North Creek Consulting exists to help companies become Learning Organizations. We are surrounded by content, but we need structure, accountability and coaching to absorb that content into our lives.

#nextbook, the Coffee Break MBA and FLOW coaching have been developed to help individuals and companies bust the blockages that are stopping them from growing and innovating.

Take a look at North Creek's offerings to find the best way to interact with us.

The FLOW mailing list is the best way to keep track of North Creek’s journey.

North Creek FLOW Analysis Process

North Creek Flow analysis process:

1. Identify business process to analyze. Create a clear boundary (process starts at this point, is finished at this point).

2. Identify all the human characters involved (like a movie script cast list for this 'scene').

3. Place characters around outside of page (stick figures). Draw numbered arrows between characters for each step. If multiple characters are involved in a single step, try to break step down into smaller steps. If not possible, flag for step (8).

4. If there are decision steps and branches, your process is too big! Divide into at least 3 processes:

  1. before decision
  2. choice 1
  3. choice 2
and so on for each choice. Track decision points in a separate document.

5. For each numbered arrow, identify the information that is flowing in each direction.

6. Now list all computer systems that are used for each numbered arrow. Hopefully there is only one system per arrow.

7. For each step, within each computer system, record:

  1. How the data is stored (web form, spreadsheet, database, text file).
  2. Human/Computer Interaction steps (login, form data entry, compose email, save file).
  3. Frustrations, extra steps, mismapped data, manual steps required.

8. If there are steps with more than 2 characters involved,

  1. identify 2 'main' characters that give/receive value in this interaction
  2. note the computer systems involved
  3. find ways to automate 3rd party involvement in this step.

9. Note when data is first entered into the system. Pick a data point (customer name, cost, price) and follow it through the process. Note when data is changed.

10. Note all systems that need access to that data point, and whether they need read or read/write access.

11. Create a dictionary of data types, and for each data type, note in which business processes they appear, and in which systems they are stored.


1. Drawing per business process

2. Larger drawing of how business processes fit together

3. Human character cast list

  1. including which processes each is involved in
  2. the other humans with which they interact
  3. the data they need to perform their role
  4. the systems they must have interactions with

4. Decision points throughout business process

  1. Inputs to that decision, and resulting business processes

5. Computer system list (software)

6. Data Dictionary:

  1. Data type name, description
  2. System of Record for that data type
  3. Systems that need to read that data type
  4. Systems that create that data type
  5. Systems that change that data type
  6. Processes that interact with that data.

The North Creek Flow Analysis system can be used as an input for Security/Authorization analysis (determining who needs access to what parts of the business). It can help in understanding hardware acquisition. The resulting data can be segregated into relatively constant cost business processes vs. costs that scale as the business grows.

For Data Integration, Flow Analysis makes it obvious where one piece of data is being handed from system to system, and which persons in the process need access to which systems.

An analysis performed at the Departmental level will identify optimization opportunities. Expanding the analysis to multiple departments could expose missed strategic opportunities.

As you go through the process, please note your frustrations with the Flow process itself, but attempt to carry on to completion for an individual process before experimenting with changes to the Flow process. If you find a useful alteration, please send me an updated process description at

The discussion around the analysis will be more valuable than the analysis itself.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Categories: Business , Methodology


I need someone to tile my shower. I'm terrified of doing it, because I'm sure something is going to go wrong. Plus, there are some baseboards that will have to be replaced, and I'm sure I'll mess things up.

On the other hand, if your computer is doing weird things, I can take a look at it and give you a diagnosis and most of the steps to a likely cure.

My daughter is starting to look for baby-sitting and tutoring jobs. My son needs a job - he's strong and smart, and he doesn't mind doing repetitive tasks, since that allows his mind to wander.

Who do I ask? To whom do I offer those services? Who is in my network?

Based on Facebook, I am in Wall4All and BuyAndSell groups in my geographical area. That's great, but I don't need crafts or an old car. Right now, that is.

On LinkedIn, I'm a computer guy. Most of my profile is meaningless to my neighbours.

On Google+? No, I didn't think so. Those who are, love it there. But it never clicked for me.

Twitter? Really? I can drop into the Twitter time sink as well as anyone, but as for usefulness?

Kijiji? Craigslist? Again, buy and sell, but not "Can you give me a hand?" or, "I saw a cougar on your quarter-section!"


There are parts of the prairies (probably all of them) where, when you pass another vehicle (truck) on the grid (gravel) road, you wave every time. It's just being neighbourly.

