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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 16 November 2013

LET'S KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING – A Plan for Tomorrow's Government Services

I wrote this conceptual piece on how to enhance government services a bit over a year ago - man, things are moving fast, aren't they?


1 - Cognitive Labour/Mental Health

-       Focuses on Human Resource supports, cognitive workspace design and supporting/enhancing outputs of cognitive labour resources, mitigating negative mental health stressors

2 - Innovation/ Information Economy

-       Builds on cognitive labour/ mental health piece by focusing on go-forward side of cognitive labour: building new markets and generating innovation. 
-          Seeks to connect individuals, companies and sectors in new ways to gestate collaboration and innovation; create new partnerships, new fields and new opportunities. 
-          ThinkFair one example of a project that could be implemented and tested for its efficacy; would include “policy generating game” as innovative way to facilitate collaborative innovation

3 - Online Service Aggregates
US Government has already released a roadmap for Digital Government.  Canada / Ontario needs to catch up to this trend through the creation of Online Shared Services Networks that aggregate services, collate data, allow for user interface and personal ownership of data while presenting material in a map-based interface with Apple-like clarity of presentation.

Guardly an example of an existing piece that could be expanded to test this model on a smaller scale.

4 - Service Restructuring

One of the core themes of the Drummond Report was about big structural changes, aggregations and reducing the silo-effect that's leading to duplication, gaps and overlaps in our services.  There has been early discussions around structuring government differently; hiring, managing, funding, etc.  Whether there's the appetite or will to enact systematic change is yet to be seen, but people know it has to happen sooner or later.

 5 – Justice Reform

Applying what we know of Social-Emotional and resortative justice tools to rehabilitate offenders; look at the education side to provide these tools earlier in life, allowing for better choices at the individual level; empowering justice officials through the implementation of other Parts of the strategy

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Friday 15 November 2013

What the Conscious Society Looks Like

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?  How do you put into words the emerging reality that Don Tapscott calls Networked Intelligence and that I like to refer to as The Conscious Society?

You don't.  You don't have to.  Limiting communication to one medium is like insisting your movies be black-and-white and mute.  We want added value.

Corporations are beginning to practice Conscious Capitalism.  

Political Parties have lost sight of their "why", started focusing on what they stand against more than what they stand for and are suffering for it.  Governments, however, are moving in the opposite direction with open data, open government and social media/App tools that will allow people to connect to services in ways much like the video linked to at the end.

Technology and especially social media is becoming a neural network connecting people and ideas from around the world, birthing something observably greater than the sum of its parts.  A great example of what this looks like in practice is Ushahidi.

People, especially youth, are looking for more than just money - they want meaning.  We're defining our lives on what we accomplish, not on what we win.

It mattered none at all to me that the actors were of a different ethnicity, speaking a language I didn't understand - I'm fine with subtitles and besides, the message is universal.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.

But enough from me - all these trends will become clear to all, in time.

Just watch this, and feel inspired.  I guarantee you're gonna want to share it.

The Fog of Politics: Winning is Not a Virtue

Coyne is wrong (but in the most elegant prose possible).  Harshly divisive messaging is not the sole purview of the the Political Right in Canada.  It's practised by all Parties, in fact.  Whereas theoretically, there was a time where policy was the driving force behind any Party's aspirations, that hasn't been the case for as long as I've been engaged in politics.  

Instead, policy is merely one tool in the box - and not always the most effective one.  There's more risk of losing when you emphasize what you stand for; it's much safer to focus on tearing down your opponents, demoralizing their base and tying any and every scandal out there to the other guys, while simultaneously presenting as low (and opaque) a profile as possible to avoid return fire.  Voters are viewed as blocks that can be sold niche policy planks; you don't need to please everyone all the time, you just have to individually please enough "coalitions" to win power.  In this scenario it's numbers that come first, policy that comes second and belief possibly, but not inevitably, coming after.

That's pretty cynical, isn't it?  Democratic Politics is about presenting platforms, debating ideas and ensuring that the people has a government that generally represent the interests of the majority, after all - it's not like it's war.

     (from The War Room by Warren Kinsella)

The Democrats, led by James Carville - not by Bill Clinton.

Maybe that's splitting hairs.  Carville led the War Room, obviously - not the Party.  Right?

