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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 7 December 2013

Naked Politics and a Shift In Strategy

And, of course, it's the role of the team to support their leader, full stop.  The role of the leader is to demonstrate they have the Confidence of the House, meaning the Leader's Party has the full confidence of the nation.

But it isn't backbench nobodies with their own mandates who shape the Leader's positions.

That'd be too risky, as the lower-tier Members have pet projects and off-topic issues they want addressed (also known as constituency concerns).  It's best the pros handle the logistical work, with Members being treated much like front-line campaign volunteers.

Keeping backbench nobodies from saying anything off-key, saying the right things in committee and filling seats when necessary is the jobs of the Whip, Senior PMO staff, so on and so forth.  They may trot out a regional member for local flavour at an even or announcement, but that's about it.  The key powers that enforce the autocratic leader's position are unelected, unaccountable to the public and they have no obligation to make themselves known.  They are the sausage makers in the backrooms.

So what happens to the nobodies, then?

Would it be at all surprising that, if leadership is an all-powerful position, people of ambition might want to overthrow the king and take the iron crown for themselves?  You have no power unless you're the boss and the current boss doesn't listen.  If the Party's doing well, then what better time is there to take the crown and preside over the existing realm?

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Chretien/Martin wars were a product of the leader-at-the-top format, as could be any tiffs that break out between James Moore, Jason Kenney and poor Stephen Harper.

It's feudal politics, it undermines and obfuscates the will of the people and diminishes our democracy.

Leaders don't listen, they dictate.

Members don't share, they message.

Constituents don't participate, they rally against.

So yes, Chong's Bill essentially wants to denude Party Leaders of their ability to be "leaders" - but in truth, how many of these "leaders" are actually bosses?  Where do their teams end, and Canadians begin?

Smart organizations are moving away from autocratic leaders and strict control of team members; they recognize that cognitive labour is motivated differently and that true leadership isn't about turning around to keep your pack in line, but charting a course forward and inspiring maximum participation from your team.

It's time for our elected representatives to stop being nobodies.  They aren't nobodies, they're our elected representatives in Parliament.  It's time we see an increase of power spread down the democratic pyramid, not increasingly consolidate at the top.

I have no reason to believe that Chong's approach is a direct attack at Harper.  In fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction - this is an attempt at structural change, which is critical for our institutions to survive.

Besides - it might be that the PM has already denuded himself.

Friday 6 December 2013

You Can Only Fall: Rob Ford and Chlöe Howl

There's been this silly notion floating around to varying degrees of prominence over the past half-century or so (and of course, even worse before then) that rights and freedom imply a lack of responsibility.  

Government is The Man, the villain, oppressive of individual rights with its rules and regulations.  The 1% are oppressors with their stingy control of resources and unwillingness to let people be.  Of course, the reverse is true, too - it's those damned voters not turning out who are mucking with democracy, it's those welfare bums who refuse to get out and work for themselves that are killing the economy.

Someone else is to blame for our woes and if they'd just piss off, all would be well.  Well, if everyone did piss off, we'd be on our own, wouldn't we?  But we're not - we live in a dense, increasingly urban environment where inactions have as many consequences as actions; laissez-faire isn't an option, because choosing not to choose still impacts results.  

Besides, those people you want to piss off provide something of value to you - those bumpkins rural folk produce food; those urban elitists stimulate the economy and permit for things like risk management programs.  The inter-dependencies are alarming, or encouraging - either way they're there.

So, what happens when we opt not to care for the people we don't like/challenge us and refuse to accept anything resembling responsibility for our own choices?

The culmination of this "it's someone else's fault, piss on them" attitude is a familiar picture, actually.  You've got Golden Dawn in Greece, supported by people who have abdicated responsibility in favour of blame and hatred.  You've got extreme tyrants and potential war-criminals like Bashar al-Assad at the worst end of the spectrum, but in less egregious cases you have mirco-managers like Stephen Harper who abjectly refuse, even to themselves, to accept the accountability that comes with their roles.

More famously, we have Toronto's "I made mistakes, I can't but move on, I'm only human" crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford.  Who cares if he consorted with people who have committed crimes, if he has put the lives of innocents at risk through driving drunk, who has exposed himself to extortion and possibly threatened to use City resources for private vendettas?  So long as my taxes are low, what's it got to me?  