Driving on a gravel road is crazy. You can spin out any time. Going over a hill is pure trust, since if the other driver doesn't pull to the right, you will have no time to pull over without going into the "rhubarb". We teach our kids to be paranoid, but also to be trustworthy, because everyone depends on each other.

If you're stuck in the (rhubarb) ditch, who do you call? Your neighbour with a tractor, because no matter how icy it is, that machine will be able to get you out.


I'm a basketball coach, a member of the Baptist Church (where I lead singing most Sundays), and a recognized band parent at the school. I have done enough computer odd jobs that most people trust me to be able to fix their computer glitches.


Let's put all of that together, and come up with a uniquely Canadian, prairie, co-op solution to some of the small and not-so-small problems we have in our lives.

Let's say we have an app on our phone. Free, of course. We'll figure out how in a minute.

It knows where we live. Including #directions, so if a new neighbour needs to find our place, they could get there.

It connects to our other social #networks, so it can piggyback on their reach when necessary.

It asks us what #communities we are a part of. I live in Belle Vista Estates, near Sandy Beach, and I do most of my community stuff in Onoway, and my shopping in St. Albert.

It asks us what community #activities we do, so that we can find others that share those activities.

Now, based on those ingredients, it lets us find our neighbours. When we find them, we trust them (kind of like endorsing them in LinkedIn, or Liking them in Facebook). How far do you trust them? Well, would you be comfortable asking them for a favour? Lending them your tools? Letting them pick up a parcel for you at the Post Office? Letting them babysit?

So you set your trust boundary based on what you would be comfortable asking them to do for you.

Now you have an app that lets you put out the word to your neighbourhood. It is connected to EMS and the Police, so if you see a suspicious truck in your neighbour's yard, or a cougar in a pasture, you can report it to the authorities and they can track the mentions as your neighbours look for the truck (or the cat).

When you go in the ditch, you can put out a call for help in your area, or wherever you are, and a local person who's available can check out who you are, and decide to help you.

When a new person moves to the community, this app provides an introduction to who their new neighbours are, and where they can ask for help.

Eventually, there will be a marketplace within the app. With suitable security, your credit card (or PayPal account) could be associated with the app, so you could pay the babysitter (or the mechanic 1 mile over - who knew?) directly through the app. A small surcharge on those transactions would cover the costs of this app, allowing it to grow and spread without ads. Only local content, only stuff you asked for, or offered. Alerts - and if someone cries "wolf" (without actually seeing a wolf), the app allows you to lower your trust for that person, so it will police itself.

If you want to debate politics, religion, or celebrities, you can go to other networks. This would be the network for getting help, sharing alerts, notifying your neighbours of your new business, and generally...

Being Neighbourly.

Pilot in the Onoway Area starting right now! Sign up here, help birth a Prairie social network!

Categories: Social Network

Two-way communication

The Coffee Break MBA message:

* get ambitious employees reading and learning

* harvest the good ideas through intentional meetings

* identify the ambitious, capable and under-utilized employees through incentives

makes a lot of sense from the employee side. Opportunity to shine, to get noticed, and to contribute.

But what about from the C-suite?

It may be that the CEO knows the weaknesses that the company needs to improve on. Wary of splitting the company's focus, he or she is continually over-communicating the one big idea that the company needs to get right (h/t to Verne Harnish and "The Rockefeller Habits").

Reading Jim Collins, Michael Gerber, Lencioni, Christensen - sounds like a bunch of distractions. Let's say the Harnish model is front and centre in the executive's mind. Wouldn't it make sense to give everyone in the company a copy of "Scaling Up" (Harnish's updated book) and get some synchronization?

No, and I'll tell you why.

1) Monoculture. Get a field full of genetically identical plants, and one virus can wipe out a crop. In a natural ecosystem, the field will contain the virus and continue to flourish because of diversity. Don't be afraid of competing viewpoints - but be able to evaluate them and discard weaker viewpoints.

2) Simplicity. If you need a whole book to teach the primary concept to the team, you haven't understood the concept. Narrow down your focus and teach the Big Idea through everything you do. Frame employee learning in the context of the Big Idea.

3) Practicality. Using the Big Idea/Great Idea framework (organizing principle vs. situational pattern), as an executive, you need to focus on the Big Idea. Your staff need to implement the Big Idea in multiple situations, so having access to multiple patterns that can be used will be a positive.