It's a tail wagging the dog thing.  When you take a look at any of the many scandals that have plagued Canadian politics of late - everything from the Senate Scandal to the 2012 byelection in Waterloo to the BC "ethnic outreach" - there's a common theme that emerges.  

These scandals weren't accidentally stumbled upon by naive or opportunistic politicians; they were carefully planned strategic plays designed by back-room operators with no elected skin in the game

More often than you'd think, even political leaders have become shadow puppets for behind-the-scenes strategists who are at least as interested in scoring wins and the militant pleasure of beating opponents as they are supporting individuals or ideologies that they believe in.  

Politicians will work hard to secure the best organizational, strategic, communications, new media and War Room talent they can for they know those people (and the money that pays for them and their work) are the ones who win elections.  The strongest leader with the most powerful vision would be lost without a solid team to raise them above the data smog that blankets modern society.

These partisan hawks have become the George Pattons of modern politics - itching for a fight and relishing combat. 

The business of governing that takes up time between battles provide opportunities to make money consulting, but what they live for are elections.  Remember the last time partisan campaigns took a back burner to the proper functioning of Parliament?  No?  You see what I've getting at.

Three pieces of advice I have received from back-room masters from across the political divide frame the reality nicely:

1) Our job was to disrupt the House.  If I could have thrown a crate of monkey into the Legislature, that would have been a win.  We want to stop them from accomplishing anything, so that when the election comes, they've got no wins to run on.

2) People don't care about politics, about Parliament, or about politicians.  They care about what matters to them individually, not collectively.  If you're not focused on the individual wins for them, you're wasting your time.

3) You don't have to know what you're talking about - you just need to sound confident.  You get challenged, you keep your message simple, your voice strong and ride it out, like a game of chicken.

These are the games being played right now in Toronto by backroom operators either supporting future Mayoralty candidates or trying to create candidates to serve as their entry fee.  

These are the same shenanigans that landed us with Rob Ford in the first place.  When John Tory decided not to toss his hat in the ring, organizers on the Political Right needed some horse to back.  Ford provided that horsepower.

Albert Einstein said that "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  I'm inclined to agree, as are many.

Despite all the rhetoric about values, we have a political culture that considers winning the ultimate virtue.

Heather Mallick and the Social Butterfly Effect

  1. 1.
    feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.
    "they had great sympathy for the flood victims"

Intentionally or no, Heather Mallick has cracked the lid on a much bigger problem than just Rob Ford.

We are constantly hearing how the Political Right decries the Political Left as bleeding hearts, suckers to the manipulations of lazy thugs or welfare recipients unwilling to act in their own self-interest.  This is the same Political Right that will ignore the blatantly detrimental and selfish behaviour of one of their own, so long as it doesn't impact them negatively.

Then there's the Political Left, calling the Right heartless and unsympathetic, demanding that policy makers take off their blinders and look at the social, cultural, economic and health (mental and otherwise) context that leads to bad behaviour among marginalized people.  These are the folk that have zero sympathy for the 1% who have access to whatever they want.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees the cognitive dissonance in both these positions.

If Rob Ford is a bad man, then there are bad men - every thug, murderer, drug-dealer or homeless person are victims of themselves alone and need to sort themselves out, or failing that be removed from society to protect the rest of us.

If, however, context matters - if Economic Opportunity, Social Development, Participation in Decision Making, Healthy Lives and Physical Surroundings play a role in shaping the end product that is the individual, then that fact would apply equally to a Rob Ford or a Sandro Lisi as it would to a Sammy Yatim or Ashley Smith.

  1. 1.
    the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

We in the west have a rather unusual, egocentric way of looking at the world; we start with ourselves and then spiral outwards to what impacts us.  We are islands, either completely self-contained and strong or buffeted by seas of troubles eroding the stability of our shores.

This is a delusional conceit to have, but also a dangerous one.

Every day, employers snap at under-performing employees, wondering why they can't just follow the unclear and constantly changing directions they are receiving.  Employees focus on doing what they think will keep the boss off their backs instead of looking for ways to add value to the brand.

Every day, traffic gets snagged up because someone felt compelled to race a light and didn't quite make it, or is crossing the street against the light, too buried in their smartphone to look around.

And every day, people are abused both verbally and physically by others who have insufficient impulse control or even a notion that they should be thinking before they speak.

