2020-Q1: Gratitude & accountability

2020-Q1: Gratitude & accountability

Dear friends of Pixel Dreams,

We shout out to you with deep respect and gratitude. You have contributed to our company over the years, whether as a client, partner, mentor, coach, advisor, team, family, friend, fan, or observer.

Thank you for choosing to invest your time and attention in us, and in many cases to trust your business with ours. I say with confidence that you are the most collaborative clients and supporters, whom our group of creatives can ask for. In many ways, you help shape Pixel Dreams to be a dream workplace to invest our days (and the occasional nights when you call on us).

These first days of spring 2020 see unprecedented changes in the air. Now is a time for deeper reflection and connection. As we wrap up the first quarter of the new decade, consider this letter an accountability report to you: what we’ve been up to, what’s next, and what’s possible―thanks to your contributions.

Whether you will skim through or dive deep into this letter, I invite you to also reflect and celebrate all the gains in your life. We know that it can be far too easy to focus on the gaps (how far we are from our goals and ideals) than to measure the gains (how far we are from where we started). It is the gains―not the gaps―that give depths and meanings to life. There will always exist a gap between the now and the future, which is neither predictable nor guaranteed anyway. Let’s be grateful for the progress leading to today.

We look onward to many more years of valuable initiatives, exciting collaboration, and lots of laughter along the way, as we work together to solve more problems worth solving.

In service,

Kal Sayid Mokhtarzada
Chief Education Officer ― on behalf of the Pixel Dreams Team

 

Table of contents

 

How your contributions support our

Purpose & mission

 

What

Our massive transformative purpose (MTP) is to help raise human intelligence and consciousness. After many years of soul searching, the genesis for this clarity in purpose sparked at the beginning of summer 2016. One early morning at a local breakfast joint (What-a-Bagel on Spadina Ave, Toronto), our leadership team concluded this lengthy discovery process, and agreed on the what and the why of our company purpose. The big question of ‘how’ has been our ongoing pursuit ever since.

Defining Intelligence
  • The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills
  • The capacity for critical thinking, reasoning, learning, understanding, planning, creating, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Defining Consciousness
  • The state of being awake and aware of one’s internal and external happenings
  • The awareness by the mind of itself and the world
  • The recognition that perception of something is not the reality of that thing
  • The ability to observe emotions without being taken over by them

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Why

Why raise intelligence and consciousness?
You, me, and our world all have problems worth solving. There are many pressing challenges locally and globally, and becoming more pressing than ever. We believe the keystone―the most important―challenge to solve is to evolve our minds. Einstein’s wisdom vividly illustrates this belief: “The significant problems in our lives cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” Imagine what problems would go away, when we could think better and clearer, and make decisions without (or with less) cognitive biases.

Raising intelligence alone is not enough

There are highly intelligent people, who can compute and reason their ways into building weapons of mass destruction, shipping addictive and destructive consumer products, or committing economic and social frauds. There are also highly intelligent people, who have destructive relationships with others and themselves. There are highly intelligent people, who suffer from anxiety, depression, poor physical and/or emotional health, or lack any sort of direction or purpose in life.
Raising consciousness alone is not enough

There are also highly conscious people, who keep a distance from society. Their awareness, mindfulness, peace, and tranquillity may be at enlightenment, yet may not help lighten the loads for society (we’re social creatures, after all.) You can find these people living in mountains, caves, deserts, communes, and Algonquin Park. You may even have one lounging on your sofa, puffing the magic dragon, and leaving societal burdens to others to carry. Then there are self-aware and socially conscious people, who cannot balance a cheque book, hold down a job, lead a team, build a business or anything to create value for others. So what good is one’s consciousness, if it benefits no one else?

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How: internal focus

Vital

This is a people analytics platform we began building and using internally since 2016 to measure ourselves. We call it VITAL, because it provides visibility into the health lines of the individuals (cells) who make up our company (organism). We believe org health is the ultimate competitive advantage in the long run, which we’re in for. We continue building out this platform to have the capability to measure our MTP.

