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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 20 October 2012

The Travers Debates: Canada faces a brighter future than the US (Allan Gregg)

Canada's best destiny is not as a power, but a power broker

Opening Statement

“Be it resolved that that the future of the United States is brighter than Canada’s”

Allan R. Gregg on the negative side of the resolution

For the better part of modern history, the facts have supported my worthy opponent’s side of the resolution.
Fueled by a revolutionary fever and personified by the most impressive generation of political leaders on record, within two Centuries, the United States literally modernized the world. Its worship of enterprise, initiative and individualism was buttressed by an unwavering belief that theirs was the “Shining City on the Hill” that would provide a beacon for the world to follow. This ethos of exceptionalism gave America an unshakable confidence and focus to pursue its destiny; and created a resilience that allowed them to weather a Civil War, the Great Depression and two World Wars – growing ever stronger with each encounter of adversity.

Canada’s beginnings were more modest. Founded in counter-revolutionary roots, our leaders tended to be more pragmatic, than idealistic or inspirational. Still, in the face of vast and inhospitable terrain, all the while living in the shadow of the most powerful and militaristic nation in civilization, we were able to build one of the most prosperous and generous countries in the world. Absent a unified founding myth or heroes, we nonetheless developed our own unique national personae; one focused not on “might and right” but on an ability and willingness to accommodate and even value differences. In strong contrast to the US, we view immigration not as a problem to be managed, but as a national asset; the NDP are not vilified as dangerous socialists but Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; and the BQ are not branded as seditious traitors but – for good or ill – the legitimate government of the second largest region in the land. Far from signs of blandness or weakness, as we look towards the future, our ability to accommodate differentness and find compromise with otherwise opponents, now serves us well.

In contrast, I will argue tonight that the very culture that made the United States not just the most powerful, but the best country in the World, now serves them poorly.
America’s future is clouded not by the fact that they are on some kind of death spiral of decline, but – as Fareed Zakaria noted – by the rise of everyone else.
Moreover, in Thomas Friedman’s flattened world where everyone has access to same educational curriculum, information and invention, values and culture matter more than ever. Futures are formed by what you do with this knowledge, rather than in the past where fortunes were determined by whether you possessed, and could make others pay for it.
Being the alpha dog, winning every race and leading the World is in America’s DNA. Now as the world is starting to catch up, there are increasing signs that the United States is suffering from post-Hegemonic Stress Syndrome.
The most obvious manifestation of this is how core values that once unified and set the course for the United States now set them apart and leaves them rudderless. The sacred pursuit of individualism now makes America one of the most inequitable nations in the world. Disparities between rich and poor, divisions along ideological and religious lines have lead to the demise of political compromise and the erosion of what has been called “the vital center”. As a consequence, what was once the most vibrant political system in the World is now virtually paralyzed; and the most dynamic enterprise on the planet is now functionally ungovernable.
In the same way, America’s blind faith that it is destined to lead, now makes it nearly impossible for them to fit in or to follow. This sense of exceptionalism justifies unilateralism and leaves them increasingly isolated in an ever-more connected world. This same fear also makes it impossible for their leaders to disengage from almost a trillion dollars in military commitments, choking off expenditures that otherwise might be applied for much needed social programs and infrastructure or making more friends in the world.
Even the ingenuity and innovation that marked American enterprise is now being perverted by their inability to grapple with the prospects of decline. While still a relative powerhouse in patent filings, as a proportion of GDP, the United is now only ranked 5th – behind New Zealand. As a percent of total R&D spending they rank 10th – behind the likes of Poland and Ukraine. In fact, protecting copyright appears to be more important than creating it; as much vaunted examples of US ingenuity – such as Apple – now spend more on litigation than research and development. Instead of creating a $2,000 car – such as the Tata in India – the best and the brightest seemed to be more consumed with developing more derivative products that generate individual fortunes but no national wealth.
It isn’t by chance that Canada has fared better in the post-meltdown period of 2007-8. In the same way that we have no qualms about – and there is no protest against – things such as limits on election expenses, our more collectivist impulse lead us to regulate our financial service sector. In fact, the very absence of an unassailable national ideology means that compromise is not only possible, it is also still highly valued in Canada. Could you image a leading Conservative leader in the United States deliberating avoiding a divisive dust up over an issue such as abortion, because it would be a diversion away from more pressing national matters?
And as a middle power, we have always known that co-operation – rather than conflict – serves our interests on the international stage. Consequently, Canada fits more easily into our interconnected, flatten world and has the potential to be a friend to all nations. And because of the value we place on our multicultural make-up, we are now positioned to harness our ethnic Diaspora as ambassadors to expand trade between their new and former homelands.
No one disputes that there are forces shaping and changing the patterns of power in the world, and few would dismiss the great threats that these changes pose to the status quo. What is at issue now, is how well equipped nations are to adapt to adversity and how resilient their culture is when it is time to rise up to those changes. Compared to the United States, I have to say, Canada’s future looks very bright.

