Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
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 8 February 2014

It's Democracy, Stupid

I Don't Think So, Tim...

Me thinks Hudak is spending too much time around the Fords - he's starting to sound like them.

Though I'm sure, if pressed, he could explain exactly which 50 countries and which specific jobs have been relocated from Ontario to their soil.  This would not include cases where jobs have been killed in Ontario and the work done by those employees has been relocated to the States, but without new jobs being created.  

See, in many of the jurisdictions Hudak is no doubt referring to, what we end up seeing is fewer workers doing more work without appropriate accommodation or support.  

What happens when there's less responsibility on the part of employers and less rights on the side of employees?  Do the employees start negotiating aggressively or taking up golf lessons to properly persuade their laissez-faire "corporate elite" bosses to pay them fairly?

Nope.  The people become either depressed and accept a diminishing quality of life or angry and, you know, organize.  Which is what happened when time was in North America, which is why we have unions in the first place.

See, jurisdictions that are dismantling unions and diminishing worker rights aren't "modernizing" their labour laws - they're feudalizing them.  What happens in feudal societies is that more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands who compete more aggressively and spend less supporting their workers.  Essentially what Hudak is trying to do is turn Ontario into Bangladesh.

How is it that you aggressively pursue your interests at the expense of non-1% in a democratic society? 

A good start would be to ensure that Political Parties are highly competitive themselves with no ceiling for advertizing (and no government GOTV campaigns to muck up the partisan competition/vote suppression).  That way, clever corporate elites can spend more on Parties that will become dependent on their dollars, ensuring policy that is in their interests.

Which, of course, brings us back to the notion that you can kill a union by allowing free-riders.  The free-riders will, in practice, end up being those who can no longer afford to pay wages and are struggling to get by.

And when you have a highly competitive political system that is heavily reliant on dollars and isn't above vote suppression, how far a stretch is it to imagine the aggressively successful 1% discouraging opposition votes or suggesting that job security might just depend on voting preferences?

By trying to kill unions, reduce regulations and starve government, the hard-right is trying to feudalize Canada and take power away from the average citizen and place it firmly in the hands of those with money.  They do this in good conscience, of course, because hey, they're rational economists.

It pains me how blind these men are to the long-term consequences of their schemes and tricky tactics. 

On the odd chance that they get even part of where they want to, it'll only be a matter of time before it blows up in their faces.

So unnecessary; so wasteful.

Leadership Matters: Why Putin is the Biggest of #SochiProblems

Lots of interesting things happening in and around Sochi - the "non-existent" gay community is getting arrested for the crime of standing up for their rights in a bigger-scale repeat of what happened to Pussy Riot.  The threat of terrorism from some of Russia's typical foes still looms.  International guests are being made to feel welcome at the expense of their privacy - online, in the shower, etc.

Bigotry and the need for a micro-managerial level of control are typical from systems that are run by and supportive of aggressive, overbearing and egomanical bosses.  

But so too is another trend; bosses more concerned about being seen to be in absolute control are terrible leaders, creating a culture all the way down to the front lines where employees are more worried about their own reputations than serving customers.

You see it in bureaucracies, but you see this trend in far too many companies as well.  Sucky customer service from unmotivated staff?  It doesn't need to be that way.

This sorts of top-down customer service fail is on wide display at Sochi, as hilariously demonstrated through this Twitter account by the National Post's Sean Fitzgerald as captured by Macleans.

All this is clearly explainable at the neurochemical level; people are empowered by a sense of community; oxytocin makes individuals and communities adaptive, pro-social and flexible.  On other other hand, a focus on fear, dominance and ego focuses on a different set of hormones/neurotransmitters, resulting in competitive, dismissive and protectionist individuals and societies.

We've got a lot of leaders promoting the latter.  Sochi is a great example of the kind of mess that sort of non-leadership results in.  North Korea takes that trend even further.

Is that the kind of society we want to live in?