There is nothing stopping you as a manager from over-weighting your #nextbook selection with books that are in your philosophical camp. Of course, that means you need to have some familiarity with the business literature. Feel free to check out #nextbook for yourself, join my mailing list (1 book, 1 tool, 1 idea per week), or just start blocking out time in your day to read. In the long term, that may be the most strategic thing you do.

And if it makes sense for the boss, wouldn't it also make sense for the employee?

Let's turn your company into a Learning Organization. Go ahead, set up an appointment for a free consultation.

Categories: Books , Business , Methodology

#nextbook for every niche

I'm not just an entrepreneur. I'm also a computer programmer. A basketball coach. A worship leader at a local church. A one-time Log Home builder. A computational chemist (in the past). A husband, a father, a follower of Jesus.

I've got books in my library related to all (well, most) of those roles. But I don't have the best books, or the most recent books for many of those fields.

What I do have, is a framework. #nextbook is a book classification system that sorts readers by role, by their goal, and by what is overwhelming them. It then assigns a book to each category. It needs to be expanded to allow for multiple options in each slot. It needs some cleaning up on the back end. But it could be the basis for a useful little micro-site for communities focused on a niche.

Here's what is needed to recreate #nextbook for your niche:

1) What are 3-5 roles your members identify with?

2) What are 3-5 goals that your members are aiming towards?

3) What are 3-5 of the top problems that overwhelm your members as they work towards those goals?

4) A big list of books that are relevant within your community. Get the title, author, cover image and ISBN for each, and an Amazon or other purchase link if possible.

5) Break out the categories and link one book to each category.

6) Package all of that up and send it to me, and I'll host it on for free.

I have some tools to automate the process, and I'll keep building more as I get tired of doing the manual stuff. But the bones are there and available for anyone who wants to work with me.

I have a mailing list that I direct North Creek Book Hub (entrepreneur-focused) subscribers to. If you have a list, I can send subscribers your way as well.

I'm open for all kinds of suggestions, even if you have individual book or category recommendations for me. Send me what you have!



PS: Coders, feel free to connect if you have some spare cycles, I'll let you know what needs to be done - including a perl/shell/unix-y script to resize book covers and make better reflection images for the 'dock' animations. Thanks!


Why is it so hard?

Why is it so hard to become a Learning Organization?

1) The company Vision is unclear. If you don't know what you're aiming for, you'll never hit it.

2) The company has no Processes. If there is no understanding of "How we do things around here", local fiefdoms and competing departments will waste your energy in friction and unnecessary complexity.

3) The company has no way of improving its Processes. If "How we do things around here" never changes, or only changes randomly with no clear rationale, the company will lose all of its creative people and become a group of gray salary-drawing bureaucrats.

4) There is no acceptance of new information. If a better idea exists, the company should be looking for it.

North Creek's Coffee Break MBA is aimed at problems 3 and 4. More than a Book Club, Coffee Break MBA aims to open up the circulatory system of your company, invigorating all of your employees and moving management focus beyond fighting fires to concrete improvements to the bottom line.

Contact me to set up an initial free consultation.

I would love to talk to you about your Vision, and about SOPs and making your processes explicit. But there are some great books and awesome authors that will help you with that. Let's start with a book club and see how far we can get.

Categories: Business , Methodology

Becoming a Learning Organization

Think like a tree. The roots and the leaves are where the resources are gathered. The rest of the structure exists to support leaves and roots. The trunk is strong, but its purpose is to get the leaves where they can drink in the sunlight.

1) Push learning to the outermost parts - the leaves - of your org chart.

2) Create listening channels that bring ideas back from the leaves to the decision-making heart of your company.

3) Align incentives - some incentive for working to find a good idea, more incentive when a good idea is found.

4) People at the Leaf end need to be looking for Great Ideas - useful techniques and patterns, and noting Big Ideas as they are encountered.

5) Branches - middle management - need to be integrating Great Ideas into current processes (explicitly) and passing along Big Ideas.

6) People in the Trunk need to be looking for the next Big Idea that will disrupt the company and allow it to be reborn as a new, better company, while incentivizing the branches to find the best Great Ideas to improve the existing company.

7) Seeds are small, but they carry all the information needed to grow a new tree. A new Big Idea needs to be launched as a Seed, not as a full Tree.

(Thanks to Clayton Christensen and The Innovator's Dilemma for clarifying many of these ideas).

Does this picture match what you want your company to be like? Let's talk!

