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Chaz Thorne: One Stageplay Away from Taking Responsibility

Chaz Thorne is a partner with OnePagePlans, a company that helps leaders and teams get their strategic plan on one page in just two days. Through OnePagePlans, Chaz has worked with non-profits like Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Right to Play, as well as corporations like Stantec, Weston Foods, Sun Life, and GFL Environmental. Before OnePagePlans, Chaz co-founded The Give Agency, an idea hackathon where top thinkers in advertising, marketing, PR, and strategy united to help nonprofits free of charge. He also founded and led Standing 8 Productions, where he produced films in the $2-$10M range starring A-list talents like Rose Byrne, Danny Glover, and Jay Baruchel to critical acclaim.

Chaz is guided by the belief that organizations can and should make better decisions faster. While management research warns against “top-down” decision-making, you still need to get things done, and many leaders struggle with balancing collaboration and speed. He firmly believes that you can have both.
Read the show notes here: https://bwmissions.com/one-away-podcast/

Transcript:

 Bryan Wish: Chaz, welcome to The One Away Show.

Chaz Thorne: Thanks for having me, Bryan.

Bryan Wish: Yeah, thank you for being here. You know, Chaz really fascinating background that you have. I think there’s going to be a great conversation today. What would you say your One Away moment was, or is?

Chaz Thorne: I’d say that it was, I was 21, 22 years-old, and had finished my training as a classical actor of all things, and was living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which was the center of that industry in Canada. And I had written a full length stage play in the time that I was in school, studying as an actor. It was about the neighborhood that I grew up in, and that my family was from, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was set just post World War II. And it was something I was really proud of, and had worked on for several years.

I’d been sending it around to a bunch of different theater companies, looking for someone to produce it. I either got no responses at all, or I got no’s. And I decided, “Well, if I think that this is worthwhile, if I think this is a good piece of work, then I should take on the work and the responsibility of getting it made.” I founded my first company, which was a theater company called Jack In The Black Theater in Toronto, and took that on, along with the help of an extremely amazing mentor who produced it with me. And also directed the play, named Brian Richmond. That really it’s the start of me taking responsibility for my own path, in terms of being an entrepreneur, never looking to someone else to deign either me or my work as worthwhile. But taking that on myself in terms of putting things out into the world.

Bryan Wish: That’s great. And what a story of you just leaning into yourself, and taking charge. And when you were talking, I mean, something that I’m really curious about for you Chaz, is what was it about acting that really drew you in that said, “I feel alive and in my own element, when I am acting,” and made you really kind of follow that calling?

Chaz Thorne: Acting for me, was a really tangible way for me to express all of the different me’s that I felt existed in a way, through the form of character. I mean, when I think about, even when I was a little kid, I wished that my parents had recordings of me playing when I was a kid, because when I think back on them, and when I had all of my action figures strewn out across my bedroom floor, and all of the stories that I would make up, and the characters that I would make up. And act out what were essentially to me, these little movies on my bedroom floor. And so the first form that took for me, and I started working professionally as an actor when I was 15, was just loving telling stories.

Bryan Wish: Wow, I really relate and connect to just the authentic expression, or sharing of self, and maybe the needs of the things that you wanted to be shared through the form of a character. Maybe a deeper question, if you don’t mind me going here, I could be completely off base, but I just read a book called Man Enough by Justin Baldoni. And he talks a lot about in the book about how acting in the sense was a shield for him, from some of the things that he was growing up with in his life. I’m just curious for you. If acting was, while it was an authentic representation of who you were, was it a shield or maybe piece of armor in a way for you to escape from anything as a kid or growing up?

Chaz Thorne: I’ve seen Baldoni’s TED talk on that subject. I thought it was really fabulous. I believe he’s best known for the character he played on Jane the Virgin, which is a favorite in my household.

Bryan Wish: Yeah.

Chaz Thorne: It’s a wonder show. I think in terms of acting for me, I haven’t, it’s a really interesting question, mostly because I haven’t really thought of it in that context. But when I think back to it, I certainly did struggle a lot with what it meant to be male as a young kid, a male child specifically, growing up in the late ’70s, early ’80s. I particularly … So I happened to, a unique quirk of my upbringing, is that even though my parents were both university educated, and we were technically, from an income level, would be considered middle class, they made a conscious decision for us to grow up in working class neighborhoods. And those were the neighborhoods that they grew up in.