Friday 7 February 2014

The CPC War on Equity Continues

Man, they're really going for broke, aren't they?
Ministers are supposed to make informed policy decisions that get implemented by government - which isn't Cabinet and isn't Parliament, it's the bureaucracy.  When we say "Liberal Government" or "Conservative Government" we're really putting the name of the CEO before that of the company.  Of course, in this case we're talking Harper's government.
Where, pray tell, does the Minister/Cabinet/PM's information come from?  Well, the Harper Government used to get good data from the census, but that's done with.  They used to get the (sometimes) uncomfortable truth from the bureaucracy, but continue to stamp down on any truth that proves politically inconvenient. 
That process includes undermining accountability officers in government, defunding agencies that they don't like and finding ways to stifle whitsleblowers.
Now, they're also changing the electoral system to make it more about the money/i.e. advertizing, which means more competitive and vitriolic - which suits them just fine.  The more people fight, the less they're progressing.
Across the board, they're using newspeak terms like "Fair Elections" when it's really about shrinking the pool and "full independence" for bodies which they have hamstrung or obstructed in the past.  They're even taking government out of the business of promoting democracy.
I'm sure there are big high-fives in the backrooms and in some cases, even grudging admiration from opponents about the successful ruthlessness with which this government is increasingly putting Canada into a functionally fixed iron box - at the same time they're making the economy all about digging into the ground.
It grieves me to see how short-sighted these people are.  Of course, they're assuming that the people who support them are rational and those who don't are bleating sheep, so they can pretty much get away with anything they want so long as they sell it aggressively enough and demean their opponents enough.
What they're really doing is starving the middle class, freezing our economy, stagnating our society and atrophying our growth opportunities.
Did it not occur to them that New Canadians looking to do business and tap into those very resource-hungry markets the CPC is after may want to spend some time in Canada and the rest of it in their home country for business development?
Are they completely ignoring the fact that those most mistrustful of government are the least likely to vote - but the most likely to rebel? 
It's like trying to convince an alcoholic not to get behind the wheel so that they don't hurt others or themselves; the individuals under the influence (in this case, of power) laugh you off and roll their eyes in disdain of your weakness.
This policy trend will either be shifted - and in relatively short order - or will end very poorly.
It sucks when people don't think ahead.

Jim Watson: Leadership In Action

Full disclosure - I like Jim Watson.  I knew him when he was at Queen's Park and remember him best for going out of his way to be helpful to my then-MPP boss who, at the time, was facing some health issues.  This wasn't unusual; he was a caring guy, a fair boss and just generally a gentleman.
Watson is great at the retail side of the game (he wasn't called "Minister of Self-Promotion" for nuthin') but he was also adept at the policy and community support side of the game, too.  When he was Minister of Health (self) Promotion, he brought the whole concept of healthy living to the forefront.  He generated headlines and got in photo ops, yes, but never just for the sake of seeing his face in the bright lights; it was always done while communicating the thing he stood for.
And, as we see here, he has no problem with raising his voice against things he takes issue with.  Seriously - what retail-only politician would ever put the words "I really don't want your vote" in print?  They'd be worried about that quote coming back to haunt them.
Which, of course, is why we have such timid leaders on the stage today - they won't risk pissing off people they think might fit into their coalition of voters and so stay away from any issue they don't see as delivering a clear and present win.
There's this thing happening right now where government is fiscally tapped; from healthcare to employment to social services to justice, there's not enough money to do the job properly.  Even worse, the capacity needed to do the job well isn't there.
Whereas reactionary, monetary-economics minded leaders are touting cuts as the only solution (essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater) smart leaders - some in the bureaucracy, many in grassroots community groups - are wrapping their head around behavioural economics first.  If you don't really understand how and why people spend money, after all, how do you know any given policy prescription will work?
As a result these leaders are striving to think and work smarter, in large part by building strategic partnerships to catalyze sustainable, shared solutions.  At the heart of this work is the "teach a person to fish" model - how do we empower people to have the skills, resources and self-agency to be their own best advocates and problem solvers?
There's no clearly established terminology around this space, but terms like "Open Government" are bumping up against "Virtuous Schemers" and "Creative Regeneration" as these forward-thinking start recognizing that somewhere in the middle, they're all pursuing the same shared vision.
The only thing that's really missing right now is a stone in the soup, some person or organization that's got the organizational savvy, the ability to pitch and get capital, the right kind of charisma and marketing skills - and of course, an unwavering commitment to putting the mission first.
Imagine that - a leader heading a group of people not looking to pick fights for partisan wins, but work with everyone to support strong individuals for a healthy society.
It's too bad Jim Watson already has a day job that he loves - we could sure use someone like him to turn these conversations into a movement.

