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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 15 February 2013

Leaders Begin with Why

  - Simon Sinek
It's totally true. 
Money is about status - if people think you'll work hard because you want to strengthen your brand, they might invest in you, but they'll know you have built-in limitations.  What doesn't help your brand won't interest you.
Security is about comfort - if people think you'll work diligently so that you don't lose your job, they might invest in you as they'll find some comfort in that, too.  It'll be apparent to everyone, though, that comfort is a glass ceiling.
Legacy - that's something different.  When people see that you have an inspired vision of how the world can be and what their life would be like in it, then the goal doesn't become a benchmark, but a destination.
When you inspire people, that's when they'll follow you.

Letting Youth Lead in Ontario

Good lord, but Premier Kathleen Wynne is off to an exciting start! 

There are established, successful business leaders out there in search of new ideas.  Social entrepreneurs, many of them young and without track records or well-positioned contacts, are cranking out innovative, value-add solutions to our modern problems.  The thing that's been missing is some way to connect these folk and give them the comfort they need to take a risk and trust each other enough to collaborate.
What we need is a stone in the soup, a leader who can serve as a conduit of opportunity for all these groups.
With a background in both education and mediation, Wynne's got what it takes to be the rock for an innovative Ontario.  She's proving as much right now, walking the walk and leading by example.
Something else, too - by empowering the private sector with opportunity to access new marketplaces for ideas, Wynne is building business sector confidence in her leadership.  By proactively creating opportunity for youth to develop the tools and contacts they need to succeed, she's demonstrating a deep understanding of what teachers do - helping to give them faith that she can be an ally, not an opponent.  This doesn't mean higher salaries or increased benefits, but ensuring that our education sector, too, has the tools needed to succeed.
Poor leaders divide and conquer to protect their own position.  Exceptional leaders invert the pyramid and see themselves as servants of the people - making leadership a form of public service, as it were.  When the goal is collaborative accomplishment rather than personal wins, everybody moves forward.
Call me biased, I'm incredibly hopeful about where Wynne will take us - we now have not just the leadership we want, but the leadership we deserve.

Thoughtful Sex

Then, consider Matt Ridley's notion of Ideas Having Sex - innovation as social procreation, as it were.
Does desire bring people together in an equitable way?  Not really.  Desire, be it for power, for resources, for sexual gratification brings with it the need for domination.  It's why a balanced "free market", otherwise known as "selection of the fittest", doesn't work in an interdependent social context, which we undeniably are (unless you are able to make your own clothes, grow your own food and sustain your own public infrastructure, which would be quite a feat).
Conversely, responsibility - the apparent opposite of desire - is about what you give back, not what you receive.  When people collaborate in an understanding, trustful way (this can be a married couple, a company of soldiers or an office team) they create something that has greater reach through space and time than can an individual. 
Who do we choose to surround ourselves with?  Most of the time, those choices are out of our hands; we can mistrust the Other and live in desirous suspicion, or we can love our neighbours - a theme repeated throughout world religions.
Which makes me think of the Sufi maxim - "God is great, there is nothing but God, therefore I am God."  Which is an ecstatic thought that can occur to people having dopamanic manias, pushing their pre-frontal cortexes beyond normal, beyond even individual safety.
But society isn't about the individual - it's about the social whole, a new system that's greater than the sum of its parts.  You can't sustain a system if its components aren't properly maintained or pushed too far past their limits, which is what's happening in our society.  At a point of increased tension, polarization and social friction, we're beginning to turn towards leaders who know how to serve as bridges, not battering rams, looking to see what places they can bring us to.
It's all fun stuff to think about - and share.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Women In Poliltics, Diversity in Society

Anger is a reactive emotion, as is fear.  Both serve a purpose - to motivate people to respond to threats through either fight or flight.  The problem is, these limbic reactions paint with a pretty broad brush - we will feel equally uncomfortable around someone with a physically manifested contagious disease (like Ebola) as we will around a burn victim.
So, we fear things that our reactive brains perceive as threats to our health, safety or ability to promote ourselves - our status.  Even when they're not really threats to begin with.  Even when they might just be opportunities for growth, instead.  The more competitive, combative we are as a society, the more prone we are to potential threat identification, which is basically what stigma is.
Women in politics increases the pool of potential competitors in an already narrow field.  If you're hyper-combative, anything that whittles away your odds of getting a seat or, more broadly, a job in general is seen as threatening your chances.  The same applies to laws that make it easier for New Migrants to vote or seek work. 
Like any fear, we are only controlled by it so long as we refuse to recognize and confront it.  When we do so, we realize that FDR was right - fear itself, not the thing feared, is the problem.
For this reason it was incredibly smart of Kathleen Wynne to confront head-on her gender and sexuality right out of the starting gate.  Consider it a kind of inoculation that helps people get past their fear and instead, focus on solutions to the broader challenges society faces.
Which is a non-combative, strategic approach to politics that perhaps plans more than one political generation ahead.  While I agree that it is great that a rising number of women in Canadian politics is giving society cause to address gender prejudices, don't short change women the wealth of other contributions they bring to the table.
This isn't the first glass ceiling women have had to break through.  It takes a hell of a lot of persistence and planning to change a society, yet it's continues to happen, doesn't it?
Progress is like water that way - one way or another, it'll change the landscape.

(CFN) Hub World Ontario: Wynning By Adding Value

My latest from Cornwall Free News

My son is a big fan of the WII Lego video games.  Like many of today's video games, these ones have multiple levels you can play accessed through a "hub world".  Essentially a value-added menu, hub worlds have labeled doors that let you look at the available levels in a map-like format, maximizing your opportunity to view your opportunities and determine what option best suits your mood.

Over the evolution of games, these hub worlds have grown in complexity to the point where they've become playscapes in and of themselves; you can try different exercises to hone your skills prior to trying a level, connect pieces you've discovered out in the field to create new opportunities and harness new skills and abilities.  None of these pieces are essential to the game play, but they DO enhance the experience and better prepare players for what they'll find beyond the hub.