Well, and as a kid who was quite, I was very intellectually curious. I was skinny, I had glasses. Because conversation was always a big thing in my family, and again, both my parents were university educated, I had certainly not a typical vocabulary for a young child, and that very much so made me a target growing up in neighborhoods like that. And resulted in me having to physically defend myself and my maleness, if you will, a lot. Which was challenging, and is not really who I am as a person.

And I think the connection into acting was, I certainly remember a lot as a child wishing that I was someone or something else, and typically someone or something else that had more power than I did. Not in a grotesque sense, but in terms of just more control, more ability to defend oneself. And I would say, I started, I got interested in acting very young. And I would say that certainly contributed into me choosing it as a career early on.

Bryan Wish: Well, thank you for the vulnerability and sharing. And just to clarified Chaz, I’m curious, it was because you grew up in a more working class area, you were so intellectually curious. So to me, it’s just, while you say you desired more power, it sounds like you were just around a lot of people who maybe didn’t understand your motives and desires, and who you were at your core level. And because of that, you never really fit in at all growing up. Is that what I’m hearing? And so acting was this, maybe this shell for you to fit into, to bring out some of these sides of yourself that you couldn’t express in the reality of the world?

Chaz Thorne: I think that is accurate, in that it likely wasn’t so much about power as it was about a desire to fully express who I actually was. Kind of ironic, I know that it would be done through the lens of acting, and therefore playing characters and other people. But if you know anything about good acting, good acting is not pretending. The best actors that you see either on stage or film, what makes their portrayals of characters so incredibly powerful, is that they find who they are within that character, and turn the volume up on that. It’s a bit of a myth that good acting is about pretending. It’s not, that’s not quite the way that it works. At least not in my experience of both being an actor, as well as directing them later in my career.

Bryan Wish: Got it. No, that makes so much sense. Now, let me ask you this. And by the way, we’ll get back to the moment, I know we’ve gone on a tangent here, but I think it’s a really meaningful tangent. When you found acting and it really led to a lot of your career and taking ownership of your life, when you were not acting, did you not feel like your full self? I mean, what was it like for you when you were acting versus not acting? Was wearing one, being in one shell harder than the other? I’m just curious how you describe that, especially with the way you talked about growing up?

Chaz Thorne: I think in some ways I was always acting. And that was, as I got older, and moved away from acting, being the main focus of what I did to make a living, I admittedly had a bit of a reckoning around that. In terms of taking a step back, and trying to figure out really, who I authentically was. It’s funny, I believe that if I, at the age that I am now, being in my mid 40s, and over the years, I’d still act professionally every once in a while where a colleague would call me up and say, “Hey, I’m going to be in Nova Scotia doing this thing, and would you play a role in it,” or whatever.

But it’s definitely not what I’ve done for a living in 20 years. And what’s funny, is I think that if I were to go back to it now, having gone on the personal journey, aside from being an actor, that I have over the last 20 years, I think I’d be much, much better at it. And it’s mostly because of what I just said previously, about what good acting actually is. That it’s not pretending, it’s not putting on a mask, it’s actually allowing people in.

Bryan Wish: Yeah. I love what you said about the best actors are the one who can really dial up, in a sense, who they are, the character, because like you also just said, they’re not wearing a mask. But they are fully formed in this shell because it’s so attached to who they are in a way. So interesting Chaz. You probably didn’t think you were going to about this, this morning.

Chaz Thorne: Yeah, it’s interesting. I have as varied of a background as I do it. I definitely haven’t taken any sort of traditional path.

Bryan Wish: So beyond the personal side, acting was the means for you professionally, and just coming of age as a man, to take ownership of your life, and make decisions and perhaps strategize and build a plan for your future. What was the progression of after you realized acting was a way for you to take ownership, how did you use acting in a way to evolve your trajectory in your life? What were some of the things that led to, once you had that switch in your head of, “This is my, I’m in control of this path, of where I’m going?”

