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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 17 August 2013

Environmental Assessment: Andrew Coyne Commits Sociology

There's this thing partisans do where they take the excesses their opponents and define them by it.  The Tories decry the Liberals as arrogant elitists, entitled to their entitlements and point to Sponsorship Scandal as proof of their corruption.  Liberals, meanwhile, can point to Karlheniz Schreiber, Fake Lakes, political truths, robocalls, the Chuck Cadman Affair or, of course, the Senate Scandals as evidence the Tories are callous, contemptuous and irresponsible.

Yet it would appear that governments of every partisan stripe are eventually consumed by the same behaviours and resulting falls in cyclical fashion.  There's a reason for this - when you demonize your opponents, you start to feel morally superior to them.  Whenever you feel a sense of superiority (or entitlement), your standing as a bulwark against the bad guys begins to matter more than how you maintain it. 

We see it again and again and again - when it becomes about winning, not achieving, you've lost.  But our system is designed to produce winners and losers.  First-past-the-post politics begs for win-at-all-costs human behaviour, which is what we get.  It's the same behaviour that leads to the corruption we all abhor in others but justify when our turn comes.

Meanwhile, the pendulum swing between Parties crafting policy that makes them look different than competitors rather than being the best aggregate option for constituents results in this fractured push-and-pull of progress.  Services will be built up without cautious planning for sustainability, torn down, then reinstated in new iterations.  Voters focusing on increasingly niche areas of policy that impact them directly are voting, if they vote at all, on those narrow pieces - after all, it's not like they can vote on individual policies, only the people representing them.

Across the board, people - even elected ones - are saying the system of Parliamentary democracy in place right now is flawed, with the fractures that have been present from the beginning growing into fissures over time.  Voter apathy, voter engagement, voter awareness is far from ideal.  It's not in the best interests of Political Parties to have a balanced conversation, either - they want the attention on issues that favour their brand exclusively.

When put on the spot, though, the vast majority of these pols will point the finger at the other guy exclusively, suggesting the problem is unilateral.  After all, they are still partisans and their commitment is still to helping their Party win.  The political people are as trapped by the partisan-edged focus of our system as the rest of us are.

There are myriad solutions to this systematic problem that could be explored.  Mandatory voting and online voting have been discussed; scrapping our first-past-the-post system has been considered.  We can get all kinds of creative, reducing the clout and reach of Political Parties, insisting on more training for elected officials and periodic issues-testing - we could even separate policy from politicians or institute mixed-Party governments as a rule.  These are all ideas that can be debated and tested and iterated, if everyone fixes on the ball of reform.

Problem is, they won't, because of all the reasons stated above.  If one Party wants a change, the others have to want something different if they're to stand out.  Focused on the win, there will always be a reluctance to accept that one's own methodology is at fault.

Of course, it's not all up to them, is it?  It's our system they are trapped in - ultimately, it's up to us to break the cycle.  That process starts by recognizing that with us or against us isn't going to work - what we demonize in others exists to some degree in ourselves, as well.  Focusing on commonality, not differences, is what builds ground to grow on.  From there, it takes a diverse mix of ideas, approaches and perspectives to inform a truly sustainable system.

It's probably the wrong season to be digging into root causes, however - after all, winter is coming.  It might just be the right one, however, to start planting seeds.


Friday 16 August 2013

The Universal Golden Rule

The Golden Rule teaches that we should treat others as we, ourselves, would wish to be treated. This basic ethic is repeated in a multitude of variations in the texts of all the great religions of the world.
And, really, what else is there to say?

Bahá'í Faith
If thou lookest for justice, choose thou for others what thou chooses for thyself.
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
This is the sum of all true righteousness: deal with others as thou wouldst thyself be dealt by. Do nothing to thy neighbor, which thou wouldst not have him do to thee after.
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Indifferent to worldly objects, a man should wander about, treating all creatures in the world as he himself would be treated.
What is hateful to you do not to others. That is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary.
Native American
The Universe is the Mirror of the People, and each person is a Mirror to every other person.
As thou deemest thyself, so deem others; then shalt thou become a partner in Heaven.
Irrespective of their nationality, language, manners and culture, men should give mutual aid, and enjoy reciprocal, peaceful pleasure by showing in their conduct that they are brethren.
The good man ought to pity the malignant tendencies of others; to rejoice over their excellence; to help them in their straits; to regard their gains as if they were his own, and their losses in the same way.
And ye harm none, do what ye will, lest in thy self-defense it be, ever mind the rule of three.
That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.
Most of us were raised with one or another version of the Golden Rule: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And, unfortunately most of us do live according to it. That is to say, we do treat our neighbors as we treat ourselves -- which is not very well, at all!
But there is an oft-overlooked caveat to the Golden Rule.
Notice that there are endless permutations on the theme "Do Unto Others What You Would Have Others Do Unto You." Or, "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." But not one -- not one single one -- says anything like "Love Thy Neighbor More than Thyself."
It is very clear that love of thy neighbor is predicated on the assumption of love for thyself.
How can we, after all, love humanity as a whole and not love ourselves? Are we not included? If we are not human, what are we? Some slug-like subspecies? Deities on high, exempt from the human struggle? Rocks?
Imagine the world full of people who honor their own sacred worth and grant that same respect to every other person on Earth.
What a golden world it would be!