Andrea Horwath's Test of Principles

Out of power for a very long time, the NDP have been the first to decry the hyper-partisan, hyper-competitive and manipulative nature of our political system.  The PM takes a trip to Israel at a time that's convenient for a provincial byelection?  Gas plants, fake lakes, Senator fundraisers?  They point their fingers and shout "corruption!"

It's political posturing, of course; it's easy to attack the methodology of the winners.  What's harder to do is, when you can taste win - and possibly big wins - in the offings, do you adopt that methodology yourself?

So far, it looks like Horwath's principles are open to negotiation, so long as game-playing wins are on the table.

I would encourage her campaign team, but especially her as leader to thing a bit bigger than just their electoral standing.  People have lost faith in our political system because, for good reason, they feel like all politicians and Parties are the same, doing whatever it takes to win in increasingly ham-handed fashion.

A lot of votes that may go to the NDP right now are protest votes, being cast against rather than for.  If Horwath succumbs to the cynicism of some of her team and peers, she will immediately become part of the problem Canadians are trying to reject.

It's about accomplishment, people.  Never let that destination be obscured by the win.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Well Said John McCallum

Harper is both a workaholic and somewhat introverted.  We know what he does with his time.  The crimes of which Nolan are accused were not openly flaunted, which is why they've come as such a shock to so many.
It'd be easy to try and tie Harper to this directly (especially in light of how he apparently didn't know a lot about what his own staff were doing in his interests) but to do so would be crass, cheap politics of the sort that gotten people so cynical.
Rob Ford, on the other hand, knows full well what the likes of Sandro Lisi get up to.  Ford also, drunken stupors or not, walks himself into compromising and periodically illegal behavior.
You can't judge a person by the dirty secrets of their friends, but you can tell a lot about them by the company they knowingly keep.

Women and Leadership

Just a wee recap, then - according to John Tory, men get ahead individually because they will complain about how they are being treated.  Part of aggressive manliness is undermining opponents, which can take the form of bigoted comments.

Women, on the other hand, are generally less self-serving.  When they see injustice, it's not the divides that matter to them most, but the defense of what they believe in.

Even if they themselves end up in the line of fire as a consequence.

Is it any wonder that the more women are included in society at all levels, the healthier, more resilient and more successful societies become?

This is 2014 - we can do better.  And together, we will.

Curing Creationism: The Devil is in the Details

Very true, this.  People have  a habit of believing that which validates pre-existing beliefs.  If you believe the Bible is literal truth, for instance, you're going to look for facts that prove you right and question those that don't.  

If you believe in or against global warming, it's a simple matter to cherry-pick arguments that support you and refute any criticism as bogus science.  If gay people, Jewish people or Africans make you feel uncomfortable, you can find all sorts of evidence to validate those feelings - especially when you hold doggedly to your starting premise.

Which is the thing about science; science is study, not validation.  The whole point is to develop and challenge starting premises, rejecting those that don't fit.  That's how it came to be that religious men like Charlies Darwin or Copernicus found themselves forced to question certain premises of their faith told them were unquestionable and challenge the status quo.  

They weren't intentionally being rebellious; they were simply following the evidence.

How do we know a person is sick?  There's no label that pops up on the skin with a written description of an ailment, but there are symptoms that can be readily identified and, thanks to a massive body of study, attributed with general accuracy to specific illnesses or afflictions.  This is called diagnosis.

Where does the illness come from?  Can it be cured?  Does it pose a risk to others?  Before we had scientifically researched diagnosis systems, people relied a lot on assumptions.  These assumptions were believed to be gospel for the simple reason that if it was true before, it must surely be true now.

We have historically tended to err on the side of reactive caution on this front - lepers were sent away to colonies and supposed witches were burned at the stake.  Infidels and barbarians have been kept outside the kingdom with firewalls of various compositions.

The same holds true for economic prescriptions; if an economy has lost its luster, as ours has now, use common sense - shrink government, cut taxes, reduce organized labour supports and allow companies to produce the same goods at a lower cost so as to compete with other jurisdictions that produce goods at low cost, like Bangladesh.

