Getting back in the Game

Kristy O'Leary is a co-founder of Decade Impact, which is a boutique consulting firm that helps businesses measure and improve their social and environmental impact. Her expertise lies in designing impact business models, and defining purpose and future actions for businesses that drive positive change.

Before co-founding Decade Impact, she worked in various fields related to sustainability and social impact, ranging from impact measurement in the cacao supply chain to campaigning for community investments for wind farms. Kristy has been a B Corp power user since 2013 and continues to deepen her dedication to the B Corp movement.

Guided by a sobering recognition that we live in times where our choices are shaping whether future generations will have a livable future, Kristy has drawn upon allies she found when she moved to Vancouver BC from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. That and her own “pig-headed stubbornness” has helped to claim her calling… to play a significant role in supporting the sustainability revolution.

Listen to Kristy’s story and discover how your epic failures can be super valuable, and can transform into your greatest strengths especially when you’re committed to getting back into the game.

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Show Notes

 

Transcript 

Jalen 

Getting back in the game, there's a whole story there and I'm wondering if you can recall a vivid moment in time that encapsulates the learning that you got from that that piece. 

Kristy 

From my epic failure? 

Jalen 

Yeah, sure. 

Kristy 

Yeah, so I had an epic failure. I've had a few, actually. You know, all of them. Maybe not equally valuable, but incredibly valuable I think. You know my big epic failure. I had started an impact consulting firm in 2013. I left my work in advertising and communications, I became very interested in designing within businesses before things were baked. People would come to us with a cake and say, put some icing on it and help people eat it. And that was, you know, really interesting work. And I learned so much. But fundamentally, once I started looking at the solutions that were offered to the. Mark it. You know, I realize I can create so much more value if I'm I'm earlier in the design process. If I'm in boardrooms with teams really thinking about what is the future of this business, what are the opportunities? Where are all the potential opportunities and touch points for us to create impact beyond profit or alignment with aligning purpose with profit, you know so so that's kind of was the initial idea. Find you know my career change in 2013 and I quickly started a consulting firm and you know it didn't take too long before I realized I may have made a very big mistake. It was really, really hard to sell this work. It was really hard to not convince the business case wasn't clear yet. You know the spiritual business case was there and I got a lot of Pats on the head and people saying, oh, you know, I'm inspired by your mission and this is so great. But this is just not what we need right now. We need more profitability and and one of the big challenges there is that for so long, sustainability impact ES whatever you want to call it. Because the language is very foggy around it still. Well, they believed it was a a cost center in their business. This is going to cost us money. It's going to slow us down. Our customers aren't interested. This is a bunch of voluntary spending. We don't need to do. And so you know, it's taken a long time for those sentiments to change. And for companies to realize that these are revenue centers, impact and sustainability within companies is a revenue center. This is going to drive sales. It's going to drive performance. It's going to drive R&D. So. So I got in the game very early. And did have. A A colossal failure in 2016. I mean. Full on kamikaze. Not a moment, yeah. 

Speaker 

Bring me. 

Jalen 

Bring me to that to. A moment like a a day when you recognize that you're sitting in the wreckage. What the heck happened here? 

Kristy 

Well, I realized that things were not going to work out in late 2015. And started making adjustments, so started working to insulate the people I was working with. I had convinced them to get on the plane or join the team, get in the game with me and so definitely wanted to take responsibility. You know, I think that's what leadership is, is, you know, doing the doing the best you can by those people that, that that join your team. And so really working to insulate other folks and kind of off board the best I could. But the day. Oh, it was a a series of days. The most important thing for me about that time was that I had to kind of reckon with the idea that I couldn't do anything else. 

Speaker 

That I could have. 

Kristy 

I could have gone into sales for some company I could have. I could have done a. Lot of things like I have transferable skills. But I felt that I wouldn't be happy working in the any other space. 

Jalen 

It's like your heart wouldn't let you. 

Kristy 

Yeah, I'm just intellectually and spiritually was like there's there's no other option like this is this is what I'm supposed to do. And this is. This is the way I'm going to move forward and so you know, I found that forward path and it took a while. But you know, it was a a real, sincere belief that I didn't want to just get some job making a. Big paycheck in some other industry because it's like a golden cage. Right. You get comfortable. And I thought, OK, I'm going to sit in the discomfort and just like, accept that this right now is going to be uncomfortable because I don't want to build expertise anywhere where I'm not happy. I think a really great piece of advice someone gave me years ago was never, ever get good at anything you. Don't love. And so I really took that to heart. I didn't want to go and get good at other things and be distracted from the mission. 

Jalen 

So was there, was there a a day that you? Woke up and you know, you looked at the clock or you look out the. Window and you went oh. Plan A is done. And now what? 

