Strategic planning definitions

The end of the year offers an opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. Over the past few years my focus has expanded from large organisations to startups, but the premise of strategic planning still holds true.

There are a few approaches to the process of strategic planning. My preference is an Appreciative Inquiry framework, but others can be effective with the right facilitation.  It is helpful to allow one to two days, go to a new physical environment to get out of familiar territory, and use an external facilitator so everyone can participate.

Whichever approach is used, it is helpful to get clear on definitions for personal, organisational, and team planning.

As I take time for some personal planning, I thought I would share some definitions I have settled on in the event that help others.

  • Mandate
    The reason you are in the room. Your mandate is often given to you by someone in authority. Examples can include “Provide X service is such and such a way”, or “Deliver X product support”. You typically do not influence your mandate. You may be able to negotiate, but at the end of the day you either accept it or walk away.
  • Vision
    The light on the hill. The vision is what attracts your gaze when you get hit by the inevitable waves of uncertainty and change. It is what rallies the team and draws the collective focus.
  • Strategy
    Strategy focuses attention. Out of the hundreds of ways to achieve the vision, strategy focuses on typically four to six focus areas. These areas focus attention of the team and contain the initiatives. Every activity should align with a strategic focus area. If it doesn’t, then the activity is not aligned or the strategy may need to be expanded.
  • Initiatives
    Whereas strategy simply focuses attention, you cannot execute without initiatives. Initiatives have an owner for accountability and dates for delivery milestones.
  • Purpose
    Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning, often either a fire in your heart or a fire under your ass. This could be survival, money, changing the world, growing an empire, hurting or helping others, and more. A burning ambition can be more sustainable, but a burning platform can be more motivating in the short term. Purpose is individual and organisational. Alignment of purpose within a team is powerful, misalignment is painful. If an individual is changing the world in an organisation that operates to solely make money, there is misalignment.
  • Principles
    Principles are the basis by which decisions are made. Again, alignment is important. A principle of “Winning at all costs” may be at odds with “Integrity first”. A list of principles can be shared and tested against decisions. Decisions made against principles provide feedback and an opportunity for realignment.
  • Values
    Values are the expected outcomes from principled decision making. If I have a value of respect, then I would expect to have principles of Collaboration and Consideration of community impact in decision making.


Innovation predictions around the Christmas BBQ

I’m still digesting from yesterday’s Christmas BBQ, and reflecting how innovation and technology slips its way into every day conversation.

My chats over beers are usually at industry networking events filled with tech entrepreneurs and programmers. It was good to unplug with friends outside the scene and not focus on work, while hearing how far my usual day job topics are slipping into everyday discussions.

There is a gap between general perceptions and the likes of the Gartner top 10 technology predictions.  In 2013, I posted about the impact of Gartner’s predictions after hearing a representative share at a breakfast. Predictions at the time seemed sensational and relevant:

  • Asian-headquartered employment
  • EU protectionsim
  • Big data job creation
  • IT vendor consolation
  • Facebook privacy leaks
  • Security and malware issues on employee devices
  • Smart device proliferation
  • Reduced Windows 8 installations
  • Asian mobile handset vendor dominance
  • Gamification of business applications
  • Wearable technology proliferation

Some of these can be seen now as business as usual (smart devices into smart cities), while others have morphed into something else entirely (global protectionism, big data into AI, IoT in everything).

Compare these to the Gartner list five years later:

  • Increase in visual and voice search
  • Tech giants self-disrupting
  • Legitimised cryptocurrencies
  • Increased fake news
  • Counterfeit reality overtakes reality
  • Chatbots take over
  • Role versatility over specialisation
  • IoT in everything
  • IoT security versitility

Most of these topics were raised by others at the Christmas BBQ, but with a practical concern. What degree would support the last 15 years of a career? How will technology impact a particular profession such as teaching or law enforcement? Is my data safe online? What should I post about my kids?

Three technology trends that came up include artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and augmented reality, but all with a practical application on how they impact current jobs and future professions.

All the while we controlled the air conditioning and music with an app.

Oh, and speaking of future thinking, I went to the theatre to watch the latest Star Wars movie as a Boxing Day treat. I suppose predicting the future of technology is like predicting where the franchise is going when we all learned about the Vader / Luke relationship.

Thinking of the Pixies this Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I spend the day like many catching up with family and friends, eating more than I should, drinking enough to make those resolutions in a few weeks stick, and overall relaxing and tuning out for a few days.

