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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.

Friday 10 August 2012

Something is Rising

The first time I recall someone speaking truth to power because of conviction was Kai Nagata.

Since then, we've had Greg Smiths, Andrew Coynes and Dan Gardners.  They're all still finding success; speaking truth to convention has perhaps redirected their trajectory, but it hasn't killed them.  In fact, by stripping away the false pretenses that have probably chafed, their honesty has probably empowered them.  The very notion of bluntly, plainly speaking truth to convention has even taken root in popular culture.

Of course, all of this comes with caveats - there's a difference between calling a spade a spade and going on an emotion-fueled rant.  One could very well put Rob Ford's "run 'em out of town" comment in this category, where it doesn't belong.  There's a big difference between defining authentic problems and finding comprehensive, structural solutions.

Those are only found through conversation, which can only be conducted in an atmosphere of open and mutual respect.  In any conversation where are buttons are consciously or unconsciously being pushed, the instinct to react instead of internalize and understand is hard to fight and ever harder to recognize.  But that's the challenge we face if we're to get past this period of stagnation and keep moving forward.

This is the challenge of the 21st Century; the realization of a consciously, strategically collaborative society.  To bridge this gap takes a different kind of leader than we're used to; rhetoric and positioning aren't enough.  What's required today are integrity, honour, and foresight.

It's a good time to be alive.

The Politics of Memory: Mental Maps and Digital Government

Close your eyes and picture you're in your kitchen at home.  How do you get from there to the washroom?  What colour are the walls?  Where are the cupboards?  Could you draw a map from point A to B?  How many of the details along the way could you replicate with accuracy?  It's not as easy a process as you think; even the distances between rooms isn't as consistent in your memory as you think it is.

That, essentially, is the process that police walk witnesses through in describing suspects or recalling details from memory.  It's one we do very poorly.  If you're asked, however, how those spaces, faces or experiences make you feel, you're on much safer ground.  People who have touched your life deeply leave lasting impressions; you might look kindly at a cactus if, say, a favourite grandparent always had a cactus in their space.  You might mistrust all dogs, because you were terrified by one in your youth.  Emotional impacts are much more deeply ingrained in our memories. 

Marketing understands this, as does politics - the best messaging doesn't present information; it conveys emotional content.  Neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP relies on the manipulation of emotion to direct thought and is employed to some degree in the design of any tribal event, be it a religious service or a partisan rally.  Even Scientology incorporates some understanding of emotion's role in memory.  Ever heard the expression "number tell, but stories sell?"  How about this one - "a picture is worth a thousand words?"

"Syrian forces had killed 500 children."  It's pretty sickening.  Think you'll remember the number in an hour?  Click this link and tell me how soon you think that image will clear from your mind.

Now, think of government services; press 1 for this, press one for that.  Lists of hospitals, lists of doctors, forms and rote information.  Click on this link to 211 Toronto and tell me where your eyes gravitate.

I'm going to guess it wasn't the text on the left, but the pictures on the right.  Yet, our services aren't picture-based, they aren't designed for intuitive use; they're lists of terms that link to other lists of terms, or they're people on phones reading out "if A, then 1; if B, then 2" scripts.  The emotional resonance is missing; the map-like feature cues are entirely absent.  It's the dimensional equivalent to black-and-white, silent films; there is so much more detail that can be realized, if we have the right technology to map out that third dimension.

Of course, we're only now developing the digital tools that will allow for government services to be presented in a way that fosters maximum efficiency in public uptake.  The US has put together a roadmap for digital government that is doing just that - building a digital map that provides mental cue landmarks and will facilitate access.  This is where Wiki meets Googlemaps; the realization of what Don Tapscott calls Networked Intelligence or what I like to call The Conscious Society.