Personal awareness
Awareness from daily reflection improves both clarity and quality of life. On Vital, our team:

  • Record daily wins and losses
  • Journal and share daily reflections
  • Have options to keep a private journal (besides the shared one)

people analytics platform for team health and performance

Personal accountability
Accountability from tracking and measuring improves both motivation and performance. On Vital, our team:

  • Track goals, habits, virtues, vices, or anything important (sleep, meditation, exercises, reading, learning, etc.)
  • Have options to share all or some trackings with teams
  • Access to personal and team dashboards (future: data visualization, insights, predictions)
people analytics platform for team health and performance
people analytics platform for team health and performance

Friducation

Learning has been important to our company since day one. We call our culture of learning-centric funs and adventures FRIDUCATION, by bringing together Friday (fun) and Education (learning).

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  • Minimum requirement of 1 book/month
  • Mini docs/videos/discussions at lunch time
  • Presentations, workshops, hackathons, debates
  • Field trips, retreats, parties
  • Documentaries, curated shows
  • Attending, hosting, & sponsoring events (more on this below)
  • A few initiatives (some already born, some still in incubation)
    • Vital platform (see above)
    • Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go (VR experimentation)
    • Puppets in Space (educational show)

Coaching

We invest in external coaches for our team, and provide internal coaching to our juniors, because we strive to perform our best.

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  • Strategic Coach (Lan & Kal, Sep 2018 to present)
  • Strategic Coach (Trevor & Sarah, Sep 2019)
  • Private coaches (2018)
  • Sandler Sales (2017)
  • EOa (Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerate) (2016-2017)

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How: external focus

Supporting clients, partners, families and friends

We openly share our culture of learning and growing, along with the tools we use to support it.

Consulting & strategy workshops

  • Branding, marketing, sales, etc.
  • Operations, system and process management, etc.
  • MTP, mission, vision, culture, etc.
Content sharing & giving

  • PD Library (open to community)
  • Book reviews and recommendations
  • Givings of books and artworks
  • Presentations & events of all kinds
  • Newsletters, blog posts, and social posts

Supporting extended communities

We raise ourselves to raise others. As we pursue knowledge and wisdom, we promote what we find valuable. We contribute time and money to those pursuing missions complementary with ours.

Donating to mission-driven organizations

  • Wikipedia
  • Toronto Symphony Orchestra
  • TVO
  • Amnesty
  • Kiva
  • Afghan Institute of Learning
  • The Epoch Times
  • Kurzgesagt
  • & more
Hosting, sponsoring, and teaching at community events

  • Blockchain10x
  • AndroidTO
  • InboundCon
  • Girls Learning Code
  • Kids Learning Code
  • CryptoChicks
  • Tech Spark
  • ComicCon
  • YMC
  • UofT
  • Ryerson U
  • Sheridan
  • Northview Heights

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How your contributions support

Our operations

Creative ideas are useless if we can’t make them happen. Being a creative company, our ability to bring a vision to life is what counts. We had learned early on that a well-organized structure and systems can remove obstacles, and shorten the path between an idea and its reality. Suffice to say, we invest much of ourselves into building (and upgrading) our creative machine. Welcome to our backstage operations.

Kaizen (改善)

Kaizen is a business philosophy referring to intentional continuous improvements of all functions throughout the business, and involve all employees from the front-line workers to the CEO. Kaizen deeply resonates with us, as a group of creative strivers always looking to get better and become more effective.

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Kaizen (改善) is the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. Kaizen also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain.[1] It has been applied in healthcare,[2] psychotherapy,[3] life-coaching, government, and banking.

By improving standardized programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.[4]

Relevant books
Scrum, Getting Things Done, Essentialism, Extreme Ownership, Willpower Doesn’t Work, The Checklist Manifesto, Principles, Sprint, Running Lean, Scaling Lean, among many others.

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Systems & practices

Systems are like tools. A tool offers little value if used incorrectly, and no value if not used at all. We continue improving our systems, choosing the right tools for the right reasons and at the right time. The following are systems, practices, and tools we use daily, weekly, monthly, and others on the right occasion.