Professional Learner


Fast Growth vs. Slow Growth

We're a microwave society, and we have been for most of our lives. Why wait? Use Uber or AirBnB. There's an app that will get it delivered. Put it in the cloud, don't buy your own infrastructure.

But there are things that take time. Personal growth takes time. Wisdom. Perspective.

You can speed it up - to a point. Learn to be present. Learn to be congruent. Learn to be intentional in everything you do.

But some things you just have to work at, practice, do over and over again. Mastery comes after the apprenticeship.

If you are looking to grow, or looking to help people grow, you need to set a couple of expectations.

1) It will take a lot of time, where not much seems to be changing.

2) At some point, something will change internally, and the person will be able to access an entirely new level of achievement, mastery, or influence. There may be few signs that the change is coming, but when the prerequisites are there, and the opportunity presents itself, BAM.

There are lots of precedents for this kind of growth. Complexity research. Supercriticality of liquids. Economic crashes. Sandpiles.

In the pre-Cambrian period, there were very few types of animals (according to the fossil record). In a geological instant, every major phyla and body type that we see now, along with many that haven't survived, suddenly appeared, in what is known as the Cambrian Explosion.

If someone was managing biological diversity, they would have been fired during the Pre-Cambrian period. But if the growth and development would have stopped at that point, we wouldn't be here.

If your company is measuring growth linearly, you may be settling for visible things that can be gamed, but which do not produce real growth. If you are managing for real growth, you have to have some patience.

You as an individual need to be growing all of the time. It might not be visible. Don't quit.

You never know when the explosion will occur, and you don't know what internal things need to change to unleash it.

Never stop growing, even if nobody else sees it.

Your day will come.

Categories: Business , Methodology

Business Reading without the Reading

Coffee Break MBA. It has a fatal flaw.

Many of you need a change in your career. You need to grow and try new things. You need to believe in yourself and see the value that you can provide.

There are leaders, coaches, and teachers that can help. There are great ideas that will open up new perspectives for you. There are stories that will resonate so deeply that you will see the world in a new way.

But they're locked in books.

Maybe you were never a reader. Maybe you digest words for a living, and the thought of adding to your workload by reading is a special kind of torture. Maybe you're in the middle of an epic fantasy series and you have nine more volumes to get through before you will allow yourself to read anything else.

Well, let's not give up. Let's not hit pause on your career. Let's just get creative.

1) Audiobooks. First up, get the audio version of the book, listen to it on your drive, or during your workout.

2) Podcasts. If the author is podcasting, subscribe. Work through their Big Ideas by listening in 20-30 minute bites.

3) Youtube / TED Online / author's online site. If you want to check out the author, do a YouTube search and see if they have lectures online. I was introduced to the "Job-to-be-done" Big Idea through a Clayton Christensen YouTube video (h/t Ash Maurya). If you are looking for Big Ideas, you'll probably be able to find a video of the author describing his or her Big Idea somewhere. Set up a playlist, listen during a workout (you can probably skip the video outside of a couple of graphics without missing much).

Now, we need to crowdsource a collection of links. For every book in my #nextbook collection, there should be at least a great Audiobook edition and a good set of videos. For many of them, there will be relevant podcasts on iTunes. If you find good links, email them to me or leave a comment here. I'll collect them and add them to #nextbook so we leave no non-reader behind.

Let's become learners- it's the one thing we can do our whole life.


Categories: Books , Business

Depth-first vs. Breadth-first

Let's start by assuming that your company has at least one problem.

Let's also assume that somewhere, someone has written a business book describing a solution to your problem.

(Now, it might be a video series, or a seminar, or a podcast, but most good ideas eventually get turned into books, and Big Ideas that are also Good tend to become successful because capitalism).

Let's assume that you are the manager, owner, CEO, P&L responsible. If not, let's pretend you are and you can play along.

How many Big Ideas can you find? Understand? Evaluate?

How many staff do you have that you trust to be able to do the Finding and Understanding?

How many staff do you have that would love to earn that trust? (See, if you're playing along, you would love that opportunity, right?)

So cast a wide net in the business learning sphere. Get a bunch of people to evaluate a bunch of ideas in parallel, then collect the results, rank them, and then get to implementing the right one, not the latest one that you have been sold.

Maybe it's out of left field. Maybe it's something that's never been done in your industry. (Probably that would be a good thing!)

What if you could ask for help, and have your staff volunteer to help you solve problems? Do the incentives match up? Think about it - you get innovative ideas investigated and understood by someone within the company. Your staff get to prove their chops at solving real business problems.