The future of government services, much as the future of work, is going to capitalize on this deeper understanding of what resonates with constituents/employees and how to design services, work spaces and work itself to promote maximum efficiency of use and maximum productivity.  The Henry Fords of the Cognitive Labour Revolution are busily designing the assembly mind lines that will propel the information economy forward.  The process will start in work and be picked up by labour, but where the most amazing transformations will occur when this trend hits our education system - where good teachers are already employing some degree of cognitive space design.

It's an exciting time to be alive; there's a whole new world of opportunity being opened up before us.  The challenge we face now is putting together the map.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Let There Be Light

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.

– Ecclesiastes

On a billion planets orbiting a billion stars, dawn always follows the darkness.

Humbled to be even a fractionally insignificant part of such an awesome whole.

Don't Be Afraid of The Other

Peter Worthington writes a heart-felt piece, heart-breaking in its simple honesty.  We don't let people buy and uses bombs or landmines because they serve one purpose - to kill people in quantity.  Gun rights activists aren't crying foul over this fact.  Well, assault rifles are just that - rifles designed to assault multiple parties.  By the same token, we don't allow people to walk around streets with swords strapped to their hips - again, because those swords would serve one purpose - duels, revenge, combat.  Handguns serve the same purpose - they are designed to kill people.

Make the argument that more people with guns will lead to less violence due to a leveling of the playing field.  But then provide one example in history that backs that assertion up.  You can't; the history of weapons is the history of increasingly powerful violence.  As weapons have broadened their scope from killing one to killing millions, we use them less because the risks are less.  The more firepower you have, the more powerful you feel - and the more strongly you feel the need to defend that power.  It's psychological; if you walk around with a gun, the temptation to use it either assertively or defensively multiplies.  The same rule applies to office politics or political attack ads; if you go looking for a fight, you're sure to find one.  It's that simple.

But there's a much deeper message in Worthington's piece, one of understanding.  We fear the unknown - we're programmed to.  It's a genetic fail safe that protects us from threats that emerge from the darkness faster than we can consciously process them.  Truly, that's all that instinct is; the triggering of pre-programmed or learned experiential biases that kick in an immediate, reactive response.  With aggression comes threat and with threat, the need for rapid response.  You will get anxious about public displays of gay behaviour for the same reason a you would be suspicious of a man in a turban or a woman wearing a veil - a hormone called cortisol.  This is the same hormone that will make you feel uncomfortable in the presence of a leper or burn victim; your limbic brain is perceiving something it registers as a threat and preparing your body for a fight-or-flight response.  It's no different from being afraid of the dark.

As we learn to populate the dark with knowledge rather than confabulation, it loses its terror.  The exact same truth applies to people.  I've been around the world, literally, exploring the ways in which people are similar and different.  Like many others, I've studied language, culture, history, geography, even neurochemistry to figure out where the commonalities lie.  I've spent nights with street people in Lima, Peru, watching them exhibit the most basic tenet of society - altruism.  I've laughed at the way in which an Arab Moroccan university professor stigmatized Italians in the same way an Italian grape grower stigmatized Moroccans.  Kids in small town Korea or post-war Sarajevo or downtown Toronto all want the same things from life; to have opportunity, to be happy, to be loved, to leave something behind.  We all feel the same way - what changes is the Way in which we express those feelings.  To me, there are no monsters in society; just behaviour, what causes it and how that behaviour can be influenced.

If I could have one wish, it would be for every person on earth to have the opportunity to be a stranger in a strange land and experience first-hand the kinship that connects all of us.  Homo sapiens are one species; there is far more that binds us together than there is separating us and where the differences lie, so to does opportunity.  Back to guns - where did gunpowder come from?  Thinking of China - where did pasta noodles come from?  What does the First Nations medicine wheel have to contribute to Western approaches to medicine?  Why is it that cultural groups from around the world land on the same metaphors, symbols like the tree of life, fire, the snake, the pyramid?  These aren't externally imposed things - they're internally derived.