Of course we've had variants on the theme for ages now - I'm entitled, you're to blame, that's the whole story.  When no one is accountable for the common good, though, we know what happens - tragedy ensues.  

The angrier people are, the more likely they are to vote for hateful people that appeal to their baser instincts.  It's a vicious spiral that we've witnessed before.  It doesn't end until a lot of people have lost their heads.

How many of the world's problems are related to neo-colonial, objectivist, short-sighted approaches to engagement with others?  How many of the world's great conflicts have been fueled on the kindling of self-interest?  World War II was catalyzed by Hitler, but the only reason Hitler found an audience was because Germany had been so disadvantged by the winners post-World War I.  It could have been avoided.

War Room politics may polarize constituencies and generate ink (er... 0s and 1s?) but it also disillusions voters and fuels revolutionary sentiment.  Put simply - War Room politics is one step on the road towards war.

The all rights, no responsibility approach is a dismal flop.  Not having agency, not feeling accountable for something sucks rocks.  It's decidedly unpleasant blaming everyone else for blaming you for not doing something.   Leaders who refuse to lead are a farce.  It may have been endearing once and funny for a while, but we've seen this movie too many times - nobody's bothering to digitize it.

And so the pendulum starts to swing again.  The tip of the Roger's Curve is all about accountability, responsibility and long-term, pro-social planning.  Whatever their demographic, wherever they come from, the sorts of folk that embody this new mentality simply don't have time for self-serving, delusional bullshit.  They want metrics, they want clarity and above all they want to be part of change.

We'll see what kind of staying power Chlöe Howl has, but she may just be this accountability shift's answer to Johnny Rotten, giving a finger to the prevailing elites not by excusing herself from the system but opting to pick up the torch and run with it.

It's early days yet, and we still have the vast majority of society landing on the burning the platform, not tending the garden side of the equation.  Whether it's this crop of young leaders or the next, though, you can count on this - there will come a point in the near future when our children realize how far previous generations have fallen and pulled society down with them - and will decide it's up to them to pull us collectively back up.

Greatest Generations are a bit like Christmas trees, that way - you don't get them often, but they always seem to be better than the last.

UPDATE 18/12/13: When you look at the data, every time you sincerely try to help someone else without strings attached, you enhance the probability that somebody else at some point is going to do something for you. 

Why I'm Not Sad at Mandela's Passing

I perhaps have a different relationship with death; I don't fear it as other people do.  I have come to recognize death for what it is - not so much an undiscovered country as the road to awe.  We tend to focus on death as an ending, but really, there's something to all this circle of life, ashes to ashes business.  

What we are is recycled material, old words put together in new sentences in a story that is continuously being written.  It's as true of biology (what genes we pass on to our children; how our raw material gets recycled into the earth, a tree, a seed and eventually, another animal) as it is of culture (the ideas we pass on, the legacies we leave behind).

Nelson Mandela was a world-changer as much by what he did as by how he lived.  In a time where we have a growing crop of selfish, bitter leaders who put their own interests before those of their people - who have lost their way - Mandela was different.  

Everyone talks about his humility, his lack of vindictiveness when he had every right in the world to hate - and how by his very being, he served as an inspiration, a superhero of a leader in our midst.

What Mandela has done - the words he shared, the deeds he has accomplished and the model he set for others - will never be undone.  That he himself has passed is not sad; death is a journey we all must take and Mandela lived a good long life of accomplishment that anyone of us could only aspire to.

But he is gone now - we no longer have any one in our midst to look to as that leader, that role model.

Those who hold the reigns of power no longer have a better leader than themselves to adulate, and in so doing abdicate their own responsibility to lead.

A giant has left the earth but what he stood for, what we all admired about him still remains.  It has to be thus.

Like any agent of change, it is the role of the Master to show us what is possible, but the day inevitably comes when they must pass on and it falls to others to pick up their torch.  This is how great leaders inspire movements.

Nelson Mandela the man is dead - he has, as the euphemism goes, passed on.  But to pass on implies someone else is picking up.  