The Golden Shift in Canadian Politics

To the victor go the spoils.  The ends justify the means.  History is written by the victors.  He who has the gold (or majority government) makes the rules.
That, in a nutshell, is politics, with one addition - whatever you can get away with works.
It's this last that is causing so many political operators problems these days, because the benchmark for what you can get away with has shifted rather dramatically.  As with most changes in information tech, practice tends to lag behind capacity on the adaptation curve.  A seasoned generation of backroom operators are using new tools in old ways; convinced they're the smartest people in the room, it doesn't occur to them that maybe other folk have adapted more quickly.
It isn't an insiders game any more, with voters on the sidelines - thanks to Twitter and the like, we're all on the field now.
What happens when these folk get caught with their hands in the cookie jar, or caught in a lie, or caught with their pants down?  They're turning to the old tools of circle the wagons, bait-and-switch and digging up dirt on opponents.  The problem is, it's not so easy any more - it's not just the political chattering classes and the media pundits who need to be distracted - it's a growing number of Twitter users, Facebook posters and photo takers and civic engagement/watcher groups ranging from Anonymous to the Samara Institute.
It's no longer enough to hope that a story won't have legs or that you can spin yourself out of any hole you dig - there are simply too many ways for bad behaviour to be caught and those behaviours connected into patterns.  Maybe you can punt the consequences to a successor or maybe the blame will be born by your whole class, but that's hardly sustainable planning, is it?
You can't get away with murder in Canadian politics and, thankfully, our Political Parties limit their offensive tactics to character assassination.  Consider this yet another shift - the water hole of unethical tactics you can get away with is shrinking at an ever increasing rate.
There's an easy way to stay ahead of the curve, of course - that's to assume that everything you do can and will be revealed and act accordingly.  The word for that is transparency.  Yes, real transparency means more work on the front-end and yes, it assumes other players are equally going to play by the rules but it also mitigates your chance of digging your hole deep enough it becomes your grave.  Besides, as we've seen - people at all levels are on the lookout for wrongdoing to criticize.  If you keep your nose clean and remain open about it, that laser-like scrutiny will focus where the dark spots truly lie.
It's amazing what a little golden sunlight can do...

Union on the Right: The Hudak Paradox

It's an interesting, if not surprising, predicament that Tim Hudak has gotten himself and his Party into - and one, I think, that's representative of the broader malaise we're witnessing in politics.  After all, it's the same predicament that Sam Hammond has gotten himself and ETFO into.  

Hudak has taken a strong stand against unions.  In a White Paper (not, as we are told, to be confused with an actual policy commitment) penned largely by maverick Randy Hillier, the Hudak PCs have suggested collective bargaining is harmful to the interests of individuals.  The paper promotes the notion of union leaders being held more accountable to union members.  One, solid voice impedes flexibility and innovation, the argument goes - high performers are impeded by the need to tow the Party line.

Seems to make sense to Randy Hillier and Frank Klees - after all, that's the exact same approach they're demanding for Hudak's Progressive Conservatives.  They are suggesting it is healthy for the Party to have Hudak held to account by Party members at any occasion.  To them, the likes of Jim Wilson are sending the wrong message to those members by suggesting it's damaging to undermine the leader and cause internal friction when there's an election looming on the horizon.

As I have argued before, Political Parties are exactly like unions - if you want to run for political office, you pretty much need to be a Party candidate if you have any hope of winning.  When you do get the job, though, you are beholden to Party messages, Party financial commitments and the like.  It's a trade-off; you don't get in if you're not part of a Party but if you do get in, and your Party is successful, you have a better chance of gaining position for yourself and results for your constituency, building your own brand.

As Hudak has been a bannerman for the PC Union since his 20s, this is something he should understand pretty well.  It's his association with the Progressive Conservatives that has provided him with taxpayer-funded employment for all these years; it was that brand that gave him a shot at being Premier.  None of this would have been possible had he been an Independent.

So, here's Hudak's dilemma - he is telling Ontario that unions are bad, they impede creativity and stifle talent and prop up failures.  Yet when it comes to his Party and demands by a disgruntled few to ditch an unsuccessful leader, Hudak and his loyalists are advocating for the need to hold the line, support the Leader, show a unified front to the world lest their collective interests fall off the table.

Politics being the art of cognitive dissonance made policy, it's absolutely possible for Hudak to furl his brow and suggest that these are completely separate beasts.  But that still leaves him the challenge of calming the sea of troubles bubbling within his Party and securing enough support in urban Ontario to win a majority government.  

Not that the Leader of the Opposition has a habit of following advice, but for what it's worth, here are my two cents:

- Stop acting like Leader of the Opposition.  Quit breaking the world down into "with me" and "against me" columns and start doing the hard job of bringing people together

- Don't let go of what you believe in - but remember, you aspire to lead everyone. That means your vision needs to be bigger than your personal aspirations 

- Start seeing your opponents as opportunities, not enemies.  Just for fun, start with Sam Hammond; sit him down and pick his brain, challenge him to think outside of his box and come up with solutions that work for both sides of the equation and, ultimately, best serve students

- Get creative.  The world isn't blue-and-red, but rather, the overlay of both

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  The swinging pendulum of partisan politics has lead more to a fractured society than to aggregated wins.  The traditional Hudak Approach hasn't done much in his favour, either.