"I don't understand how they can be so insensitive/weak/dumb/entitled", we'll say.  "Life would be so much easier if they would just go away."

Rob Ford isn't going away; as much as people are continuing to look for ways to cut out the cancer, they're also developing ways to live with it.  Rob Ford, a man suffering with addiction problems, emotional health issues and a wide range of other concerns has become a chronic illness Toronto must learn to manage.  He is repugnant, abusive, toxic - but he's our problem.

This is a step in the right direction - instead of abandoning the people with lead poisoning, we're looking to cure it.  This is still a band-aid solution, though; the next step is to take a hard look at where the poison is coming from and take the lead out of the water entirely. 

I'm not big on sympathy.  It's important to feel the emotional resonance of someone's circumstances, but doing so has to have a point.  This is why I prefer the term empathy, which is about understanding the context, content and consequence of someone's situation so that you can determine causal factors and consider potential solutions.

Behaviour is the result of internal (neurochemical) and external (environmental) factors.  As people watch videos of our Mayor's behaviour, trying to figure out what substance he's on at any given moment, they should also consider what those substances do to his cognitive function.  Anger, hopelessness, functional fixedness and even empathy are chemical reactions that can be understood and managed, if we put in the effort.  Part of that process involves adjusting environments to nurture the kind of cognitive functioning we desire - for instance, innovation and productivity in the workplace.

Rob Ford isn't the embodiment of Toronto's problem; instead, he's a symptom of a much bigger social concern.  It is no coincidence that some of the top issues being discussed in various circles right now are mental health, governance reform, human resources management, systems integration, equity and flow.  

If you break each issue down to its core components, you find that the process by which choices are made (or not made) is at the root of all of them.  That's why I put mental health first - because how we think is a product of how our mind works and what influences it.  If we fail to understand that, we will keep solving the wrong problems and wondering why we aren't getting the results we want.

There's a perfect alignment right now to catalyze the structural change everyone says they want - but it won't happen unless we find it in ourselves to break down the barriers of our own cognitive biases and start looking at each other as partners in the same social enterprise, rather than resource/status competitors.

For this, in part, we have to thank Rob Ford.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Cognitive Labour Discussed at Toronto Council

Y'know, Councilor Milczyn, I think you've hit on something here.
Politics, on the whole, does a terrible job at HR, which is kinda sad - if anyone should have their cognitive labour working at maximum potential, it's the policy makers.
They can do better.  As I've been saying for years, the time's coming when they won't have a choice not to.
I think it's always better to be proactive and benefit rather than be reactive and hope to mitigate damage already done, but what do I know?  I'm not the boss.


From God's Lips to Your Ears

"We couldn't just wait for help," Joyma said.

Laissez-faire capitalism isn't a strategy.  Leaving the fate of the people to "market forces" is about as rational as relying on natural selection as a long-term plan to combat disease, poverty and crime.

Toronto is facing a crisis due to a Mayor who is incapable of performing his duties yet unwilling to step down.  Rob Ford's legacy will be black mark on the city he unquestionably loves, in his own way.  Unable to get that "higher power" to do what is right, people are turning to the Province of Ontario as the next tier of power to step in and do something.

Somewhere out there, people are either praying to the highest power to look after the people (or their people, depending) or to hurry up with the whole Judgement Day thing so that the world can be cleansed and put to right.

In Canada, we have a polarized political war between the Political Right, which is providing increasingly blind support to leaders who quash dissent and hoard power and information (all in the name of individual freedoms) and the Political Left, casting stones at public institutions while demanding that those institutions do more to provide for society's have nots.

Where there is call for action, it comes in the form of reaction - standing against, tearing down, kicking the bums out.  What comes next is apparently someone else's problem (as Egypt can attest to). 

Allowing our structural problems to get so tangled and rotten that a cleansing brushfire is inevitable is unconscionable.  Burning the platform down ourselves is irrational.  Yet these are the two paths we are following.

We don't know where we're going.  We don't know who's leading.  We're lost.

When Gandhi said "be the change you wish to see in the world," that's what he meant.  The higher power we seek divine intervention from isn't out there, nor will it magically appear down the road.  It doesn't need to.  Each one of us is part of that greater whole, a system that can accomplish miracles when it pulls together - we just can't see it.

None of us is stronger than all of us.  We need only become conscious of this.

But you don't need to take it from me.