Chaz Thorne: It mostly emerged from being just an actor. I just felt like I didn’t have enough control. So if you think about what it is to be an actor, and obviously removing from the picture, the tiny fraction of a fraction of a percentage point of individuals who are stars, you need someone else to create a story, and then get funding for a project, and then do auditions. And then you would audition, and then they’d choose whether or not they felt you were a good enough actor, and/or a good match for the characters that they’ve chosen. So there was so little control of that. So that really led to me wanting to write my own work. And then, as I mentioned before, writing my own work led to me wanting to open up my own production company.

And then after doing that for several years, and realizing that I was actually much more interested in film and television, that led to me opening up my own production company, and writing and directing and producing feature films. Even after I moved on from filmmaking as the core of my career, about 10 years ago, and moved into becoming a competitive strategist, as I do now as a consultant, that that core thing still remained. Which I think is that entrepreneurial mindset of not waiting for, or expecting other people to create the opportunities for me. That I would do that for my myself. I think that’s the main principle that I took from it, all that has remained consistent all the way through.

Bryan Wish: Yeah, no, it seems like a very clear thread line. No matter what you’ve done, what industry you’ve excelled in, that entrepreneurial spirit, that ownership of, “I can figure it out,” you’ve bounced in and out of different industries, seems like you’ve succeeded in all of them. But the frameworks, the practices, the way you go about the process, is fairly similar.

Chaz Thorne: One caveat I would throw into that though, is I have failed miserably in many of them as well, but that’s just how it works. I’ve had several companies fail, and they were very costly in terms of failing, not only financially, but emotionally. But that was just the path that needed to be taken. I mean, one company I had, for example, I was a co-founder and COO of, was an agricultural technology company. And things were going like gangbusters, and I had invested not only dollars, but about five years of full-time work, and my partner, seven. Along with also doing other things to actually bring in cash, bootstrapped it. Our first deal that we closed was, the total worth of it was $80 million. And it all fell apart about a year later due to some issues around environmental regulations, where the product was erroneously labeled as an invasive species, and there was nothing to be done.

So, so I’ve, I mean, it’s, I’m very cautious about promoting any, what I frankly believe are myths around the fairytale of entrepreneurialism. We just far too often focus on Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and people like that. And that’s not to take away from their success, if anything, it’s actually to build it up even more, by saying the vast majority of large swings that you’ll take as an entrepreneur, you will miss. So I’m very cautious to talk as much about my, if you want to call them, failures. I mean, to just bluntly, there were things that didn’t work out, for whatever reason, whether it was something in my control or not. I’m very cautious to make sure that I talk about those as much as I about the few things that did actually work out, that worked out financially and/or propelled me further in my career.

Bryan Wish: It’s funny you bring this up, and I think also very important that you bring it up, because you’re right. I think we do overshadow the successes, and it doesn’t give light to the people or the stories that shaped you. For someone who, a question I have for you, is more on the emotional toll of things, because you talk about being a competitive strategist, and I can relate a lot to just strategic thinking, and maybe starting with the end in mind. I think sometimes that it creates an attachment to perhaps outcomes, and a tight grip on life, or on the steering wheel. Sometimes some things happen that you, trigger moments happen that you can’t control, and you’ve got to let go. And in that process, it creates what you said, the emotional toll of failing. So my question for you is, does that resonate with you? And then two, how did you overcome the emotional toll of such a big collapse of what you just said?

Chaz Thorne: I talk about that a lot. I teach strategy at a university called Dalhousie University. And along with the material of learning specific, the history of strategic thinking, and specific tools, and strategic frameworks, and so on, a lot of what we talk about is stuff like that. Around decision-making, and what goes into it. I think that in terms of, there will always be …

You just simply can’t control for everything, especially the larger the organization, or the larger the project, and the more players involved in the original decision-making around it, and then in the implementation of whatever decisions have been made, the number of variables gets wildly out of control. So I always emphasize the need to be flexible. And that vastly over overused word, “Pivot,” of knowing, of determining in advance, what indicators will indicate the fact that you need to change course. So that obviously the reason why you do that, is you don’t want to just react to everything. Very often people will give up on something too soon, but by having those conversations in advance, you can have some, you’re making a certain level of commitment in advance about what will actually trigger a reaction from you, instead of reacting to everything.

