers to processors; work in trade so more Canadian-grown food can be exported around the world to address food security; get food from processors to consumers; communicate agriculture's message to the masses; and market food more effectively so it eventually ends up on consumer's plates.

I know why this gap most likely exists in attracting top talent.

Its because we don't make our sector attractive enough or 'sexy' enough to market it and attract young graduates from non-farming backgrounds.

Much like the picture above of me in front of Queen's Park, when you think of agriculture and food related jobs, you probably don't picture someone like myself. This is the game-changer of our industry - you don't have to look like the stereotypical farmer with the straw hat and pitch fork in hand to work in agriculture and food. And you certainly don't need to come from a farm to work in agriculture and food.

Gone are the days where these stereotypes exists. Or at least, they should be by now. Its 2018.

We in the agri-food sector are savvy, sophisticated and passionate people who believe in what we do. Everyone along the value chain is playing a role to ensure the highest-quality, safest products are delivered 365 days a year to Canadian consumers and consumers around the world. For many of us, agriculture and food isn't just an industry we work in but a lifestyle we enjoy 365 days of the year. Not many industries can say this.

It is time we embrace the STEM movement and begin to promote STEAM.

This way, many needs are addressed - those of our agri-food industry who needs top, innovative talent; those of young millennial graduates looking for exciting new careers in an already tight job market; and those of our Canadian consumers who continue to need/want the best food possible.

Its a win-win for all. Now let's get out there and promote STEAM!#MakingAgriFoodCool

Nothing Creates Spark Like Face-to-Face

I’ve recently been reminded, after a busy few weeks of meetings, just how powerful face-to-face meetings really are. The energy that exudes from people is infectious. Extremely engaging conversations around a table have motivated me to want to leave and do big things (all the meetings have been positive of course!).

Nothing, even social media and the most slickest of technology platforms, will replace the spark that is created in face-to-face meetings.

Full stop.

[Or.. it could also just be because this new mama loves getting out of the house to be around a table of adults sans baby, to discuss big ideas.... it gets me all energized and amped-up!]

One of the things I love best about being in meetings is when you’re in a room with not necessarily like-minded people, but people who are similarly as passionate as you are about a topic. Hearing their different opinions and how they formulate their thought process is so valuable. Watching and listening to them express themselves has provided a whole other perspective to learn how to see the other side of an issue. I think this is a skill that is becoming obsolete in today's society, don't you think? #Empathy #Understanding

What is the quote? "The path to gaining respect is paved with knowledge and empathy."

[Tweet ""The path to gaining respect is paved with knowledge and empathy." - Evan Brown"]

I also love how people around the table act as catalysts of inspiration for others. Hearing others share their ideas so passionately both through their words, their body language and their voice in person gets at me in a different way then watching people over a device for a meeting.

You can see it in people's aggressive head nods or that glimmer in their eye when you're discussing a topic, idea or issue that has really moved the table. The meetings I've been at recently, we've been able to productivity talk through issues, come up with solutions and brainstorm new ideas. These are things that are hard to do online when you're on a Skype call or teleconference line, where you feel isolated.

As an example, at a recent meeting, an older gentleman shared his progressive, forward thinking ideas when he, so deeply and eloquently, imparted a line that stood out to me:

“Experience doesn’t make you look forward, it always makes you look back.”

It was one of those 'ah-ha' moments.

I was reminded in the moment that you don’t have to be a millennial to think young (yes, there are baby boomers out there who are forward thinking and young at heart, millennials!). Social media couldn’t have provided that type of moment for me to learn and understand from someone like this. It was a brilliant thought from someone who clearly had years of experience and wisdom.

I realize technology allows for more convenience, especially from the comfort of your own home or office desk, but the next time you have the option, seriously consider bringing your team in or suggesting face-to-face.

Yes, meetings be long, feel daunting (while your emails pile up!) and something we all sometimes dread, especially if the moderator or Chair doesn't run an effective meeting by staying on time and on task with agenda items #petpeeve, but I guarantee, almost every time afterwards, you’ll feel good about the shared energy that came from a positive and productive face-to-face meeting.

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Airplanes: A Destination for Silence

There aren't many places where you can now fully disconnect. Places where you can't access wifi and be hooked to the internet and your smartphone. Places where you can totally be #offline.

Thinking back to my first trip to Europe in 2009, I couldn't call home on my cellphone, let alone get a wifi signal to use my cell (notice I called it a cellphone not a smartphone, that dates me already!) That was less than a decade ago. Oh how technology has advanced in such a short period of time!

While in Europe, I had to go to Internet cafes or use pay phones with calling cards to call home to let my parents know I was safe and sound. I remember taking photos with my camera here and there at the most memorable tourist attractions but I couldn't be bothered with documenting my entire trip through the lens of my camera. I wanted to experience it all in person. And let's be serious, even if I wanted to document it all through the best filters and apps, my flip phone didn't even have the capabilities to take photos. God, I really am dating myself. 

Fast forward almost a decade later, and you can now connect almost anywhere in the world at any time of the day. They even now offer wifi on some planes which seemed like the last place we'd ever see access to internet introduced. I always thought it interfered with the airplane signals?! #GuessIwasWrong

On most flights where they now offer wifi, they at least have put a price tag to access wifi. Its a hefty price tag, but I am glad they put the price high so it discourages me to pay for internet. 

Here's why....

Airplanes are one of the last places where we can put boundaries or restrictions on using our smartphones and accessing social media. Its one of the last remaining places where we are guaranteed silence. Where we expect to be left alone. Its one of the last places where we are forced to sit alone with our thoughts... scary I know.

Its where you can read a book quietly or watch a movie... with no dings, no alerts, no vibrations.

On airplanes, I get some of my best ideas. Its where my creative juices get a flowin'. Its where I pull out pen and paper and write down blog post ideas, work on my editorial calendar, brainstorm content for upcoming presentations, process ideas and thoughts and let my mind wander. 

Its one of the best feelings.

I've come away from my recent trip visiting my in-laws in Manitoba with many blog posts written and random thoughts documented. Some samples from my most recent two hour personal brainstorm session plane ride?

  • Agriculture faces a re-branding challenge. I tweeted about this idea this week. Its one of the biggest challenges I believe we face in the industry I grew up in and love to work in. I'll be elaborating on this thought later this week when I serve on a Co-operators ag panel.
  • On the topic of agriculture, it just recently dawned on me that for the better part of my political career, I have been the minority. Working in agriculture in downtown Toronto, surrounded by consumers who don't know much about agriculture and farming is where I've realized I'm not the majority. When I was a kid growing up, I just naturally assumed everyone knew about farming because hey, that's what everyone did right?! Do those who work in agriculture sometimes forget, including me, that we aren't the majority anymore in the circles we need to be selling our industry too?! And are we comfortable being the minority?
  • Social media is changing the operational functions of customer service departments for companies and businesses. Both good and bad. I talked about this at a presentation I gave earlier this week from a customer service experience I witnessed on Twitter recently. Blog post written on this = check.
  • A 'Someday File' - we all have one. Places we'd like to travel too; things we want to buy; books we want to read; things we want to learn. What holds us back from doing any of it?! After reading more of Mark Manson's 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck' it got my mind racing on so many topics he writes about and my own 'someday file' and why I keep making lists but don't DO alot of them.

So many thoughts I know for a two hour flight :P So much writing, so little time. Also, here is to our first successful trip and plane ride with Blake. Thankfully it was a smooth ride and experience. Thanks little man for making this mom feel like she hit the baby jackpot #MotherWin