If he really wants to win, it's time for Hudak to think different - maybe even walk a mile in the shoes of his opponents and figure out why it is they support the positions they do.

After all, leadership isn't about holding ground; it's about moving forward.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Collaboration, Not Conferencing

Recently I wrote about taking the next step in business collaboration, and how companies with their eyes on the climb not only need to come at collaboration from a business perspective first, but should also incorporate unified communications, enterprise social networking, and video technologies into business growth strategies, instead of merely viewing them as tactile approaches for connecting teams. And while that is the next step for many organizations, it’s certainly not the last.
These tools, and the companies that adopt them, need to evolve real-time collaboration into genuinely visual conversations. Even video fails to fully duplicate a truly networked experience — so how can we use visual components to reinvent collaboration?

Ideas and Ideals

It’s a narrow but imperative distinction: virtual collaboration connects cube dwellers with remote employees, but visual conversations do it by imitating the in-person meeting experience and catering to the modern worker’s demands for mobility and instant gratification. Solutions adapt to the people using them, making the process of collaborating more organic and allowing people to work together more naturally.
While utilizing collaboration technology is a top priority for most companies, vetting the landslide of options isn’t — and that’s detrimental to productivity, innovation, and the bottom line. An ideal collaboration solution should always help people accomplish the greatest number of tasks in the least amount of time, support interoperability within a variety of platforms, and allow the integration of multiple applications to provide a truly unified visual plane.

Why Isn’t This Working Yet?

“Competitive advantage is all about harnessing the collective knowledge of the company to make the best decision in the shortest amount of time possible with knowledge from inside and outside corporate walls,” says Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. “This has made the ability to collaborate virtually, at any time, an absolute must.”
Absolutely true. Furthermore, collaboration is a dynamic process that revolves around discovery and drives innovation. Kerravala offers up these three (excellent) tips to help companies transition from talking about virtual conversations to actually having them:
  • Democratize. The technology should be widely available to all users who need to interact with others. This will allow workers to reach anyone, anywhere through scheduled and ad hoc conversations.
  • Develop business-related benchmarks and key performance metrics. The impact of collaboration on the business depends on the organization’s ability to correlate usage with productivity gains. Develop key performance metrics around specific processes, insert video into the process and measure the metrics to determine the impact.
  • Embrace change, including in the vendors you use. Choose a provider based on its ability to meet your corporate collaboration challenges today and into the future. This means evaluating vendors on their software strength, partnerships, quality of experience and ability to adapt to bandwidth — rather than on vendor incumbency and market share.

Collaboration, Not Conferencing

Call us nitpicky, but here at Mindjet, we want to change more than just the way people work. We want to change how they work together. How they innovate, and how they visualize their own success, and the success of their business. The vast majority of available unified communication tools focus more on conferencing than symbiosis. We can see and hear each other, but that’s about it. We can’t compare notes, or easily share links and documents — worse, we can’t show people what we’re talking about, which substantially limits productivity and understanding.
In just a few days — June 4th, 2013, to be exact — we’re hosting a webinar with Forrester analyst Margo Visitacion. We’ll be discussing why visual collaboration and project management makes sense, why traditional project planning isn’t enough, and how anyone can use Mindjet to go from communicating virtually to having legitimate visual conversations.
We hope you’ll join us.

Service Aggregates - Systems, not Silos

We consciously design items for efficiency and intuitive use - it's time we start doing the same thing with service systems.

Operation: Integrate All the Things!
A few nights ago, I was sitting on my couch about to get down with a bottle of wine and some Netflix. I grabbed my phone and opened the XBox SmartGlass app, which basically works like a virtual game-slash-remote controller. As I was mindlessly scrolling, my dude and roommate — an audio engineer — walked in with his iPad, frustrated and annoyed that this new interface app he’d downloaded allowed him to create and manipulate different sounds, but didn’t automatically sync up with his main program, or allow him to save audio files to Dropbox.
Totally ridiculous, I thought. I’m a social media manager for a software company, and if there’s anything I know, it’s that there’s little point to using multiple tools if they don’t work together. First world problems, right? Even so, if we’re supposed to be working towards a more intelligent internet — especially in an era of unapologetic demands for instant gratification — we have to anticipate that people expect everything (and I do mean everything) to integrate and operate seamlessly, regardless of platform, device, or even location.

