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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 15 February 2014

Linking Sex, Work and Success

So we've heard that women need to complain and golf more to get ahead; here's the other side of that equation.
Let's say you have a quietly competent woman who is damned good at her job and probably capable of doing more and as such, generating more revenue for her boss.  As she's not arrogant, however, it's always in her head that she should be doing more; as such, she's not boastful, but just keeps improving her performance.
Meanwhile, she has a male colleague who is high confident and thinks more of his value than it's actual worth - and isn't afraid to tell the same to anyone.  He is annoyed that he's not getting recognized for his awesomeness and demands more, cornering the boss on the links, at the coffee machine, whatever.
This guy does a great job of selling his value to the boss, who rewards him in turn.  In whatever new positions he gets, this confident guy is quick to claim credit and even quicker to defer blame, but because he's so utterly convinced in his own abilities, those susceptible to doubt find it hard to question him.
How many delusionally confident men do we have mucking things up in positions of power?  How many quietly capable women getting things done but not tooting their own horns?
Something to think about. 

When it comes to human evolution, it's likely that males who overestimated their appeal to females and pursued them even at the risk of being rebuffed were more likely to reproduce and pass this trait to their genetic heirs, the researchers suggested.

Reporting the Truth about Lying


Which is a completely different thing that making the rules because you're an empire builder, but I digress - confident, aggressive people exploit resources after all - they don't pay for them. 

If I told you I knew it was just a matter of time before the psychology and moral failings of Rob Ford (especially given the broader cynicism and system-rocking scandals out there right now) became a conduit for the media and through them, the general public, into the biology and psychology behind integrity and collaboration, would you believe me?

You shouldn't - at least, not just because I say so.  Not even if I say so with great confidence and never waver in my defense of my cleverness.  Bluster is not the same thing as sincerity.

If you were to believe me - and I can't counsel you on what to believe, that's for you to decide - you should do so based on the track I have laid down in this blog over the course of a couple years. 

Truth, judgment, sociology, context and the behavioural economics behind cognitive labour are all areas of great interest to me that I spend an ungodly amount of time thinking about.  As I tend not to expend vast portions of my cognitive energy on self-promotion and defense, I like to think I've got a bit more perspective scope with which to identify trends and patters emerging around me.

Which isn't to say I could be wrong - absolutely I could; I'm not precognitive after all.  In fact, I can't be all that good at what I do, because if the world works the way we're told it does, that value would have been recognized and gobbled up by monied people looking to maximize their own interests; I'd be spending my time on the talking head circuit or some such.  Which I'm not.
If, however, I suggest that all this stuff is going to grow in importance and seriously start influencing how we do things like training and motivating people in and out of politics, you might now be slightly more inclined to give my musings some thought.
But all the same, I wonder if Jim Coyle is familiar with Dan Ariely?  I bet he'd find his bits and bobs on our buggy morale code interesting. 


Friday 14 February 2014

What Does Team Tory Fear?

Almost as if they've conclude an election doesn't matter.  Why would that be?
With plans like the Fair Elections Act and their attack barrage in the works, maybe they just don't think election are relevant for them any more.

That's just crazy talk, Russell Brand!

Marginalized Voices Resound

You can criticize these gents for falling into racial stereotypes of aggressive, ranting, but that's not an ethnic thing - it's a denied opportunity thing.  When any marginalized group finds its collective voice, it stirs deep and booms loudly.
But also keep in mind - this is the kind of aggressive, demand-more attitude we're saying is why men get ahead and why women should take up golf.
Is it any wonder that societies are more collaborative and less violent the more empowered women are?

Promoting Psychopaths In the Worksplace

You likely know a few psychopaths.  You might even have one leading you.  The funny thing is, there's this belief going around that psychopathic traits are good for business. 
You want aggressive, competitive people who aren't afraid to bust some heads to get things done.  Work is work and it's all about making the objective best decision for yourself, which means succeeding, which then makes you valuable to your company.  Right?
Watch Question Period some time.  Not everyone in the room is a psychopath or sociopath, but see how many of them are trying to be.  Because that's the culture we've told ourselves makes for a healthy democracy.
The first step to addressing any health issue is admitting something is wrong.  The same goes with admitting a workplace environment problem.
Here are some psychopathic traits to look out for:
- Be male (three times more likely)
- Establish tight control over their environment and others
- Create and enforce policies, procedures and rules to their advantage, punishing violators harshly
- Break the very rules they enforce upon others
- Think or say something such as, “Nothing personal, this is business”
- Prize objectivity almost exclusively
- Lie even when it’s obvious they are
- Have a bottom-line orientation, meaning relationships won’t sway them
- Lose no sleep in making adverse employment decisions such as terminations, demotions, etc.
- Surround themselves with “yes people”
- Create homogeneous work cultures, avoiding diverse personalities
- Possess average to above average intelligence
- Exhibit charisma especially in one-on-one and group situations
- Function awkwardly in small, diverse groups of three to eight people
- Work extended periods with little concern for impact on family and friends
- Spread negative news and attributes of those who threaten their power
- Undermine those with strong personal relationships
- Extend their power by “constructively criticizing” others’ ideas
- Focus on taking credit for the creativity of others rather than exhibit creativity themselves