Closing Statement

Canada never has been – nor has ever sought to be – a world military or even an economic leader. But as a nation, we do see ourselves as moral leaders. And this is more than just vanity or hubris.
This is how the world can see us as well.
A welcoming home to the displaced and those seeking a better life; a stable country whose policies are rooted in common sense rather than the cult of personality or ideological zeal; and if not a world leader, certainly a nation with the potential to lead by example.
This isn’t a portrait that generates much chest thumping; but it also is one that requires no saber rattling.
We have flourished in the shadow of the most powerful nation the world has ever known. And while we share a continent, we have steadfastly stood an independent ground and reveled in our differences.
It is difficult and nearly impossible for America to learn from others because – as a world leader – they believe no one has anything to teach them. We have looked into the mirror of America, learned from their mistakes and adapted accordingly. And at the end of the day it is that resilience – and humility – that will propel Canada forward … and hold America back.
Thank you

Friday 19 October 2012

3 Ways to Develop Creativity in the Workplace (by

Motivating innovative labour through redesigning work and workspaces?  Sounds like a brilliant idea.

It doesn’t matter if you are a small marketing agency or an accounting firm; every work environment thrives on creative individuals. Sometimes getting those individuals to release their creative energy is easier said than done. Employees are often too focused on the task at hand, making those “ah-ha” moments few and far between. And when they do fall upon us, it’s often too late to make the appropriate action.

As a small business owner, it is your responsibility to harness this creative energy on a daily basis. Below, we’ve listed three simple ways to encourage creativity within your small business.

1. Participate in Social Networks

One of the best ways your employees can release their creative energy on a more regular basis is by participating within social networks. As an individual increases their social circle, they are more likely to be surrounded with diverse conversation, ultimately sparking new ideas from within. It’s important not to focus too heavily on social networks as it may have an inverse effect on the brain. Moderation is key.

2. Evaluate Your Office Décor
Sometimes all it takes is placing an individual in the right atmosphere. Unique office design is a major component to sparking creative ideas. However, you’ll want to make sure your office design is still on par with your overall brand image. Here are a few examples of creative workplaces. Who knows, they may spark a few ideas for your small business!
3. Create a Suggestion Box
This is a brilliant idea. Employees can be timid when it comes to voicing opinions. Why not make an anonymous suggestion box for employees to bring forth thought-provoking ideas?

Where the Magic Happens

Ooh, I kinda like this:

Promotion & Information
Your consumers will initially be attracted by the packaging of your product but, to keep their attention, it has to provide value. If your product requires instructions for use, the packaging can be an ideal place for those instructions. Use the space wisely to tell consumers how your product will benefit them, while providing directions for use.

RIP Lincoln Alexander

Lots of people knew him affectionately as "Linc." I couldn't imagine calling him anything other than sir, something I reserve for people that I respect enormously. Lincoln Alexander fit that bill to a tee. He was a ground-breaker, a man of conviction and compassion - he was a wonderful human being.

Last time I saw him was leaving a Raptors' game, making his way along in his electric wheelchair. I felt compelled to say hello and tell him how much I respected him. He brushed all that off, told me not to call him sir, and asked how I liked the game. I told him it had been a great night.

I'm not sad at his passing - Mr. Alexander led a full life and leaves behind a legacy to be proud of. I guess I'm just grateful that we all had the fortune to be blessed by his contributions.

Rest in peace, Mr. Alexander - you've earned it.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Communication Skills: Top 10 Tips for Tough Conversations With Your Boss, Business Partner, Or Best Bud (by Dianna Booher)

I wish had the proverbial nickel for every participant in one of my sessions who has approached me after the program with a comment that began, “Have you got a minute for a question? My boss and I just don’t get along. We need to have a conversation, but he/she…” From there, the story and details diverge.
But here’s the commonality: The conflict has been ongoing, stress has clearly altered productivity and results, and both parties have crashed against a communication barrier that seems insurmountable.
If you find yourself in that same predicament, consider these tips for a straightforward conversation that helps you break through that wall of hard feelings and misunderstandings.
1. Realize that two sides can be right. Conflict is not a competitive sport. The other person does not have to lose for you to win.
2. Communicate what happened, what you have concluded about what happened, and how you feel about what happened. Then listen for the same information from the other person. You will uncover hidden invalid assumptions, wrong interpretations, and inaccurate information.
3. Make a conscious choice about whether you will accommodate, compromise, overpower, or collaborate to come to resolution. Backing people into a corner rarely serves good purpose. But you yourself may decide to accommodate the other person’s wishes to “bank a favor” when something is not all that important to you. Remembering that you have a choice in the matter helps.
4. Define areas or issues that you agree on and move forward from there. Refocus on your goal rather than the obstacle.
5. Work to create alternatives. When locked in a stalemate, try brainstorming to generate new ideas to meet your goals.
6. State the real reasons for your feelings or objections—not just logical ones. Otherwise, the other person may remove the obstacle you’ve mentioned, and the problem will remain unsolved.
7. Prefer statements to questions during conflict. Instead of “Why didn’t you tell me about car?” State, “I wish you had told me about car.” A question typically generates an argument. A statement typically elicits a response—either agreement or disagreement.
8. Discuss a problem sitting down. You’ll be less likely to use intimidating body language or make a dramatic exit from the conversation in a huff.
9. Describe; don’t label. People can respond to statements like, “Your reports are missing key information.” They can confirm or deny that “fact.” Descriptions of what you see or what happened most often generate explanations. On the other hand, people can’t respond to a statement like, “You’re evasive.” Labels and value judgments generate arguments.
10. Avoid “hot words.” Just like radioactive material, they trigger an explosion: anger, defensiveness, denial, or blame.
Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books. Her work has been translated into 23 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg,, CNN International, NPR,Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication. Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies. 1-800-342-6621

Bread, Candles and Community – The New Sabbath Project

-       Ralph Benmergui

It's easy to say that religion causes war. Ayn Rand, Karl Marx and Richard Dawkins have all done so. There's plenty of evidence to back that thesis, too - historical horrors ranging from the Crusades to 9/11 all had religious motives. But what of the wars that didn't? The Rwandan genocide was tribal. World Wars I and II were about power and conquest. Conquistadors might have told themselves their goal was to bring God to the heathens, but they sure squeezed in a lot of rape, pillage and plunder along the way, didn't they? 