JFK hit the nail on the head: "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

We can continue to focus on killing or dominating each other over personal fears, or we can learn to move forward together in understanding.  If we limit ourselves to looking through the lens of one political or cultural tribe, or even as one nation pitted against others, we are blinding ourselves to our shared birthright as human beings.  The true enemy we share is not external troubles, but internal fears.

When understanding is achieved, violence becomes unnecessary; threats cease to hold power over you and instead become opportunities to be seized

Fear can be overcome, but only by doing so consciously.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Was Bisexuality the Original Norm?

In his book, Bagemihl describes homosexual activity in a broad spectrum of animals. He asserts that while same-sex behavior is sometimes found in captivity, it is actually seen more frequently in studies of animals in the wild.

There's an interesting concept - humans are an entirely domesticated species.  There's a lot of homophobia and pro-"traditional" family approaches out there.  Well, there's evidence to suggest that when time was, it was villages that raised children - not nuclear families. 

What if it's the homophobes that are impeding nature, going against God's programming by trying to impose heterosexuality?

How Not To Sabotage Yourself At Work (Gary Belsky)

To paraphrase the old saw about suckers at a poker table, if you can’t spot the sneaky gossip at the office, it’s probably you. But you probably shouldn’t be looking for him or her at all. That’s the conclusion of an interesting new study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, which suggests that people who search for enemies in the workplace will find what they’re looking for—if only because they turned their colleagues against them in the process.Through a series of cleverly designed experiments, the study’s authors—Jennifer Carson Marr, Stefan Thau, Karl Aquino and Laurie J. Barclay—demonstrate a clear relationship between the motivation to prove that co-workers are saying bad things about you and an increase in paranoia, suspicious behavior of your own, and peer rejection. That is, people who try to ferret out workplace enemies are likely to create some that didn’t exist before, at least in part because their own eavesdropping, snooping, and gossiping sets colleagues to talking about them. Worse, the quartet’s findings suggest that this vicious cycle leads to suspicion-confirming behavior beyond gossip; it’s likely to lead colleagues to actively reject their paranoid peers whenever possible—for example, by avoiding opportunities to collaborate.

For people who aren’t prone to paranoid ideation on the job, the findings will likely confirm their experience at work. Most of us have had colleagues who insist on treating the workplace as a toxic combination of the U.S. Senate cloak room, Cold War-era East Berlin, and the parlor game Mafia. The best strategy for dealing with such types is often to avoid prolonged or in-depth interactions with them whenever possible.

(MORE: Are ‘Safe Accounts’ the Answer to Our Consumer Banking Problems)

But if your first thought when reading about the study’s finding was more cynical—i.e., But what if someone really is trying to undermine me?—you just might be the sucker at the table. (No, really.) That is, the takeaway from this study is not so much that you’re imagining all those evildoers, gossips and troublemakers at the office. They might, in fact, be gossiping about you, criticizing your work or avoiding you. But they might be doing all or some of that because your initial and unwarranted feelings of threat or exclusion—not to mention the negative behavior that followed—prompted their actions.

To paraphrase another old saw: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not out to get you. It means they may be out to get you because you’re paranoid!

And so the best strategy for dealing with potential workplace “frenemies” is to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if it feels like you’re exposing yourself to harm. For one thing, you might be sensing that others are gossiping about (or otherwise undermining) you simply because you’re prone to such behavior yourself! “There is evidence from other research that people often do project their perceptions of themselves onto others,” says Aquino, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, who is the study’s lead author. “And there is also a stream of research that shows that when people do something bad to others they are highly motivated to rationalize it. One way to do this is to assign more negative attributes to people whom they harm as a way of making the harm-doer feel like the person deserved it.”

It takes one to know one, indeed.