Video games aren't the only field where centralized coordination and value-add are manifesting themselves.  News aggregates like Ontario News Watch and National News Watch do the same thing, essentially creating a visually-communicated menu of top stories and adding value with some original content of their own.  In fields like fundraising, there are innovative companies like The Funding Portal; for innovation, you have places like MaRS or the Centre For Social Innovation

Coincidentally or not, there's another trend of players returning to a hub-world for added support or to gain added value; as the cost of living soars and employment opportunities shrink, there are many young (and not-so-young) adults returning to their parents' home for sustainable living or returning to school for additional training.  We don't think of homes or schools as hubs or resting places, but increasingly that's an added function they serve.

Government Services are heading in the same direction; both in terms of physical space usage and online access, the move is towards user-friendly service aggregates designed for repetitive use.  Instead of going to hospitals when an illness has happened, we have Family Health Teams, Community Health Centres and online Occupational Mental Health Tools that provide proactive support and training, reducing the likelihood of traumatic or accumulated stresses out in the field.  I'd argue that the whole point of government is to serve as a social nervous system, efficiently coordinating human and physical assets to result in the realization of our individual and aggregate maximum potential.

There's no reason that Ontario can't expand its role as a hub and become a centralized access point for innovation, industry, investment and human potential for the global village.  There's unquestionably demand for someone to play the role of stone in the soup - if we can work in a collaborative fashion and look at our opportunities not as a path, but a map, we can be hub world for the rest of the world to play in.  When it's clear we're having fun doing so, the rest of the world will want to join our party

The same thing applies to how we provide services to Ontarians - if we can move passed a silo-based model towards something more systems-oriented, we can provide more efficient services and reduce duplication, gaps and overlaps at the same time.  We also need to rethink how we view educational institutions - instead of nests we're meant to leave, schools should be seen as education hubs we're comfortable going back to for training top-ups.  The increasing availability of online education fits that purpose nicely.

It's all within our reach - we just need to move beyond thinking what's bare-bones necessary and start thinking about how we can add value both internally and externally.

Fortunately, I believe we have the right leadership to make that happen.

UPDATE 21/10/13: Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks this is a good idea.

UPDATE 15/1/14: Ontario Online.  A hub by any other name still gets the job done.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

North Korea

Doesn't matter how many people say "the enemy of my enemy is my ally" - it's still not true.  Ignoring the bad behaviour of allies doesn't make it go away; it makes you culpable.  By continuing to ignore the threat of the North Korean state not only to its neighbours and possibly the US, but to its own people.
I remember living in South Korea during the September 2011 attacks on the US; to my Korean friends, it seemed a tragic but distant "over there" problem.  They lived in the shadow of a much more present threat.  I had the chance to set foot in North Korea at Panmunjom and look North Korean soldiers in the eye - they are made of the same flesh and blood as are their Southern cousins.  The gap between them is less a matter of walls, landmines and flags than it is one of culture, experience and fear, but both of these chasms can be bridged.
Someone just has to see the path and be willing to lead people forward.  China could be that leader; their leadership could build some positivity into China's brand and increase their international respect quotient in the process.  To do that, though, they need to stop looking at themselves as a future umbrella and instead see themselves as drops in the ocean
There stands a train station in South Korea with a sign that says "To Pyeongyang;" everyone will be a little better off when that train can leave its station.


Why Metaphor is a Box

The communications theorist Marshall McLuhan observed that “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror”. And that “we march backwards into the future”. Amen. Remember the horseless carriage? Not to mention the fact that we still measure the oomph of a Porsche 911 in, er, brake horsepower.
But the car industry is a ferment of modernism compared with the computer business. When the bitmapped screen and the Wimp (windows, icons, menus, pointer) interface first surfaced in the early 1970s at Xerox Parc, its geeks searched for a metaphor that would make this new way of relating to computers intelligible to human beings. So they came up with the “desktop” on which were displayed little images (icons) of documents and document folders, just like you’d find on an actual desktop. Well, on the desktop of an efficient bureaucrat anyway.
But then they ruined everything by putting a trash can on the desktop. And Bill Gates & Co compounded the offence when they released Windows 95, which also had a start button on the desktop. The result was that, for a time, when most of the world’s computer users wanted to switch off their machines they had to press start. Even the car industry thought that was weird.
The problem with metaphors is that they are double-edged swords (as it were). On the one hand, we need them because they help us make sense of the new, which is where the horseless carriage, “coachbuilt” limousines etc came from. Metaphors “carry explanatory structures from a familiar domain of experiences into an other domain in need of understanding or restructuring”, as the theorist Klaus Krippendorff has written.
But at the same time as they help us make sense of something, metaphors also constrain our thinking by locking us into the past. When the web first appeared in 1991, for example, the obvious metaphor was that of a global library – a vast treasure house of digital artefacts held in repositories (sites) that could be accessed by anybody.
And the metaphor for a web page was, just that: a page – a static object that could be accessed by a distant reader. But in fact the time when web pages were static objects has long gone. Most web pages nowadays are generated on the fly by servers pulling stuff from their databases and dispatching it across the net for assembly by the recipient’s web browser. And a webmail page is in effect a virtual computer (powered by JavaScript) in which you do your email.
So although the web has changed out of all recognition in two decades, our underlying metaphor for it probably hasn’t changed that much. And this has the downside that we’re effectively blind to what is actually happening, which is that we are moving from a world of sites and visits to one that is increasingly dominated by streams. The guy who articulates this best is a Yale computer scientist named David Gelernter.
The title of his latest essay on the subject – “The End of the Web, Search, and Computer as We Know It” – conveys the basic idea. “The space-based web we currently have will gradually be replaced by a time-based worldstream,” he writes. “This lifestream — a heterogeneous, content-searchable, real-time messaging stream — arrived in the form of blog posts and RSS feeds, Twitter and other chatstreams and Facebook walls and timelines. Its structure represented a shift beyond the ‘flatland known as the desktop’ (where our interfaces ignored the temporal dimension) towards streams, which flow and can therefore serve as a representation of time.
“It’s a bit like moving from a desktop to a magic diary: picture a diary whose pages turn automatically, tracking your life moment to moment… Until you touch it and then the page-turning stops. The diary becomes a reference book: a complete and searchable guide to your life. Put it down and the pages start turning again.”
Gelernter thinks that this diary-like structure is supplanting the spatial one as the dominant metaphor for cyberspace and he may well be right. At any rate, he’s not the only geek thinking like this. The social media expert Danah Boyd has also written perceptively along the same lines. As a metaphor, it certainly provides a way of making sense of the attractions of Facebook – now dominated by its timeline technology – and of Twitter, especially as seen through a stream-browser such as Hootsuite. So it will do for now, so long as we remember John Locke’s warning: that metaphors “must be made use of to illustrate ideas that we already have, not to paint to us those which we yet have not”. He wrote that in 1796.

