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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Setting the Standard For Leadership

     - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty

There is far too much cynicism in our leadership today.  We have leaders at all levels and in all fields looking to cut corners, pass the buck, ignore the problem or shout fire and draw attention elsewhere.  Our leaders fear the consequences of responsibility.
Here’s the thing; you can’t lead from the middle.
Motivation isn’t about reward – it’s about meaning.  The greatest burden of leadership isn’t the fear of being left behind – it’s about knowing you could have done better.
Another great line from the ever-quotable McGuinty – “It doesn’t matter where you come from, but what you find along the way.”
The people are what you’ve found along the way, leaders; now tell us where we’re headed and show us how to get there.

Buyer Beware: If Your Trade is Money, You Still Have To Deal With People

What disturbs you most about this picture; that people are walking by nonchalantly, or that the homless guy has a pet he can't take care of?  We revist this at the bottom.

 I got all excited about the title of this article – then saw how clearly its author wasn’t connecting the dots herself.  It was, to say the least, disappointing.

Francis’ approach is not an atypical one for someone with an aggressive, pro-capitalist mentality.  She talks about economy and policy through a focus on commodity prices, the tax base, export markets, etc. 

The only time she talks about actual people is through a financial lens.  Health care costs, education costs, social expenditures outpacing economic growth, etc.  Immigrants are equated with additional taxpayer expenses.

“Tough-minded” folk like Francis take the approach that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, you have to stay competitive to get ahead, etc.  The only people we should encourage are the ones willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.  When it comes to business or politics, caveat emptor is the name of the game.

Of course, it’s this mentality that led to the spectacular rise and rapid decline of the capitalist system, just as it spurred the growth of and has now spurned support for the Conservative Party of Canada.

The big “risk takers” in the capitalist system aren’t the bravest – they’re the trickiest.  They’re the ones who find ways to download the consequences of risk to those with less money or less guile; that is, the lower-class, the disposable employee, the uneducated who spend without proper planning.  This might have been a model that worked back when Western feudalism or early in the industrial age, but it doesn’t cut it any more.

In the days where the rich sold products made on the back of cheap leabour to each other, crime was a bigger issue, as were epidemics.  The more condensed communities got, the worse the problem became.  Conversely, as public health care and centralized social service delivery grew, life got better.  Income disparity shrank as education, diversity, health and safety were regularized.  This trend led to the development of the modern middle class; the very group that is currently being squeezed.

As the “tough-minded” people sought ways to get ahead, they found increased justification for doing so at the expense of their less hawkish social peers.  What has resulted?  An increasingly polarized society with both ends embittered against each other.

Yet, the 1% simply cannot exist without the 99%.  You can’t run a business without people; you can’t compete in today’s emerging markets without properly developed and accommodated cognitive skills.  Labour is a transaction – a person sells their skills to an employer who benefits from the resulting products or services.  In this case, it’s the employer who needs to keep “buyer beware” in mind; if you’re not willing to invest in your human resources, it’s your own productivity that will suffer.
If you said that the homeless guy isn't fit to have a pet - what say you to the countless employers who are routinely causing stress-related illness in their employers, reducing their own productivity?
It's time for a systematic rethink.

Friday 2 March 2012

How Your Brain Completes The Picture:

Raiendg tihs? Tath’s cfaootunibaln ta paly.

If you didn't recognize word #3, ask yourself; if it was a word you were familiar with, would you have?

Connecting what we see - what we sense - with what we know and feel is patterning, relationship-building.  It comes in many forms.

Look at romantic relationships as an example; how many of them fail because one partner assumes they put in more effort than the other?  Or taken another way - how many relationships succeed because one partner overestimates the contributions of the other?

And how does this relate to politics and the robo-call scandal?

The Top 10 Books That Have Influenced Me

I read this, and got thinking about the books that have influenced me in my life. 

So, I decided to make a list.  I cut it from 20 to 10; as a writer, it’s always good to try stripping down your message to deliver it clearly.

Here’s my top 10:

-          Miyamoto Musashi was a samurai in 17th Century Japan.  Because of an interest in his life developed through reading Sword of the Samurai, I picked this up way back in elementary school.  Every time I read it – frequently a couple times a year – I pick up something new.  His philosophy of fighting and planning has informed governments and businesses around the world.  This remains my favourite book on strategy.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

My Traitor’s Heart, Rian Malan

On The Road, Jack Kerouac

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

-        I was somewhere deep in Ecuador when I first read this.  When people think Orson Scott Card, they generally think Ender’s Game, a book used to develop strategy by militaries all over the world.  I’ve never read Ender’s Game (being made into a movie now) but The Worthing Saga really left an impression.  It (combined with Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy) instilled in me the idea of planting seeds in the present that will bear fruit in the future and of being able to prognosticate based on current and historical realities.  Of course, there’s a deeper allegory in the idea of sleep, too (read this, then go watch Inception).  I have come to realize that the real-world equivalent of Somec isn’t religion – that’s just a red herring.  The real false god we all cling to is a silo-based vision of individuality.