Kristy 

You know, honestly vulnerability here. You know, I think that day was the day that I don't know. It was probably March sometime in March 2016 and I called my best friend and I was talking to her and then she. Just came and got me. You know, took me to her place and said OK, now you're going to watch my kids for the next two months and you have to think about something other than this and and pull it together. That was very useful experience. 

Jalen 

Because it sounds like there was a really that. Was a really dark time because. 

Kristy 

Oh, it was the worst. 

Jalen 

Your heart was in it and it got crushed. 

Kristy 

Yeah, because you know, it's easy to feel crazy if you, you know, I really felt like I could see this thing coming. Like this is a revolution. You know, I'm in exactly the right place. Like, I know what I'm supposed. To be doing. That nothing is working and you know, I don't know. I don't know. What to say? Yeah, it was. It was yucky. I'll put it that way. It was a there's a technical term. It was very yucky. But you know, I just kind of pulled it together and decided, OK, well, if I'm not going to own my own business and I can't. You know, communicate the value of this work where I am when I am, then I'm going to. Then that's when I relocated to Vancouver from Halifax, from from, Lunenburg, NS, and and really started to to kind of rebuild and rethink. And, you know, over. A few years got really lucky to work with lots of amazing people that were really supportive. And helped kind of rebuild. Saw the value and and what I was trying to do and then you know in the. 

Jalen 

Who were those? Who were those folks? I mean, just curious about, like, these are resources that are. Out in the community. 

Kristy 

Well, I would say, you know, one of those people is. You know Carla Heim of the BDC, she's been a huge supporter of growth of the B Corp movement. And, you know, women in business and just a champion for women generally. You know, felt very, very supported by Carla and the BBC. My business partner, Brianna Brown, who I met in 2018, continue continue to feel supported by her and all her her brilliance. Yeah, there were. There were a bunch of folks that that were very helpful and I think it's kind of the right place at the right time. You know, putting myself in a bunch of different situations really got to work on. Exciting projects that were in the impact space, but not necessarily. I worked in with Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao in Guatemala, looking at the impact of her B Corp certified cacao brokerage and meeting, you know, Mayan farmers in their communities. And you know, discussing, you know, what's the, you know, really seeing the the difference between an ethical supply chain and a conventional supply chain and really seeing the, the, the social impact at source in communities was really powerful. So of course like, you know. I created a lot. Of those opportunities myself, because you know, you keep, you know, I kept going. What's the what they say that the the Wayne Gretzky quote. You know you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Wayne Gretzky, Michael Scott, or anyone that loves the office. 

Jalen 

Yeah, yeah. 

Kristy 

You know, and so I just kept. I just kept. Beating that drum, and I think that I think that that often sets sets people apart, not in not that I'm smarter or faster or or or better at my job. I'm just really stubborn. And so I think a common character trait. With entrepreneurs especially, I will say entrepreneurs in the impact space is like. A stubborn stubbornness or a A. A pigheadedness, I guess when it comes to not wanting to compromise and and believing that there's a deeper value beyond profit. 

Jalen 

That's that's kind of at the core of impact. I mean, if you go, if you're deeply in the impact space, it's like you're there for a reason and money is a way that will help you, right? 

Kristy 

And I think you know, this is like this is you know, I'm just a consultant doing the work that I do and being stubborn about that. It's an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, but I think it's just an exciting time to kind of be on planet Earth. There's not a lot of generations of people that can say that they could shape whether or not there's a livable future. And that's dark, but kind of beautiful that we get to be here for it. 

Jalen 

There's a lot of crazy. 

Kristy 

There's so much happening and so. 

Jalen 

Stuff going on all at once. 

Kristy 

You know, we think, you know, we think about the gold rush or the railroad or the youknow.com like all of this work and social impact, this is these are no regret solutions like there's, there's just kind of. Doing this work. I think ultimately there's not. That's not really a downside, certainly not for stakeholders and communities and the environment like there's there's no downside. The only downside is when if we, if we don't, if we don't move quickly enough. 

Jalen 

What I see is what you're looking at, like the lens that you're using to identify whether something is worthwhile because some in some cases there's there's this question of like, Oh well. Are there the margins there or? Is there is the profitability there and? That's not what I heard you say. I mean not to say that it's not there, but. 

Kristy 

Yeah, I think that and I guess to me that's a foundational piece that goes without saying that creating impacting your business is a strategy that's gonna help you future proof and remain relevant in the market overtime. 

Jalen 

That's not what I heard you say. Or talk about. 