Mark Towhey: Courage Under Fire

It doesn't matter who's boss - in times of crisis (and politics is often perpetual crisis, though rarely to the massive, self-inflicted degree we've seen with Rob Ford) people will look to the person who remains focused, professional, gives good direction and never loses sight of team morale.  Whatever their title or position, that person becomes the de facto leader.

By every account I've read (and, notably, none from Towhey himself), Ford's former Chief of Staff was that kind of leader.

I don't know the guy - I imagine we would disagree on all kinds of policy matters.  Based on what's come to light so far, though, he is someone I respect and would have confidence in to competently lead a team towards completion of mission.

That's more than I would say for many.

Let's show the world what #TorontoIs:

For some reason, Toronto seems to be making headlines these days.  While this new infamy isn't all it's cracked up to be, we do have people's attention - the question is, what are we going to do with it?

Within every challenge lies an opportunity.  Toronto the Good has a brand challenge right now, but that's only because the rest of the world doesn't know what else we have to offer.

I say we change that.

Starting today, I will be periodically tweeting messages to the international media outlets, comedy shows and everyone else using the hashtag #TorontoIs:

Some examples:

Dear @thedailyshow - #TorontoIs: entrepreneurship. Check out @marsinnovation + @csiTO, where the magic happens #topoli

Dear @CNN - #TorontoIs: The Arts. Come for the show, stay for @agotoronto, @ROMToronto, @gardinermuseum #topoli

Dear @WSJ - #TorontoIs: Community. See engagement done right with @WellbeingTO, @HealthyTO2013, @ongov #topoli #cdnpoli

Dear @ColbertReport - #TorontoIs Hollywood North - we double for anywhere @TIFF_NET #topoli

You're welcome to do the same, or come up with other fun, clever ways to highlight for the world what Toronto really is - one of the most diverse, vibrant and cool places to visit, do business in and to live.  There's Twitter, there's Facebook, there's your blog or Instagram page.  Be creative, be sincere and above all, be vocal.

Remember, this is our city - nobody can sell it better than all of us.  While the world's paying attention, let's show 'em what we're really about.

UPDATE:  So it looks like I was beaten to the punch by a couple of Toronto Art Directors who came up with a #MoreThanFord campaign, complete with a terrific video

I have a couple concerns about their approach, though

1) It immediately ties whatever positive messages conveyed with our troubled Mayor, keeping at least some focus on the cloud along with the silver lining.

2) Rob Ford is a sick man with some serious problems who have inflicted a lot of harm on others in his self-destructive descent.  At the same time, he is as much a symptom as the illness; how many other people suffering from addiction, mental illness and wilting in conditions that are not conducive to their health are out there?

If we dehumanize Rob Ford, turning him into the demon in our social bottle, what message does it send to those who desperately need social outreach - and who we risk much by not reaching out to?