Speaking of tuning out, I was enjoying a bit of Pixies yesterday when their song Where is My Mind came up in my Spotify playlist. It takes me back to my Navy days in Connecticut. Spotify has this feature in the app that shows trivia about the song it plays. Up came the note about how lead Frank Black pulled inspiration for parts of the song while diving in Puerto Rico.

As I head into the year end, I am reminded of the need to just tune out, connect with family and friends, and do random stuff that can seem to have no connection to my end goal but provides the creative inspiration needed to get the outcomes. There is a case for periodic sabbaticals, much less vacations, a case I have not been disciplined at making for myself.

2018 is going to be a big year. I am taking things a bit slower for the next couple of weeks, and then heading to the US early January to take a pause and catch up with the folks. Not exactly swimming with the fish in Puerto Rico, but hoping for similar random inspiration to recharge and fuel an exciting New Year. I may even be able to answer the question as to “Where is my mind?”

CRM is for ChRistMas

Some may think setting up a CRM on Christmas Eve sounds lacking in holiday spirit. I can think of few other Christmas gifts I would like better than to get on top of my contacts.

It is one of my big regrets of 2017 is that I did not stay on top of my contact list as well as I might have. For several months in the most active time of managing the innovation hub, I was attending up to four networking events a week plus 20+ meetings.

The number of different stakeholder groups is also pretty crazy, including government, mentors, entrepreneurs, community groups, local businesses, industry partners, investors, schools, and universities. Add in local, national, and global contacts and the mix can be a challenge to manage on the fly.

I am pretty familiar with CRMs, or Contact Management Systems.  I have built, configured, or implemented about a dozen systems in my career. I have worked with the likes of SalesForce, HubSpot, Zoho, Microsoft CRM, SugarCRM, and custom platforms.

Through my experience, the reason why CRMs fail is not due to the location of a field or specific functionality. CRMs fail because the people using them tend not to be the sorts that like to track their actions in a system. I include myself in this description.

It’s only when the value from using a system exceeds the real and perceived barriers that you have a chance of success. There’s a whole body of literature about technology adoption and the Theory of Planned Behaviour if you are interested.

My need is pretty big as I step fully into a portfolio career helping local and state governments, corporations, community groups, and build out my own startup. So I am giving myself a gift this year of getting on top of my contacts during the upcoming slower holiday period.

After a brief scan, I am going with Insightly for the integrations and based on some recommendations from people I know.

If you are one of the people I have not gotten back to in 2017, you are in good company with some amazing people.  I look forward to connecting in 2018 and doing incredible things that will make a difference.

Here’s to learning and doing better in 2018.

A new computer and a clean start

Nothing says a fresh start like a new computer. My Microsoft Surface recently developed a known intermittent screen jitter plus the USB port stopped working, thankfully with a few months remaining on the warranty. So when my kid added a new computer to the Christmas list, I figured it was a good opportunity to pick up the latest hardware and send the old one in for a replacement I can pass on to my next of kin.

I write this in reflection as I spend my Saturday copying files, installing software, and entering passwords. Watching files copy over gives me time to consider how much I view the world through the lens of the screen. Finances, news, conversations, art, and entertainment are all consumed and broadcast through this glass interface.

This is dramatically different to the world a few short decades ago. I learned to program in octal through a large mainframe computer on a nuclear powered submarine in the US Navy. Since then we have seen computing move to desktops, laptops, handhelds, wrists, VR and AR glasses, and eventually embedded technology. Our point in time now is simply a stepping stone in a continuum towards technology embedded direct to our brains.

The drivers of this progression are the same that push most technology advancement: a need for instant gratification. The combination of ease of rapid consumption and exponentially increasing content means we will seek out new ways to get more, faster, at higher quality.

Changing computers at the end of the year is timely. My screen to the world gets cluttered over time. My desktop gets littered with files quickly saved for later reference. Random folders called “To sort” and “Temp backup” litter my file structure from previous attempts to clean my digital house. My Word and Excel programs keep asking of I want to save a growing list of Document Recovery files from various system crashes. Random icons from past trials of productivity programs sit in my Quickstart bar, waiting to be uninstalled when I find time from being more productive.