Beyond this lies the fact that war is not a uniquely human enterprise; other species ranging from ants to lions and hyenas engage in mortal combat, too.  In all cases, war is always about the same things – dominance and resource access.  While religion makes for a pretty unassailable justification for conflict (mortals can’t argue with the will of God), it’s one not suitable to that application.

The sad irony is that the core teachings of all great religions try to steer people in the opposite direction.  The Golden Rule pops up in faiths across the spectrum of time and geography.  In fact, there’s an argument to be made that religion played a role in nurturing civilization, lighting the candle of humanity in our dark paleomammalian hearts. Is it possible that religion, in its purest sense, is about bringing people together rather than setting them against each other?

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of partaking in The New Sabbath Project hosted by two wonderful human beings, Ralph Benmergui and Cortney Pasternak.  They invited a diverse group of people with different lineages and differing trajectories into their home for the lighting of candles and the breaking of bread.  It was a cold, dark autumn evening, but within those walls was a space filled with warmth and light.  Ralph and Cortney billed the dinner as a night of food and prayer; for me, what they created was community.

As an ice-breaker, Ralph had everyone explain the origin of their family name.  Through the process, we got to understand each other not just as faces and titles, but as threads of the experiences of generations, woven into the fabric of each individual.  By adding dimension to each name, we all became a bit more humanized to each other.  This became critical, later on.

After appetizers, we moved to the table, where Ralph explained the rituals of Shabbat.  As he unspooled the rules, though, Ralph explained the why – what the bread symbolized, what the salt symbolized, what the candles represented.  By the time he began the incantation (given in Hebrew), we had already, through our opening up to each other and under the roof of our hosts, created a shared space. 

Judaism is an ancient religion that has preserved the same traditions for thousands of years, from the days before empires.  Through the symbolism of the Shabbat ritual, but especially through the concept of shared food and light an image was invoked for me of people at the dawn of civilization huddling together around a campfire, safe from a dark and threatening world.

Then, in another ancient tradition, Ralph kicked off the act of giving blessings – to or for people, in commemoration of places or events, an evocation of empathy for the world beyond our created space.  It dawned on me as we went around the room that the act of giving blessings was a way of engendering empathy for others and gratitude for the things we have (instead of fueling resentment over the things we don’t).  These are fundamental concepts to Positive Psychology, a newish field that seeks to build social/emotional skills and emotional resiliency in people. 

Militaries use Positive Psychology as way of empowering their soldiers, just as a growing number of workplaces are employing its principles to foster healthier and more productive employees.  A religious ritual that predated history had already mastered a key concept of psychological well-being millennia before science had even begun to explore how the mind works.

In the discussion that followed one of the guests, Sylvia, talked about a new job working with Native women.  Each work day, she explained, began with a “circle” – the creation of a space of comfort in which people could talk about their feelings.  For the first few days Sylvia didn’t get the point – they were there to work, not to have a hug-in.  By mid-week however, it made sense; when you understood the emotional state of a person at the start of the day, it informed all your interactions going forward.  There were less awkward communication problems and more appropriate supports, leading to improved outcomes. 

The notion of the shared space and even many of the rituals involved in creating that space mirrored the traditions of Shabbat.  It wasn’t just one religious faith that had landed on these practices; they seemed to be attached to religions from around the world.  This was appropriate – around the table were lineages representing Europe, Asia, Africa and pre-conquest North America.  The experience of the New Sabbath Project knitted together each of these histories into one shared community that transcended any one of our narratives.

At Ralph and Cortney’s table there were laughs and tears; deeply personal stories, tentative aspirations and questions of all kinds were shared.  Because of the nature of the space we had created, together, there was no judgment.  There was food (including Cortney’s amazing bread), there was light and above all, there was community.  Because of this, we all felt open to be ourselves, to speak plainly and honestly, as well as to listen.  It was surprising to many of us just what a fresh experience that was.

When the evening was done and the candles extinguished, we all parted and headed back into the darkness alone, yet filled in many ways.  The threads of our shared experience, however, weren’t cut – they will continue to accompany each of us on our journeys, encouraging us to seek out and weave even more lineages into our communal tapestry.

As the Rands, Marxes and Dawkinses of the world focus on a clinically pragmatic view of the world, they are neglecting a key component of the human experience – the connective tissue of community that gives us cause to come together and create a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts.

At its root, then, perhaps religion isn’t a thing designed to justify conflict and dominance; maybe it’s the thing that’s meant to bring us together.  So long as we keep a candle burning somewhere out there, that hope remains.