The same equally holds true for crime - tougher punishment, greater restrictions and longer sentences are the way to go.  In this sense, prisons serve the same purpose as leper colonies or insane asylums of old.

This sort of approach doesn't follow the evidence and revisit original assumptions - it relies on traditional wisdom and gut instinct.  If you know the Bible is the literal truth, then anything that refutes it is wrong.  If you know that the world fits into neat categories of good and evil, with tradition, the free market and individual independence firmly in the good column and progress, centrally coordinated social service and government in the evil column, your choices are pretty easy, aren't they?

Which brings us back to health.  

Really think about it for a second - traditionalists of any kind work very hard to present the threats of opposing ideologies as almost virus-like in nature, with the faith, leader or belief system the only tonic to protect against this threat.  As such, they hammer home their message as often, as loudly and as pervasively as they can.  At the same time, they try to reduce the flow of contrarian information.  

This quarantining against challenging information generally involves creating closed communities and either excommunicating or locking away challengers, as well as the removal of contradictory information.  This last, in its most extreme form looks like book burnings; in its more subtle manifestations, it looks like killing the census, closing libraries and generally staunching the flow of data to the people.

When time was, people didn't have a lot of access to information; we didn't know about germ theory, principles of physics, meteorology, metallurgy, etc.  Like other animals out there, we had nothing but instinct to go on - until we learned to be curious.

Through curiosity, we began to question, to experiment, to make mistakes and learn from them.  One can only imagine that our distant ancestors thought of fire as an uncontrollable force of nature and looked at beast and plant as things that existed in an unchanging state.  But we've learned to control fire and we've mastered the science of domestication, haven't we?

So too have we developed all the fields, specializations and organizational capacities that make human civilization possible.  

None of this would have been possible if we hadn't learned to question - or better phrased, developed the ability to question.  Which is hard to do when individual survival is your every-day focus.  

Through collaboration, we develop safe spaces and specialization.  Collaboration requires proximity and trust, however, which means some common purpose and shared rules must be established.  New challenges emerge that require further cooperation, specialization and innovation to solve.  It goes on and on.

Back to healthcare again.  Have you ever gone to the doctor's office and been given a prescription without an explanation as to what the activity or medication is actually going to accomplish?  What does the doctor tell you?

Have you ever wondered why cleansing rituals, particularly in relation to the consumption of food, are so common in religions, or do you assume it's just what God demands? 

If you accept that God has a plan and that there are mysteries that are simply beyond the ken of man, there's no need to ask questions.  Accept traditional wisdom and carry on.  It's basically the same thing as letting the doctor tell you what to do without asking why - the next time something goes wrong, you'll be back to see the doctor again.  And there's always the chance that the doctor is wrong.

When we begin with the assumption that humanity was better off before, that inquiries are heretical and spend our time defending tradition, we are trying to inoculate ourselves against the virus of knowledge through inquiry (i.e., science).  By placing absolute faith in any leader, we abdicate ourselves of the responsibility to understand the why behind the what and learn how internalize those lessons.

Before there was germ theory, public healthcare and the welfare state, there were religious ablutions and the call for charity.  "Love thy neighbour" was the first crack at diplomacy.  Depending on your starting premise, you can look at a lot of the content of the Bible or any religious text as setting ground rules for good behaviour in a social context, much like a parent will tell their children to eat their vegetables and brush their teeth before that child comes to understand the value of doing these things.

With time, children learn the reason behind the rules and in some cases, recognize how certain regulations either were poorly formed or may be past their best-before date.  

Good parents encourage their children to ask why, because for them the goal isn't to maintain constant mastery over their offspring but to provide a solid basis of personal growth and then encourage independence.  

Some day, after all, it'll be up to those kids to prepare their own children for the world they will eventually live in.

Creationists and fundamentalists of any kind can defend the literal interpretation of their holy scriptures 'til kingdom come and insist that complete submission to the word of their deity is the only path to salvation.  

I think they're starting with the wrong assumption.

If our ancestors had thought the same way, well, we'd be never have left our parents' house, as it were, nor developed all the skills, tools and innovations that have made civilization possible.  Were it not for the printing press, for instance, how far do you think Christianity or Islam could have spread?