In this way, Mandela has not left us, nor will he leave us - he has extended a gift, the light of his vision for humanity, to the rest of us.

It's a daunting prospect, this - stretching out our hand, taking the weight of responsibility, trying to aspire to be more than perhaps we are.  We are only human, after all - Mandela seemed to be so much more.  We're afraid to rise up to that level; we're afraid we might fall.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

  - Nelson Mandela

Fear is what divides us but when we overcome it, we find something else we've been missing - hope.

Let's keep the fire burning.

Wednesday 4 December 2013


His name was Lorenzo. 

I met him just now, on the way to the subway after, ironcially, a meeting about human resources and mental health. Lorenzo started talking to me out of the blue as I stood waiting for the light. Half to himself, he said "it'll be okay" and "man, life doesn't come with a blueprint." Lorenzo walked alone, carrying two plastic grocery bags containing his just-purchased dinner of meat, bread and wine. 

I could have said "dude's crazy" and ignored him, like many others did. But he wasn't threatening, just uncomfortably social. At the end of the day, Lorenzo was a human being, just like me. And he clearly needed someone to talk to. 

So I listened. I engaged. I did my best to treat him as a human being. Through doing so, I realized that he wasn't saying "it'll be okay" because that's what he felt, but because he needed someone to help him believe that it really would be okay. They weren't at the moment. 

I got a hug from Lorenzo - he even called me brother. It turned out he was going to the subway too, so I had a chance to listen more. 

Lorenzo was an emotional man; an Italian-Canadian in his mid-thirties, the kind of fella that leads with his heart. He struck me as blinders-on dedicated, likely to take the frequent harshness of life personally and the ills that come his way as a reflection of himself as a person. 

Poor Lorenzo had been cheated on. He'd lost his job, largely due to a functional fixedness issue. Now, unemployed and abandoned by the people he felt committed to both professionally and personally, Lorenzo doesn't know who he is any more. 

Brother Lorenzo told me his story, his eyes occasionally welling up as he talked about how people lie to each other, how he was punished for committing too much to his job and about how people are animals. "If I throw a piece of meat in front of a lion," Lorenzo said, 'he's going to go for it." It was the same, he said, with a woman and a male sex organ or the reverse - though he may have worded it a bit differently. 

Lorenzo tried to live his life by the values he thought were the right ones - his life got swept aside and now he doesn't know what to believe in anymore. He doesn't know what's next, not even who he is supposed to be. 

There are a lot of Lorenzos out there, confused and uncertain of what comes next. Human beings that feel like maybe they aren't seen as human beings by others any more; they have a hard time seeing themselves as such. 

I told Lorenzo that he's right - it will be okay, in the long run. I told him he's not alone, that there are a lot of people with the same shattered dreams, the same sense of loss and hopelessness that he has. It's not all you, I said, or there wouldn't be so many others in the same boat. 

I also told Lorenzo that there are people out there who do care, take the time to understand and who are working to heal this world. I didn't tell Lorenzo about behavioural economics, the Open Government movement, about emerging changes within human resources and education or even hint at the idea that while we are animals, individually, we are collectively becoming much more. I didn't give a lengthy explanation of the values of CBT and emerging tools like that could be helpful to him and others like him. 

I did tell Lorenzo that even if he couldn't see hope, it's there, like oxygen. He just had to believe it and have faith that things would change. 

Things will change - the revolution has already begun. It might be messy, fragmented and result in half-solutions that will need to be revisted sooner rather than later in competitive fashion, but it doesn't need to be. When we all pull together, we become better adapted to the challenges that surround us. 

The story of how we've come together through organization and technology, after all, is the story of our journey to humanity. 

I'm glad I stopped and listened to Lorenzo. I hope that he felt better, even if just a bit, from my empathizing with him and giving him some time. He gave me something equally important in return.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Tarzan and Jane

This makes sense to me - especially if you look at the behaviours of close relatives like chimps.  This isn't to say we're limited to the drives of our hard-wiring; if anything, we're evolving the ability to choose consciously how we want to be.

Social Entrepreneurs or Change Catalysts?

I think Mitchell Kutney is missing something.