Andrew Coyne: In Canada, credibility trumps power. And it isn’t even close

To put it in two words - integrity matters.
In April of 2009, the governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, announced that the bank would be holding its benchmark interest rate steady for the next 15 months. Around the world, the reaction was instantaneous and universal: “Ah. I guess that means the Bank of Canada will be holding interest rates steady for the next 15 months.”
When the governor says he will do something, that is, people believe him. That credibility is partly personal, partly institutional. It is a reputation that has been earned over many years, under both Carney and his predecessors: A Bank of Canada governor does not make promises he will not keep, or say things he knows to be untrue. More than an expectation, it is almost a definition.
Contrast that with his counterparts in politics, even in the highest office. Were the prime minister — any prime minister, at least of recent times — to announce the time of day, most people would disbelieve it. That, too, is a matter of reputation. Prime Ministers have told such whoppers of late — have gone to such escalating efforts to convince the public that this time they really meant it, only to betray them yet again — that their position has been greatly weakened.
They have institutional power. They do not have the broader power that comes with credibility, of being able to shape events not directly, but indirectly, through the expectations and actions of the public. The governor can assume the public’s trust, and plan policy accordingly. A prime minister, having squandered the public’s trust, cannot.
Of course, a Bank of Canada governor — like other independent office-holders, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, and so on — does not have to campaign for election, or worry that he will be bumped aside by a more unscrupulous rival. Integrity of that kind, a politician might say, is a luxury he cannot afford.
And of course he would be right. Politics is about packs; the more ruthless, more disciplined, more pack-like of the parties mauls the others into submission. It prizes loyalty, not before all other virtues, but to their exclusion. We hunt together, the aspiring politician is told. Stick with the pack. And so each learns to scrape and smear, to manipulate and deceive, to promise one and threaten another, exactly as he is told.
That is how institutional power is won. Everyone understands that. What is interesting is what happens when power collides with principle: when the pack confronts, not another pack, but a determined individual of conscience. Nothing has prepared the pack for this. Faced with someone they cannot frighten, and who does not want anything from them, they are bewildered. All of their normal tactics and approaches are suddenly useless. All of their power turns to dust.
We are seeing this just now with regard to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Various ministers of the government have been sent out to smear him, first claiming he was incompetent, then, when his numbers were borne out, that he was exceeding his authority. Through it all the PBO has kept digging, kept issuing his reports, kept demanding to see the data to which he is entitled under the law. And slowly, grudgingly, the government has been forced to yield.
But this is hardly the first time we have seen this play. When Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s report on the sponsorship scandal came out in 2004, accusing Liberal Party officials and friendly bureaucrats of conspiring to break “every rule in the book,” there were furtive attempts to go after her as well. Whisper campaigns were put about to the effect that she was out of control, that she was embarked on a “witch hunt.” We recall how that turned out. Whatever institutional power the government might have possessed, Fraser’s reputational power demolished it. It wasn’t even a fair fight.
The current government fared no better in its efforts to smear its own appointee as Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, after his report exposing mismanagement and fraudulent bookkeeping in the F-35 program. Even as the government was pretending to accept his findings the former parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, Laurie Hawn, was circulating a letter accusing the Auditor General of misunderstanding such basic terms as “acquisition,” of being unable to get basic facts right, even of being “disingenuous.” But the public knew whom to believe.
To be sure, part of the power of an auditor general or parliamentary budget officer, like that of a Bank of Canada governor, is institutional: they have certain powers and immunities that make it difficult for governments to intimidate or resist them. But much of it depends on the conduct of the individual in that office, and of its previous occupants — the reputation for independence and integrity they accumulate over the years.
And part of it is cultural. As cynical as we may be about our politicians, there is something ingrained in Canadians that honours the individual who will not “be reasonable,” will not “go along,” will not accept that “this is how it has always been done.” That isn’t true everywhere, but it is here. When the call to conscience comes, it finds an echo. But the reason we know what it sounds like is because we have had examples — because of those individuals in our past who have been willing to stand up, alone if necessary, against the power of the pack. I have in mind one such in particular.