Monday 11 February 2013

Cognitive Dissonance and Neutral Ethnicity: A Bank Note Bafflegab

What does a traditional Canadian look like?  What is traditional Canadian iconography?  While there is absolutely value in having a consistent national identity that nurtures common ground and fosters a society comfortable with collaboration, there's a big risk in trying to present that image as static. 
Of course we know that Aboriginal people predated Europeans - but how often do we stop to think about migration patterns since then?  The first Europeans to settle Upper and Lower Canada were not the same that settled, say, Newfoundland or the Prairies.  The customs, culture and languages of the regions that became Canada were different from the outset.
You could argue that whatever the country looked like at Confederation is how it should remain - a notion perhaps alluded to by Conservatives who feel the need to "undo the damage" done by Pierre Elliot Trudeau to their authentic Canadian ideal.  Alas, the world has changed a bit since Confederation and the socio-cultural equivalent of horses and bayonets simply aren't sufficient to meet the modern need. 
Even when you look at the developmental tastes of our society over time, they have changed independently of what government does.  I don't feel that immutable tradition is being desecrated by Tories who depict a Santa dressed in blue - but then I know how the whole Jolly Elf thing started in the first place.
The very idea of an unwavering "national" tradition or a static "national" identity is fabricated.  Even within families, traditions are modified over time to match the tastes of new generations and the availability of resources at hand.  It's a fascinating thing to see traditions that stemmed out of practicalities (superstitions like holding one's breath while walking past a cemetery or customs like the Korean show of respect in touching one's wrist while shaking hands or pouring tea) carry on long after their original purpose has been lost.
What's even more fascinating, though discouraging, is the related trend of solving cognitive dissonance (the holding of two opposing views, such as "I'm not racist" but "I don't take a South Asian male seriously as a leadership candidate") with confabulation.  Case in point - if seeing a non-Caucasian female doctor on a bank note makes you feel uncomfortable, but you don't want to believe it's because the notion of an ethnic other taking over a piece of official iconography feels threatening, you can simply say it's "non-traditional" and revert to a "neutral ethnicity" like your own.  Think I'm exaggerating?  Look at Fox and Friend's response to Crayola introducing varied skin-tone coloured markers.
Or, look at the whole Barack Obama birther movement, now apparently the anti-Colin Powell movement, too.  Here's the ironic bit - as society has increasingly stigmatized stigma, we've put increased pressure on people to not identify themselves as a perceived negative, such as being stigmatic.  But we all stigmatize, to some degree; it's a natural limbic response to external stimuli.  Hating haters is a form of stigmatisim itself.
Like any phobia, stigma can be overcome, but only when you recognize you have it, like a medical condition.  Fear is no different than vision impairment or asthma; natural but manageable, with the right tools of accommodation.
Which is why I think that Kathleen Wynne, herself a breaker of traditional models, has it right:
"I want to thank all of those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of equality ... and everyone who has contributed to this moment and others like it, by refusing to be guided by prejudice or by doubt."
Change, like age, is not a choice; even our own tastes will vary over time.  We can try to deny it and cling to traditions, but scratch the surface a bit and you'll find those traditions aren't as solid as you think they are, either.  Reacting to uncertainty with fear is natural, but how we respond to that fear is entirely up to us - when we're conscious of how and why it exists.
What can lie in our control is how we respond to change - but only when we're conscious of how those responses are shaped.  When you refuse to give in to fear, you push it out of the driver's seat.  Like going to the gym, though, emotional control is something you constantly have to work at.
And that, I think, is something worth noting.


Know thyself.

Don't Read This if You Don't Want the Truth About Santa!!


Did a soda-pop company invent Santa?

by Seeta Pena Gangadharan

Santa Claus is the result of a Coke deal.
No joke. Fat, jolly Santa -- the guy with the red suit and cap, the thick black belt and sooty boots, the rosy cheeks, the luminous eyes, the brighter-than-white teeth -- is the spawn of an advertising campaign by Coca-Cola back in the 1930s.
Surprised? Don't be. As far as Coca-Cola is concerned, this is public knowledge. The company is open about its role in popularizing Santa; it has even sponsored gallery exhibitions on "Advertising as Art" that explain how it all happened, one of which was held at the Carrousel du Louvre, in Paris, in 1996. Here's the story:
Back in the late 19th century, when Coca-Cola was new, the whole purpose of the beverage was medicinal. If you were feeling "low" or if you suffered from headaches, a Coke was the perfect remedy. The featured ingredient -- cocaine, or coca-bean extract -- guaranteed a renewed agility and acuity. Indeed, many people found out about Coke from their pharmacists; the company paid pharmacists a commission if drugstores allowed them to install a carbonation tap on the premises.
By the 1930s, Coca-Cola needed to re-evaluate its business plan. The more controversial aspects of the beverage had long been dealt with (as early as 1903, coca-bean extract was removed and caffeine took its place), but it was the Depression; beverage sales were slow -- especially in the wintry months -- and Coca-Cola needed a new hook and line to attract the American market.
So, in 1931, Coca-Cola changed its target audience: from the adult looking for a pharmaceutical pick-me-up to the whole family. Coca-Cola was now a great taste to be enjoyed by everyone! To bring the point home, the company launched an extensive advertising campaign that pioneered the use of well-known artists as ad designers. Coca-Cola blitzed pharmacies and stores with promotional material suitable for the whole family.
The most successful illustrations were by a Swedish artist named Haddon Sundblom, whose work depicted a portly white man in a red suit bringing joy to family and friends with a bottle of Coke. The figure in the illustrations was the first modern Santa.