Kristy 

And of course you know we we own a decade, we only work with for profit businesses. And so we believe in, you know, the power of business to leave the world better, you know? I think that so much of this kind of work within companies, this the the the script really flipped in 2020. And so it's no longer. We're no longer like I'm no longer getting patted on the head and people telling me, isn't that so nice that you wanna save the world? Male people where I'm having very different kinds of interactions with people. Because you know the writing on the wall, it's there and and this is an absolute necessity. So it really changes, you know, the nature of my work and and of course maybe that's the people we surround ourselves with a decade. It certainly has made the work more fun and really exciting, and I think that, you know, one other element that's important is when you're feeling it feels like you're dying. It feels like you can never show your face again. Like, there's all these these thoughts. You know Bernie Brown calls it, you know, get in the arena. You know when you're in the arena and you fail and you're kind of cut down by whatever your own mistakes or the market or other folks or whatever happens. It can feel like it's the end of the world, but you know, once you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and and you have time, you know, some time to kind of heal, it really becomes it sort of becomes A to get out of jail card. I think, you know, my failure now is completely different. And as per. Steve, absolutely. It's night and day compared to what I thought it how I thought it would be perceived when I was in that moment, you know, now at this point, it's like that failure is it's like I got my wings, you know, like I got my my membership card in a way. 

Jalen 

Your credibility, your, your, your an expression of your courage and your dedication. 

Kristy 

And you know, my God always called it grit or stick to it. So I think I think that when you're in the moment and you're failing, it's horrible. But on the other side, if you can. Use it as a learning experience. It can become, you know, it can really catapult your future opportunities and really accelerate success in the long run. 

Jalen 

And so how would you say that your what you've gained from making jumping back in the game yourself? How does that help you in how you serve your clients? Because like you know you and and your team a decade, you big piece of what you do is be Corp certification, equipping them for dealing with today's world. 

Kristy 

So I think a few things there. I I met the B Corp certification in. 20112012. And immediately saw the value. In those early days, it looked like really bad 90s bank software. It was kind of a it was a beautiful. Yes, but it was much like I can't explain it. It was like I had all these ideas and feelings and kind of gut feelings about what was possible, but I didn't have a blueprint for for how to achieve the results I wanted with companies. And so that tool, the framework itself, really getting to understand it was a game changer. Complete game changer changes how I see most. Things and so. So there's the the tool element and this system, the process piece that's really useful. OK, so there's a blueprint here, but then there's the community aspect. And you know, I think it's Seth Godin that talks about like finding your tribe, finding those people that. That believe the same thing you believe and you can kind of convene with. And one of our first conversations, you talked about SCVI. That's one of those communities which is super important, so I think. You know, getting back in the game was, yeah, I got back in the game, but B Corp has been this this kind of yeah, anchor. Thank you. It's been an anchor that has really allowed me to put. Structure around the work I do and build community around the the work I do or be a part of a community. That are all kind of focused on moving in the same direction. 

Jalen 

Yeah, that's one of the things that really touched me about being in being in an SVI event is that sense. Of like, we're here together for a larger purpose. 

Kristy 

Yeah, yeah. You know, and I I like that. And it's so true. I feel it all the time. And I often feel like. You know, I'm incredibly lucky that I get to bring that to folks within companies. Most of our work, you know, the vast majority of our work a. Decade is is. Spent, you know, collaborating with a number of people within a company. We're not really like report writers. That something ends up on one person's desk. Our work is really centered on teaming. And a collaborative approach internally so I get to introduce we've we've introduced hundreds of people to to equip as a tool and a social movement and a certification. And you know that has been it's it's delightful. But I think if. We if we kind of pull back from BB Corp, you know, and of course we use it every day. It's a it's just a part of my daily life at this point. But if we get into, you know, failure and and getting back up and getting back in the game, I think that there's sort of an opportunity for a collective. Awakening of sorts. We're all playing the game every day. We just in, in terms of capitalism, we just don't necessarily see it that. OK, like you gotta take the kids to hockey or you gotta, you know, you're working your second job or, you know, you're somebody's, you know, your dog is sick and and people have all of these not. They're not distractions. They're important. We don't often have the opportunity to sit back and really look at what the game is right now. We're all playing our individual. Down on the ground, close to the present, everyday life game, but in terms of the game, the big game is, you know, climate crisis, social inequity, David says. He said, you know, we're we're sitting on a train hurdling 100 miles an hour to brick wall and we're arguing about where to sit. And so if we kind of pull back and look at the reality is. This really is the last decade to actually shape a better world and and that's. Kind of dark. But it's also more beautiful. 

Jalen 

It's clearer, clearer incentive and clear opportunity to act. 

Kristy 

And we're all playing the game. We're all in it. We're all doing. It every day. I think with our work a decade, we allow people to understand, you know, a CEO to a janitor. We allow you to understand, create a vision for what the future. Can look like if we all do our part. And then in line our our daily activities and create that through line between what I do every day and what I want to see. And you know, we hear all the time, you know, be the change. You wanna. You wanna. See in the world. Well, what if you can't even see? The big picture. What if you can't see past the challenges in your own life like there has? To be. Some way to invite people to play in a more meaningful, intentional way. And so I would like to think that a decade we are, you know, we're not going to help every company in the world. We're a boutique consulting firm, but if we can just help the folks, we can help to see their place and the opportunities that that are right there for them. That is a that's a you know that's that's kind of. Like a. That's the good life. For me anyway. 