But there’s another, even-more-humbling reason you may experience yourself as a workplace target: a psychological bias called the “spotlight effect,” which was demonstrated some years back by Cornell University psychology professor Tom Gilovich and colleagues. (Those few careful readers of my author bio will know that Tom and I wrote a book together about behavioral economics.) In a series of experiments that were both amusing and revealing, the researchers showed that humans consistently overestimate the extent to which others are paying attention to them. In the most recent edition of our book—Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes And How To Correct Them—Tom and I summed up the relevant takeaway thusly: “The key lesson is not that fewer people are paying attention to you than you think; it’s that you’re paying more attention to what you think people are thinking about you than is warranted.”

(MORE: Why Turboprops Are Making a Comeback)

In other words: “It may be best to ignore impulses that tell you that you’re the victim of office politics,” says Aquino. That’s good advice. Because there’s a good chance that the harm you may incur by failing to be as “vigilant” (a.k.a. paranoid) as you might otherwise be will pale in comparison to the benefits you’ll garner when your colleagues slowly start to realize you’re not such a sneaky gossip after all.
Related Topics: career, Career Advice, career management, career mistakes, Career Strategies, career wisdom, office gossips, Office politics, paranoia, psychology, workplace strategies, Career Strategies, Careers & Workplace, Uncategorized, Work In Progress

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Office Politics:You Get What You're Looking For

How often do we hear someone say "politics is a bloodsport" or that "it's a dog eat dog world" out there?  Why is that when we fixate on troubles lapping at our shores, we seem to find foes aplenty?  When we act like pit bulls, why are there always more fights to be fought?  Why do control freaks or micromanagers always have justification that their direct influence is necessary to keep staff in line?  Heck, why is it that when we're convinced we're right, everyone who disagrees with us just seems unable to see our truth?
It's really not that hard - the world as we see it is a reflection of what's happening in our own head space.  If you've just lost the love of your life, the world can seem a grim place.  If you're going on a date with your dream partner, it can seem a place brimming with butterflies of opportunity.  Of course, if you're drunk, over-caffeinated or even sleepy, those states change how you see the world, too. 

That's what anger, fear, hope, despair, desperation, rage, ambivalence are - chemically induced states.  If you have a mood disorder, anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications change your moods chemically.  Environmental changes (a walk in a park, playing music, etc) or conscious changes (exercise, thinking happy thoughts, etc) do the same thing to a lesser degree.  If you speak a few languages/have experience of different cultures, you'll note how those external/internalized factors change perspective, too.

The worlds we experience are literally shaped by our own, ever-changing human lenses.  When we're conscious of this, we can manage that experience. 

Self-control?  Consciousness?  Awareness?

Tell me those aren't things worth looking for.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Greater Working Memory Capacity Benefits Analytic, But Not Creative, Problem-Solving

Limbic brain vs. Pre-frontal brain.  If we're conscious, though, can we harness both?


Anyone who has tried to remember a ten-digit phone number or a nine-item grocery list knows that we can only hold so much information in mind at a given time. Our working memory capacity is decidedly finite – it reflects our ability to focus and control attention and strongly influences our ability to solve problems.
In a new article in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Jennifer Wiley and Andrew Jarosz of the University of Illinois at Chicago explore the role of working memory capacity in both mathematical and creative problem solving.
Converging evidence from many psychological science studies suggests that high working memory capacity is associated with better performance at mathematical problem-solving. In fact, decreased working memory capacity may be one reason why math anxiety leads to poor math performance. Overall, working memory capacity seems to help analytical problem-solvers focus their attention and resist distraction.
However, these very features of working memory capacity seem to impair creative problem-solving. With creative problems, reaching a solution may require an original approach or a novel combination of diverse pieces of information. As a result, too much focus may actually impair creative problem solving.
The authors note that, in the real world, problems are not always distinctly divided into analytic and creative types – successful problem solving depends on the needs of a given situation.
For more information about this study, please contact: Jennifer Wiley at
Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, publishes concise reviews on the latest advances in theory and research spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications. For a copy of "Working Memory Capacity, Attentional Focus, and Problem Solving" and access to other Current Directions in Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or

Occupational Mental Health Now

The sheer pressure being placed on our national healthcare silos (because there is no system, not nationally, not provincially) is unsustainable.  The people delivering our health services are cracking at the seams, but the burden just keeps growing.  Plus, the cost keeps rising, too.  Something has to give.