He's bang on with most of his commentary, though.  All sorts of players have latched on to the notion of social enterprise: to put a fresh coat of paint on outdated brands, justify a reduction in charitable investments (there's people who do that for money now) and where government is concerned as justification to reduce crippling levels of social service spending.

Then again, it's becoming increasingly clear that there is a lot of duplication, gaps and overlaps within existing NFPs and fewer metrics to prove what is and isn't working than you'd think.  We're not moving forward, we're treading water.  Government, meanwhile, is looking down the road at fiscal deficits, infrastructure deficits and a rising tide of health and social service costs and realizing it is in no way up to the challenges that lay before us.

The system we have now isn't working.  Continuing to do things the same way is not a viable option.

So what do we do now? 

It's all very daunting.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, the recognition of this reality is partly behind the growth of the Open Government movement.  Stated or not, the theory is that if you create more opportunity for common folk to get engaged and have their say - broaden the conversation, if you will - there will be new ideas, yes, but more people on the hook when things go wrong.

The people in charge, however, either feel confident or realize they need to look confident so as not rattle investors/voters; after all that's in no small part how they got to be leaders.  These folk aren't going to come out and say "I have no idea what to do next" even if they realize that's the case - and far too many of them don't.  They figure what worked before will work again, we just need to return to a romanticized, simpler past.

The concept of social enterprise as it's understood now might have led to a moving of the accountability deck chairs, but the problem is fundamentally the same as it was prior to 2008 - our societal model is completely inadequate to manage today's realities in sustainable fashion.  

We live on a burning platform; some of us are even adding fuel to the flames.

Enter the people I think of when my minds turn towards social entrepreneurship.  

These folk are more than just the why - there are lots of people in various fields who actually do care about the public good in one aspect or another.  Money's not a motivator for them, but a necessity to be managed, like food or sleep.

What gets these people up in the morning is the burning desire to fix the structural problems they see in the world.  It drives them nuts seeing should-be leaders constantly driving society into the ditch, not planning ahead and not employing practices like behavioural economics or design thinking to make the system work better.  These entrepreneurs aren't disillusioned with today's institutions so much as they're disappointed more people aren't proactively trying to reconfigure them.

The folk I have in mind are literally frightening in their cognitive capacity; they're the trained athletes at a charity run, processing information and aligning different fields and churning out meta-solutions at a super-human rate.  To talk with them is exhausting; they think in maps, not symbols - they're outside The Cave.

They are this generations Polymaths or Renaissance Men (and women) - call them Multi-Disciplinary Specialists, because they are experts in several fields all at once.  Increasingly, they're realizing that today's leaders simply aren't up to the structural challenges we face; as such, they're organizing to tackle the solutions themselves.  

According to the accepted definition, these people are social entrepreneurs, though the ones I know don't really care about the label.  Sorting out who should be responsible for fixing the system is a waste of time; they're just going to do it.

As is the case with any organism, external challenges don't spark adaptation - they cull those who don't fit an evolving world.  

It takes something else to catalyze change.

We have to stop looking for some kind of external cure-all, a panacea; it doesn't exist.  We also need to take a fresh look at the lateral thinkers, the social disrupters in our midst.  To paraphrase one change agent - we keep trying to cure them, but perhaps they are the cure.

Going Off the Deep End

This is a sick, sad story, but clearly evidence of the moral turpitude of today's youth, right?  It's not a structural problem, it's not a culture problem, it's just that these kids aren't as tough or as morally upright as their forefathers, right?

But then there's this:

But really, it's just because them Aboriginals aren't with the program, right?  They refuse to adapt to "the way things are" just as today's youth have these delusional expectations of higher learning translating into greater employment opportunities?

The problem with today's poor, today's youth, today's First Nations populations, people with mental illness, unions, the recently unemployed and a growing list of demographics is that they simply refuse to accept the realities of free-market capitalism.  They are the problem, not the system.

Which is kinda like pollsters saying there's nothing wrong with their methodology - it's the people that are the problem.

The prevailing (but shifting) political wisdom these days is all Ayn Rand - selfishness is morality, or as Gordon Gecko put it, greed is good.  People should be prepared to work hard, sell harder and not be afraid to elbow the competition to get ahead in life.  Why, if everyone would aggressively pursue their own self-interests, then everyone would end up getting ahead, wouldn't they?