Inquires that follow the evidence and challenge traditional thinking aren't blasphemy, undermining the written word of any divine figure.  Living a prescribed lifestyle in unwavering fashion honours no father.  The role of parents isn't to restrict their children but to empower them.

They can open the door, as it were - but it is always, always up to us to step through.

  Luke 11:9

The Neuroscience of Hope and Fear in Politics

Do political attack ads work?  Of course they do - that's why we do them.  Everyone knows the value of fear as a motivational tool.

But what of hope?  Hope is airy-fairy, thug-hugging nonsense.  You can't rely on hope, right?

That's only true so long as you don't understand it.  With the emergence of fields like positive psychology and the exploration of social-emotional intelligence and self-regulation programs, we're going to find the emotional paradigm shifting.

As always, though, politics will be the last to catch up.  It's hard to be progressive when you're focused on competitive wins, alas; it's a neurochemical thing.

Have faith, though - the changes we hope for are already happening; we need only learn how to look in the right places.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

A New Slope: Society Safe From Whom?

Our side?  Whose side?  Are young online activists on the other side?  Of what divide, exactly?

Despite being a condemnation of the soul-sucking, community-busting corruption of  organized crime, The Godfather movies were popular with gangsters; they saw them as a model of how to act.  By the same token, The Wolf of Wall Street has been celebrated by many of those who truly occupy Wall Street as the way to live.

I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that organizations like the NSA and GCHQ are apparently taking inspiration from V For Vendetta, completely missing the underlying lesson of what happens when you tighten your fingers.

Youth are finding it hard to get work, are being told their education is useless and that they simply have no value to add to the market and must expect to be treated as such.  Meanwhile, government isn't representing their interests (or, in the eyes of many young folk, anyone's interests), so what motivation do they have to engage?

What happens next is clear, as it will be the same thing that always happens when it comes time for societies to shed old skin; a lot of friction.  

It's a winter/spring thing, new growth, new faces embracing the social torch, so on and so forth.

But hey, there's a new Star Wars coming out - who's curious to see what that's about?

#TorontoIs - For or Against?

I have been told, repeatedly, that Warren Kinsella is really good at what he does.  It's unquestionably true; he's the man that brought the War Room to Canada.  It could be argued that he in large part shaped a whole generation of politicing in this country.

He's right, too - the video (you'll have to follow the link to his site to see it) is powerful.  It provides a fascinating contrast between some of the diverse landmarks that are so integral to Toronto's identity and the divisive, small-minded politics of Rob Ford.

The point of this video is to demonstrate to Toronto how the world sees this city - not as one of the most diverse places on earth, not as a centre of art, business and culture, but as the playground of Rob Ford, the crack-smoking Mayor.

The video is designed to incite strong, reactive emotions of discomfort, fear, even anger.  This is how the world sees us, it says; we need to do something to change that.

By and large this is how politics functions - we define ourselves as being different than our opponents and work hard to define our opponents as the devil incarnate.  

We have to fight against, the message goes, often with the tagline only Candidate White Hat can defeat/prevent Candidate Black Hat from bringing us down

We don't vote leaders in; we kick bums out.

But there's another way.

Instead of inciting kick-the-bums out re-activeness, we could have leaders that define themselves by their vision, authenticity and commitment to walking the walk.  Calgary has become cool in ways previously unimaginable in no small part due to its Mayor.  

Where Rob Ford talks about promises made and kept that are anything but, Naheed Nenshi is better known for what he does and how he communicates.  We don't need boastful statements; his deeds speak louder than worlds.

No less than Kinsella himself has wistfully wondered, "wouldn't it be nice to have a leader who things big, and does big things, once again?"

I think so.  I know lots of other people who feel the same way.

Being angry and resentful all the time is tiring.  Eventually, disaffection settles in and people come to accept that things won't be any better and that fighting is only going to make things worse.  It's why Canada is suffering through a winter of discontent, complete with hoarding behaviours typical of hibernating creatures.

It's true that Toronto's international reputation is largely being defined by Rob Ford, but it doesn't need to be.  If the people living here, or the people living across Canada were to see amazing, heroic deeds and hear inspirational stories of what we're really about, we may be shaken out of our misanthropic complacency and catalyzed into positive action.

That's the kind of leadership I could get behind.  Don't tell me what's wrong and who's to blame; tell me who's making a difference and give me a vision of how together, we can make our community a place to be proud of.  