What if all of this came out of your training budget, and nobody saw that as misappropriation?

That's North Creek's value proposition. Breadth-first search of the business literature, by employees and staff, for the benefit of their career and the company's bottom line.

Calendly to set up an appointment to talk this over. Follow @northcreeksoft on Twitter, like NorthCreekSoftware on Facebook.

Let's turn your company into a Learning Organization.



Categories: Business , Methodology

Big Ideas and Great Ideas

Seth Godin, in the Startup School podcast, said something like that all business non-fiction books can be read in 5 minutes. I wish that were literally true, as I work through the stack of books I need to read to stay current with the North Creek Mailing list (1 Book, 1 Tool, 1 Idea, every Thursday).

But the kernel of the idea is that a good business book is built around a single Big Idea. Two Big Ideas mean the reader might miss both of them. So the author, the editor and the publisher make sure the stories, the data, the frameworks - the whole book supports one Big Idea.

As a businessperson, finding the Big Idea in the book shouldn't be hard. The reason the book is 250 pages instead of 250 words is that the Bid Idea needs to be (a) sold to the reader, and (b) translated for the reader.

You can save a lot of time and skip the sales section if you grant the thesis, the Big Idea of the book. Let's figure out how to apply the book to me! But if you are unfamiliar with the Big Idea, you may need to go through the process of being sold, so that you can answer the objections others will put in front of you when you start to sell them on the Big Idea.

If you are not in a senior management role, the Big Idea may not be that much use to you. Without the authority to make changes, implementing the Big Idea might be out of your reach. Is it a waste of time to read the book?


Once you understand the Big Idea, the sales process, and the translation process, you can filter that out and look for the Great Ideas the author has included in the book. Great Ideas are practical techniques or approaches that are used by the author to support his or her Big Idea. They are not Big enough to support a whole book, or broad enough to build a whole company around, but they can bring huge advantages to situations where they are relevant.

A Great Idea is not universal. It may not be helpful at all in your circumstances. But having that Idea in your mental toolbox may come in handy when a new situation arises.

Great Ideas are often illustrated in stories or case studies. Since they are situationally relevant, they are easier to communicate within a sample situation. Whenever the author tells a story, look for the Great Idea that is being explained or supported.

Sometimes Great Ideas are frameworks, visual tools, or ways of thinking about a problem. Whenever there is an illustration in a book, it's a clue that there is a Great Idea there. Many analysts love to combine two adjectives, make a grid, and create 4 quadrants. It is immediately apparent that you want to go up and to the right. That grid may be describing a Great Idea.

Great Ideas don't require a lot of authority to implement. You can start trying out a new way of analyzing a problem immediately. You can go to work, watch a process, and start placing it on a grid within a day. Companies are usually managed according to a small set of these Great Ideas, communicated explicitly or implicitly throughout the organization.

As you read a book, keep a notebook handy. Make a page just for the Big Idea of the book. Note the sales process the author uses to sell you on the idea. Note the target audience the Big Idea is translated for. After you've finished the book, see if you can write a paragraph describing how the Big Idea could be translated for your company.

Then make a whole section of your notebook for the Great Ideas in that book. Every time you encounter a technique or approach that the author uses to solve a problem, write it down on a new page. Note the kind of problem the Idea solves. Draw the picture if there is one, or summarize the story or case study. Then spend a few minutes translating the Great Idea to your situation. Don't worry about the whole company (unless you are the CEO). Instead, apply the Great Idea to your work life, right now. If there is no immediate application, leave it blank, but make a note of the problem type. When you encounter that problem type in the future, your notebook will contain an approach that has worked for other people in the past.

If you are a manager, imagine if your people were creating and sharing notebooks full of Big Ideas and Great Ideas. Imagine if there was the opportunity for people to filter those ideas up to their leaders, so that the whole company could learn. Great companies coalesce around a few Big Ideas, but no company can ever have enough Great Ideas in its toolbox. North Creek Consulting will partner with you to install this approach into your company. Starting with the classic business books, your people will be exposed to Big Ideas that will expand their understanding of the market. They will also start to pick up Great Ideas that can give your company marginal improvement in lots of areas at the same time. You're only one person - get more people reading, learning and growing. Partner with me and let's turn your company into a Learning Organization.

Excited to keep learning,

Professional Learner
North Creek Consulting

Categories: Books , Methodology