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Betting on yourself with entrepreneur Tanya Gough

Armed with a passion for narrative literacy and a knack for content architecture, creative-industry entrepreneur Tanya Gough is driven to help make the writing process more interactive, collaborative and social with StoryBilder.

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“Whatever you do will be wrong…until it isn’t,” says creative-industry entrepreneur Tanya Gough, about navigating other people’s feedback while building a tech platform. 

Armed with a passion for narrative literacy and a knack for content architecture, Gough has created StoryBilder. It is an adaptive story-generating platform that transforms the way writing happens. The platform is aimed at helping storytellers build out their plots, characters and entire worlds to make the writing process more interactive, collaborative and social.

Gough is one of 50 women across Canada selected for the first cohort of the BANFF Spark Accelerator for Women in the Business of Media. With support from Western Economic Diversification Canada, this new program offers training, mentorship and market access to women entrepreneurs ready to grow or launch their own businesses in screen-based industries.

Leigh Doyle, partner and VP at DJG and a fellow cohort participant, interviewed Gough as part of a series showcasing the entrepreneurs in the BANFF spark program. 

Leigh Doyle: You’re a big believer in narrative literacy. Can you tell me a bit about what is narrative literacy, and why do all of us need to sort of relearn it?

Tanya Gough: Narrative literacy is the ability to recognize and understand narrative structure in the stories around us. It matters because we’re surrounded by story, and it’s an incredibly persuasive format for transmitting information. When we understand story, not only are we better able to express our own stories and be heard, but it also gets easier to recognize when we’re being manipulated or lied to. And that gives us better defenses against fake news and makes it easier to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Doyle: How did the idea of StoryBilder come to you?

Gough: I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is a game designer, and we were brainstorming for an app we were working together on. At that moment, StoryBilder just happened for me. I knew exactly what it had to be. 

I wanted to create an environment where people could not only write their stories, but that could also help them organize their thoughts and ideas. And, if they were new to writing or didn’t know what to do next, there would be support and tools to help them improve their craft. I also wanted to ensure the platform would foster creativity, which I think is missing in the market.

Here’s what it is and how it works: 

Doyle: Who is StoryBilder for? 

Gough: StoryBilder is currently designed to support creative writing, particularly for fiction novels. But the technology is adaptable. I’ve already got screenwriters who want to use it as a planning tool for their scripts. I have game developers who want to use it for world building. I even had a D&D master ask me if he could use it to build campaigns — and the answer to this is yes. StoryBilder is built around a narrative construction model that can be applied to any storytelling format. It can be used for a lot of different things.

Doyle: What author would you be thrilled to see using StoryBilder? 

Gough: It’s so hard to pick! The obvious answer is George RR Martin. The idea of this huge epic world, with tons of characters spanning multiple books and managing all of the interconnected pieces, is a long-term ambition of StoryBilder. But, personally, from more of a literary geek perspective, I would say Michael Chabon who wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s probably my favorite book of all time. Chabon writes these incredibly dense, complexly structured storylines with interconnecting plots and massively detailed backgrounds. This is the type of narrative I’m keeping back of my mind as I develop StoryBilder. 

Doyle: When will StoryBilder be available to the public? 

Gough: Right now, we’ve got beta testers helping me find the last of the bugs, and I’m doing some extra design work. Then we’re launching this summer. I’m looking forward to getting it into the market and getting the word out.

Headshot of Tanya Gough, founder StoryBilder

Doyle: You’ve owned a boutique CD and video store, the world’s largest Shakespeare video catalogue and created content for companies like BlackBerry, Shoppers Drug Mart and more. How have you seen the entrepreneurial landscape change for women over the course of your career?

Gough: If five years ago, you asked me if there would be any substantial change for women in business in my lifetime, I would have said no. And clearly I won’t see parity in my lifetime — just look at the numbers. But what I have seen — especially in the last few years — is a rising opportunity for entrepreneurial women to connect with each other. This is thanks to social media and groups on large networks like Facebook. 

The women in these groups are not only talking about their challenges in a really honest way, but they are incredibly generous about helping each other and supporting each other through not only the bad stuff, but making sure that we’re all succeeding together. Change is happening now. It’s not going to happen as fast as people hope, but it will happen as long as we continue to support each other and continue to speak openly. Support and solidarity are incredibly empowering.

One of my big drivers for creating StoryBilder is this knowledge that more women need to have businesses to create a path for the next generation to follow. Someone needs to be out in front. And that’s where I need to be, with the rest of the women taking the hits and leading the way.

Doyle: What lessons do you have for entrepreneurs building tech platforms like Story Bilder? 

Gough: The first is to forget about funding. Sure, there are stories about people getting funded at the idea stage, but it’s rare, and you’re new and inexperienced. Find another way and don’t waste all of your time chasing the money until you have something solid in hand.

The second is whatever you do will be wrong…until it isn’t. Take the time to experiment and try new approaches to make sure you’re solving the right problem in the right way. Likewise, if you are looking for funding, be prepared to hear you’re not ready — a lot.

Finally, do it because you love it. Starting a business is way too much work to do if you don’t wake up every morning excited to be working on it. Which isn’t to say you’re going to love it every day, but if you’re waking up every morning not knowing if you’re building the right thing, go do some market research or get out.

Connect with Tanya and StoryBilder on social media: 

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How can organizations attract and retain IT talent?

Gartner has outlined three ways

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One of the biggest stories in digital transformation right now? Attracting and retaining IT talent. 