Like heading into a New Year with resolve, I set up my computer with the intent to keep this one clean. But I wonder how this will work when the computer is inside of us. Will we be able to simply reboot our operating system at the end of the year and do a reset? Will the clutter of our internal desktop files reinforce and reflect the clutter of thoughts?

Anyways, that is next decade’s problem. For now, here’s to a collective clean desktop to reflect focused thoughts and a clear perspective heading into 2018.

Powerwells: From Startup Weekend to providing light and power to those in need

Support local entrepreneurship and give the gift of power to homes in need.

The Powerwells team had the opportunity last night to share their story in front of an audience that included Lord Marland of Odstock, Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. The social enterprise is a great example of a team taking an idea from a Startup Weekend, to customer validation, to product in market.

I first met the Powerwells team when I judged the social enterprise-focused Startup Weekend in Logan City Council. Over a few short days, the team had come up with an idea and built a product to use recycled batteries to create power sources for remote communities.

Most teams in a Startup Weekend dissipate as soon as the event is over.  The Powerwells team hopped on a plane to Indonesia to test their distribution model and get in front of customers. The product not only provides power but also employment opportunities for local communities.

The trip validated the idea and kicked off their crowdfunding campaign. The team is an example of what can be done when you have the passion, commitment, and capability to deliver on an idea.

The team is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help get an initial 100 Powerwells that can provide power to homes for years.

As we head into the holiday season, consider helping local entrepreneurship and giving the gift of power to homes in need.

Startup Catalyst Female Founders recap

Startup Catalyst Female Founders recap

I’ve come back with bang – let’s go. I have to go faster. I have to go harder.

The participants in the Startup Catalyst Female Founders trip to London gave their panel sessions recap yesterday.  Similar to what was shared in the Future Founders panel the day before, common themes emerged of confidence, connections, and urgency.

The panel shared how the growth in confidence came from hearing shared stories in the cohort, pitch practice through the week, and seeing examples of successful communities. The scale is larger, but the opportunities are similar.

The immersion impact of a Startup Catalyst trip is designed to rapidly shift perspective. As one participant stated, it’s like “Disneyland on steroids for startups“. You can read more details on what goes into the trip in a recap by Peta Ellis on The Catalyst Effect.

Trips like Startup Catalyst are valuable for anyone working on a business that has global customers. As stated by one of the cohort, “Go to where people are actually socialising. Don’t wait for an invitation. Buy a ticket and go. If you don’t promote yourself no one else is going to.”

Particularly in London, we heard that “The UK responds well to brand Australia and brand Queensland.” The support provided by UK International Trade and Investment is significant, with everyone from banks, government, corporations sharing that the UK is open for business.

Female focus


After the panel sessions, I had lunch with one of the previous Future Founder Startup Catalyst alumni. He raised an interesting point that an area that was not explored in the conversation was the “female” aspect of cohort. What was the value in having an all female trip? What was the benefit? What was missing?

The panel session felt like a standard Startup Catalyst recap with a panel that just happened to be female. And to me this speaks to the need. For years, we have seen countless technology-related sessions where the panel members just happened to be male and no one gave it a thought. Except this was not by design, but by embedded structural biases.

I attended an awards program for a management association last year. The nominations of the “emerging leaders” were all female.  The male MC made sure to make a point of the fact and congratulate the women for their efforts. We then had the nominations for the “successful entrepreneur”. The candidates were all male. Gender was not mentioned.

If you are running a panel session, looking for speakers, or holding an awards program, the participants and their networks on the Startup Catalyst Female Founders mission would be a good place to start. If you are a guy on a panel, ask who else is on the panel.  If you look to either side and it’s all male, consider a female you might recommend as additional panel speaker or to take your place.

Focused trips like Female Founders missions intentionally build capability in leaders, create a support network, and raise awareness. This needs to continue.

Feature image credit Tiah Gold’s Twitter feed.



Startup Catalyst Future Founders challenge and hope

Startup Catalyst Future Founders: Challenge and hope

This trip changed me. I have been going around in circles in my life. This trip grounded me.

The participants of the Startup Catalyst Future Founders trip shared their lessons on a panel last night. Their feedback gives hope and challenge for Australian entrepreneurship.

Startup Catalyst is a program that takes groups of young future founders, investors, community leaders, and industry-specific entrepreneurs overseas to experience other startup environments. My own Startup Catalyst trip early 2017 was instrumental in setting my current direction.