Naturally Coke can't take full credit for bringing Santa into the homes and hearts of Americans everywhere; the full history of Santa Claus is much longer than the history of the Coca-Cola company. Various folk traditions incorporate mysterious holiday gift givers: St. Nicholas, loosely based on a fourth-century bishop of Asia Minor; a Scandinavian dwarf or a goat; Kolyada, the white-robed girl of pre-revolutionary Russia who arrived atop a sleigh with accompanying carolers; and the many religious gift bearers associated with the Magi.
In the United States, the Dutch were primarily responsible for spreading the idea of Sante Klaas, whose character was based on one of their revered bishops. Sante Klaas gave form to the current myth of Santa and fleshed out his reputation as a gift giver: eight flying reindeer, living near the North Pole, filling socks with presents, arriving through the chimney.
Two people are usually given credit for creating the American version of Santa: Clement C. Moore and Thomas Nast. In 1823, Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas," the poem we generally think of as " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." His description of Santa is suggestive of a fat man, in the gnomish fashion of the earlier European versions.
The poem reads:
His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow . . .
He had a broad face, a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly elf . . .
Nearly 40 years later, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a version of St. Nicholas for Harper's Illustrated Weekly. Nast's Santa, now a famous image, wears a woolly suit and resembles a stout elf with whiskers and a beard. But still, he doesn't look quite like Santa. Most of Nast's illustrations were black and white, but even in his color renditions, Santa prefigures the modern, commercial image only vaguely. Most notably, his trademark bright red color is missing.
As a jolly man in a red suit, Santa Claus is pure Coke. The company found that Haddon Sundblom's image of Santa Claus -- modeled, incidentally, on a retired salesman named Lou Prentice -- hit the right buttons in terms of stirring the hearts and quenching the thirsts of consumers everywhere. The company contracted with Sundblom to continue making Coke ads with this model for the next 35 years.
Using Sundblom's version of Santa, Coca-Cola orchestrated a full frontal attack on the market. Santa-Coke propaganda was everywhere. Magazine advertisements were particularly popular, as were point-of-purchase promotional items. Collectibles, too, were another way that Coca-Cola expanded its presence -- a strategy that is standard today for any advertiser, from Camel to Nike.
Coca-Cola also patented a formula for the bright red color used for Coke packaging and for Santa's suit. Any artist working for Coca-Cola was required to use this color red; every Santa in every Coke ad was the exact same red color as the Coke label. As with its famous bottle, Coke had given birth to a nearly universal American icon.

A marketing campaign, of course, can be too successful for its own good. We no longer associate the Coca-Cola company with Santa, even a Santa dressed in the exact color of a Coke can. In becoming ubiquitous, the two icons have become independent again. Now the link is a matter of advertising history, something to be studied by marketing students and maybe the slew of tourists and French citizens who saw Coke's exhibit at the Louvre. Occasionally, Coca-Cola revives Sundblom's Santa in a nostalgic appeal to its loyal consumers, but the story is rarely told.
As Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country and Coca-Cola, concluded:
Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red. . . . After the soft-drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots -- and he would wear Coca-Cola red. . . . While Coca-Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa.
Seeta Pena Gangadharan is a freelance writer living in London.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Why did Palpatine Fail as a Leader?

He had a great, manipulative plot to quash competition that he spooled out over a lengthy period of time to achieve absolute dominion.  His key flaw was not thinking far enough ahead.  The Empire was like Apartheid; it takes way too many resources to keep your foot on the throat of the enemy in perpetuity.  Either you become weak and are destroyed from without or erode from within.  Dominance fails where conversion succeeds.
Hoarding power is never a long-term solution; empowerment is.

Five Leadership Mistakes Of The Galactic Empire

Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp, Forbes Staff
I write about the future of science, technology, and culture.