The Privilege of a Never-ending Curve

There’s a reason I mentioned SmartGlass. In my world, being able to use a phone to control my TV is a given, and you’d better believe I’m throwing a fit if I have to take more than one photo of a check in order to deposit it. We’re technologically spoiled, yes, but if history serves, it’s always the most innovative solutions that are born from the pursuit of efficiency, convenience, and an inherent need to take human genius to the very edge of inception.
Product and service integration is a huge part of that in our ever-more-digital world, and it’s forcing us all into an environment rife with opportunity and driven by assumption. It’s not quite like when I tried to lock my apartment door with my automatic car key, but the shock of non-integrated systems is always, at best, unpleasant and confusing — we’re no longer equipped to comprehend disparity, and the vast majority of consumers depend upon all industries to understand that, avoid it, and visualize solutions before they’ve become problems.
Deep-seated psychological issue? Maybe. But what’s kind of beautiful about this never-ending curve everyone’s so desperate to stay ahead of is that it’s a catalyst for inspiration. It’s no longer an option to wait it out and jump on the bandwagon when it feels safe and secure to do so. And, as the market ramps up its demand for confluence, we’re watching the interconnectivity and interoperability of platforms and applications explode into mainstream development tactics. The result is an impact on the internet-centric market that’s still strictly tied to supply and demand, but that’s also more consumer-focused than it’s ever been — a shift of power that’s opened up tons of new room for exploration, testing, and valuable failures.


Obviously, consumers don’t expect companies to be clairvoyant in the literal sense, but it’s important that organizations don’t rely too heavily on market empathy, either. Mainly because it doesn’t really have any, but also because the average customer doesn’t always consider themselves responsible for driving invention. A business creates a new toy or cool service and they adopt it; meanwhile the business is combing the market for clues and patterns, simultaneously dreading and dependent on peer-review threads.
Regardless of the fact that new options continuously pop up,  integration strategies — and the protocol to execute them — have to be at the heart of all business initiatives, particularly those that are web, mobile, and cloud-based. And that can be exceptionally intimidating for enterprise architects and project managers, two groups of industry players facing a level of disruption that’s changing more than how they think about product expansion; it’s changing how they conceive of what they do, period.
Dave West, CPO for Tasktop Technologies Inc. and former president and research director at Forrester, said in arecent Q&A with TechTarget that application integration problems are a primary reason why businesses — and the aforementioned architects and project managers — “can’t deliver business innovation at the speed demanded by customers using all these application platforms.” He cites three major shifts in consumer behaviors for this issue: the maturation of SOA, or service-oriented architecture, which encourages developers to create with collaboration in mind; the similar acceptance of platforms as a service (PaaS — think companies like Zapier and CloudBees); and the total outbreak of new devices and the rise of mobile technology.
What this means is that integration architects can quickly turn into human roadblocks if they’re not central to strategy conception, and project managers lose out on their favorite thing — control. Both roles have to maintain a more flexible, react-and-respond attitude towards their work, and that’s miles away from what these forever-prepared folks are used to. That’s unfortunate news for companies that are hesitant to let go of honeymoon-era approaches, but it’s better to be unsure than be unheard, right?
As a social media manager, I’m less concerned with this high-level stuff in my day-to-day, but it affects me nonetheless. I need my aggregate services, the ability to deploy content across platforms, and I have to be able to do it whether I’m pushing my way onto a crowded train or grabbing lunch with a client. The perpetual connectivity of the modern world demands our constant attention. And so, my dear, sweet, resistant creators, open your eyes and brace yourselves. There’s an electric, impatient urgency forcing the integration revolution, and the market doesn’t really care if we’re ready for it or not.