In terms of the emotional toll, God, I honestly, I wish I had a better answer, other than to say, I don’t really have one. And because it’s so personal, and too often, the way that individuals will respond to a question like that, sounds like a $2 life coach with some quote that they read in some self-help book or something like that. I think the way, honestly, that you build up and maintain some resilience around when things just go horribly wrong, sometimes which can have nothing to do with you. Like, I don’t know, a pandemic, for example. I think the only way that you build up that resilience is by ensuring that you have other things in your life that give you a sense of meaning, purpose, joy, whatever word works for you.

As much as the tunnel vision entrepreneur is, again, a favorite trope, it is wickedly dangerous in terms of resilience. I know of an entrepreneur that just committed suicide two weeks ago, because of that kind of tunnel vision of really, it mostly being about that one thing. And yes, it’s more complicated than that. There were some other underlying issues, and so on, but you have to be about more than the one thing.

Bryan Wish: Yeah. By the way, thanks for such a thoughtful answer, because I’m probably asking you that question, there’s no crystal ball answer to it. So I just love the, you talked about adaptability and flexibility, but what really stood out too, was not being so attached to one thing. And I think from being an entrepreneur and attaching yourself to your work, from being an athlete and attaching yourself to your sport, to maybe being an actor and attaching yourself to know the character. The businesses can fail, the plays can be over, the sports can end.

And I think, what you think, you’re getting a bit, a much deeper level of, “You can have all the strategy in the world, or plan for all the things that you want, but foundationally, having a much deeper rooted sense of joy, and peace, and just fulfillment from multiple areas in your life, is so important. Because if one of those layers unearths itself, your confidence and your maybe self-worth might be bottled in just one place, versus maybe a little more spread out. So you can find that self-worth and who you are in multiple foundations that you’ve built in your life and not just one area.

Chaz Thorne: Absolutely. Yeah. This is a little woo-woo. But I do like to, I find that I have to do this for myself, and I do have to remind myself every once in a while that we’re all just stardust at the end of the day. And at one point or another, that’s where, that’s what we’re all returning to. And I just know that not only do I need more in my life, but having those other things in your life, being a well-rounded person, will also just make you better at whatever that pursuit is that you have.

Bryan Wish: Completely. I don’t think it’s woo-woo at all. I mean, maybe only because I’ve gotten pretty spiritual over the last six months. But to your point, I think we’re energetic beings occupying physical bodies, and you’re right. We do turn into stardust. I do think there’s, we don’t need to talk about afterlife and maybe turn heads. Although we could. But I think our time here is limited. And just realizing that the finiteness of life … I just think for the audience to know, Chaz and I were talking before the show, and we have like five different areas of overlap in our life. And Chaz, I mean, the more we talk, I just, the more the kindred spirits, I just think we are, it’s a pretty cool connection right off the bat.

Chaz Thorne: Yeah, for sure. And actually that’s, I mean, that’s actually another good point, Bryan, and one that I think a lot of us have felt a lack of during the pandemic, is this idea of connection. I just connected with someone yesterday, whom he’s a personal friend, who I haven’t talked to since God, it’s probably been three years. I just had this realization that things have been very busy for us since the pandemic started, we had to do some significant, here’s that word again, pivoting, of both of our businesses. And that was fairly overwhelming, and some big changes were happening on the personal front for me as well. But I woke up a few weeks ago and realized, “My God, there are these individuals that mean a lot to me, that I haven’t talked to in a while, because I’ve been so just buried.”

And so I just cut that out, and I started reaching out to just a bunch of people I used to know. There’s no agenda to it, other than wanting, desiring connection. I reached out to a bunch of my classmates from business school. I went back to school in my late 30s, to do an executive MBA at the Kellogg School Management and the Schulich School of Business. I reached out to a bunch of my classmates, and reconnected with them, and had some awesome chats. I reached out to just some friends. I reached out to people that were just in my business network when I was a filmmaker that I really liked, and hadn’t talked to in a while.

And I can’t tell you how much that has helped in terms of making me feel connected again. Instead of just constantly going down the rabbit hole of news stories about anti-vaxxers. So, that’s a big part of it as well. That’s how we maintain some resilience, is also by maintaining our connections, as well as building new ones. Which is what you and I are doing in this conversation.