Democratic Disengagement, Occupy and Social Evolution

- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
The Occupy and Tea Party movements share one thing in common - they both think our current system of social organization is broken.  Both agree that the voice of individuals is being lost in the functioning of our model of the democratic process.  From that point, though, the two movements diverge; while the Tea Party folk embrace an Ayn Rand view that disavows society and focuses instead on individual agency, Occupy is committed to finding ways to raise individual concerns up to the level of societal awareness.
The Tea Party enjoys great popularity, but only among a segment of the population.  Their organizers tend to appear angry, aggressive and close-minded in how they present themselves.  While they have been successful in stirring the pot and generating attention, it's questionable how much chance they have of nurturing actual change.  The radicals among their ranks turn off moderate conservatives while those politicians who tack their way lose the opportunity to build broader coalitions of support among their populaces.  This doesn't have to matter - as Stephen Harper has proven, you can completely write off whole provinces in your political calculations and still win.  But what does this do to democracy?  Voter turnout is dwindling for a reason - people are feeling less and less represented by their Representatives and tuning out.
It's difficult to figure out just what Occupy stands for.  Certainly, it has no defined leader, no bureaucratic system of information gathering and policy formation; a key rule adopted by Occupiers was decision by consensus.  This has proven difficult, not just because of differences of opinions, but sheer logistics.  I remember visiting the Occupy Bay Street camp in Toronto and witnessing the challenges of information sharing in its most basic form.  If you've ever been to a Q&A with one microphone, a long line of questioners, a poor sound system and limited time, picture all of that happening out of doors, without the audio.  Without question, however, Occupy has changed politics - politicians have noticed the broad social representation to be found among the ranks of Occupy and its supporters and have begun to throw some recognition there way.  The 47% fits perfectly into that narrative.
So, on the one hand, we have the Tea Party crowd being dismissive of viewpoints that differ from their own and on the other, Occupy trying to raise the voices of those who feel they have been dismissed.  It may be the anthropologist in me, but I think the two perspectives boil down to this - the  Objectivist Tea Party unconsciously wants to recreate a Band-type of social organization, described by Jared Diamond as one "where everyone is closely related to everyone else, people related simultaneously to both quarreling parties step in to mediate quarrels."  Occupy wants to infuse the State model with a Band-level of voice afforded to all members of society, especially those who with less influence due to lineage or circumstance.
Both of these movements face a basic problem of numbers.  A Tea Party Objectivist model only works in smaller groups, where there is less variety of opinion (and ethnicity, religion and social stratification as a result).  The same holds true for Occupy - you cannot have a Circle of discussion that gives voices to thousands of individuals located in pockets across thousands of kilometers of geography.  Similarly, Stephen Harper is finding his quasi-Objectivist perspective at odds with a growing number of stakeholders demanding centralized coordination for far-reaching programs like healthcare.
More broadly, there's a growing recognition that our representative democracy isn't all that representative; disaffected voters feel like they don't know the issues, their concerns aren't being listened to and that it doesn't matter who gets elected, their voice doesn't resonate.  Of course, it has always been thus, with the divide becoming sharper the larger and more diverse society gets.  The only reason this trend is getting more attention today is due to the rise of social media, allowing for groups like Samara to spread their findings more widely and for media to pick up on countless, specific voices of disaffection through mediums like Twitter.
I disagree with Don Tapscott when he suggests that our social system is broken - rather, I think that society has simply grown beyond it, just as we have the Band or the Tribe.  While we still have sub-units of organization; the family, the kin circle, the class, the province, the state - society has grown so large and integrated that we need to add another tier to the top of the organizational pyramid, facilitating greater connectivity and coordination for all.
At the same time, there is demand for greater specialization within society itself.  Specialization is the history of civilization; the division of labour has separated food producers from tool producers from bureaucrats, always building the base of the pyramid outwards.  This applies to institutions as much as it does to individuals; Head Men were separated into Kings and their courts, then Kings and Churches, then Heads of State, Churches and Governments, etc.
The global integration of people, labour and the trade of goods has brought us to a point where societal needs are too complex; our modern systems of governance and representation aren't up to the job.  Change is inevitable.  What that change will eventually look like, I don't know.  It's worth noting, however, another line from Guns, Germs and Steel: "societies of thousands can exist only if they develop centralized authority to monopolize force and resolve conflicts."
I'm not sure if I agree with the words "monopolize force" - I think that's too limited, and also neglects some powerful historical examples of unifying causes that didn't rely on force.  The initial spread of Christianity and Islam were due to the power of the vision and charisma of their leaders - the sword only came later.  For Buddhism, it's always been the message that has brought people together, allowing them to coordinate efforts and resources towards common goals.  Politics works a lot like this, too, at its best - Trudeaumania was a phenomenon because people bought into Trudeau and the concept of the Just Society, rather than being forced or coerced into believing.   
To me, it seems the major challenges that society faces today are:
- the disparity that is inevitable in a massive populace with minimal internal coordination and the resulting social disconnect
- the sheer challenge of engaging all citizenry through a representative system that allows for a majority of voices to be heard and opinions to be represented through policy
- a dearth of strong, common visions and strong, engaging leaders that broader segments of the populace can rally behind
Unlike those trumpeting the end of civilization and the demise of innovation, however, I think that we're going to expand upwards and outwards, overcoming this hurdle as we have all others in the history of society.  I think that we'll be seeing a re-emergence of rock-star leaders with powerful visions that people can see themselves reflected in and feel inspired by.  These trailblazers will be buffeted by communities of engaged individuals using social media as a key tool to lift up their leaders.  Invariably, the brands these leaders engender will be bigger than the leaders themselves, leading to the risk of burying the men and women beneath the hype (as happened to Barack Obama).
A solution to this challenge will be for the Leaders - the Head Men and Women - to share the spotlight a little with their teams, spreading the wealth and responsibility, putting less burden on the shoulders of one.  You can see that happening already with Justin Trudeau's rockstar campaign launch and the visibility of his young, likable and capable campaign team.  In short, we're going to be turning the person at the top into a community, trickling responsibility further down the chain and leading to yet further social specialization.  With such a strong degree of specialization, there's increased demand for more bodies to develop greater, nuanced skills, which results in more stuff, more demand, more production, greater prosperity and less poverty.
But you don't have to take it from me.  Family, Band, Tribe, State - the trend lines are the history of social evolution.


Wednesday 17 October 2012

An Emotionally Disturbed Person

About half-an-hour ago, I helped a man get out of traffic, but inadvertently landed him in the back of a squad car in the process.

The man was harmless; black, thin, probably in his sixties given his snow-white hair and beard, missing most of his teeth. He was standing in the middle of the road, waving his hands in a non-aggressive manner. Yonge + Gerrard is not a good place to play traffic cop, so I decided to act.

I walked into the street and offered assistance - the man said he was hungry and was just looking for a hot meal. Promising to help him, I walked the fellow back to the sidewalk and asked if he had somewhere to go to or if I could help him find a food bank. His words were hard to make out, but he accepted my help while picking up a piece of gum from the cement to chew on.