When you need to deliver more, but can't afford more, you need a third way.  You need structural change.  The question we need to ask ourselves is, why is there such high demand?  What can we do to reduce demand rather than attempt impossible service increases?

If you want to find ways to keep people out the healthcare system, you have to do two things - give them more knowledge and access on the front end (education, health promotion) and reduce the factors that aggrieve illness in the first place. 

How do you do that?  We've looked at obesity and smoking, promoted healthy eating and exercise.  There's decent health and safety standards in place, some going to far as to impede people from developing resistance and resiliency. 

What's left?

Everyone's acknowledged there is a global mental health crisis that impacts poverty, quality of life and illness - all of which increase the burden on our healthcare system.  There is an appreciation of how "management styles" and work flow can exacerbate or even cause illnesses like anxiety and depression (if it frustrates you that I call those illnesses, ask yourself, why?)  Now, we need to connect the dots between mental health, occupational health and health care.  It's a pretty easy link to make; it's the implications that give us pause.

There's an appetite for changing the way we look at mental health, work and healthcare - there's also a dire need.  The politicians who seize on this topic and run with it can not only score major social wins; they can achieve some major political wins, too.

We're going to be hearing a lot more about cognitive labour as the engine that fuels the information economy.  It's something the smart business and political folk are already becoming conscious of.

The Return of Ethnic Violence to Europe: The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled...

It's a funny thing, what a little time does to public memory.  A generation that is born without significant poverty, warfare or real-time experience of the consequences of ethnic hatred are wont to ignore the lessons history has to teach us on that score.  Which is why we are doomed to repeat it.

It's not too late, but time is running out.
                I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
                It was you and me

Stephen Harper - Indian Giver?

It was a proud moment for Canada when Stephen Harper stood in the House and apologized for the way First Nations youth were treated - paternalistically, abusively, with no respect for their culture or custom.  I've been up and down the Americas and have seen Aboriginal peoples mistreated and lost because systems of European origin have been imposed upon them.  I don't think you can really grasp how significant an impact such impositions have if you've never been on the receiving end, if you've never lived in a country where your customs aren't the norm.

I'm sure Team Harper has the best intentions with their own attempts to impose Western concepts of property on First Nations.  They're all about capitalism; take away social rules, make profit the singular end goal and everyone will do just fine.  If they need a bit of coaxing to take that system, well, it's just a matter of survival of the fittest.

The road to hell is littered with best intentions; the Residential Schools were created with best intentions in mind, too.  While change is desirable and necessary, it has to be agreed upon by the communities in question; the consequences need to be carefully explored and communicated, too.  Harper and co. think one or two elections - about seven years - ahead; here, they really must think of the impact for seven generations.

We're not in separate canoes on separate rivers; we need to find mutually agreeable ways to move forward together.

Monday 6 August 2012

An Uncomfortable Trend In Canadian Politics

What happens when you put your own interests first, to the exclusion of all others?  Well, their interests come into conflict with yours.  When laissez-faire politics ceases to work in your favour, as it invariably does, capitalist governments invariably slide further along the spectrum.

How's that happen?  A few examples:



Scientists, bureaucrats, diplomats, etc. are already afraid to speak truth to the CPC's power for fear of reprisal.  Anyone who considers themself an "activist" is being labeled as enemies of the State.  Lots of Harper supporters I know argue that's fine; Harper's Prime Minister and he has the right to do whatever the hell he wants with his employees and his money.

Only they aren't his resources and it isn't his money.  It's ours.  When an increasing number of tax-paying  Canadians are labeled as un-Canadian by its government, something is amiss.