My colleague Dorothy Pomerantz notes that this weekend, the re-issued 3-D version of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, pulled down about $23 million in the Box Office over the weekend. This got my mind to pondering the mistakes that people make, ranging from making the Star Wars prequels to reissuing them in 3-D to actually going to relive the misery that was The Phantom Menace all over again.
But mistakes are learning opportunities. And in thinking about Star Wars, let’s leave the prequels behind and focus on the original trilogy. It occurs to me that the Star Wars films have a lot to teach us about leadership styles.
In particular, the Galactic Empire strikes me as a quintessential example of how not to effectively run an organization. Let’s take a look at five of the Empire’s biggest mistakes and see how you can avoid them in your own organization.
Mistake #1: Building an organization around particular people, rather than institutions.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the Galactic Empire made is its singular focus on the preservation of power for the Emperor and a few of his chosen lackeys. There is a constant through line we see starting with A New Hope and running through to the end of the Return of the Jedi of the Emperor consolidating more and more power into his own hands and that of his right-hand man, Darth Vader.
In A New Hope, the Galactic Senate is disbanded in favor of regional governors hand-selected by the Emperor. By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, the Emperor’s only advisor is Darth Vader, and his distrust in his organization is so complete that his only plan for succession is a desperate attempt to poach Luke Skywalker from the Rebel Alliance and get him to join his organization. Anytime your future plans depend on getting a rising star from a rival organization to join your team, you know that you have some serious institutional issues.
As the events of the movie make clear, the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader pretty much eliminated any opportunity for succession. A galaxy-wide organization was defeated simply by taking out two key individuals. Despite his decades of scheming, Palpatine’s organization barely lasted a day after he was gone.
Key Takeaway: Your organization needs to be structured so that talent is being developed on all levels of the organization, in order to ensure smooth functioning and ensure that it’s easy for people to rise in the organization in the event that key individuals leave. Responsibility should be distributed on several fronts, so that chaos doesn’t ensue if one person can’t be reached. Realistic succession plans are vital to developing an enduring organization.
Mistake #2: Depriving people of the chance to have a stake in the organization.
By consolidating his power, the Emperor didn’t just ensure that his organization wouldn’t survive his death. He also deprived a key motivation for both his employees and the public-at-large: a feeling of having a stake in the success of the organization. The Emperor disbanded the Galactic Senate, removing the idea of any democratic stake in the government. He wiped out all references to the Force, so there was no longer any guiding ideology. His sole idea for maintaining control of the Empire was building the Death Star, on the theory that, in the words of Grand Moff Tarkin, “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” Similarly, while in the first Star Wars film, there was a scene showing officers in the Imperial Navy discussing strategy, by Return of the Jedi, it was clear that no feedback was being solicited anymore. The Emperor or Vader gave orders and that was it. No further discussion.
But as was ably demonstrated in this exchange in the movie Office Space, this is the worst possible way to get the best work out of your employees. Fear, combined with a sense of powerlessness, only inspires the bare minimum amount of work:
Peter Gibbons: You see, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t- don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Porter: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Key Takeaway: In order to get the best work out of people in your organization, you need to solicit their feedback, engage them in the decision-making process, and ensure that they have a stake in the success of the organization.
Mistake #3: Having no tolerance for failure.
In an early part of the Empire Strikes Back, the Empire attempted to wipe out the Rebel Alliance once and for all in the Battle of Hoth. However, because Admiral Ozzel took the Imperial Fleet out of lightspeed too close to the Hoth system, the Rebel Alliance was able to detect the Imperial approach and quickly begin its defense. Enraged by this error, Darth Vader used the Force to choke Admiral Ozzel to death. Captain Piett, Ozzel’s second-in-command, was then promoted to Admiral and given command of the Imperial Fleet.
This swift, decisive punishment of failure is a huge error of management. First of all, mistakes are inevitable – especially in times where quick decisions are needed to be made on incomplete information. Rather than simply kill Admiral Ozzel, Vader should have attempted to direct him to a course of action that corrected his error. Instead, he threw the Imperial Fleet into organizational disarray as countless numbers of officers were suddenly thrust into new roles and responsibilities without the opportunity to learn them. This organizational chaos was undoubtedly key to the Rebels ability to escape in mass numbers, even as they flew perilously close to the Imperial Fleet.
Even beyond this one mistake, by adopting a management style of “failure leads to Force choking,” Vader developed an organizational culture that was destined to be weak. People would be afraid to offer feedback or suggestions, choosing instead to follow orders to the letter. This ensures that decisions are made at a very high level, and anyone under those levels will lack initiative or the ability to act on their local knowledge. What’s more, by punishing failure so harshly, the Empire provides an incentive for people within the organization to actually lead their superiors to failure. After all, the quickest way to promotion in the Empire is for your boss to make a mistake, so it’s in your own best interests to ensure that he does.
Key Takeaway: It’s essential to remember that failure is the engine of success. Mistakes are inevitable, but the key to making them is learning from them. It’s also vital to ensure that organizations are flexible, capable of quickly adapting to changing conditions and allowing for initiative and quick action at all levels, even if that leads to some mistakes.
Mistake #4: Focusing all of the organization’s efforts into a single goal and failing to consider alternatives.
When it came to the success of the Galactic Empire, the Emperor had one single idea that he was absolutely obsessed with: building the Death Star. The completion of the Death Star, with its ability to destroy entire planets, was the singleminded obsession of the Emperor. At no point do we ever see any alternatives broached. No scenes between Darth Vader and the Emperor debating the wisdom of building a second Death Star so soon after the first one was destroyed. Nobody suggests to the Emperor that it might be wiser to develop more flexible ways for the Empire to destroy planets, such as combining the firepower of several Star Destroyers at once.
The only other goal we ever see the Emperor pursue, apart from the destruction of the Rebels, is to get Luke Skywalker to turn to the Dark Side and succeed Darth Vader and possibly the Emperor himself. As discussed above, having only one succession plan, based entirely around getting a key player from a rival organization to change his mind, showed remarkable lack of foresight. This singleminded obsession with one way to succeed is something that undermined not only the Galactic Empire, but also many other organizations throughout history. Kodak focused on film even after developing digital technology. Borders focused on brick and mortar years after it was clear that a strong Internet presence was key to the book business.
Key Takeaway: It’s vital to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. You should always consider alternatives to your course of action and develop multiple plans for achieving particular goals in case one or more plans don’t pan out.
Mistake #5: Failing to learn from mistakes.
The Galactic Empire devoted years, an enormous amount of money, and an enormous amount of manpower to building the Death Star. After it was built, the Death Star only successfully completed one mission before it was destroyed by the Rebels. And the Empire’s response? Build a bigger, newer Death Star to serve as a target for the Rebel Alliance. In the second case, the Death Star wasn’t even completed before the Rebels managed to destroy it again.
Despite the failure of Force choking Admiral Ozzel to improve performance by the Imperial Fleet, Vader Force choked Captain Needa after his failure to capture the Millenium Falcon shortly thereafter.
Both the Emperor and Vader were obsessed with turning Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force, even after Skywalker made it clear that he’d rather die than abandon the Rebel Alliance or join the Dark Side.
You may see a pattern emerging here. Perhaps the Emperor and Vader were blinded by their success taking control of a millennia-old Republic and turning it into an Empire, but it’s clear that they became very overconfident in their own abilities. Despite making the same mistakes over, and over again, they still moved stubbornly, blindly forward without ever changing course. And then kept on moving forward without changing their paths until the Empire was destroyed.
Key Takeaway: While it’s admirable to not let setbacks hold you back from pursuing your goals, its vital to learn from every failure in order to correct your course of action. Failing to learn from your mistakes and repeating them will inevitably lead to the destruction of your organization.
The Bottom Line: Ultimately, the Galactic Empire failed as an enduring organization because of incredibly flawed leadership at the very top. By building an organizational culture based on fear, lack of independence, and an unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances, the Emperor set the stage for his own inevitable failure.