Not knowing what else to do, I called 911, who sent a police car. As I got off the phone I noticed a Mission across the street; I told the man we could seek him some food there. He didn't want to go - he was scared of aggressive youth. I offered to go grab something and bring it back to him, touching his shoulder in a communicative gesture in the process. He recoiled at the contact, said he can't do that, meaning the touching. He offered a fist bump, as that was something he felt comfortable with.

The Mission provided me a bag of cookies, which I brought to the man - he wolfed them down, obviously famished. Then he thanked me. I told him if he stayed put, I would try to get him more food.

Then the police arrived. I introduced myself and pointed out the gentleman; they proceeded to politely but firmly handcuff the man and put him in the back of their car before driving off.

I know I did the right thing; the officers will have taken the man to a hospital where he can get some help. If I hadn't acted, there was a chance he could be hit by a distracted driver. But at the same time, I feel like I betrayed that man's trust. He wasn't causing anyone harm, he wasn't violent - he was just hungry and obviously suffering from some kind of mental health concern. Because of me, he had to suffer the fear and indignity of being handcuffed and put in the back of a squad car.

I've talked to a few professionals in the mental health world - they all say I did the right thing. I can't help feeling, though, that it shouldn't have to be that way. The system is designed to mitigate risk to EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons), professionals like the police and society at large - and it works fairly well that way. But that fellow has had his humanity reduced, not just by whatever the condition is that isolates him from others but in how the system responds to it.

There has to be a better way; surely with all of our technology, understanding and experience, we can develop tools and practices that better preserve human dignity at the same time as providing people with the help and security they need.

That solution will be more than just some legislative tweaks, though - it requires culture change. What's bugging me most right at this moment is that, in all my efforts to help that man, it never occurred to me to ask his name.

Apropos of Nothing:

The Ontario Liberals are looking to renew; hopefully, all Legislators are looking to find opportunities to get past partisan animosities and tackle the hefty challenges facing the province; public sector stakeholders are looking for solutions - then there's this mental health thing that touches all sectors and through which effective solutions must be shared ones.
It's almost like a puzzle, with all the pieces starting to fall into place.

Comprehensive Mental Health Reform - An Idea for the Times

Mental health isn't just about illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder - it touches on cognition, the ability to learn, social interaction, resiliency, productivity, innovative ability.  There's some relevance for all those fields in today's society.
Poor mental health is manifesting itself across the board; family stress, workplace stress, more hours worked with less to show for it, more people in the hospital, on medication or simply spiraling into anxiety and depression. 
This isn't about pandering to weakness or discouraging people from "being tough" any more than health and safety standards were about giving in to whiny employees.  For people to get the most from society and contribute to their maximum potential, we have to stop designing square peg infrastructure and cognitive labour models and trying to wedge rounded folk into them.  The right tool for the right job; the right training and accommodation for the times.
I'm very encouraged to see Minister Hoskins discussing this.

Binders Full of Women - Romney Cues the Meme Machine

People love memes.  They're a powerful, infectious form of communication.  Memes can work for you or against you.

This one is definitely not spooling out in Romney's favour. 

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor:

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner:

Hey, is that a blackberry?



Even more yeesh:

The Most Interesting Man in the World:

Cute and cheeky:

Even cuter and cheekier:

Is this CanCon?

Binders Full of Women Tumblr meme Mitt Romney Presidential Debate Barack Obama funny Ryan Gosling

I'm waiting for someone to do a Call Me Maybe: Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but you're a woman so get in my binder.  Or something.

There are tons more and they just keep comin'.  What's your favourite?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Wolverine, Gangnam Style!

Fantastic.  For CanCon, Wolverine is supposed to be a Canadian character.

See, Rob Ford - no need to be embarrassed.  You've now become part of something much larger than your mayoralty, such as it is...

Who will be next?  Street cred awaits!

Value Add in BSG: La tua ragazza è un tostapane

Our world is a complex place, full of little details that might not register consciously, but complete our picture.  When something's missing or off-key, our limbic system sounds off that something is not quite right.  This is particularly true in created experiences, like movies and TV.  When you can tell an actor is saying lines rather than living in a moment, or a set looks like props rather than a real environment, viewers can be pulled right out of the experience.  When they're not emotionally invested, they don't believe and if they don't believe, they don't care.  That's not how you keep audiences.

Which is why good filmmakers try so hard to deliver honest performances, stories, characters, settings and narrative arcs for their audiences.  The end goal isn't to make bucks, because if they stop there, they're missing out on the opportunity to foster an ongoing relationship - the kind that can only be built on trust and appreciation.  Audiences feel comfortable with a Steven Spielberg film, a Joss Whedon story or a Hans Zimmer score because they know they're in good hands.  Good story tellers are like teachers, mentors or doctors - you allow yourself to be a little vulnerable to them and will follow wherever they lead you.
The really good story tellers don't just create realistic worlds - they add value.  People love pop culture references, where appropriate; they want the extra texture that gives them a little rush, makes them feel loved and trusted themselves to get and appreciate the subtleties.
Which is why I love Bear McReary's tune Battlestar Operatica from the hit show Battlestar Galatica.  In a show that constantly added dimension, this was a brilliant little touch - Gaius Baltar, a genius whose egoism has led him to pursue choices with negative consequences for both himself and all of humanity is stressing out in his lab alone, listening to opera to sooth his nerves.  The composer could easily have cribbed any opera just to fill in the sound landscape, but he didn't - instead, he created an operatic song that reflects the threats looming over the character, reinforcing the fact that he cannot escape.
The song is in Italian - without looking further, most audiences would have missed it.  But McReary counted on his audience to be looking for those extra pieces and provided them, further cementing the relationship between viewer and show.  LOST was another show that did a wonderful job creating a sense of community between viewer, program and show-makers.
Now, skip realms a little bit - there is a growing malaise and cynicism regarding politics.  The performances we're getting aren't authentic; the focus of political players seems to be withholding information rather than adding value.  It's clear that many politicians don't trust their audiences - and as such, voters aren't trusting them back.