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Rob Ford's Staff

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There's not much surprising left in Rob Ford's story; unless he's directly tied to a murder or dies himself, people have more or less accepted the Mayor for what he is - a sick man in an environment that is entirely unhealthy for him.  Any other offense that emerges is just more of the same.
Which may be why the Toronto Star appears to be looking for fresh material by focusing on Ford's staff.
There are a lot of egregious misdeeds that Ford's staff covered up (or didn't proactively report to other authorities).  Staff appear to have, on some occasions, put themselves at personal risk on the Mayor's behalf, too.  There are also a lot of "other duties as necessary chores like household chores that are not only beyond the scope of their job description, but entirely inappropriate for an elected official to ask of a paid employee.
The question is - why?  Why would young staff do things they should know were unethical and should instinctively had avoided?
The answer is an issue I've been trying to raise for quite some time now about the toxicity of general political culture.
A lot of political staff are young - sometimes, fresh out of school or in the case of many Ford staffers, connected to him through school.  It's not unusual for newbie staff to have no work experience beyond politics  In short, there first real-world exposure to work and work practices is through political offices, where they might very well stay for the majority of their careers.
There are no clear job descriptions for political staff, nor are there protocols.  Particularly at the partisan, level, staff never have a clear sense of who they are ultimately responsible to - Parliament, the Party or the Elected Official?  As the internal culture is all about enabling the boss so that they can keep winning elections, it's almost sanctioned for staff to cover up on behalf of the boss (see Senate Scandal). 
Staff know where their bread is buttered; knowing full well that their Member is accountable to no one expect occasionally their Party and it's in the Party's electoral interest to keep any bad behaviour under wraps, is it irrational to expect them to do what it takes to keep their jobs and the networking, free booze and brand-opportunities that come with it?  So what if that means sorting out a parking ticket on the boss' behalf - after all, that's simply the way the game gets played.
Who do staff look to for examples of what is and isn't acceptable work culture?  Other staff.  Who did those staff learn from?  Exactly.  As there are no enforced internal accountability mechanisms, no training programs, no Human Resource departments and enough swag to offset the occasional abuse they take, staff develop a political trench mentality that accepts as normal all kinds of behaviours that are theoretically unacceptable in civil society.
The same, by the way, holds true for politicians.  Their job is to win, and so long as they do that and their Party does well, everything else is secondary - including their training or skills/personality appropriateness for the job.
We can go on focusing on blame, suggesting that it's up to these staffers to intuitively buck the system and act in a transparent, ethical fashion.  Truth is, those that do tend to face consequences.  Human beings are creatures of culture and in a toxic culture, one expects to work with poison.  There is no better example of presenteeism than in political offices, which goes a long way to explaining our overall democratic deficit.
There are some politicians who are excellent employers.  There are excellent politicians that make for poor employers.  As always, most people fall somewhere in the middle.  Rob Ford seems to inhabit both poles at once - he puts his staff in uncomfortable positions, but also gives them game tickets.  The two behaviours are not unconnected.
I don't have much time for blame, because it's ineffective; I'm a problem-solver, not a finger-pointer.  The whole Rob Ford saga is a canary in the coal mine, putting in relief some of the structural issues that allowed for this sad state of affairs to be realized at all.  We won't solve the problem by replacing the people; it's the culture and supportive structure that needs to change.
There are better ways to train, support and empower political staff to be part of the solution rather than enablers of the problem.  Thing is, such change takes leaders willing to break the mold and heal a fractured, if self-serving, system.
Should any leader muster such courage, the results would most definitely be news worthy.

Whoever said we were rational?

The Man to Watch in the Game of Chains

Gotta feel bad for Doug Ford - the big brother, forced to watch as his sibling is sacrificed on the alter of gravy-reduction.  If and when Ford the Younger goes down, one imagines Ford Nation will be mad as hell and spoiling for revenge.

Won't they be lucky to have the aggrieved, ambitious Doug to rally behind?

  1. Is it just me, or does the bobblehead look more like Doug Ford?

Conscious Society: The Politics of Behaviour

Here's what Albert Einstein would say to the Prime Minister: "We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

It is, tragically, not a lesson a functionally fixed man is capable of learning.  Functional fixedness is not an individual problem, though - society as a whole is chafing against a model that has outlived its viability.

The way forward requires new tools, used in new ways.  Fortunately, there's hope for us yet:

Know thyself, in other words.  For society to be truly healthy, it must live consciously.

Political Seppuku Noble Sacrifice and Exemplary Leadership

PS - Don't click on the link above if you're the squeamish type.

If you're involved in politics, though, odds are you aren't so squeamish.  It's not a business for the faint of heart.

So, what do people get into politics for?  Yes, there are those who see it as a cushy gig with lots of perks, just as there are those who see it as a stepping stone to a higher-paid career consulting somewhere down the road.  And absolutely, there are those who enter politics because they have egos bigger than their constituencies and are only really interested in power, whatever that means.

But there are those who get into politics for the right reasons - because they believe in a cause or they're angry at the direction a government is taking.  Stephen Harper and Rob Ford are two examples; we'll get to them later.

Some idealistic political ingenues enter the field convinced they have the moxie to change the system from within, that their principles are so rock-solid that they will never, ever fall victim to the cynicism of politics-as-usual.

Those that hold to this course don't last long - case in point, Stéphane Dion.  Dion's greatest sin was that he was not a ruthless, step-on-their-throats political operative.  He thought policy-wise, not tactically. As a partisan, Dion was weak - and we all know what happens to the weak in a survival-of-the-fittest game.

Those who survive and thrive in our political culture do so by learning to play the game, which is essentially do anything you think you can get away with to win/kneecap your enemies and if you get caught, deny, deflect or bait and switch as long as you can and hopefully all will be forgotten.