-          For my major OAC (yes, I’m old enough to have had grade 13) English project, I did a compare/contrast between Western thought and Eastern thought, using Taoist and Confucius philosophy as my entry point to the East.  Reading the Tao te Ching was like defogging glasses; the philosophies therein just made sense to me, though I couldn’t have told you why at the time.  Now that I’ve begun to wrap my head around cognitive function, I can tell you exactly why this little book is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Time Machine: Sword of the Samurai, Michael Reaves + Steve Perry

-          Michael Crichton is the guy who wrote Jurassic Park and created ER; he was also a trained doctor, a travel-addict and a man who sat uncomfortably on the edge between science and mysticism.  I picked this book up for the travelogue and because I enjoyed his other books, but what I really took away from Travels was Crichton’s methodology of applying scientific reasoning to that which seems to defy explanation.  It was from this book I developed the idea that there is no such thing as the “super” natural; what we see as supernatural is really just the dark corners of understanding that we have yet to fill in.


The Red Queen, Matt Ridley

        This level of understanding is Kurtz’s voice; our preconceived notions are Somnec, keeping us from consciousness; the discipline of a samurai allows us to journey through the mythology of history to The Centre, where all things begin and ultimately, end.

This, then, is my list.

What's yours?

Seeing The World Through A Human Lens

Human being like the idea that we are somehow different and disconnected from all the other species on the planet.  As such, we have genetic superiority and moral authority over the earth and its creatures and are entitled to act as we please. 

Science is steadily disproving such notions.  In fact, the better we understand both human and animal brains, the more it seems we have in common with our fellow Terrans.  If anything, it's our unconscious need to distinguish that gives cause for our conscious tendency to label.

Have you ever noticed that we anthropomorphize animals to relate to them, naming our pets and calling them "part of the family":

And dehumanize people, taking away their names and calling them "vermin" or "dogs" or referring to them as children to mistreat them:

Wonder why that might be?

Politics of the Human Animal

Group Think
It’s like watching a car crash, or a school-yard fight; something isn’t quite right, so we’re drawn to it. 
Ever wonder why?
If you watch herd behavior, say a flock of fish, the grouping of individuals into a collective makes it harder for a predator to pinpoint a weak link or know where to strike.  Animals like a lion or a tiger will chase a specific, small or weak animal – the one that will also get left behind when the majority groups together and rushes off.  This is how evolution works – the weak individuals get consumed, the fittest survive.  In society, we call this bullying, getting ahead or politics as usual, depending on the context.  Individual palyers don't consciously know the impact their behaviour will have on the crowd and vice versa; it's there none the less.
People like to think that we are superior to and separate from nature and therefore, justified in doing whatever we please to our environment.  Not only is this wrong; the very reasons why people think such things is biological.   
We have an urge to group together whenever there is a perceived threat, just as someone experiencing acrophobia has an uncountable urge to lie down.  We have a tendency to compete more vigorously with each other when resources seem scarce.  The more occupied our heads are, the more likely we are to skirt over what we perceive as minor issues – until they don’t feel minor any more.

People are busy, so politics isn’t of major interest to us.  It’s a big mass of incomprehensibleness, so we are less motivated to confront it.  Politicians count on this – they use the “nothing to see here” meme, because they don’t want to deal with scrutiny.  Or, they shout fire and try to redirect your attention.
For their end, politicians are frequently loath to deal with the big, messy challenges of our times – the Gordian Knots of politics like urban transit, poverty reduction, mental health.
Yet, when it becomes clear that our own interests are clearly at stake either positively or negatively, we become unwaveringly engaged.  We just need enough motivation to get there.  This can be a limited number of resources available (SALE! Come buy before it’s all gone!), a significant threat to safety (trouble lapping at our shores), control (i.e. “you’re withus or with the child pornographers” polarization) or my favourie, the desire not to be l left out of an emerging movement.
The question is, where does our threshold of self-interest lie?  If you’re a cut-throat entrepreneur or a narcissist, it’s pretty high.  You’re about you all the time.  If you’re a “why can’t we all get along” heart-bleeder, it’s pretty low.  There’s a reason shame is connected with empathy and neither rest at the top of behavioural traits of the 1%.
So – Stephen Harper plays an “ends justifies the means” game because he’s a worried, worried man – the world’s a threatening place to him.  He tries to distract the public from his team’s increasingly self-serving, socially-detrimental tactics by either saying “there’s nothing to see here” or shouts fire while pointing elsewhere.  He also walks away from big, messy problems like national healthcare integration because he doesn’t see it as relevant to him.  He’s predator of the populace, prey to his own fears.
For our part, we overlook prorogation, in-and-out, etc. because it isn’t seen as that relevant to us – it’s all an over there thing.  When it comes to robocalls, though – that’s a bit like a deceptive advertisement, isn’t it?  Now that it’s seen as a legitimate threat to our individual control, what have we done?  We’re circling the wagons.  Just as any group does when there’s a perceived threat.
The more convinced we are of our own internal sovereignty, the more we subject ourselves to unconscious, biological control.  The more we question ourselves and connect with others, the more actual influence we have.
That’s why education in general and understanding cognitive function in particular are so important.  Without knowledge, we’re slaves to our own natures.