Methodology: Scrum & Sprints

The approach PD takes to tackling tasks is not the old Gantt chart-water-flow-technique where everything is supposed to flow neatly from the top-down. This outdated system has considerable procedural flaws and has been replaced with a much more collaborative Scrum model which allows for greater problem-solving, productive, and time-saving strategies. Sprints involve short, time-specific periods when a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work. Both systems collectively facilitate an agile, lean, methodology which increases the efficacy of collaborative teamwork.
Methodology: Pomodoros

Named after the Italian word for ‘Tomato’, the classic kitchen timer, this productivity technique encourages people to alternate deep work and essential break in precise intervals, i.e. for every 25 minutes of focus, take a 5-minute break, or for every 50 minutes of work, take a 10-minute break. After every This technique increases ‘flow’ state, minimizes interruptions and procrastination.
Methodology: Radars

The best way to describe Radars is to call it ‘Google Sheets on steroids’. It allows everyone within a company to link to one another. This allows for a high-level overview of business operations, HR, timesheets, projects, etc. It was customized and built in-house but inspired by Ray Dalio’s seminal work: Principles for Success.
Personality Assessments

  • DiSC: The DiSC assessment is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences. The acronym stands for personal characteristics: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.
  • Kolbe A: This is designed as an Instinct Test. That is, it doesn’t measure intelligence, personality, or social style. Instead, it measures the instinctive ways people take action when you strive to accomplish a task.
  • Predictive Index: This is a psychometric test designed to identify 17 “Reference Profiles” that create a behavioral map for different types of people.
Meeting: MMM (Monday Morning Meeting) p1

On the first workday of the week (usually Monday, but occasionally, Tuesday) the PD Team meets at 8:00 am to discuss what each individual did over the weekend. This provides each worker with the unique opportunity to discuss in an often light-hearted, funny, but sometimes serious manner, what happened to them over their weekend. It provides the team with a structured way in which everyone can connect which in turn, humanizes the work environment and provides a more complete understanding of each employee.
Meeting: MMM p2

Meeting: Daily Standups

The concept of the Standup is taken from Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. At approximately 4:00 pm on every workday, the entire PD team takes time to ‘stand up’ from their work stations and meet in a common area to discuss daily and weekly initiatives, strategies, catch blockers, etc. Occasionally, Standups will include Operations Meetings.
Meeting: Weekly Wrap-up

Every Friday afternoon, the PD team meets to summarize what was accomplished throughout the week. Time is devoted to what was learned, re-learned, and unlearned. As well, team members are given time to express gratitude and appreciation for specific activities, information, or other coworkers. An event called ‘Friducation’ usually follows the weekly wrap-up which allows PD team members to take part in new learning experiences e.g. presentations, music, movies, field trips, etc.
Meeting: Weekly Leadership

The PD Leadership Team meets on Tuesdays between 7:30 – 8:00 am as an opportunity to discuss matters and issues which have not been covered during previous business hours.
Meeting: SOTN

The State of the Nation address is similar in scope and kind to a ‘Town Hall’ meeting. It allows the CEO to discuss important matters regarding Organizational Clarity by focusing on the direction, philosophy, and impact of Pixel Dreams.
Platform: Asana

Asana is a Performance Management system inspired by David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done. Although management at PD has reviewed many Performance Management systems, Asana is superior due to its capacity to designate clear ownership of tasks assigned as well as its cohesion with the Scrum approach of completing tasks.
Platform: Slack

Slack is a superior platform to email for communication within a company. It allows all relevant parties to see all discussions and files about a project in one place (or channel). Slack also encourages non-private and transparent conversations (unless the subject matter requires privacy) in real-time which is efficient, cost-saving, and productive.
Platform: Harvest

Harvest is a time management system that allows workers to accurately log time allocated to specific tasks. Keeping track of how much time is devoted by employees to specific tasks allows for more accurate management of team activities. This, in turn, provides insight into productivity and performance to both the clients and PD management.
Platform: Google Apps

Google Apps are computer applications that allow time-saving shortcuts that integrate well with the day-to-day functions at PD. They allow employees to save time either by signing in to programs or working collaboratively, building templates, etc.
Platform: VITAL

Vital is a high-level analytics platform that has been built in-house and tracks virtually any type of data point. Sometimes referred to as Pearson’s Law: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” In the spirit of Kaizen, PD is constantly focused on ways to increase and monitor self and collective improvement.