The Devil and Danforth Fords

I keep hearing that to get ahead, you can't get mired in the details, but I dunno - seems to me it's the folk who don't weigh the consequence of their actions are the ones having a devil of a time in the headlines...
Rob Ford Didn’t Drink at Taste of the Danforth
If Rob Ford "had a few pops" at the street festival, why didn't anyone see him drinking?
I was at a bar drinking with friends Friday recapping a story published in the Toronto Sun just hours earlierWhy a Convicted Drug Dealer Burst Into Rob Ford’s Home Demanding Money—when I got a notification about new video of Ford, apparently inebriated at Taste of the Danforth. Such is the pace of these stories.
At the time I laughed and shook my head. Of course I know about his alleged alcohol problems, but I wasn’t thinking about it too deeply as I was out myself and I hadn’t yet seen the video or read about the events. My cursory understanding was that the mayor was participating at an event offering food and alcohol, and got videotaped sloppy drunk.
I doubted this was a big deal even by Saturday, tweeting that he was out on a Friday night, that perhaps he was in a sour mood after the Sun story broke and drank too much. He said in the video he wasn’t driving. He and Doug said he had a couple beers, and we’ve seen him drunk in public before. To get really excited about a new Ford story, he needs to push the boundaries into new territory.
But on second thought this is wrong. That this apparently isn’t a story because it’s not shocking is the problem. If the mayor has a substance abuse problem, it’s serious, and we shouldn’t become less concerned the more it shows itself. This incident was misrepresented at first, and it becomes very troubling when we look at the discrepancies between what we know happened and Doug Ford’s explanation of Rob Ford’s outing.
We know that the mayor failed to arrive at the Taste of the Danforth event where he was scheduled to appear. His staffers were there but he was absent, so they left. The Sun reports that Ford drove to Taste of the Danforth alone. He didn’t park quite at the festival, but two kilometres away on Greenwood Avenue a bit south of Danforth, around the corner from a Beer Store. Nobody saw him arrive or saw him behind the steering wheel. Once standing beside the driver’s seat outside the car, residents recognized him and a crowd emerged. One began filming. This is why he is beside his car in the footage. An eyewitness, the man videotaping, states that soon there were ten residents beside the mayor. Ford did not smell of drugs or alcohol, but residents were concerned about how he arrived in what appeared to be an inebriated state.
In the video, Rob claims “I wasn’t driving” three times. A witness claimed “he wasn’t making much sense. The mayor looked like he was totally out of it. He was slurring.” Also, “he would sway back and forth.” The mayor asked for cologne. (Various media suggested the mayor asked for “coke” or “blow” when he pointed to his nose, but the eyewitness heard him talk about cologne for a while and believes he only said “cologne” in the video.) The crowd followed him to the Tim Hortons where numerous people offered to buy Ford coffee. About an hour after Rob Ford was spotted beside his car, 4 or 5 staffers appeared with 10 police in tow. The staffers, who only learned of his whereabouts via social media, were reported to have looked concerned, unable to control the mayor. The mayor was driven home. The only substance Rob Ford was seen consuming was the publicly purchased Tim Hortons coffee.
It is possible that Ford parked his car earlier in the evening, walked two kilometres to the festival where he had “a beer or two,” returned another two kilometres to get something from his car at about 9:30, then was spotted by residents, one of whom proceeded to videotape him. But given how instantly he is recognized and hounded for photographs, it’s unlikely that nobody took a picture or video of the mayor drinking a couple beers at a major festival thousands of Torontonians attended.
On Sunday, Doug Ford addressed the incident on his radio show: “Have I seen my brother hammered in his life? Ya, I have. Have I seen him with a couple of drinks? Yeah…[but] Rob doesn’t sit there in public and start hammering away on drinks. It just never happened.” Even if we take Doug at his word, nobody actually saw Rob drink at Taste of the Danforth. Anyway, Doug should not be taken at his word. Though he very glibly admitted that, of course, he has seen his brother hammered, in March he fervently denied that Rob drinks alcohol at all.
On Tuesday, reporters asked Doug, “Did the mayor tell you where he was drinking? A lot of people were concerned because the first place he was spotted was standing outside his car.” Doug dismissed the question and accused the reporters of playing “investigative reporter.” This is precisely the question that needs answering. Did the mayor drive under the influence?
If there is an innocent explanation for how the mayor came to be videotaped alone and inebriated beside his vehicle, one would expect a Ford staffer to clarify it and end the speculation at once. But the longer this goes unanswered the more damning it is. Instead of clarifying, Doug went on the attack, making falsehoods against councillors who recommended the mayor to take a leave of absence to get help, saying that Councillor Jaye Robinson, “couldn’t perform in her job” and that Shelley Carroll “put the city into hundreds of millions of dollars into debt.”  
The Fords frequently allege their superiority by citing their success in the business world, and they disparage colleagues on these grounds too, saying councillors would be out of work if they were subject to the free market. So let’s transpose this Danforth incident and its response into free market terms.
 Let’s imagine that the city was truly run as a business. Citizens play the shareholders invested in the company depending on CEO Rob Ford to manage their money. The shareholders ask CEO Rob: “Why did you miss a staff event? You getting filmed inebriated beside your vehicle is very bad for business. Explain, please.” Imagine shareholders satisfied with, “I don’t believe I did offend anyone, and if I did, you know what, I had a good time, I let my hair down a bit.”
The company can forgive Ford for missing the event, but profit is threatened if the perception persists that the CEO operated his vehicle under the influence, so the question is put again: “Where and when did you drink the alleged beers? You admitted you drank them, you must reveal where this took place.” But the CEO refuses to answer and instead Doug, a lower-level employee unauthorized to speak for the CEO, says, “He had a couple of pops, big deal, in the end, nobody got hurt, everyone had a good time.”
While the above situation is an allegory, the quotations are really Rob and Doug Ford’s. In the business world, nobody would dare be so impertinent and hope to keep their job. Ironically, if the Fords were held accountable to their cherished view of politics conducted by the rules of business, they’d be fired. After this affront, I doubt the business world would be so generous as to afford them a third chance to explain that night’s events, but this is politics; the Fords are still very much here and we are still very much owed an explanation into why a night that should have been spent celebrating food has devolved into speculating about exactly how our mayor got inebriated and whether or not he broke the law and put people’s lives at risk.
Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.
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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Progressive Conservative MPP Jim Wilson Stands Up Against Heckling

Any attempts at intimidation. 
It's a brave thing the Member from Simcoe Grey is doing, taking a stand against bullying in the Legislative Assembly.  Question Period, after all, is the mother of intimidation games - the heckling, the taunts, the over-the-top accusations put any schoolyard to shame.  Despite the cross-partisan recognition of bullying as harmful and a commitment to do something about it, there's still this thing about politics being a blood sport - politicians tell themselves (and sell the message to us) that you have to be tough and legislate with your elbows up, that the rules legislators say are necessary everywhere else simply don't apply to them.
For MPP Wilson to take a strong stance against any attempt of intimidation, including heckling, is to risk being called weak by his colleagues.  Good for him, sticking by his beliefs regardless.
Of course, politicians are no different than anyone else - in fact, as we're seeing with Rob Ford, we kinda like politicians who are average Janes and Joes.  Well, average folk don't perform so well under the kinds of stress intimidation - be it bullying in the schoolyard, belittlement in the workplace or heckling in the Legislature - that politicians expose themselves to every time they stand and speak on behalf of their constituents.
We've seen what the heckling gets us - tribal partisanship, circled wagons, a great deal of time and energy dedicated to thrust and parry rather than actual legislation. 
Wilson's got my support on this; I hope he has yours as well.  I look forward to his leading by example when the House resumes September 9th. 