Lead, for god's sake.

If you think it's powerful how people will fight when they collectively stand against, you'd be amazed by what they can do when they are united for.

Brand and the Community Conundrum

Here's the conundrum; we live in a world that is sales-oriented; wealth, success, the capacity to make things happen all relies on sales and sales by and large relies on brand.

I know lots of successful salespeople - they sell one service, one Party or just themselves and do well at it.  They don't care about a big picture, unless it's how they can influence that big picture to the furtherance of their brand.

In some cases, even the most ardently community-minded organizations become cliquish, developing an almost colonialist mentality that places them and their community-shaping ways above and beyond those of any others.

Yet within these communities or even standing outside of any branded community are activists, hacktivists and organizers frustrated with the inefficiency in inefficacy of our brand/sales oriented system.  Silos are bad - they build walls between people and organizations that ultimately have the same goal.  Silos diminish that goal and put the brand first.

There's growing demand for something, some movement or new community that surpasses these silos and united people of different professions, political ideologies and social strata behind one widely-accepted vision of what, collectively, we can be - strong individuals for a strong society.

It seems to be that we can stand together, or brand alone.  If we don't brand, though, no one knows who we are - there's no way to cut through the fog without a clearly defined and loudly promoted identity, which leads to competition for attention and resources, which is the opposite of community.

But how do you build a community that doesn't naturally succumb to the trappings of brand?  What vision is clear enough, powerful enough to empower people to want to extend their hands beyond their shaded silos and reach for the sun?

I don't have the answer.  Not by myself.  But I think I know where we can find it.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Silver Linings

Positivity is all the rage these days.  

There's even a new branch of psychology dedicated to it.  Yet many people don't trust the idea that you can be happy all the time, that you can force the sun to come out.

They feel that people who act happy all the time are faking it, trying to appear as something they're not or worse, are trying to feel something they don't.  

By and large, they're right.

Heartbreak sucks.  Death sucks.  Loss of health, of employment, of self-confidence sap one's soul like a dark winter, sucking the spark of life right out of you.

To deny this, frankly, is delusional.

But that's not the point.  Positive psychology isn't about being happy all the time; it's about resilience.  

There's a whole science to resilience and what it means at the neurochemical level.  I could tell you about oxytocin and the positive impact it has on your ability to bounce back from pain both physical and mental.

I could also write about the addictive quality of so many things in our lives these days (ranging from buzzes on the blackberry to points on a video game, the stock market or at election time) and the way these hits close us off from the world. weaken our immune systems, make us reliant on our fixes rather than empowered through being part of something greater.

I don't need to.  We all feel how this stuff works, even if we don't know how to articulate it.  We prefer simple messaging, after all.

It's the half-glass thing; if you're optimistic, you see it one way; if you're not, you see it another.  It's an islands and ocean thing; if you're happy, the world is full of promise; if you're scared, or hurt, or depressed, not so much.

No matter which way you look at it, the other perspective is always there.  I find that recognizing this grounds me - it's a well of strength I can tap into whenever I need it.

You can't force the sun to come out from behind obscuring clouds.  You don't need to; that ever-present silver lining serves to always remind you it's there.

Leadership Off the Links: Women Who Don't Complain, But Act (UPDATED)


It's funny in a sad kind of way; on the one hand, we have Old Boy Network folk like John Tory suggesting that it's up to women to push for more money and encouraging young women to learn golf so as to cozy up to the rich white guys.

At the same time, the solution being proposed to our youth unemployment (and general disaffection with the way our system works) by these folk is suck it up and sell harder.  It's not the job of bosses to look for talent any more than it's their responsibility to proactively support and reward good work - laissez-faire capitalism and all that.

These are the same wealthy insiders who are discussing the failure of Capitalism at Davos and discussing Canada's innovation deficit at high-priced luncheons and bemoaning the fact that young people don't get the way the world works.  Oh - and then there's that whole social sustainability thing, crippled by a burgeoning mental health crisis.  Dysfunctional government doesn't help matters, either.

It's too bad the elites don't believe in committing sociology; if they did, they'd actually understand the problems we're facing and see that the solutions are already being developed and implemented.