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Europe's Last Sick Man (Nikolas Kosmatopoulos

Europe's last sick man
Greek austerity measures result in cuts of public sectors services with one exception - the police force.

Greece increased its police force with 2,000 policemen and recently bought new anti-riot equipment [EPA]

In the old days of the European colonial expansion eastwards, the Great Powers (England, France, Russia, and Austria) would rack their heads over the fate of what they called "the sick man of Europe": The Ottoman Empire, whose bankruptcy - among other things - had brought it to the brink of collapse.
Agitated by the effects (and the opportunities) of such a scenario, the Powers embarked on a self-declared mission to protect their fellow Christian subjects of the Sultan from the sick man's viruses. They demanded independence for the rebellious Greeks and when the Ottomans refused, the Powers dispatched their armies.
At the famous sea battle of Navarino, a joint European fleet crashed the Ottoman and Egyptian forces. The road was thus opened for Europe's intellectuals to rediscover post-Ottoman Greece as Hellas, the invented historical birthplace of European civilisation.
Today, ten years before Greece's bicentennial anniversary of independence, history repeats itself as a farce. The country's dire economy could endanger the very unity of the European Union. "A member's exodus will be disastrous for the entire EU," warned Germany's Chancellor Merkel in reference to Greece. To be sure, the Greek crisis has quickly transformed itself into the crisis of Europe.
It is telling that for the first time in the EU's history, decisions about a Eurozone country are taken by European politicians and bankers together with the Washington-HQed IMF. At the same time, Turkey, the descendant of the Ottoman Empire, negotiates EU full membership. Today, Hellas is (said to be) Europe's "sick man"; and the Big Powers of our times seem to have run out of remedies.
Who to blame: Culture vs economy
Despite global attention and exposure, public debate on the Greek crisis is mostly superficial, moralising, and crudely vindictive. On the whole, it oscillates between "internalist" (culturalist/psychological) and "externalist" (economistic) accounts; on one hand, internalists, proponents of neo-liberal globalisation, see Greece as lacking crucial psycho-cultural virtues: Citizens' respect to the state and the law, a sense of "civil duties", meritocracy, friendliness towards entrepreneurship etc.
For them, the austerity plans crafted by the "troika" (EU, IMF, European Central Bank) are a blessing against the Greeks' rebellious and corrupt character; "Thank God we have the troika," in the words of the vice president and finance minister, Venizelos. On the other hand, the externalist view - a peculiar mixture of social-patriotic and anti-Western discourse - presents the Greek economy as a mere victim of the world economy and global capitalism (and their local lackeys at home).
Although it may be right to reject culturalist explanations, the fixation on the (national) economy turns crucial topics, such as the consumerist frenzy of the past decades, the growing anti-immigrant sentiments despite the latter's immense contribution to the country's wealth, the on-going arms' race with Turkey, etc. into taboo.
Unfortunately, there is hardly an analysis that touches upon all these interconnected elements. Instead, the debate is dominated either by narrow-headed economists, or by politicians-turned-inquisitors, now distributing guilt, instead of welfare, to the entire nation.
'Who is ruling this place?'
"It is the 'troika' that not only dictates the austerity measures and directs the financial policy, but it also places its own inspectors in each important ministry with the task of overseeing decisions and results."
This famous question, initially posed by Prime Minister Karamanlis in 1963 (alluding to para-state criminal gangs, responsible for the assassination of pro-democracy activist Lambrakis) is once again invoked daily in the streets and coffee shops around the country. This time though, the answer appears more obvious than ever: It is the troika that not only dictates the austerity measures and directs the financial policy, but it also places its own inspectors in each important ministry with the task of overseeing decisions and results.
Ironically, high level members of the ruling Socialist Party, which came to power for the first time in 1981 with the promise of independence, welcome this takeover with schizophrenic expressions of relief: "Now that we have been placed under (troika's) control, we can regain national control," said Venizelos.
Yet, control proves to be only an illusion, since no one, government or troika, seems to have a plan.
In fact, everything demonstrates the exact opposite, namely a generalised loss of control, and of credibility: Government promises that the recent package of austerity measures will be the last one break every week; the newly set-up Bureau of Statistics in the Parliament was rocked by a series of resignations, legal suits and scandals over "cooking with numbers"; the new academic year begun, but only to reveal schools without teachers and schoolchildren without books; and the aggressive privatisation programme has not yielded results.
A sick man's 'foreign policy'?
The handling of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by the Cypriot government in 2010 and by the Greek government in 2011 surprised many as both countries were known for the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their people. In 2010, the government of Cyprus banned the ships from approaching its shores and sent its police and port authorities to chase European MPs willing to board them.
A year later, the Greek government imposed an illegal embargo on the next Flotilla. Only a few weeks later, these moves proved to be part of the broader sea change in the region. Greece and Cyprus decided to engage in a strategic cooperation with Israel on a number of levels: Economy, police and military, intelligence exchange etc.