We All Don’t Fit in Square Boxes

“Is there a lot of controversy around diagnosis? Absolutely. Should there be? Absolutely. That is its greatest virtue. It provides opportunity for input from lay people, social workers, and brings us all to the table. We’re dealing with conditions where there is a profound degree of complexity and a profound degree of uncertainty.”
CFN – There’s an old joke about a patient who goes to see his doctor about a physical complaint. The injury itself doesn’t matter - let’s say it’s typing too much on a blackberry, just for fun.
Patient: ”Hey doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: ”So, don’t do that.”
Buh-doom boom.
Of course, that’s not the way it tends to work out in real life, is it? An actual conversation with one’s doctor might go like this.
Patient: ”Hey doctor, my thumbs are killing me, it hurts to type. You gotta do something.”
Doctor: ”Have you tried typing less?”
Patient: ”Drop the lip, doc – I pay you to fix my problems, so fix this. I’ve got a report that’s due next week and the pain is getting in the way.  Can’t you give me some Oxycodone or something to help me get back to work?”
Ouch. No rim shot for that one.
Our healthcare delivery model has changed course over the last century or so into one that’s  consumer-based – health is a service provided, not a lifestyle. Work, not health, is the focus; instead of trying to improve and sustain health, our medical professionals are being seen more like pit crews. How quickly can you patch up the patient and get them back into the rat race?
Our social/economic model of society is very much a race – competition grows ever steeper and people need to invest more and more of themselves, their time, even their well-being into keeping from falling behind. If you don’t have access to the best parts and pit crew, the odds are really stacked against you ever winning. The success of the system comes first – individual benefit is supposed to be an organic byproduct of the free market. 
So, what does this have to do with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)?
The DSM is, clearly, a diagnostic tool that is designed to help health practitioners, including those of the mental health variety, identify what’s wrong with a person. What’s wrong seems to be defined as “that which keeps them from functioning properly within an existing social context.”  The goal is to get people back on the line and contributing, after all.  So, the aggressive employer that micromanages staff and stifles productivity is sick. The underachieving welfare recipient is sick. The kid acting up in class – sick. 
This should all sound familiar, because it’s the exact same phenomenon we’ve seen throughout history.  We have a habit of stigmatizing and labeling anyone who is different than what the prevalent voices in society want them to be.  It’s like those differences are a social illness we’re trying to correct.
First Nations people and their insistence on group think and non-Western social customs? That’s a problem that needs to be fixed.  Lefties who can’t seem to get things done with the tools they’re provided? They need to operate from the right if they want to belong.  Women who disrupt the work cycle to have babies and such? Not a good investment in the first place.
See the pattern?
We might like to tell ourselves we’re inclusive and really open to supporting people’s differences, but when we rest on that opinion, we’re deluding ourselves. More often than we realize, we’re not accommodating the specific challenges of a person – we’re trying to get them to conform.  Even Free Market purists trying to save welfare-state believers from themselves are trying to fix people they see as misguided.
About two years ago I had a chat with a former boss, Leslie Noble (a senior Conservative advisor and Government Relations expert) about top-down management. She was frustrated on behalf of a friend who was Executive Director of a mental health institution. Thanks to a standardized government mandate, the friend was being expected to dedicate allocated funds to solving one problem, when it was a different structural issue that was really threatening her operations. This, Leslie explained to me, was why she is so dead-set against a top-down standardized approach to fund allocation; it stifles people from doing what they need to succeed.
That’s at the organization level, but it applies to individuals, too.  Trying to standardize everything is like viewing every problem as a nail – which is what you tend to do, if the only tool in your box is a hammer.  Despite what political hawks try to tell us, you can’t hit your way out of everything.  Of course, the reverse is true, too.  It’s naïve to think you can pass around right-handed scissors and expect everyone to have an equal chance of making the cut, but we do that all the time.  It takes an out-of-the-box thinker to consider the possibility of left-handed scissors, creating not only an innovation that helps lefties succeed on their own terms, but creates an economic opportunity as well.
