Be a great crowd.


Iron & Wine at the Commodore Ballroom, November 3, 2013

When I was growing up, Vancouver was a much smaller city. It was a city that, when I visited the States, many people I met hadn’t heard of (and sometimes they didn’t even realize that Canada extended all the way north of Seattle).

As an avid concert goer, we got a lot of tours coming through Vancouver, but many others skipped us. Now Vancouver is a world-class city and virtually every musician includes us in their itineraries.

I’ve lived in Seattle, Los Angeles and Vancouver, and, having been back for over a decade now, I’ve noticed something remarkable about artists when they play Vancouver. They seem humbled, sometimes ever overwhelmed by the audience’s love and support. Vancouver has some of the best crowds I’ve ever been a part of, and they create fertile ground for some amazing shows. They create an energy that is amazing to be part of, and they create a mood that encourages musicians to perform at their best. In fact, they often remark on how great our crowds are.

I took the shot above when I saw Iron & Wine this past week, and he seemed truly honoured to be playing for us. You could feel the connection between artist and audience – almost a sacred bond of trust. And you know what, I bet he’ll never skip Vancouver when he tours. That energy will keep him coming back for more.

It’s a lesson for all of us. To be grateful and humble and supportive and devoted. To be a great audience and keep our heroes coming back and wanting more. Whether that’s our members or customers, our staff, our colleagues or our boss. It’s a simple lesson from the mosh pits of Vancouver.

The meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I turned 43 recently. On my 42nd birthday, I quipped on Facebook that this was my Douglas Adams year. The exact age when I would discover the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

William and Pizza

Photo of me eating pizza (back when I could still eat pizza) at a Vancity branch by Terry Davis

Little did I know how right I was – that this was the year when I was to go through the most profound career shift I’d made in a dozen years (and perhaps ever).

My first career was in filmmaking. I got into filmmaking to make films that were personal, hopefully important. Films that I wanted to provoke thought and conversation and make a statement. But after a dozen years of slogging through projects, I found that life as a filmmaker just wasn’t fulfilling for me anymore, and I was hungry to do something that I felt could replace film as my life’s calling, and enable me to do more than just make “product”.

At exactly that time, filmmaking was going through a major disruption. Digital technology was, for the first time, giving the ability to make films to people without extraordinary means. The technology and tools – which hadn’t had a major innovation in the hundred years since Edison invented them – were being democratized. It started in the editing room with Avid editing systems, and continued to DV cameras and editing films on a home computer. I embraced this new technology, and became an early adopter of digital filmmaking.

In Nashville last year at the Credit Union Water Cooler Symposium, I gave a talk called Everything I Learned About Leadership, I Learned From Filmmaking. In it I talked about the tension between persistence and delusion. To be a struggling filmmaker is to know that tension well. I got into a great chat with the audience about this tension in my Q&A, and it was Ron Shevlin who pointed out that, simply, it had to do with maintaining a passion for, and love of what you’re doing. As long as that spark is alive, it’s persistence; when it’s gone, it’s delusion (did I get that right, Ron?). I always promised myself that I’d only make films if I couldn’t not make films. After a dozen years struggling as a filmmaker, I hit a point where I could absolutely and happily not make films. It was on to the next challenge for me.

My second career was in digital. When I made films, I used to read about the early pioneers of filmmaking, breaking into a nascent industry and jumping in where no one else had. I envied them. I saw the web and digital as an opportunity to do that for myself. I followed the path from digital filmmaking tools to producing web and digital projects. It’s rare in life that we get to experience something new, something untried. The migration from film to digital was a natural one, and one I enjoyed tremendously. I got to be there for the birth of a new era, and was lucky enough to be in Seattle, an epicenter of the new medium, to experience it.

One day while walking on the beach with my wife in LA, where I worked as a digital producer, we chatted about what we wanted from life. Walking in the sunshine, we decided that what we wanted was a reality in which our life choices and core values were inseparable – that when we described our lives (everything from where we lived and where we worked, to what we drove) we would really be elaborating on our values. That, we felt, would not be possible for us while living in LA.