Bryan Wish: Totally. There’s, I think you’re really speaking to as well, this element of shared humanity, and what I’ve learned, maybe similar to you, is to check in on people more regularly that you don’t always think to check in on. And by just checking in and seeing how people are doing, it opens up just such a beautiful, serendipitous, spontaneous type of interaction. I think for you, it seems like by reconnecting with people, it’s just brought this new sense of aliveness to you, especially through the pandemic as of recent, especially.

Chaz Thorne: Well, in no matter what we do for business, or for, I should actually say, no matter what we do for a living, because it not always business. You may work in government, you may work in nonprofit, you may be an artist. So whatever it is you do to sustain your financial needs, for work, in one way or another, it does also just always come back to some sort of human need. When I look at organizations that have really lost their way, it feels like oftentimes it’s because they lost their humanity. And I think we’re all well-served to just, no matter what it is we do, to always maintain those human connections in our own lives.

I mean, if you think back there was a really wonderful documentary that was done by some Canadian filmmakers a few years ago. And they just released a follow-up, which admittedly wasn’t as powerful. But the first one certainly was, called The Corporation. And they essentially made the argument that the typical corporation, if we were to put a, if we were to do a psychological or personality assessment on, would be deemed to be a psychopath. Which is very obviously disturbing. But again, it goes back to just losing sight of other humans within our working lives. I have no idea how I got on that tangent.

Bryan Wish: No, I mean, all this stuff is just, it’s so important. And I just love how we can speak to, I mean, I just so resonate with the companies who are losing their way, or losing a sense of humanity, and the lack of connection, and COVID and how that’s, companies aren’t evolving and adapting. And I think going back to just the thread line of the story of taking ownership, part of that taking ownership is the awareness of what’s going on around you, and figuring out that the meaningful change that you want to make, and just what’s coming through in this conversation. What I think I respect a lot about you, Chaz, is just the awareness and maybe, perhaps the intentionality in the way you live and lead your life, which I think a lot of people can learn from. To live more intentional lives or think long-term about who they are and where they want to go. Because I think that puts you on the path to living a much more meaningful and intentional life. So, I mean, it just sounds like those values are so core to who you are.

Chaz Thorne: Well, it’s been, these have been hard-won lessons that have emerged from, very frequently, going in the wrong direction. Not being in alignment with my values. Notice that I say values, not beliefs. Values are likely firm, beliefs should be flexible. This is, I really am a huge believer in continuous learning, and to constantly be challenging how and what we think. And Adam Grant’s latest book displaced Susan Cain’s Quiet as my favorite book. So Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again, really it challenges our thinking, and particularly challenges how …

He suggests that we don’t hold tightly to beliefs. We can hold tightly to values. So for example, you could believe in, sorry, you could have a value that we should help those less fortunate than us. And then you could have a belief that the best way to do that, would be through rent control. But if you’re presented with evidence that shows that actually rent control is not helpful at doing that, or is not the best way to do that, then you should be flexible in that belief. Instead of holding on to it, and being pigheaded about it, because there’s potentially a better way to live that value of supporting those that are less fortunate. So that would be a bit of an example. And I honestly can’t recommend that book highly enough. It was so good.

Bryan Wish: Yeah, I cannot recommend it more either. He’s quite the thinker, and writer, and speaker, and a lot of universal lessons, Adam shares, no doubt. And just to bring back your point home one more time, flexible on beliefs, but firm on values. I cannot agree more, and I think that’s a great place to wrap here, Chaz. I really appreciate your time today, showing up how you did, diving into your past a little bit with me, and letting people see taking ownership of your life comes in a lot of the different forms, and you need to be flexible in nature, and in your beliefs of how to get there. But again, firm in the values. So the beautiful conversation. I, yeah, just really special, some of these go awesome, some go really awesome. And this was really awesome. So thanks again for your time and presence. And where can people find you to reach out if they’re inspired?

Chaz Thorne: So in terms of the core of my work around strategic planning, you can find at onepageplans.ca

Bryan Wish: Awesome. Well, we’ll send people there and to you, and such a great conversation.

Chaz Thorne: Thanks so much, Bryan.

Bryan Wish: All right. Thank you.

One Away Podcast
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