This is where we come back to Harper and Ford.  

Harper is a policy wonk - he basically had to have his arm twisted to run, but when he did, it became his divine crusade to remake Canada in his own image.  In his mind, his cause is just; as a man of functionally fixed faith, his belief in his righteousness has never wavered.  His ethics, however, have flipped and flopped across the political landscape like a fish out of water.

Remember when Harper declared that "moral relativism simply cannot be sustained as a guiding philosophy?"  That was back when he thought that transparency was vital to democracy and that leaders should be held accountable but even more than that, should feel accountable for their choices and the actions of their team.

Since then, Harper has become the moral nihilist he once derided.  His talking points are consistent, his bluster remains the same, but Harper has become the embodiment of everything he once stood against.  He has broken his promise on accountability and transparency, stifled the flow of information that's vital to an engaged, dynamic democracy and worse, he has either tacitly approved or willfully ignored the creep of entitlement and corruption into his own office. 

All of this, I have no doubt, he has done in good conscience, because he feels righteous and knows in his Machiavellian heart that it's his occupancy of 24 Sussex that allows for his crusade to press on. What need for consultations with Provincial counterparts?  Don't they realize he's Prime Minister?

There are consequences to Harper's my-way-or-the-highway approach.  While the rest of the world is recognizing the need to invest in massive service integration and restructuring processes if they are to have any hope at stabilizing their economy, supporting their populations and building pathways to future success, Harper is contemplating a scorched earth policy that will devastate Canada's opportunity to adapt - all because it will kneecap his opponents.  

There are precedents out there for what happens when leaders righteously convince themselves that their grip on power is in the best interests of the people they are meant to serve, not dictate to.  For a recent example, look at Syria.  For the most egregious example, look to North Korea.

Then, there's Rob Ford.  With all the emphasis these days on Ford's Follies - crack-smoking, binge-drinking, murder-threatening, bobble-head signing and so forth. people have lost sight of the man's basic profile.  Rob Ford is the guy who poked his nose into other constituencies because, dammit, someone had to get things done.  Ford is the guy who offered to score Oxycontin for a man who said he needed it.  Ford is the guy who loved to coach football and felt that, dammit, those kids needed him - without him, they were doomed to burn in the fires of their own inadequacies.

How devastated was he to lose his position as coach of the Don Bosco Eagles?  What did that do to the self-image he has created for himself; isn't  he supposed to be this great... crusader?  He has been lambasted, ridiculed the world over and been forced, even if in small measure, to admit that the cloak he has wrapped himself in is an illusion.  He has far more to lose now than he ever has before - as do the people who have taken him as their champion, come hell or high water.

Those people - this Ford Nation - aren't disappearing, despite what some pundits are suggesting.  They aren't abandoning their man as his faults are seized upon and exploited; rather, they are increasingly demonizing their opponents, dehumanizing them in the same way they feel the leftist, urban elite cyclists and thug-huggers are vilifying their man.

Intransigent, power-addicted leaders have this habit of polarizing the people into for and against camps.  At the same time, the people who convince themselves that their leaders are the embodiment of perfection and idealize them as superheroes feed the descent from participatory democracy to fractured society.  Add Greece's Golden Dawn and Hungary's Jobbik Party to the list.

This is where the ancient Japanese custom of Seppuku comes in.  On the surface, Seppuku is simply a painful form of suicide; one who commits Seppuku jabs a sword into their own bowels and slices open their own belly, leading to a slow, agonizing death.  Beyond this, though, Seppuku was reflective of Bushido, the Samurai code of ethics.   

Seppuku and Bushido are not an easy concept for us Westerners to understand, as it involves three concepts that we seem to have done away with - shame, honour and sacrifice.  The Hagakure, the defining text for Bushido, gives us insight around the concept:

Living without blame doesn't mean acting inappropriately and then denying/deflecting blame - it means not doing things that are inappropriate in the first place.

Rob Ford's heart is not set right - if it were, he'd probably have less substance abuse problems, but he would also not be Mayor.  

I'm sure Stephen Harper thinks his heart is set right; he might even pray every morning and evening. 

The fact that so many of his hand-picked people have failed in their civic duties and he still feels entitled to be Prime Minister is all the evidence we need to see that Harper has lost his way.  