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Thinking framework

By now, you can see how important the ability to think critically is to our operations. We couldn’t leave this to chance, and actively apply strategic thinking tools and wisdom to projects, initiatives, and day-to-day operations.

Strategic Coach® tools
Strategic Coach® is the entrepreneur coaching program we’re a part of since September 2018. We frequently use these tools:

  • DOS: Dangers, Opportunities, Strengths
    The DOS Conversation® provides clarity to our clients’ biggest dangers, opportunities, and strengths. Once written out and seen visually, we are better able to create strategies to eliminate or minimize dangers, capture and capitalize on opportunities, and maximize the strengths necessary to deal with said dangers and opportunities.
  • Strategic Circle
    A problem solving and planning tool that helps you overcome complexity by providing a framework for transforming obstacles into strategies to achieve results.Defining the goal and imagining the desired result paints a picture of your vision for your mind to grasp. You can then consider any obstacles in the way. These obstacles are the crucial raw material for achieving your result. Once you’re clear on the specific obstacles, you can then strategize each one and take action.
  • Impact Filter
    The Impact Filter is a powerful tool to clarify and focus our thinking. By being intentional, we give ourselves and others direction about exactly what we want to have happened and why along with the success criteria.
  • Experience Transformer
    This is Strategic Coach’s post-mortem tool, capturing the learning from both positive and negative experiences, so we can repeat the former and avoid the latter.
Critical thinking doctor in residence
To further strengthen our thinking capability, in 2019, we brought on board Dr. Christopher DiCarlo, a PhD and professor in critical thinking. Dr. DiCarlo is a former Visiting Scholar and professor of philosophy and critical thinking at the University of Toronto, University of Guelph, Laurier University, Harvard University, Ryerson University. He is an author of several books on critical thinking, including a favourite of ours, How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass. The Doctor’s role at PD is Critical Thinking Advisor and Writer – one to help steer our MTP forward in getting more people to increase their own I+C. We have ambitious plans for 2020, including the possibility of offering Critical Thinking for Business Leaders for our clients, partners, and close community. We recently purchased the domain RaisingIC.org, to provide more transparency and report to the public on our efforts, as well as to scale impact beyond our immediate community.

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Future endeavours

While we are proud of what we have done over the years, there are always more ahead. We count on the compounding effect of ‘doing the work’, to raise more intelligence and consciousness, and to ship more value to our supporters, their communities, and the world.

VITAL enhancements & upgrades
We’ve been capturing over 3 years of data. We’ve made significant improvements to the platform, including making the mobile experience smoother. In time, we’ll want to add the ability to provide data visualization, insights, and predictions.
RaisingIC.org
We hope to encourage other organizations to join our efforts. This site will be a platform for highlighting people, teams, organizations, and governments who are doing amazing things and increasing human potential.
Critical Thinking in Business Series
Entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders are influential to both people and the community. By supporting their efforts through providing workshops on critical thinking, we expect that the increase in their I+C will impact their teams, families, and communities at large.
Critical thinking in prisons
We believe that our prisons are outdated, archaic, and do not support the larger goals of our communities and country. We plan to invest our time teaching critical thinking tools to some of our most needed people: those in prisons. We believe that if individuals had the tools necessary to think better, we would decrease recidivism rates while increasing the quality of life of those who are incarcerated, as well as those getting out of prison.
Resources on our website
As the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot, our website is due for an overhaul. We plan on providing comprehensive tools, templates, and research on a spectrum of business-related topics from project management, process and system building, to leadership, culture, and team building.
PD Library
A project on hold, we intend to finish what we started. Many people in our community come to our HQ to borrow from our growing library of non-fiction bests. We hope to build a comprehensive online library providing readers with available titles, themes, and reviews.
Client Portal
We want to equip our clients with the tools they need to better their projects and businesses: brand and campaign asset management, downloadable resources, work requests, engagement history, invoice management, etc. The upcoming portal will bring even more value to the clients we serve.