Smart political operatives are talking today about the need to reclaim values and use repetition as a way to win back audiences.  They're probably right.  To me, though, one of those values that needs to be rekindled is trust.  Trust involves providing more, not less, but providing it within a clear narrative arc (as The Just Society was, and as The Conscious Society could be).
Part of adding value to the discourse, of course, is value add.  The best part is, smart political operatives are kind of playing in this space already; campaigns, for instance, are designed around platforms with weekly plank-rollouts to build a narrative.  There's no fun in the current format, though - the story-tellers seek to manipulate their audience, not collaborate with them. 

With one exception, that is.  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty brought value add to his last campaign with a brilliant Bollywood-styled rally that delivered on his themes of diversity, strength and moving forward together while also wooing target audiences and creating a memorable experience for the province.
This is the model to follow - and I predict incredible success for those who figure out how to channel it.

ADDITIONAL - An amazing Lego version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer.  Seriously, when you can make an easier pile of money mining people's Social Media data and selling it to companies, it's not money alone that motivates this degree of care.  It's something else.
Cylon Evolution - from toaster to Model Six

Bob Rae: Dalton McGuinty Has Much To Be Proud of as Ontario Premier

Beautifully written and very insightful.  This is Premier McGuinty as people like me know him.
Harold Wilson famously said that “a week is a long time in politics.” In the world we’re in now, it’s way shorter than that.
Dalton McGuinty’s decision to step down from the Premiership of Ontario was one made by him, on his own time. He did not speculate out loud about it. Advisers and pundits were not heard opining on the pros and cons. He just did it. On this most personal of decisions he kept his own counsel, and changed the game in his own way.
Dalton McGuinty’s dad was in the legislature before him, and he was a man of great passion and fire. He would quote Yeats in late night debates and was a friend to many across the aisle, including me. Like many who first met his son, I thought he was a decent, thoughtful man, but without the full range of his father.
But I was wrong. The Dalton McGuinty who quietly kept his counsel and went about his business when first elected an M.P.P. in 1990 (a year I remember well for some reason) was used to being underestimated. But he is ample proof that discipline counts for much in life, and that there is no substitute for dogged persistence in the achievement of one’s goals. He exercises every day, he learns his craft by watching others, he listens well and has become the exemplar of what focus and organization can bring to political success.
Coming from a large family, he knows who he is, where he comes from, where he’s going. He can be stubborn, but also knows when to relent.
My own closest dealings with him were when I worked on higher education issues for the province in his first mandate. I told him I would only work on the review if I could talk to him regularly, and if he was committed to doing something. He agreed, we met frequently, and he did was he said. I enjoyed that project as much as any I’ve worked on since. The province made the largest new investment in higher education since the 1960s. Those were matched by his commitment to early childhood education, smaller class sizes and better results for Ontario students.
He had the good fortune of a growing economy, and the sharp contrast with his predecessors, to help put wind in his sails. But something about his determination and focus helped far more, and took him to re-election in 2007, and again four years later, albeit a “a major minority.” As Jack Nicklaus once said of Tiger Woods: “he played a game with which I’m not familiar.”
There will be much talk of legacy. I suspect one of the things that has troubled the Premier most has been that his great successes in public education could be threatened by rancour in public sector union disputes. He wants to return to the table, and that is a wise decision. The unions would be equally wise to take him up on the offer. A negotiated result is always the preferred outcome. But fiscal discipline has to be a shared goal for the whole province.
Similarly, making the legislature work can only happen if there’s a political will to do it. By taking himself out of the game Premier McGuinty has challenged the opposition parties to rise to the occasion. Whether they will do so only time can tell.
Premier McGuinty’s decision is wise from many perspectives. It is better to leave on your own terms and timing. He has left with some remarkable achievements in education and health, and as a respected voice in the federation. It is not given to everyone in politics to leave on those terms.
Anyone can sail in good weather, and Dalton McGuinty has had his share of storms. He took his share of responsibility and has not been afraid to admit mistakes. These are admirable qualities, which others would be wise to emulate. Governing a province through economic turmoil and recession is not easy, but the Premier has worn it well. He can leave with his head high, knowing that a life of service can continue in many other ways.
Bob Rae, the MP for Toronto Centre, is the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995 and leader of the Ontario NDP.

Dalton McGuinty

Maybe I'm biased, but I like Dalton McGuinty.  He has always been kind and supportive to my family.  The Premier has an amazing knack of doing the little things that inspire loyalty - recognizing a staffer's accomplishments, attending an event, just popping by to visit.  More than once during my tour at Queen's Park I would be in an office, visiting staff or Members over something when McGuinty would just walk in to see how people were doing.  It was never about checking up; it was always a genuine expression of compassion.

Premier McGuinty was essential to Jim Brownell's achieving his goal of putting Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry back on the political map.  There were all the funding for hospital and school projects, infrastructure and programd like the EODP, but above and beyond that, his commitment to the community never wavered.  Not during the challenges of the Cornwall Inquiry.  Not when it would have been easy to write the riding off after the series of plant closures.  McGuinty was there, every step of the way.

