The Future of Business is Built on a Semi-colon; the Ethos of a 30-Year-Old Organization

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade


July 28, 2021


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Author: Ken Tencer, Spyder Works Inc. CEO, 2021 MBOT Chair

The ethos of Spyder Works is the semi-colon; used to connect two interdependent ideas that are closely related in thought. We leverage this ethos to drive sustainable growth for our clients; creating clarity and developing strategic insights to foster business opportunities.

In our first book, the 90% Rule®, John Cardoso and I applied this personal belief to a model for business growth. The 90% Rule is a straightforward philosophy that challenges organizations to best understand what they are already good or great at; this becomes the “90%.” From there we ask, “What’s the next 10%?” What is the next product, service or process improvement that will create a continuously engaged customer base, strengthen your brand and grow your business? The 90% Rule is a positive approach to identifying opportunities for change: It is both a celebration of the many successes achieved together in the past and, since you are never more than 90% of the way “there,” it is a challenging process that demands a commitment to continuous improvement.

Spyder Works Inc. is now nearly 30 years old. I joined near its midway point, 17 years ago. At that time, the firm had gained traction as a respected branding and design firm. But the world around us was changing. The nature of brand had evolved from graphic elements to human attributes such as brand voice, character and personality. Additionally, design—the process of imagining what could be—had transitioned into the discipline of design thinking; a human-centric approach to solutioning challenges that flipped the lens of business from “me-centric” to “customer-centric.”

Recognizing these changes, it was obvious that Spyder needed to adapt to be best positioned for the future. We embarked on a change process that closely reflects a different form of AI, Appreciative Inquiry. It is an approach to organisational change that follows four stages: discovery, dream, design, and destiny.

The Discovery Stage

Too often, agents of change begin from a place of fear or an unfounded source of “eminence” which translates into immediate resistance. Frankly, most of the businesses that we have built ourselves or consulted to are good businesses that rightfully recognize change as an opportunity to better meet the future. AI provides the positive (re)engagement and understanding that we are all in this together.

In our company’s case, we had a successful practice. But we recognized that, alone, a design thinking practice was not able to support our goal to drive sustainable growth. Design thinking successfully helps identify human-centric opportunities, but it does less to address how to best take advantage of them. Success is the recognition of an opportunity followed by its prosperous commercialization. We rallied our team around our thinking and engaged in a process to meld human-centric thinking with successful business commercialization. The result was a platform that we call design-driven strategy, which focuses on developing a sustainable growth strategy—a human (or customer)-centric perspective that supports the delivery of products and services in a way that clearly addresses your customers’ needs and wants.

While this “change” may seem semantic, it is not. Many ideation processes start with what “We” want to bring to market. Frequently, I remind companies that the change is not for or about you, it is for your customer. Successful change needs to bring added value to the customer in a way that makes their lives “easier.” After all, it is the customer that is writing the cheque, not “We.” The bottom-line is, change is more effective when the change agents begin with a positive, customer-centric perspective.

The Dream Stage

After realizing that design-thinking on its own was not the answer to sustained corporate growth, our dream for Spyder Works quickly coalesced. We saw the opportunity to create a business consultancy for mid-market organizations seeking to drive sustainable growth by using our unique form of design-driven strategy.

We chose the mid-market because we recognized that with the quickening pace of change, companies were scaling into mid-market companies faster than ever, and we understood their need for a consultative partner to support their unique needs. Also, my first business grew from start-up to mid-market size quite rapidly. Upon achieving mid-market status, I found that there were no organizations that I could turn to for support in thinking about my next steps for growth. There were some brilliant “single-shingles,” but their scope was limited. I also found consultancies built to support large organizations that purported to be able to support mid-market companies but, in practice, I felt that they couldn’t properly support me. Their solutions were developed to support companies with hundreds, if not thousands, of directors and vice-presidents alone, and my company only had four at the time.

The Destiny Stage

Bringing about such a change or transformation is best approached as a series of discrete changes. We have found that the bigger the dream, the more incremental step-changes are required. So, we engaged the team in what was literally a ten-year dream of creating “credibility” as thought leaders for growing mid-market organizations. This required content, engagement, a conversation and a carefully crafted team to achieve each benchmark along the way. Addressing the elements of change individually:

We needed content. This was arrived at by outlining the Intraprise° series of four books that were to be released every three years, including The 90% Rule, which I outlined above, and Cause a Disturbance, a book about applying the fundamentals of innovation to solve organizational challenges and drive sustainable growth. We also needed easy, bite-sized ways for both our team and the market to understand and engage with our evolving platform. This meant that each step had to be measured. Quantum leaps are very challenging, so we approached our change through smaller, measured steps.

Working with a public relations specialist and a social media firm, our goal was to create a conversation around the “why” of our change process. In my experience, simply telling the audience is disengaging. Creating a conversation built on common interests, challenges or pain-points is an unobtrusive way to say that we understand and that we have a solution that we can work through with you.

Finally, we needed to build a culture and a team that shared our values of passion, resilience, integrity and savage curiosity. One of the things that we recently introduced at Spyder Works is a learning component. Each year, everyone on the team needs to take a course. However, we did not dictate curiosity. There are no guidelines as to what type of course other than it must build newfound or improved skills. Classes have ranged from social media to pottery design, service design and my doctorate in human ingenuity, innovation and intrapreneurship.

Ideas, opportunities and strategies need to have a common thread, which is why we truly believe that the semi-colon is the best ethos for sustained growth. This doesn’t mean that your ideas can’t be aggressive, progressive or breakthrough. It simply means that they need to provide a logical build from past to future. Or in our case, an ethos that seamlessly moves clients from thinking to doing and monitoring.

Reach out to me at if you would like to chat more about change, transformation or purposefully leading your company forward.

About the Author

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade

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