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How your contributions support

Our culture

At Pixel Dreams, culture is our #1 strategy. This means that the success of PD is highly dependent upon how we work (and live) cohesively as a team. While culture can take shape accidentally, we are deliberate in cultivating ours by design.

Values

The values at PD are standards by which to live and work. The following eight values are standards to which we hold ourselves accountable. They are prioritized in order, with each value serving as a foundation to the one after and each complimenting the one before.

  1. Be Grateful
  2. Take Responsibilities
  3. Clean Toilets
  4. Study Hard
  5. Be Stronger
  6. Be Better
  7. Have Fun
  8. Ship Value
Health

It is important to be healthy in these key areas: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Emotional (PSME). We monitor these health lines individually and share them among our team. Sometimes, we get to witness the whole team jumps in to support someone when that person isn’t doing well in one area or another, simply because of open sharing. We also have an uncommon workplace, where our team gets access to a fully equipped gym, sauna, yoga studio, as well as yoga mats and weights, besides nutritious lunches prepared on-site every day. In the past couple of weeks working from home, there are certain things we miss about being together physically. Fortunately, a combination of communication channels is keeping us in touch with each other’s health. Until we are physically together, again.
Food

We take eating together very seriously. We cook lunches in our kitchen, and always eat together. It’s a company policy against each alone at our desks. This collectively ‘breaking bread’ together provides an opportunity bond and enjoy the company of fellow teammates. Everyone also contributes to meal preparation, cooking, and cleaning. Like an Indy pit crew, our team’s ability to work together in a tight space during a short lunch hour also translates to how we collaborate and communicate everywhere else. Working from home currently has us eating at different times, yet, as far as I can tell, each of us is respecting the ‘rule’ of eating away from the work computer, to pay attention to the food we’re fortunate to be eating.
Trips

Expanding the mind is an essential ingredient in recipes for creativity. Trips―no matter distance, duration, participation, or sometimes strategic substance―not only stretch the creative muscles and deepen creative insights; but also, connect and synchronize individuals with lasting bonds. From half-day outings, full-day field trips, weekend retreats, summer getaways, to workcations and away-missions, from local, regional, to global destinations, what matters most is for us to make time for them, no matter how busy. With the recent necessity for physical distancing, we’re looking into virtual trips together. We will keep you posted with interesting ones.
Parties

You are likely to have been to at least one of our parties, events, or gatherings. We are serious and militant about work; because we get to indulge in a lot of play and laughter. Our team is never shy from hosting parties and having good times, no matter how absurd of an idea it could be. Parties are great reasons to see our favourite people, meeting new people they bring along, besides flexing our creative muscles in theming, planning, and executing such creative endeavours. In 2019 alone, we hosted at least five official soirees, among the frequently impromptu hangs on Friday evenings. In 2020, we are looking forward to hosting even more parties and hangouts (once physical distancing is no longer necessary, until then, we’re having fun together virtually!).

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Closing thoughts

September 2019 marked the first full decade of Pixel Dreams, and we look onward to the next one. While it won’t be easy, it will be essential.
As the whole world is facing unprecedented challenges with unpredictable outcomes, how we respond (and not react) to whatever comes at us today is paramount to how we will be tomorrow. Amid global uncertainties, what we do know for sure is the capability to choose how to face difficulties: stubbornness to remain the same, or willingness to learn and adapt. One of the two has a much higher probability of making it through, and we’re banking on that!

Upholding an optimistic outlook in challenging times is difficult, but possible with deliberation. We all can carve out time and space to reflect and respond (not react and regret). If you want someone(s) to reflect together, I invite you to call on me and my team.

If you have read this far, thank you for your time, attention, and support. We look onward to shaping a brighter future, together.

In service,

Kal Sayid Mokhtarzada
Chief Education Officer ― on behalf of the Pixel Dreams Team

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