Not that long ago, I had a great chat with former Attorney General (and genius) Michael Bryant and Sylvia Kim, a wickedly smart social entrepreneur about mental health and social functioning. Michael raised an excellent point – there are probably thousands of “gifted undiagnosed” Einsteins out there who, because they were never exposed to people who knew how to recognize or harvest those gifts and weren’t born with an aggressive level of self-confidence and marketing ability, are slowly going mad working in a mail room when they could be curing cancer or solving gridlock.
I bring up madness intentionally, because there’s a strong correlation between manic genius and diagnoses of “crazy” - look at this list of famous people with mental illness for just a few examples. Do you know any geniuses yourself? Do you find them a bit high-functioning, maybe have or had substance abuse issues or personal relationship challenges? It’s surprising just how much staff of high-performers serve a bit like counselors and support workers, helping to keep the genius focused and keep the individual from going off the rails. If you’ve ever worked in politics, you’ll have seen this, a lot.
Now, consider:
Phiona Mutesi is taking the world by storm as a 17 year-old chess genius. Born in an Ugandan slum, not even really certain of when, it was really nothing more than a stroke of luck that she was able to connect with the supports that helped harness her talents and explore her maximum potential. A slight change of circumstance and the world would be missing something.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people like Greta Hoaken, a 17 year-old dynamo who started her first business at 13 and is destined to do great things. Sorry, not destined – that implies inevitability.  We like to think good things happen to good people, but there’s zero empirical evidence to say that’s a standard.  Greta had the right supports from her family and community as well as the natural drive to succeed; that’s why we’ll remember her name.
We shouldn’t begrudge Mutesi her luck any more than we should envy Greta her fortuitous background. But we all too often do, don’t we?
It’s a race to the top, after all, and their fortune comes at the expense of our ability to get ahead.  The success of someone else is seen as a negative to us, pure and simple - and we get bitter about that. If we can’t afford the better pit crew, we might just decide throwing a wrench in the wheels of an opponent will help us get to the finish line first.
It’s the same rationale behind Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak’s attack on foreign workers and foreign students – why should we pay to give outsiders an edge over our people? It’s not fair in a strictly free-market sense, nor does it fit with the goal of creating standardized communities.
In free market theory, money is often described as the life-blood of society and the economy, the heart that pumps it. As we’ve already got a health-related theme going, let’s run with that – if society were a body, would you want to dedicate all your resources to cardio-pulmonary health alone? What about the factors that impact heart health - things like exercise, sleep, stress, diet?
People aren’t machines on the line that unfortunately need quick tune-ups to keep working; they’re complex creatures that are part of an even more complex system – society.  Society is more like an organism than a machine – you don’t get to trade in rusted or malfunctioning parts for new ones.  When you neglect one aspect of society (like the poor) the whole system ends up suffering (crime, illness, economic atrophy). 
Oh, and those foreign bodies joining our economy aren’t a virus to be locked up or run out of town – immigration is more like adding diversity to the social gene pool.  After all, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? 
If you want an effective model for understanding individual and social health, you should go back to those troublesome First Nations and take a look at the concept of the Medicine Wheel. A holistic view of individual and social health might not be standard; hopefully we can agree that the standard model has room for improvement.
Which brings us back to the DSM.  By defining a median standard for normal cognitive and social behaviour, we’re stigmatizing those who don’t fit in that box as abnormal.  There will be those who consistently and markedly deviate from the standard; these lateral-thinking folk will be seen as disruptive to the economic race and be more likely to spend time in the pit or get removed from the track entirely. 
Do we really want to normalize or sideline future Isaac Newtons, Abraham Lincolns or Ernest Hemmingways because they don’t fit the standard?  What would we lose if we did?
Society keeps benefiting from the outliers (nutty geniuses like Steve Jobs or captivating artists like Catherine Zeta-Jones) but we make it really, really hard for them to reach and contribute their full potential.  You can chalk that up to the nature of competition, but as with Mutesi and Greta, we see a lot of cases where it’s luck of the draw, not competitive advantage, that helps some get ahead.  At the same time, everyone else is suffering from the stigma of the standardized social race, too – rushing madly just to stay in the same place.  It helps explain why we have an unheralded business crisis here in Canada.
Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Instead of continuing to add more diagnoses to the DSM, perhaps we should step back and consider if we’ve diagnosed the wrong problem.