According to Gartner, the labor market has tightened in the last two years. They report that:

  • 60% of HR leaders are “significantly concerned” about employee turnover.
  • 62% of candidates have explored a career change in the last year.
  • Nearly three-quarters of candidates who receive a job offer have at least one other offer on the table.

Amid stories from the ‘Great Resignation,’ workers in all industries are pushing for higher compensation, better benefits, and increased flexibility — and IT talent is no exception. In fact, Gartner’s Global Labor Market Survey found that compensation is the top driver for IT talent attraction and retention. According to a recent Gartner IT Compensation Increase Poll, 50% of organizations reported increasing the salaries of key employees after they received a separate job offer — all in a bid to retain this talent.

How can organizations effectively attract talent and, most importantly, retain these employees? Gartner has outlined three ways.

Make monitoring and raising pay competitiveness a priority

As Gartner explains, “In order to pinpoint where additional funding will be necessary to address pay gaps in the short term, work with your HR team to identify IT roles and skills areas facing higher attrition risk and recruitment challenges due to noncompetitive compensation.”

Limited resources? Prioritize roles in high-risk areas, they explain.

Build flexibility into IT compensation through variable pay programs

“One way to minimize locking in compensation adjustments as long-term fixed costs,” explains  Lily Mok, Gartner VP Analyst, “is to use variable pay components that can be adjusted or removed as talent needs and market conditions evolve.”

Examples of these include skills-based premium pay, a signing bonus (lump sum or split up), and retention bonuses (eg. during a major period of transition).

Make sure managers can have successful pay-related conversations

According to Gartner, there are three important elements needed to make sure these conversations are effective. 

First, never forget empathy — especially since finances are a very personal topic and can be a sensitive issue.

Second, make sure the compensation package’s value is clearly outlined and understood. This includes pay, bonuses, benefits, etc.

Finally, be transparent about the organization’s pay structure, and how pay rates are set. After all, there are many sites out there (eg. Glassdoor) that features self-reported public pay data. 

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How will CIOs define success in 2021?

New research suggests CIOs are prioritizing digital transformation to “future-proof” their organizations and build resiliency.

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Recently, we reported IDC’s 2021 predictions, which noted that while CIOs have faced epic-level challenges this year, they’ll need to be in the front seat of the upcoming economic relief efforts.

At the top of IDC’s list was the prediction that by 2022, “65% of CIOs will digitally empower and enable front-line workers with data, AI, and security to extend their productivity, adaptability, and decision-making in the face of rapid changes.”

Since then, Gartner has also chimed into the CIO + Future of Work discussion. They identified “automation of routine work with AI, digital dexterity, and hybrid work with distributed workforce” as areas CIOs should focus on.

Now, a new report (based on a survey of over 100 Fortune 500 CIOs) from digital adoption platform WalkMe has uncovered how CIOs and IT organizations will define success in 2021, expanding on these aforementioned trends.

Multi-pronged approaches

In The CIO Outlook 2021, WalkMe — who commissioned Constellation Research for the report — found that 77% of CIOs list automation and AI as key to improving the effectiveness of IT. 59% say ROI from IT can be achieved through portfolio assessment and rationalization.

“CIOs are prioritizing overall digital change, keeping the organization safe, and improving the worker condition,” says WalkMe. Looking ahead, “CIOs must invest in finding the right models for enabling remote work while supporting their users.”

In order for organizations to adapt to change and become future-proof, CIOs need a multi-pronged approach, featuring:

  • No-code solutions
  • The automation of repetitive processes
  • Key software integration
  • Training and service through new approaches

As quoted in ITProPortal, Constellation VP and Principal Analyst Dion Hinchcliffe says:

“This data, gathered from top CIOs around the world, shows that they will be seeking dramatic improvements, especially significantly higher ROI (10-20 percent+) from their IT investment next year.” 

Want to read the full report? Find it here.

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Why upskilling is key to oil & gas digital transformation

A new EY survey found that 90% of industry executives agree that investments in technology and workforce are key to current market survival.

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COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation timeliness across the board — and the oil & gas sector is no different. 

According to a new EY survey, 90% of O&G executives said that investments in technology and a strong, skilled workforce are needed for the sector to withstand current market conditions.

The Oil and Gas Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey 2020 also found that 58% of executives said that COVID has “made investing in digital technology more urgent, with a majority planning to invest a great deal (29%) or moderate amount (51%) relative to their total budget.”

As EY Global Oil & Gas Leader Andy Brogan explains, the pandemic has had a major impact on DX timelines, shifting adoption from five years to three months.

“The cost savings digital can deliver for organizations is critical for survival in today’s low-price environment, as oil and gas companies look to gain greater operational efficiencies and drive productivity across the value chain. However, to capture the full value of these investments, oil and gas companies need the skills to harness and use the technology to its maximum potential.”

Addressing skills gaps 

The accelerated pace of DX adoption in the sector brings up questions about the workforce, and whether their skills align with the increase in pace. 

The answer is hardly surprising. 

According to the survey, 46% of respondents (on average) report that their current workforce isn’t equipped with the necessary skills to match tech investment. Respondents also report that 60% of their workers need to be reskilled or upskilled.

92% report that reskilling efforts will be key in their success over the next three years.

“It’s not enough for companies to simply spend more on technology,” explained Tim Haskell, US Oil & Gas People Advisory Services Leader for Ernst & Young LLP.

“Investment in the workforce is needed to scale and integrate technologies and ultimately capture the intended value. Companies must find an investment balance while addressing market pressures. Otherwise, the industry could potentially lose crucial years and a generation of workers.”

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