The participants all shared similar experiences.  Some of their responses when asked about what surprised them about the trip include:

  • The tech was not as advanced as I thought it would have been. I was expecting to be blown away, but we have some amazing people in Australia. What we are missing is culture and a give first mentality.
  • I had skills I was not aware of.
  • Ideas coming out of Silicon Valley are similar to those coming out of Brisbane.
  • Amount of Australians in Silicon Valley.
  • Comparing $100k rounds in Australia to $1m rounds in Silicon Valley. The exit strategy of IPO in Australia versus getting acquired by a corporate in Silicon Valley.
  • How nice everyone was, and how much time they gave up to hang out and give back.

There is a thought that Silicon Valley is so much further ahead of Australia in terms of technology.  The high caliber of existing Australian technical capability came through in the panel responses.  This was also a factor of the selection process for the trip that picked out some of the brightest minds in Australia from an increasingly large pool of high-caliber applicants.

My favorite part of the evening was when the panel and audience which included previous alumni briefly segued into a discussion about the impact of artificial intelligence on the mental health industry. With the capability in the room, I expect we could have locked the door and had a good crack at some practical solutions in a short period of time.

Missions such as Startup Catalyst expose people to opportunities and new perspectives, show them what they are capable of, and build strong networks within the cohort, past alumni, and the global entrepreneur community. It also sets the expectation that they will be able to apply themselves and make a difference in their local area.

I have seen this first hand as I bump into Startup Catalyst alumni in my Australian travels exploring what is happening in different innovation regions. These young leaders will have an exponential effect as they influence other leaders and build incredible businesses.


Accelerator failure and leaving communities behind

Accelerator failure and the need to measure

Every few weeks someone sends me a new link talking about why innovation hubs, accelerators, and labs don’t work.  Some recent highlights include:

The question of “Is this whole ‘innovation ecosystem’ thing really working?” should be asked. Anyone in a new field should ask:

Are we making a difference or are we making noise?

The criticism we all seek to avoid is that of “innovation theater”.

These articles and this line of thought underscores my focus on measurement. My own question for my PhD is “What is the role of the innovation hub in building community resilience?”

To get to the answer and address questions in the post above and have a conversation beyond opinion, we need better ways measure.

Technology challenges from chatting with my dad on Skype

One of the other driving thoughts behind my research and the need to measure is on how to not leave communities behind in technology advances.

My folks and I tried to video call this weekend. First we tried Skype, but the call would not connect.  Then we tried Google Hangout, and they got a message about outdated software. I was in the process of trying Zoom when they decided to call it a night and give it a shot later.

Apart from my highlighting my own limitations as remote tech support, I was again reminded that our technology advances can continue to leave segments of the community behind who are not actively involved in the space on a day to day basis.

At the risk of seeing the world through a single lens, the need again comes to measure the impacts of innovation on everyone, not just the few who create the value.

Returning to a new experiment at

“An unreflected experience is a lost experience.”

I began blogging in 2010 on a WordPress site at I quickly migrated to Sideways Thoughts with the intent to capture what I felt was a different perspective and create a brand outside of myself.

I have had a crack at a few platforms over the years, using bloggr for personal journals, keeping a running commentary on articles in the Financial Review called a Fin Review Review, and various expressions on Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Medium. I captured some of this journey signing up for over 70 social media sites as part of a three year annual review ending in 2013.

Sideways Thoughts served a purpose, but it has been a year since I posted on the platform. The platform helped me explore a range of topics on social impact, personal development, leadership, and innovation.  I now find I post predominately on LinkedIn with a copy-and-paste into Medium as my writing becomes focused on applying innovation measurement towards social impact and community resilience.

But focus can come at a cost. Creative expression and personal opinion can be lost in 2,500 word dissertations on innovation ecosystems and social impact. Thought processes can become constrained by second guessing and ensuring messages are always on-topic.

There is a balance. One extreme is to remove all filters on a real-time inner monologue. The other end of the spectrum is a sanitised contribution to the echo chamber where personality gets consumed by group think. I take a page from bloggers such as Hunter Walk and Brad Feld on where the middle ground can be positioned.

My intent with is to find that balance and experiment with a discipline of daily-ish dissertations like a public thought whiteboard. I will continue to post on LinkedIn and Medium for thought leadership in my chosen vocation, whatever that may be at the time.

This is a playground. It is a public experiment.  It is intentionally messy and unpolished.  Feedback and comments are welcome.