"[The handling of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla] proved to be part of the broader sea change in the region. Greece and Cyprus decided to engage in strategic cooperation with Israel on a number of levels."
One can only speculate on the reasons behind the warm embracement of Netanyahu's Israel by Papandreou, the son of the very prime minister who sent Greek ships to carry the PLO out of besieged Beirut in 1982:
The rift between Turkey and Israel (the myopic principle "my enemy's enemy is my friend" comes to bear), Papandreou's total submission to the US (in exchange for the position of UN Secretary General for the next term, rumours have it), Freudian psycho-analysis (his problematic relationship with daddy, rumours again) and strategic interests, such as the exploitation of the Exclusive Economic Zones between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The latter is the official explanation.
The latest outcome of this pact is currently played out in the waters around Cyprus, whose government insists on drilling in search of natural gas now, and for oil later. Papandreou announced that Greece will also drill for oil around Crete and in the Ionian Sea.
Such drills pose great risks: First and foremost, to the sensitive environment of the closed Mediterranean sea, in which any accident, even half as that of BP in Mexico, will create unprecedented ecological disasters. Second, to the delicate geo-political balance in the region, since the unilateral drawing of EEZ boundaries and the subsequent search for oil without the consent of neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Lebanon and Syria could increase tensions dangerously.
Already, Prime Minister Erdogan declared that Turkey's warships will escort similar drills to begin in North Cyprus' waters soon; In response, the Greek Army began drafting soldiers to send to Cyprus and the Greek press predicts the increase in military service from nine to twelve months.
This escalation is not to be underestimated. Not the least because both Greece (due to economy) and Israel (due to the Arab revolts) have suffered significant losses of ground in their regional footing lately. There is nothing more dangerous than a government in panic siding with a government in constant war with its neighbours. The best outcome of such an alliance is a renewed arms race in the region; the worst is an all-out war.
Greeks protesting against the austerity measures are treated roughly by the security forces [GALLO/GETTY]
The war is here: State coercion and civil disobedience
Yet, for many households in Greece, the war is already here: In the form of daily struggle against poverty and humiliation. Social workers quote WHO sources depicting Greece as the first country worldwide in suicides' increase (20 per cent rise in 2008 and 2009, compared to 2007).
In the Parliament, the secretary general of the Communist Party called upon "the people to declare war against the war that the government has already declared against them." And when Papandreou travelled to Thesaloniki for the traditional speech at the opening of the International Trade Fair, the city mayor (supported by the ruling party) complained that the deployment of 7,000 police forces created "a war atmosphere" in the city.
The government's major weapons in this undeclared, but on-going war, are mainly twofold: Blackmail over bankruptcy and brute state violence. The dilemma 'austerity or bankruptcy' keeps returning on a weekly basis to justify new measures: Tax on properties, rise of indirect taxes, cuts in pensions and salaries, sacking of public employees, fast-track privatisation of (often profitable) public companies etc. Yet, not all the public sector suffers cuts.
"US officers train Greek colleagues in 'emergency situations', anti-riot equipment ... [is] imported en masse."
Amidst new austerity measures, the government announced the buffing up of police forces with another 2,000 men; in fact, the police is the only public domain that seems to escape austerity: While US officers train Greek colleagues in 'emergency situations', anti-riot equipment, such as water cannons, riot tanks, dogs, and new tear gas types are imported en masse from Greece's new strategic friends in the region and beyond.
However, opinion polls show the blackmail strategy inadequate and mass protests often render police repression insufficient. On the face of these failures, it is worrisome to think that stirring up nationalist fervour against Turkey is not just the effect of the sick man's dementia but rather a carefully selected strategy to divert growing frustration at home.
Indeed, on the face of broken promises and police brutality, new forms of civil disobedience emerge: The movement of the 'squares' may have subsided, but by the time these lines are being written, more than 200 university departments are on strike, and the Deans of 15 out of 19 big universities refused to sign the new law on higher education; the electricity company's trade union declared that it will not collect the imposed tax on property that the government wants to pass onto the electricity bill; further, more and more people are joining the popular committees of the movement 'I don't pay', that engages in a handful of practices of civil disobedience, ranging from openings of highway tolls and blocking of ticketing machines in buses and train stations, to disruptions of auctions in which banks sell back houses they acquired due to mortgage debts.
Undoubtedly, the 'cradle of democracy' is once again pregnant with history. However, it is still open whether the projected baby will help bring forth another Europe, based on direct democracy and social justice, or a catastrophic regional war in the Middle East or something in-between.
In any case, Europe's latest sick man this time could very much determine Europe's future.
Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Zurich. He has conducted fieldwork on peace expertise in Lebanon and Geneva and is now visiting scholar at Columbia University and at CUNY.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