The Political Right tend not to like the term "survival of the fittest" and for good reason - because survival of the fittest implies that the weak die off.  

Despite their call for tougher sentences for criminals without consideration for the causation behind the crime, despite their desire to shrink social services and welfare support and reduce social housing stock the Stephen Harpers, Tim Hudaks and Rob Fords of the world aren't trying to create conditions that remove the weak from society - in their heart of hearts, they think throwing kids in the deep end so they are forced to swim is both healthy and natural. 

Competition, they will tell us, is the way to get the best of everything; we want poor-performing companies to die off and we want under-performing employees to lose their jobs, but the what's next piece never crosses their minds.

Which is a tragic, because we know exactly where this short-sighted, aggressively reactionary approach leads us.  It leads to increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots, a focus on hoarding by those at the top and increasingly aggressive competition in the shrinking middle (immigrants take my job away, so keep them out; welfare bums eat into my tax dollars, cut 'em loose) and on the bottom end, even more aggressive competition for resources and status (through crime), a sense of belonging to some society as a response to rejection by the mainstream (gangs) and responses like suicide and accumulated mental illness.

They don't realize it, but the libertarian/neo-liberal/hard-right political model is trying to recreate a state of nature before civilization, where there were less people using less resources and a rigid power hierarchy where success could only be achieved by eliminating the person on the rung above you.

This is a legitimate model, if you don't mind unwinding our dense, complex social framework, but it simply doesn't work when you have as multi-faceted a social system as we have now.  When you try to unwind our societal framework, you end up with war, disease and suicide.  

There are countless symptoms of our social ills manifesting themselves; everything from Senate corruption to movements like the Tea Party and Occupy to an increase in populism and rising suicide rates are trying to tell us that our system is inadequate to our current needs.

The tide is rising, both metaphorically and in reality.  It's hard to see the horizon when you're barely treading water, but there is land just beyond our sight-lines.  

The aggressive swimmers can race past everyone else and get there alone, but the shore is shifting - and some of those left struggling in the water just may be better adapted to survive in this transformed landscape.

Which is the big secret about natural selection - in the long run, fittest isn't about independence and strength - it's about the ability to adapt.  As we've seen, adaptation is not a strength of the political right.

Monday 2 December 2013

Intelligent Design and Open Government

From an article called Flying Blind, no less.

It's all true - people want, but they know not what, so to err on the side of plenty say they want the whole cake.  Political people know what they want - to quash their foes, in part, and to be victorious, in part.  But why?  As we've seen with Stephen Harper, even the most ardent mandates get lost over time.

I ask this question of people all the time - why do you get up in the morning?  Why do you have this job, not another, or work with that firm, not this one?  If we can't honestly answer the question "this is what I hope to have accomplished before I die," then what are we doing but going through the motions?

Why do we really want Open Government?  Are we worried about what's going on in the dark corners of our legislatures?  Do we feel underrepresented, or do we simply like the idea of being engaged?  Are we focused on ensuring our personal interests are acted upon - and are we willing to see how those interests interact with the interests of others?

Or do we want Open Government?  Do we really want to know what goes into the sausage - or is that information we'd rather live without?  

The opinions within political circles on each of these issues is all over the map.  They know where they think their track will take them - either back to a time of greater freedom and personal independence or forward into an equitable society - but they don't know for sure.  But it doesn't matter.

It should matter.  There's much more to this global shift towards open government, the rise of social media and the preponderance of civic engagement groups than we give it credit for.

Design Thinking Design

Takes a fair amount of effort, structuring, visualization and experimentation to put all these pieces together.

Particularly when it's one person doing them all simultaneously - which may explain why I've been fairly social-media quiet today.

Read the whole @padday article on structure and design here.

Black Friday in Winter

There's a lesson in behavioural economics in here for the financial economists to pay attention to.

For those who aren't well-heeled, the free market isn't about adding value and improving quality; it's about getting more for less.  When the pie is limited, people are triggered to put their own interests first - it's the same in buying towels as it is squeezing onto a subway car.