Jalen 

Well, unless that sounds like it's it's you're helping them recognize the game they're in and understand how they can, how they can play a positive role or how they can play the. Role that they want to play. 

Kristy 

And and and this is the thing we're all. Having impact, whether whether it's positive or negative. There's no neutral act. You know, capitalism is designed that there's not really a neutral act. So with awareness you can start to intentionally consider those actions and and they become so much more meaningful and I think. You know, in a crazy, busy, complicated kind of sad world, there's a lot of sad things happening. You know, people deserve the opportunity to see how their little actions can leave something better than they found it. 

Jalen 

That's really the whole point, is it not? That's, you know, to allow everyone to feel a connection to something greater and in a connection to a future that's positive. And there are so many challenges going on, you know, happening at a global scale and every level, every level down to, you know. Dealing with your friends and family. And your your, you know the line at the bank and? Wherever it is you are, there's all. These layers of things, and we can as human beings, we can only handle like a couple at a time. 

Kristy 

That's it. We can only handle a couple at a time. And so how do we make those everyday actions? I think now it's like really thinking about the work we're doing. You know, one of my favorite clients is Ocean brand. They're a Richmond based company, part of the Patterson Group, and they sell, you know, they sell, they're in the food business and they sell a lot of fish and cans. And I think you know, sometimes within the social change world, there's some blatant kind of classism like this, like, not everybody can afford to pay $10.00 for a. Chocolate bar. That's ethically sourced Fair Trade, certified direct trade. You know, whatever, you know, carbon, neutral or positive, you know, all of these different pieces of of kind of how impact shows up in companies. Not everybody can afford that, but one of the things I love about Ocean Brands is that like their product is less than. You know, $4 in a grocery store. Alongside all kinds of similar products that do not have nearly as much impact, and I think that's really interesting when we start like when for our team, we start to work at the level where we're creating more access to to these impactful products and services we, everyone deserves a purpose beyond being a consumer. 

Jalen 

Like there's something else beyond being a consumer. 

Kristy 

Right. Right, even citizenship is is kind of. 

Jalen 

Yeah, yeah. 

Kristy 

Under threat. And so, you know, we spend a lot of time in our work talking about delight. That you know in. A complicated world. With a lot of. It's just endless challenges. If we can help people experience delight. In in you know, dreaming about a world made better. And then aligning that with the work that they do and creating measurable progress towards those goals, that that is delight and. I think. Timothy Morton is someone that I love, philosopher. And and you know. Solar what do you call it? The solar powered disco ball that you know, if your disco ball is solar powered, you can kind of dance into the apocalypse and know you did the work because ultimately it's dark out there. But we still have to have really meaningful lives, right? Like there's no point in in and I know a lot of people have climate anxiety and climate grief right now, and I totally get that. Like I don't experience those emotions, that's not a part of my personality. But I get that so many people are there and like you said, young people like they don't have a guaranteed future. So you know. How do we help people kind of solar power their lives, you know, through their. Buying habits through their employment, you know, through, you know, their communities and and and families. And so solar power it and then everybody can. We can keep the party going. 

Jalen 

Well, I know myself that that the for me, the remedy to that, that anxiety is to be actively, like putting my energy towards trying to help lift up those that are lifting up the world. 

Kristy 

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I'm a professional cheerleader. You know, I'm a professional cheerleader and like devil on their shoulder. And I'm like, guess what you could do that and that might. Be a little bit good or you could just go for it. Like, imagine what going for. It is gonna feel like. And it's pretty exciting when when folks. You see that look on their face and they're like, whoa, you see that? I'm about to go for a face. And that is the best part of my job. And then you gotta implement, and that's all hard to. You're never going to get to implementation without that. That stroke of excitement and joy and a little bit like a little bit of like. **** that. I can go forward. Energy like, I'm not gonna. I'm gonna. I'm gonna get in the game. I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines and, like, watch other people be heroes and love them. You know that's. Don't wait for anybody to be your hero. Yeah, you need to. You need to score the winning goal. 

Jalen 

Well, I I. Really appreciate you taking me on this journey of. How you see the ways in which you help others get back in the game, you know, and from the benefit of you having done it yourself. 

Kristy 

Yeah, I'm very lucky though. Super lucky. You have to work with great people. Get to. See those go forward faces. Most of the time I feel like I'm the flower delivery. Lady, nobody's ever sad when somebody sends them flowers. Yeah.  

Jalen 

Well, thank you. 

Kristy 

Thank you! 

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