The next several years were a circuitous adventure, leading me and my wife back to my hometown of Vancouver, having our son, and, for me, eventually aiming for and landing employment at Vancity. I am immensely thankful to work for a generous and special kind of organization that took chances with me and allowed me to jump into new areas and new roles, embracing new opportunities without having to leave the organization.

It was the jump into social media in 2006 that provided me with a new purpose, the biggest opportunity I had since filmmaking to embark on something career-defining and bold. It was the leaping off point to new destinations, new relationships and a powerful sense of fulfillment. Unexpectedly, it was social media that led me to community engagement, which led me right out of digital and into my current role in community investment, where I am further discovering the meaning and fulfillment I have always been looking for.

The one defining theme in my life has truly been: Do what you love, and the money will follow. I loved filmmaking, but when it was no longer my singular passion, I moved on. I loved social media and tinkering with it to fulfill an organization’s mission a little before others did, but when it starting getting stale for me, I was happy to try new things. Following my bliss led me into film, and past it into a world of working with a virtual community, and finally to working with community partners to hopefully help make my hometown a better place.

So we know that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42. The unknown part remains: what is the right question? In my case, I think that the right question is simply: At what age will I make a huge pivot toward doing my life’s work?

Ten years of blogging.

This Saturday marks ten years since I started blogging, and I never would have guessed where it would lead me, the friends it would introduce me to and the doors it would open.

It was writing this blog, writing mostly about social media, where I found my voice. It gave me confidence and support, brought me into a community of bloggers and took me to places far and wide to speak to and connect with people at conferences.

Looking back, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this platform of professional and personal expression. When I started it on a whim ten years ago in a bored moment working at a web development shop in Los Angeles, I never would have guessed the transformational role it would play in my life.

Thanks to all of you who drop by from time to time to join me on my journey, read what I write and leave a comment. It means a hell of a lot to me.

A digital evolution.

I think I’m seeing a trend, but maybe it’s just a couple of random examples. I’m curious if any of you have seen it too.

People I know who embraced digital early, stuck with it and become known for their leadership in applying digital tools to further business goals are moving away from digital. I recently made this move, and today I was speaking to a colleague at another company and he’s making a similar decision. And as we chatted I thought of a couple of other people I know who pioneered digital areas in their organizations who are being tapped to apply their backgrounds, which were full of smart risk-taking, innovation and seeing things a little differently, to other key areas that need that kind of intrapreneurial aptitude.

Here’s what I think. As more and more people in organizations have evolved to be able to harness digital tools, as marketing departments grow this competency, as social media becomes just another tool and maybe we can finally stop navel-gazing about it, there is less of a need for “gurus” and more of a need for a team of people who embrace these tools. That normalization of previously new media may lead to a kind of boredom and restlessness among the digital specialists and leaders within organizations, which frees them up to focus elsewhere. It’s also time for new people in these organizations to bring their creative ideas and acumen to the table and fresh thinking and energy to the utilization of digital tools. I have seen that in the people who have taken over my former accountabilities. They bring ideas I didn’t have and are focusing on places that I didn’t see. It’s very exciting to watch. It’s evolution.

If you’re at an organization with someone who has moved your digital agenda forward, maybe it’s time to think about getting them to focus on organizational change, or leadership development, or moving your organization to new places. Ask them to help solve over-arching business problems. Redeploy them.

So is it just me, or is this a trend?

Joining Filene i3.

I am pleased to tell you that I am joining the Filene i3 program.

What’s that?

Filene i3Well, Filene is an organization “dedicated to scientific and thoughtful analysis about issues affecting the future of consumer finance and credit unions“. Not the people who have a basement. Same family, different mission.

i3 is their two year program for credit union leaders across North America focused on the three Is: Ideas, Innovation, and Implementation. It is my distinct honour to join my fellow members of the 2012 i3 cohort and I look forward to collaborating with them to move the movement forward and advance the cause of sustainable banking.

And I gotta thank Matt Davis and George Hofheimer for their encouragement and support.