Does it come as any surprise that the teams around both men are willing to bypass the rules, act unethically and when their shame comes to light, defiantly defend their actions or seek to minimize the damage to themselves?  After all, that's exactly what Ford and Harper are doing.  

Today's political staff have, by and large, hitched their wagons to the horse they think most likely to win - it's the spin-off benefits of being wingmen to the winningest leader that motivates them, just as winning is what motivates their leader.  The rational pursuit of self-interest has led to political protectionism and the decline of Canadian democracy.

Just imagine if we had, any at level, leaders that understood and practiced a modern-day variant of Bushido.  By acting as if they, as individuals, were already dead, their primary objective would be obsolescence - creating teams and plans that would persevere long after they were gone.  

By making it clear to their teams that the buck really did stop at the top, these leaders would make it clear they are prepared to sacrifice themselves should any individual under their command behave improperly.  Of course, such a leader would be able to demand right action from their people because that would be the example they set, every day.

This does not mean that every mistake is punishable by death; people are not perfect and failure is a natural part of the learning cycle.  It does mean a commitment on the part of all participants to ensure learning and correction, rather than denial or protectionism, happen.  It's when failure is swept under the carpet in the name of self-preservation that organizations from the top to the bottom, go astray.

Fortunately, we're a bit more sophisticated than feudal Japan.  Words are our weapons of choice; the majority of our wars are fought through the media; assassinations have been replaced with character assassination.  In the modern context, honourable death on the field of battle or through Seppuku has been replaced with career suicide.  

Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden consciously sacrifice their reputations and careers in respect of principles they hold to be more precious than themselves.  Politicians who sacrifice their own political careers and ambitions for the good of what they believe in do the same; two examples that come to mind are David Caplan and Chris Bentley.

The Rob Ford staffers that have resigned to get themselves as far away from a slowly unfolding train wreck are not acting out of a code of ethics - they're acting from a sense of self-preservation, following the example of their boss.  By speaking truth to power, regardless of the personal consequences, Mark Towhey was the one who put the cause before everything else, including the boss, including himself.

But, you may tell me, to practice Political Bushido is to commit political hari kiri; if every honourable person were to sacrifice themselves for their principles, why, there would only be unhonourable people left - surely, we don't want that?  Absolutely true - but tell me, how's our political culture working out right now?

At the leadership level, sacrifice isn't about personally defeating an opponent, it's about changing the expectations of the people.  Look at any movement in history - it takes martyrs to catalyze the public's willingness to act.

Politics isn't a business for the squeamish, nor is it a venue for self-denying optimism.  What politics is supposed to be, however, is a noble profession.  It can be again - it has to be, again.  What we are missing now are leaders so committed to what they believe in that they are prepared to fall on their own swords in defense of their principals.

When that day comes, we will finally have leadership again.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Government Services: Systems, not Silos

Nor cost-effective.  Duplication, gaps and overlaps are easy to miss when you don't have a service map - but we tend not to think in maps.  We demand simple, straight-forward bullets and picture-perfect clarity of message.

There's a lot of amazing work being done by governments around the world on social/human service integration. but the information I've seen to date is still being presented in old-school formats; boxy flow charts or spectrums.

Thinking about this led me to recall a couple of infographics I did a couple of years ago, first on a scrap of paper while sitting in a food court, then later on a computer with my amateur skills - the system today (silos) and the system tomorrow (an actual system).  

My entry-point into this world of service design was mental health, particularly socio-cultural impacts on individual states of mental fitness and the actual process that lead us to make (or not make) the choices we do.  Both trains have since come to the station; now everyone is getting on board.

That was two years ago.  We've all come a long way since then, and the journey's just beginning.

My Phone Will Start Ringing Any Minute Now!

Two narratives I'm contemplating today as I dive further into defining what a truly networked society would look like, how it would work and why partners from across multiple spectrums will work together to catalyze it.
The public service Integration Imperative:
The evolving nature of PR:
The real challenge for PR is that it's a sales business; a focus on marketing existing value over creating new content is hard-wired into the industry.
The biggest challenge of government is that service delivery models are silo-focused; everyone knows they need to integrate, but A) don't know quite what that looks like and B) see integration as a threat to their turf.
How on earth do we bridge the gap between what we're comfortable doing and where we need to be going?
Sorry, phone's ringing, gotta sign off.  You know where to find me when you're ready to have a conversation!