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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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What talent factors matter the most in a digital transformation?

Revisiting 30+ digital transformations, McKinsey found several core themes when it comes to talent and their success.

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Digital transformations (DX) can be as simple as the creation of an internal digital and advanced-analytics (DnA) system or as complex as an enterprise-wide technological shift. While these shifts have changed the way organizations operate, they’ve also had a big effect on how they plan to do so in the future. At the end of the day, the success of DX efforts largely comes down to people.

With this reality in mind, researchers at McKinsey Digital recently undertook a review of 30 large-scale digital transformations to better understand the dynamics at play behind the process, and ultimately what talent and tech decisions have the biggest impact on DX success. 

Through this research, several key insights emerged.

Fill senior roles with the right digital leaders

One of the most glaring points McKinsey made in its review was the need for organizations to prioritize their hiring of digital-minded leaders. The high performance of a transformation project often rests on the shoulders of these individuals, even more so than on the technologies they use.

In fact, the research found that up to 50% of a given group or unit’s performance variability could be attributed to the individual leaders driving the transformation. Therefore, it’s important for organizations to invest in hiring and nurturing these data scientists, digital strategists, engineers, and other digital-focused leaders for their digital transformations to be successful.

But in that same vein, McKinsey notes that companies should be wary of rushing into hiring in  these roles. It explains that organizations risk the overall reputation and viability of their programs if they attempt to take shortcuts with early hiring, sometimes delaying progress by a year or more.

Invest in digital learning and development programs

Another key area of impact researchers highlighted was learning and development, and how investments in such programs for DnA rollouts could improve the success of digital transformations. The McKinsey team noted that both on-the-job training and structured learning programs can often do more to improve the success of a transformation than just hiring in new talent.

Furthermore, the review indicated that companies who reward higher skill levels with better compensation were much more likely to be successful in their digital transformations than those who did not. It cited data gathered from leading organizations who comparatively rewarded higher skill levels with better compensation (67%), greater benefits (64%) and more responsibility (78%) than laggard companies who only managed 41%, 23% and 58% respectively.

Similarly, McKinsey emphasized one important fact: digital talent can often be tapped within the organization. Since not all digital products are going to require expert-level skills, upskilling non-digital talent, they found, could potentially cover up to 70% of an organization’s digital needs. Just make sure that you’re being realistic about who can be upskilled and the time commitment. 

And while upskilling is important, organizations need to balance immediate results with long-term capability. Contractors can help fill gaps in the early days of a digital transformation, but need to come with a strong transition plan. 

Take another look at value propositions

McKinsey also discussed the topic of organizational value propositions and their power to influence the quality of talent businesses bring in. It noted that organizations, especially those undergoing digital transformations, should consider the value they offer beyond traditional total-pay packages when it comes to attracting top digital talent.

Including things such as forward-thinking culture, career growth opportunities, and attractive work environments can go a long way in luring the best and brightest digital minds. McKinsey highlighted that companies who have thought hard about their organizational culture and value proposition enjoy a distinct advantage over those who do not, as the quality of digital professionals populating these companies is often much higher.

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U.S. proposes redefining when gig workers are employees

U.S. labor officials proposed a rule change that could make it easier for gig workers to be entitled to benefits.

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A rule change proposed by US labor officials that could make it easier for contract workers to be reclassified as employees shook investor confidence in the future of "gig economy" firms such as Uber and Lyft
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United States labor officials proposed a rule change Tuesday that could make it easier for gig workers such as Uber drivers to be reclassified as employees entitled to benefits.

The move by President Joe Biden’s Labor Department would lower a bar set by his predecessor regarding when someone is considered an employee instead of a contract worker.

It also comes as “gig economy” companies from rideshare platforms to food delivery services strive to maintain the status quo.

The new formula includes factors such as how long a person works for a company and the degree of control over the worker, as well as whether what they do is “integral” to a business, according to the proposed rule.

“We believe the proposed regulation would better protect workers from misclassification while at the same time providing a consistent approach for those businesses that engage or wish to engage with independent contractors,” Jessica Looman of the US Department of Labor said at a press briefing.

Being classified as employees would entitle workers to sick leave, overtime, medical coverage and other benefits, driving up costs for companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash that rely on gig workers.

The proposed rule change is subject to a 45-day public comment period, meaning there is no immediate impact, but share prices took a hit on the news.

Uber and Lyft shares ended the formal day down more than 10 percent, while DoorDash was down nearly six percent.

“It’s a clear blow to the gig economy and a near-term concern for the likes of Uber and Lyft,” despite uncertainty about how the new rule might be interpreted across the country, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.

“With ride sharing and other gig economy players depending on the contractor business model, a classification to employees would essentially throw the business model upside down and cause some major structural changes if this holds.”

Uber and Lyft have consistently argued that their drivers want independence, provided benefits are added to the mix.

In California, the cradle of the gig economy, voters in late 2020 approved a referendum backed by firms such as Uber that preserved keeping drivers classified as independent contractors.

The measure effectively overturned a state law that would require the ride-hailing firms and others to reclassify their drivers and provide employee benefits.

The vote came after a contentious campaign with labor groups claiming the initiative would erode worker rights and benefits, and with backers arguing for a new, flexible economic model.

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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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