False Idols: Changes in Worship

False Idols: Changes in Worship

Posted on September 10, 2010

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” (Exodus 32.7-14)
Whenever I read the story about the golden calf in the book of Exodus, my mind immediately goes to a scene in the movie, Ten Commandments, where Moses played by Charlton Heston is on the mountaintop talking to God and the people have convinced Aaron to make them a golden calf. In this scene, the golden calf is paraded around the camp, while “exotic” looking women are flinging their bodies across it and jewelry and treasure are being tossed at the statue’s feet. There is lots of cheering, music, dancing, and an appearance of reckless extravagance and eroticism. However, I feel that this image is misleading.
The NRSV translates verse 8 using the plural form of elohim (gods), which can be either singular or plural in meaning. There is scholarly thought that in this context where Aaron made one golden calf and where in verse 5 he announces “a festival to the Lord,” the term is singular. Therefore, it would be more accurate to translate verse 8 as “He said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’” So with this translation, what was Aaron’s sin? Usually, Aaron is accused of making a false image of a false god, but is that where Aaron really went wrong? Maybe Aaron’s mistake wasn’t making a false god, but a false image of the true god. After all, while Moses was on the mountaintop, the people were getting restless and needed a tangible image of god to cling to in their hour of weakness. So, Aaron creates a false image of the true God.
This story often gives us time to reflect on our own idols – things that we worship in place of God, such as wealth, fame, power, prestige, material things, or even people. But how about those things that we associate with God – things that are about God and have much to do with God, yet we end up worshipping them instead of God? Hence becoming a false image of the true God. Things like the church building, the old liturgy, the retired pastor, or a doctrine we cling to too tightly. The funny thing is you never know what things are idols until it is moved, removed, slightly altered, or merely suggested that it is outdated. At a church that I interned, there was a huge picture of Jesus hanging in the hallway. It didn’t bother me that the Jesus was a white man as much as this painted Jesus had an odd resemblance to the late Jerry Garcia and a happy, jolly version of him at that. Every time I walked down to coffee hour after worship, there was Jerry “Jesus” Garcia waving at me. When I inquired about it, a member of the church said that this was painted by a long time member and had been hanging in this hallway for years.
When I first started at St. John’s, John, my Head of Staff, was putting some old wooden, worn out, and ornate chairs on the sidewalk, hoping that someone would find them useful and attractive for their own home. Things in San Francisco have a funny way of disappearing off the sidewalk. If you don’t want something put it out and someone is bound to take it off your hands. When I asked him what he was doing, he informed me that the person who donated these chairs was no longer living so he felt it was okay to finally get rid of the chairs. Now to be fair, St. John’s is an old church, over 100 years old and you would be surprised about the stuff we find. However, this begs the question, do we have to wait for someone to die or certain people to leave for appropriate change to happen?
In a previous blog, I wrote how a broken pew gave us an opportunity for our worship team to begin thinking about some changes in worship. We have been meeting the past four weeks and have had some insightful conversations about what we value in worship. The structure of our meetings were more centered around having conversations about worship rather than trying to come up with ideas of what we could change in worship. The reason for doing this is to avoid coming up with ideas that aren’t authentic to who St. John’s is as a faith community and to make sure that the changes were directly connected with the things we value in worship. Change for the sake of change is unfruitful, but change that is thoughtful is meaningful and easier to embrace. So each week there was a topic, a short reading related to the topic, discussion, and a homework activity. The conversations went like this:
  1. First meeting – Topic: What is worship? Homework: How and when do you encounter God in worship? (They were instructed to be aware of those moments in worship when they felt God’s presence. Is it prayer? music? sermon?)
  2. Second meeting – Topic: What is worship in post-modern times? Homework: Go about your day and observe within yourself and others how you are feeling? Stressed? Joyful? Busy? Playful? (This exercise was to determine how St. John’s can be relevant in our community by providing worship that is meaningful. For example, if people are stressed, would they appreciate a more reflective, meditative worship like walking the labyrinth?)
  3. Third meeting – Topic: What do we value worshipping at St. John’s? Homework: Observe worship at St. John’s and notice how people interact and engage in worship. (Many times we are more focused on ourselves, the pastor, or worship leaders. Rarely do we look around and observe others.)
  4. Fourth meeting – Topic: How is/can St. John’s worship be relevant to the needs of our faith community as well as the community around us?
During our time together, I took copious notes – mostly listening to the conversation and writing down words that would often come up when describing worship. Interestingly, the words used were a combination of polar opposites.
These are what we at St. John’s value in worship. These words are the guidelines we are to use when we make changes to our worship. What this says to me is that the changes made need to find balance and harmony between what can appear to be opposites. The wonderful challenge is making the changes reflect both/and and not either/or, meaning whatever changes need to be made need to be both meaningful and playful, not just meaningful or just playful. Because St. John’s is a diverse community, we need to make sure that there are entry points into worship for the young and old, those that need reflection as well as interaction, and visitors that seek to feel comfortable and members that desire to be challenged. The danger is to not fall into the trap of needing to please everyone and therefore pleasing no one as well as having a worship with too many unconnected elements or liturgy that is watered down. What I like about these guidelines is that it gives a foundation and a framework to keep changing, evaluating, and adapting. So, if people in the congregation are upset about taking out the doxology, it is important to know why they value the doxology. If it is for traditional, meaningful, respectful, and comfortable values, then is there something else that can replace it that holds those same values yet also allows for other values? Some ideas that we are looking to implement is using our sanctuary space for yoga classes and musical concerts, and creating a labyrinth to be used in a taize type service. Communal space is a hot commodity in San Francisco. To be able to allow the community to use our space is a wonderful service and outreach that we can easily provide. These ideas may not be innovative or new, but that isn’t the point. The point is to adapt change that is appropriate and relevant to the values of the community.
Now, within the worship space for St. John’s, we are playing around with a configuration that would meet the above guidelines. Some of these changes have already taken place and some we are working on, which I already shared. The below diagram gives you a mock-up of some of the changes. It isn’t to scale, but at least gives you an idea of the concept.
This is a picture of our sanctuary. It’s beautiful and traditional.
This is a top-down view of the sanctuary and the narthex.
The straight lines are the pews. The black straight lines are pews that will remain stationary. The orange straight lines are pews that will be able to be moved using a dolley system. Chairs will be used in the midst of the pews so that we can create some areas where interactive tables are. Some ideas for the interactive tables are drawing in sand, finger labryinth, playdough, and coloring mandalas (circular patterns). This is to give people an option to interact in a quiet and reflective way during worship whether it is prayers, sermon, or offering. It is also very intergenerational for families that want to sit together. The blue straight lines are pews that will have an interactive, tactile board adhered to the back of them. We have many babies and toddlers that roam in the back of the sanctuary and this would give them a way to interact in worship. I will post a blog about how to make these later. For our small congregation, the pew and seating arrangement provides an intimate, comfortable, and approachable worship atmosphere. Currently we preach, pray, and lead in front of the communion table which makes worship informal in such a beautiful, formal space. We hope to be more “green” in the future, which may mean the use of a screen and projector instead of paper bulletins.
These are some of the immediate changes that we have come up with and a lot of them focus on logistics rather than the liturgy itself, but change takes time. I look forward to seeing other ideas that will generate from the guidelines and framework our worship team have set.