I will never forget the Premier's speech at the funeral of Bruce Crozier, a family man much loved by the Liberal Team.  Bruce had left politics to spend time with his grandchildren, an opportunity he never got.  McGuinty, a family man, obviously felt just as strongly the weight of politics on his family as Bruce did.  You've never seen a man show such strength, such recognition of responsibility as McGuinty on that day.

Above and beyond all this, the man affectionatley known as McG was an exemplary boss.  I never worked directly for him, but knew many of his team.  Everyone spoke highly of "the boss," always.  The man was always respectful to his staff; he trusted them to do their jobs.  I have a soft spot for Tracey Sobers, in particular, but there have been so many great folk who have gained from being in his employ.

Dalton McGuinty and wife Terri walk to a Queen's Park press conference where he discussed stepping down as premier of Ontario, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

The key trait that stands out for me - Premier Dalton McGuinty is an unabashed optimist.  I don't know where he gets the strength to keep the positive going - I think he has an intuitive understanding of positive psychology.  Whatever his trick, the Premier never lost sight of his purpose - to lead the province forward - or his challenge, to aspire Ontarians to follow him into the unknown.

My favourite quote on leadership:

“People out there can despair on their own. They put us in a position of leadership so that we will bring them hope.”

That's Dalton McGuinty's legacy, to date.  But there are many pages that can still be written.

Monday 15 October 2012

Mental illness: the trillion-dollar elephant in the workplace (by Kim Covert)

Mental illness: the trillion-dollar elephant in the workplace

By Kim Covert, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — In a knowledge-based economy, brains matter — and not taking care of our mental health has a negative impact on the bottom line, according to a recent report from the Global and Business Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, a group of scientists, medical and business professionals established to raise awareness of the economic impact of mental illness.

Depression has a fairly high profile these days — you can see TV ads for pills to treat it; Olympic speedskater Clara Hughes has gone public about her experience with it. A viral video campaign, begun in response to the suicide of a depressed gay teenager, features celebrities reassuring depressed teens that things will get better. Recent reports from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Toronto's Center for Addiction and Mental Health, among others, have drawn attention to the need to deal with it.

But the taboo surrounding discussing depression on an inter-personal level, and especially in the workplace, remains.

Bill Wilkerson, co-chair of the round table along with Mulroney-era cabinet minister Michael Wilson — who has openly discussed the suicide of his son, who battle depression — says linking depression to other chronic conditions that have an identifiable impact on the workplace through absenteeism and health-care costs will help to remove the stigma.

"We're trying to get to the point of saying, 'look, this isn't about mental illness, this is about brain function, our immune system, our cardio-vascular health, our recovery from cancer, our avoidance of Type 2 diabetes, our capacity to have productive brain function in an economy where brain skills will be required in three-quarters of all of the jobs coming on-stream in the next five to 10 years," says Wilkerson. "This is a brain economy, depression is a brain disorder with profound implications for the systemic health of human beings and ironically the systemic health of an innovation-based economy."

The round table, funded in part by Great-West Life, was established in 1998. Its latest report calls for a business and science partnership "to loosen, lessen and then hopefully remove the grip that depression has on the health and productive capacity of the workforces of three countries — as a starting point anyway: the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada," says Wilkerson, who has already started making calls and laying the groundwork for the partnership.

The hope for 2012 is to match up major international corporations with research funding agencies in the three countries "and to develop a research agenda through which depression is attacked as a way to save lives . . . not merely to improve the mood of people living with depression," says Wilkerson.

Save lives and protect the bottom line in an economy which depends on brain power for progress. The round table's initiatives focus on the workplace because that's "where the impact of this condition is heavily concentrated." The round table estimates between 18 and 25 per cent of the population is affected by mental illness, and puts the cost of mental health at four per cent of gross domestic product — a trillion-dollar problem for North America and the European Economic Community combined.

"Finding a cure for depression, in our judgment, qualifies as a strategic business and economic objective in light of the asset value that can now be ascribed to cerebral skill sets and the cognitive capacity of working people," the report says.

The report focuses on "mentally injurious" workplaces and how they can be made more healthy for the people working there — because chronic job stress "can override our natural defences to ward off infection and viruses, escalate the production of inflammatory hormones that drive heart disease, obesity and diabetes, spark flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis, trigger depression, increase the risk of substance abuse and cause accidents on the job," the report says.

It calls for "discretionary modifications" to improve the tone of the workplace, which Wilkerson says includes managers actually caring about how people perceive their opportunities and their work; about how people worry and what concerns them, and how those concerns contribute over time to the "dissipation of mental energy."

He suggests managers give up communicating electronically with their employees.

"I think we have e-mailed ourselves into a corner because emails have created an anxious workforce," says Wilkerson. "There's just too much expectation, too many out-of-the-blue requests, too little body language — that often communicates a lot when people talk with each other." Put all this faceless communication together and "we are going to lose our capacity to perceive how others react and respond to things that are important in the workplace."

But a lot of the behavioural changes required to lessen stress and create a psychologically healthy workplace should be no-brainers, Wilkerson suggests.

"Be be a good person, be fair, the Golden Rule, human decency," he says. "It's about how you give people an opportunity to go home at night and feel fulfilled by what they do. . . . This is about the renewal of the ability to concentrate and the renewal of our own ability to understand what it will take to avoid the kinds of stressors that drive us crazy."