Mind Over Matter: Mental Fitness and the Workplace

- The Chatham Daily News

- The Drummond Report

We get that bullying is harmful.  We get that a silo-mentality results in duplication, gaps and overlaps in service delivery.  We see that an aggressive focus on getting ahead at the expense of others leads to social fracturing.  We’re even seeing the impacts of aggressive, uncooperative approaches in our political system.
What we need to do now is connect the dots.  Who we are, as individuals, is a direct product of what happens in our heads.  What our brain does is heavily influenced by what’s going on in our environments.  This isn’t a philosophical statement; it’s fact.  Look at the research papers in the left column of this blog for the evidence.
The same thing applies at the social level; what we do as individuals impacts the well-being and functioning of our society.  Governments around the world are looking for ways to address the global mental health crisis at the same time as they’re looking to address our economic challenges.  They want ideas, they want innovation; they want to reduce service uptake, fraud, etc.  We all want better customer service, rewarding work, lives that have meaning.
All of it, all the positives and the negatives we feel, all the individual and broad social behaviours we engage in – they’re all neuro-chemical in origin.
The thing we stigmatize the most – our mental health, our biologically-situated minds – is the source of all our social solutions, as well as a great many of our social challenges.
You can’t land on the right answer if you haven’t identified the correct problem.
At the end of the day, it’s really a question of mind over matter.

Look at the Conference Board of Canada’s report, here.

Lessons For Harper from a 3-Year-Old and Yoda

Last night, my three-year-old-son was being fussy about getting ready for bed.  I told him it was time to brush his teeth; in a retaliatory moment, he shot back "No, you brush your teeth!"

The second after he'd said that, he realized he'd made a mistake and quickly apologized.  Once he got past the emotion, he got that the process wasn't designed to torment him, but to help him.

So far, that puts him a step ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and far too many of his Cabinet Members.

Best yet; because they have been continuously on the attack for years, the Federal Tories have become increasingly bellicose and, as a result, less patient and mindful.  It was only a matter of time before sufficient slip-ups wore the teflon off. 

Now, the pressure on their research staff to not screw up will mount, making them tense, bitter and more prone to error.  If the Feds replace any of these staff, newbies will come in to a hostile climate and absorb that mentality; it'll just spiral from there.  Of course, this is what the politics of fear gets you.

The lessons for Stephen Harper today

1) When you're in a hole, stop digging.

3) An additional lesson for Team Harper: Petulance is not a leadership quality.  While it's tempting to think so, rigidity isn't strength - given a big enough storm, even an oak will be uprooted.  It certainly can't move to where opportunity is best.

Water adpots the shape of its receptable; it is sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea... If you master the principles of sword-fencing, when you freely beat one man, you beat any man in the world.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Did Del Mastro Think Ahead?

I'm actually pleasantly surprised by Del Mastro's stopping to think before he spoke - unlike his first blast referenced in the linked article.  See, if the Tories called a Liberal staffer to testify, it makes them hard to deny the Opposition to call Conservative staffers before committee as well.

See the benefits of proactive planning vs. reacting?  When you look ahead, you not only make better decisions - you ultimately save yourself grief as well.

On Collaboration, Courtesy of the Globe & Mail:

Collaboration is championed as a positive force but there are several reasons why it is still more rare than imagined, says Harvard Business Review.

We praise collaboration for improving problem solving, increasing creativity, and spurring innovation. Done correctly, it does yield all these benefits. But it can also be scary.

And a related piece on Networked Intelligence:

What is still missing is the ability for a group of people (or people and machines) to make collective decisions with intelligence greater than the individual. This can sometimes be accomplished in small groups through conversation, but the method does not scale well. Generally speaking, technology has made the conversation larger, but not smarter. For large groups, the state-of-the-art method for collective decision-making is still the vote. Voting only works to the degree that, on average, each voter is able to individually determine the right decision. This is not good enough. We need an intelligence that will scale with the size of our problems.