Some of the brightest, most dedicated, innovative and solution-oriented people I know don't play golf, don't wear suits and certainly aren't interested in complaining.  To them, that would be a waste of time.

Instead, they are focused on getting things done. 

They're not afraid to give stern words to the sales-oriented laissez-faire loafers who are getting in the way of progress.  After all, when the bosses abdicate responsibility, someone's gotta lead.

And you know what else?   These emerging leaders seem to overwhelmingly be women.

UPDATE:  The best swag for women coders according to Goldman Sachs?  Compact mirrors and nail files.  Read the comments to see the psychology of why this sort of thing persists.

I'm sure some women love to be condescended to and subjected to sexist stereotypes.  We'll see how's that approach helps the Goldman Sachs' of the world recruit women.  If it's the company's culture rather than the individuals' sensitivity that's the problem, I'm sure they'll evolve with the times.

It'd only be logical, right?

Visionaries: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Kinsella makes a great point - visionaries are often catalysts for religion and wars.  They can also be catalysts for movements.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream - a vision of what the world could be.  JFK had a vision - to put a man on the moon.  Were it not for the lofty visions of thought leaders like these and others, where would we be?  The truth is it's these pioneers of the future that give us direction and lead the way into better tomorrows.

But big is scary; the Undiscovered Country cannot be quantified and as such is daunting.  Security, surely, lies in the past - make things as they were, wall off the changing world and stay safe.  Between the comfort of The Cave and the unknown perils of the world beyond, who would possibly want to venture out their front door?

We have political leaders these days whose stock in trade is fear.  Fear the unknown and trust in them to keep threats from landing on our shores; don't pry deeply into how they do it, though, for you may not like what you see. 

Sadly, these fear-focused folk are succumbing to their own rhetoric; they look at movements like Occupy or Open Government and fear the potential of the crowd.

Fear, of course, is a biochemical reaction shaped and wired into our brains by substances such as Norepinephrine and, funny enough Dopamine, which gives individuals little hits of happy for scoring personal wins.  It really shouldn't be a surprise that win-focused autocrats have a healthy fear of failure and losing control, which is why they tend to hoard power and tend to have bad tempers.

Leaders, neurochemically-speaking, are fueled less by fear and more by hope for tomorrow and a sense of both community and a sense of responsibility to that community, catalyzed by substances like serotonin and oxytocin.  They dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the starts and make the unknown known - and they inspire us to walk with them on the journey.

It was four years ago that a fella named Andrew Steele told me that mental health was a perpetually under-funded field; it's God's work, he said, but whose willing to pay for God's work?

The Canadian Mental Health Commission.  Veterans and Police officers with PTSD.  Social-emotional learning and self-regulation.  Cognitive Labour and human resource/work design transformation.  Bell Let's Talk.  Stigma reduction and citizen engagement.  Virtuous Schemers.  The Knowledge Economy and The Burning Platform.  Networked Intelligence through Social Media.  Open Government and Open Data.  And, of course, our globally-recognized mental health crisis.

All these strands connect in clear ways, if you think big enough, if you map them out.  Yes, we're in uncertain times and yes, many people have a little Armageddon on their minds.  Where are the leaders with big visions, we ask?  Who are we supposed to be following?

Religion or war.
Us or them.
Live together or die alone.

To those who fear (or deny) that which will emerge next, be it an external force or a loss of self, all I can say is don't panic.  It is a dangerous business, going outside our doors - who knows where you might be swept off to?

Have faith that there are those who at least have a good idea.  The visionary leadership we seek is here, right now, as it has always been.

We need only be conscious of this.

So who's up for an adventure?

A Stopped Clock and Doug Ford

If you message enough, you're bound to land on the truth, even if by accident.
Toronto has 44 Wards.  Councillors run in individual Wards and therefore should be spending their time trying to build support among those voters who will hopefully vote for them.
As Mayor/Mayoral candidate, Rob Ford is running for the whole shebang - he wants a majority of votes from all over the GTA.  He doesn't need them all to win, though - just more than the next gal or guy.  He therefore doesn't need to win support in every Ward, just enough Wards based on the internal math (assuming it's better math than Ford's financial measurements) of his campaign team.
So technically Ford can have ten times more support than any one Councillor, equating to broad support in 10 Wards, but still have little to know support in 34 additional Wards.
You're welcome.