Regulation doesn't impede creativity, it sets parameters for social engagement.  Yes, rules can be too onerous, but that's why we have a legal framework that empowers trained, authorized people to carry out its enforcement.

When you take away the rules, reduce opportunity and push people to compete, you don't get a race to the top, you get a spiral to the bottom.  Throw guns into the mix and it gets even worse.

Dawn Coming To Canada?

And so it's come to this - after years of pillorying every opponent, of maligning any source of contrarian information, of positioning spin as truth and justifying every breach of ethics with an attack on someone else, the Political Right is getting their comeuppance and they don't like it.

Various voices on the Political Right have portrayed Stephane Dion as unCanadian, dedicated Civil Servants as inept and citizens who have supported the environment and indigenous rights as dangerous to Canada's national interests.  Attack, undermine and conquer - it's what they did to get ahead.  Now they are ahead, perpetrators of the same sorts of divisive tactics they once pilloried opponents for, but instead of backing down, they're doubling down.

Now, we have Rob Ford declaring the Toronto Police are on a witch hunt, out to get him, Jesus-esque ruler that he is.  We have Ezra Levant calling the RCMP Liberal shills, out to undermine the Conservative Party/government; the two appear to be, in his mind, interchangeable terms.

Of course, neither Levant nor Ford, nor Harper or any of his team have ever stopped to consider the broader context in which they spew their vitriol - that's not their concern, after all.  Winning is.  

While Levant has, under pressure, been forced to back-pedal when called out for labelling one group with one brush, his most vocal political allies have not.  And then there's the fact that Levant himself is right back at it.

The same is happening in the US; factions within the GOP have decided that it's their way or the highway.  After Karl Rove promised them a permanent shift in the political landscape, far-right conservatives looked at Obama Term #1 as an anomaly soon to be rectified.  When that didn't happen, they started to look for conspiracies to justify why the world wasn't working out the way they thought it would, but also to justify whatever actions they felt necessary to set it right.

Ford is the best damn mayor since Jamestown, he'll tell you.  Harper is the most democratic leader since Solon, Pierre Poilivere will tell you.  One's a sinner, one's a saint, but both are bulwarks against an leftist apocalypse and that's what matters most.  The fact that more and more people - political, non-political, even law-enforcement - are increasingly challenging them only proves how righteous they are.

If ever you doubt the End of Days threat the left poses to democracy, security and economic stability, just tune in to Fox/Sun news - no talking points there, just raw, emotive truth.

Forgive them Lord, they care not what they do.

We have a shrinking middle class - those who once had are becoming have-nots, joining the ranks of those who never have had and are at a breaking point of helplessness.  People with training, experience and successes under their belts are being told to compete forcefully for jobs they are overqualified for.

Whatever happened to The Just Society, they are asking?  They live with mounting injustice; the frustration is boiling over into anger.  People have lost faith in the democratic system; they see advocates of transparency and equity in theory be, in practise, anything but.  And now, in defense of themselves, the Political Right is actively discrediting the very institutions for which they are responsible.  

Forget going over the heads of Parliament and the Governor General - it's now the police who are getting in the way of a proper conservative society.  Only folk like Stephen Harper and Rob Ford can save us from the socialists, the separatists, the thugs and bureaucrats, the scientists, police and fundamentalists.  Only they can stop the tide from rising.  

Make no mistake - the tide will rise, literally.  There will be massive storms, floods, power outages and possibly shootings or illness scares that will not be handled well by an overworked system or undermined through a combination of separate, out-sourced contractors failing to work together in a seamless effort.  It'll be messy - the people will demand someone be held accountable.

If our leadership pursues the same tactics they've been using, there'll be no accountability to be had. Instead, there will be blame and partisan rhetoric.  The focus will be on punishment, not solutions.  

What happens when it's the institution and all the people it is seen to support that is declared public enemy #1?  People look for tougher leaders than Harper to break some eggs and care less what they do to make that happen.  

Politics isn't meant to be a zero-sum game.  It's meant to be a conversation.  When our leaders can't be bothered to commit sociology and refuse to accept that they are fallible and therefore must work with others to find common solutions, it's society itself that loses.