Ethics, Planning and Diversification – A Lesson For Stephen Harper

A Resource-Based Economy

PM Stephen Harper, bolstered by the Alberta government, is looking to natural resources as the source of economic growth for Canada, moving forward.  It’s the hewing wood, hauling water model of economic prosperity.  The model that, you know, was previously employed by our manufacturing sector.  This is the Henry Ford model of production – create a stratigraphy of labour, keep people in the dark and therefore, in their place, rinse and repeat.  It’s a very linear approach.

You can argue there will always be a market for Canada’s natural resources and, where oil is concerned, China’s going to be thirsty for our oil for a very, very long time.  How can betting on oil fail?

Consider – the US is leery about benefiting from the Tar Sands because of environmental concerns – concerns shared by a large number of Canada’s international partners. 

China, while an economic giant, still has a terrible human rights record.  They aren’t necessarily the best long-term planners, either.  They oppress their own people, their minority groups, plus they interfere in international affairs, stifling action where human rights interests might interfere with their economic interests.  Again, the world is watching; if Canada has put all its economic eggs in the Chinese basket, does that foster a world view that we’re complicit in this oppression?

Oh – and China’s got a major water shortage problem that is only going to get worse.  Of course, environmental degradation through environmentally unsound practices has nothing to do with it; China’s policies certainly don’t impact food growth or population quality-of-life.  You know the saying about what happens when the watering hole shrinks.  With a fixation on control, a widening gap between urban wealth and rural poverty and a water shortage, what kinds of conversations do you think are happening in the upper echelons of the Chinese government? 

You can bet that, while China’s publicly wooing Canadian oil, they’ve already got their eye on our fresh water supply, too.

Dirty Tricks

The Federal Conservatives are shocked, shocked to find out that dirty, illegal tricks have crept into the politics of the nation.  There is no connection, of course, between this degradation of our democracy and the general aggressive tactics of the Harper Tories.  Time will tell who all is involved; either way, there is a pattern of behaviour that has been established and nurtured by the Tories, whether it was their implicit intent or not.

The net result of all this political nastiness is a disillusioned and increasingly angry populace.  Like Karl Rove before him, Stephen Harper set out to build a conservative dynasty; instead, he has only managed to polarize and embitter the nation he has sworn to lead.

Weaving the Tapestry

How do natural resource dependence, China reliance and political dirty tricks connect?

They are all the product of linear thinking.  While I’m sure top-dog Harper strategists spend significant time mulling the SWOT of their various political strategies and tactics while sipping lat├ęs in their war rooms, how successful have they been at looking at the whole canvas? 

I suppose you can’t generalize by saying that a refusal to consider the opinion of Opposition Parties in the House or in Committees is reflective of a closed-mind approach to planning.  Politics is an iceberg, after all – we only ever see the tip.  You can’t look to an aggressive, divisive political approach as demonstrative of a blind tendency to attack rather than contemplate.  It’s probably not fair to suggest that a pathological penchant for control and secrecy paints a picture of limited, linear thinking.  The same could hold true for an over-reliance on one sector as the only vehicle for future growth.

All these threads, by themselves, are not conclusive; taken as an aggregate, however, there’s that pattern of behaviour again. 

As I have written before, I don’t think Stephen Harper is a bad man.  I don’t think his team is intentionally knee-capping Canada.  I do think their singular, aggressive focus on control has brought them short-term success, but to their (and our) long-term detriment.

The whole reason we have a Parliament and elected representation is because a diversity of opinion is essential to leadership – you can’t plan ahead if you don’t have perspective.  Decorum and ethics aren’t about putting on airs or pandering to others; it’s about fostering a climate that allows for discussion to happen.  Altruism isn’t about selfishly giving to the weak – it’s about creating an environment that provides greater opportunity for every individual.

Social evolution is creative destruction; either you foster it yourself, or you become consumed by it.

What’s the lesson for Stephen Harper?

- Take the time to listen to your opponents; they might tell you something helpful.

- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Canada has a lot more to offer than just oil.  Diversify.  Look at natural resources, but renewable fuels, too; there's a market for them.  If water’s going to be of interest, build Canada’s blue economy.  Proactively take advantage of emerging trends rather than be blindsided by them.  Look to the Arts; there’s plenty of economic and cultural growth and export opportunity to be had with Canada’s entertainment industry.

- If you’re going to think about political strategy 24/7, think about it in your role as Prime Minister, not as the Conservative Leader.  It’s what we’re paying you to do.

- Leadership is inclusive.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s what you find along the way – meaning us Canadians.  We’re a pretty clever, entrepreneurial lot, given the opportunity.

Legacy isn’t about control – it’s about what you leave behind.