Monday 3 February 2014

John Tory: Competition vs Accomplishment

Patrick Swayze - Nobody Puts baby in a corner

If you're maybe kinda sorta contemplating a bid for higher office, this was about as clever as thing to say as that time Mitt Romney talked about having binders full of women.

From a behavioural perspective, however, there's something really interesting to be mined in this.

Tory makes a point; men do tend to be more selfishly aggressive than women (in that the average man is more aggressive than the average woman, not that selfish aggressiveness or passiveness are unique to each gender).

It's not a uniquely human thing; across mammalian species, males tend to be flashier in their appearance and more likely to fight with each other for status and dominance (which largely reads as increased access to women).  

Physical features like the peacock's tail and the deer's antlers are biological testament to this. 

Now think about this in a social context for a second.  We automatically assume that aggressively standing up for one's interests is a good thing, be it the better cut of meat or the corner office.   Competitive men are more likely to get what they want, therefore making them better investments.  


In nature, the more competitive male gets the resources, gets the female and passes on its genes.  In theory, the socially more aggressive male will make more sales and be of greater value to their employer; this aggression gets rewarded through higher wages and corner offices.  Eventually, they and the companies that employ them become too big to fail, right? 

Not really, no.  Aggressive, alpha salesmen are selling brand more than they are product, ignoring or downloading risk to people less important or competitive than they are.  They fail all the time - the higher up they get, the more people there are carrying the risk for them.

Aggressive sales isn't always a good thing, especially when the product or service isn't that great.  The focus shifts from being about the quality of a product and more about tearing down competitors - kinda like political attack ads. 

The other thing about an aggressive focus on winning is that, by the very nature of competition, success of one comes at the expense of someone else.  What happens when your competitors don't cave so easily?  Syria provides a great example of how badly this approach can turn out.

War has traditionally been the province of men not because they're tough enough to fight, but because on the whole, fighting comes more naturally to them. 

The ability to sell products/services of lower quality, the drive to push down competitors and aggression as a default - these might be great skills to have in a sales environment, but they're also a recipe for stagnation and failure.  Feudalism, Wall Street collapses and the hollowing out of democratic politics are all examples of where elbows-up aggression gets us.  

How many brutal women dictators can you name?  Exactly.

History is the story of humankind moving in the opposite direction, towards increased social-emotional fluency, collaboration and a focus on results rather than sales pitches.  It should come as no surprise that, as women have become more fully empowered and integrated into society, we've become less violent, more sophisticated, more balanced and even more innovative.

The last is key, especially in fields like politics.  If you think that policy development is a social equivalent to natural selection, with the best ideas already in existence needing only tough salesmen to ensure the best policy genes are carried on, fine.  But what if the solutions at hand aren't up to the challenges of the day?

Reproduction isn't about carrying one person's genes forward - it's about getting the best blend of each. 

Smart policy (admittedly, a rare commodity) works the same way.  It blends perspectives and approaches to create the best adapted and flexible end product.

If you're so focused on winning and selling what you have that you can't view alternative perspectives as anything but competition, you're losing the ability to incorporate, grow and build partnerships.  You may grow big and strong, but as a result you lose the ability to adapt and, as the world change, you become as irrelevant as horses and bayonets (or for that matter, coal plants).

Smart companies have recognized that it pays to be adaptable and to work with employees to ensure they have the tools, accommodation and compensation they need to succeed rather than wait for their workers to come to them.  

That way it's the best talent, not the most aggressive negotiators, who rise up the ranks and keep the organization competitive in an evolving landscape.

It doesn't sound to me like John Tory spent much time seeking out, understanding and supporting the best talent in his teams.  Like far too many bosses, he played the laissez-faire game, hoarding his money until someone came and aggressively convinced him to part with it.

As such, he represents traditional models of leadership that are proven less effective, especially in economies that are heavily dependent on innovation.  It's a shame, really, because he understands how destructive a winner-take-all approach can be to sound decisions getting made.

It's probably true that women are less likely to spend their time demanding more from their bosses; by the same token, it's equally likely that women leaders are more likely to do the right thing and empower their employees so they can spend more time working than negotiating.

Something I think John Tory should be familiar with.