See the World, Speak the Word

Politics is a constant struggle for dominance between the red and the blue, the assumption being that you can only be one or the other.  Oddly enough, there's a correlation between political viewpoints and different regions of the brain.  

It's by combining the two lenses that you gain perspective.

Friends In Need

Actually, it can.

Something comes to mind about friends in need... I think maybe "friend" being the key word.

Altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.  But I'm not the first to say that, am I?



The devil is in the details - which, of course, gotcha headlines don't have time for.  Of course, people apparently don't have time for substance either, which is why gotcha headlines are needed to sell news (or something approximating it).
I don't know the details about what happened here, but here's what I do know:
Kathleen Wynne is the real deal.  I first met her back in 2002, when she was just a candidate.  She was sincere, authentic and she listened.  I didn't see her again until long after I'd returned to Queen's Park in 2005.  She was the same person then as she was in 2001.  In fact, in all the interactions I've had with her over the years, she has never changed as a person; whatever duties she accumulated, however "powerful" she became, she has remained the same person all the way through. 
I have two favourite memories of now-Premier Wynne:
One - a meeting with her and representatives of VOICE for Deaf Children, an organization that supports kids who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and their families.  It was a packed room, but Wynne made a point of engaging every single person in the room - she created an environment that was conducive to contribution, which wasn't easy.  The then-Minister of Education took notes herself.  Later, Wynne was pivotal in VOICE's push to have the province cover bilateral cochlear implants for deaf kids in Ontario. 
Two - a random run-in on Front street, not long before former Premier McGuinty stepped down and she threw her at in the ring.  Wynne and her partner Jane were on their way to a show; I was on my way from some event or other to Union station.  In passing, Wynne recognized me, addressed me by name (how she remembered, I have no idea) and stopped for a quick chat about life. 
She has, as a person, always embodied the traits a leaders should.  That's still the case today.
Nobody knows SDSG like Jim Brownell.  I clearly have a soft spot for Jim, but it's well-earned.  Jim remains, for me, the best example of what a politician should be.  Working for him remains the highlight of my career.
Jim was more than just a gentleman and a great boss, though - he was a man of and for his community who found, impossibly as it might seem these days, the perfect balance between empowering his riding, building his brand and supporting his Party. 
This was largely due to his approach - Jim had enormous pride in the people and history of his riding and a great deal of hope for what it's future could entail.  Jim could (and often did) tell you the history of every square inch of the three counties.  He loved and was loved by his community, which is why he ran for provincial office in the first place. 
I firmly believe that, if Jim were to run again, he would win easily - because people know he has a record of getting things done.  That personal brand, that knowledge of the riding and that political savvy would, I think, be invaluable to a Party looking to win the riding back.
James Borer defines leadership.  I got to know James through Jim and because of VOICE.  Today, I'm proud to call him one of my best friends.  James is a rural Ontarian from an old Ontario family (Borer Falls is named after his kin).  He's a hobby farmer with a beautiful family, including two kids who are deaf (but thanks to cochlear implants, can hear and function like any kid).  He understands the value of hard work and knows clearly what that work is for - to support his family and make a better world for them and all other families in the province.
James is also a highly-trained and soldier with, shall we say, a rather unique skill set.  He has served overseas and carries a great many combat scars to tell the tales, though you'll never hear them - he does what he does not for glory, but out of a sense of duty. 
It would be an error to mistake his causal way of speaking for simplicity.  I have watched him casually deconstruct and tie verbal opponents into knots, helping them back themselves into corners they can't see until it's too late.  James has a highly disciplined, strategic mind; he's good at assessing variables, planning contingencies and achieving victory.  I've seen him do it again and again - leadership just comes naturally to him.
More than anything, though, James is a man of honour who puts the mission first.  He is a Liberal because of what he believes, not because of anything he thinks the Party can do for him.  The best example of this is the Rural Roundtable he organized during the OLP leadership race - it was an event that helped the candidates connect with his community and vice-versa.  It was also an innovative format that focused on solutions, not gripes, that was widely praised by all who participated.
Like Jim, James is an invaluable resource in Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry.
I like Bernadette Clement.  She's got a good soul, a friendly demeanour and a positive outlook.  In an ideal world, there'd be more people like her in politics.  However, ours is not an ideal world and politics is not focused on vision - it's focused on tearing opponents to shreds.  During her federal bid, Bernadette kept to the high road, worked tirelessly, but was faced with a machine that put the win before anything else. 
Bernadette is a natural communicator and facilitator, which was clearly evident during her role as Leadership Campaign Co-Chair.  She shined in that role - it gave me great pride to see her up there, representing my home town and embodying everything Liberals are supposed to stand for.  From speaking with her personally and interviews she's given in the past, I think it's that kind of role that suits her best and that she enjoys the most.
Political Staff do the best they can with what they have.  This goes for all Parties.  Unless you've spent time inside the political machine, it's hard to fathom just how frenetic the pace can be - everything is a crisis, tens thousands of stakeholders are making different and often competing demands daily, every minute is a draught from a firehose.  You simply don't get the time to wade into details on anything, nor have the time to carefully record institutional memory for whoever succeeds you.  This is one of the key reasons all Parties go through boom-and-bust cycles; what worked before gets lost in the churn, meaning it simply isn't there for future staff to draw on.
I have been (and continue to be) a big advocate for comprehensive political staff training and a conscious effort to develop and maintain institutional memory - I think it'd be better for the people involved and better for politics as a whole.  A key part of this process is two-way communication with those that came before and those on the front lines.  This was a key part of what Jim Brownell worked hard to accomplish, building bridges between Queen's Park and his stakeholders on the ground in SDSG and across Eastern Ontario. 
Without the right training, the right support and the right connections, duplication, gaps and overlaps develop.  Questions that should be asked, aren't; resources that should be tapped get ignored.  Systematic inefficiency and failure can result.
To me, what matters most is for the amazing people of Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry to have the tools and support they need to reach their full potential.  The Hudak Tories seem to be about throwing people into the deep end; I fully believe their stated approach of cutting supports, reducing communication and coordination would be deeply harmful to Eastern Ontario.  The NDP has yet to put forward any kind of sustainable plan that would benefit SDSG. 
That leaves the Liberals, who have had many successes over the years.  The Liberal Party has stuck by the mantra of "move forward together" - an implication that success means leaving nobody behind.  That means engaging with all your partners, empowering them to support the process. 
There's no way to know what happened and didn't happen with the planning of this event - I can think of countless variables.  What came before, though, matters only in how it informs what comes next.
I still believe that open communication, proactive collaboration and respect are the right way forward - the only way forward.  Hopefully, that's what we'll continue to see.