Dreams Made Real

Have you ever had a vision of what could be - and then see that vision realized, all on it's own, out there in the real world?

Happens to me all the time.  Visions, like dreams, are woven together based on the things we seen and experience; it's why people with open minds, even if they're from very different walks of life and different communities can land on the same vision at the same time.  

Kinda cool, kinda creepy, but either way, it just reinforces the value of being a dreamer.

CPC CBT: We Have Nothing to Fear...

Newspeak, eh? 2014 is the new 1984

Of course it isn't.  Just as using crack cocaine isn't the same as abusing it.  Or saying the buck stops here doesn't mean you, just the place you happen to be standing.  And it's bullets, not shooters, who kill people.

We now live in a world where strong leadership means deflecting accountability, fair means biased, transparent is as closed and opaque as possible and "the people" actually means only "my supporters." 

When you put self-interest and consumption first, this is what you get.

Ayn Rand would be proud.

Tim Hudak's True Colours

Two parts to this.  

First - I'm sure the people of Niagara would be surprised to know that the seat reserved for their elected representative belongs to the PCs.  Unless, of course, they belong to the PCs, too.  I don't think that's an assertion Hudak wants to be making.

Never mind that Hudak is borrowing from Rob Ford's rhetoric - it's the level playing field thing that interests me.

This is the same Tim Hudak who has repeatedly stood against creating a level playing field for Ontarians; he wants less support for poorer families, less support for persons with disabilities both physical and mental and no unions to represent the interest of individual employees against employing corporations.

When it comes to everyone else, Hudak tells us it's not about equality, it's about competition; you want to have stiff competition, as that forces you to perform better.  If we got rid of social services, regulation and unions, people would be forced to work harder, be more strategic and do better.  

Following this logic, he should have been delighted to have big unions throwing their influence into the mix, as it would force him to work harder, work smarter and maybe even adapt to the challenges he's facing.

That's not what he's done, though.  Instead, he's spouting the exact same complaints he did when he lost in 2012.  

To reiterate:

- Hudak feels entitled to the Niagara Falls seat
- He doesn't trust voters and thinks big money/influence shapes their choices
- He won a seat, yet is focusing on who to blame for losing the other one
- His blame this time looks an awful lot like the blame he cast last time - it hasn't changed, nor has he

Entitled, doesn't trust voters, focuses on blame, doesn't learn from mistakes, doesn't adapt from one challenge to the next.  Oh - and definitely doesn't like it when other kids play in what he feels is his sandbox.

That's the sort of Premier Tim Hudak would make.

But hey, at least he's consistent.


For all those Ontario political folk WAKATA's blog stats tell me are scouring my ponderous musings on Open Gov, community engagement, staff training, cognitive labour, etc - I can strip it down and communicate the basics, if you're interested.  I can even map out a strategy at different scales.

You just need to ask.

The Maintenance of Morale in Politics

In politics, you hear a lot about tactics and strategy, communications and attack ads, ground wars and War Rooms.  What you don't hear a lot about is morale.

Politics is, in theory, a zero-sum game; you win power or you lost it.  Everything in between simply means the war isn't over yet.

And war is the appropriate terminology here.  Political operators are increasingly seeing themselves as generals in epic battles between good (whatever our side is) and evil (the other guys).  There can be no middle ground in these titanic contests and, as such, no focus wasted on anything that isn't growing the numbers.

Policy is designed to woo voters (or suppress support for other Parties) and entice donations, which is why Members get fundraising letters after each and every announcement.  

Attacks are the same - they focus on the bad of whatever is proposed by other Parties and seize on any gaffes, portraying them as The Worst People In The World.  Attacks are also accompanied by requests for donations; we need your money to stop them, after all.  Only we have a plan; they will eat your babies.

Political fundraising is no different than selling war bonds.  Every donation you make is a bullet in the barrel of your best guy's gun... er, a flyer in the mailbox for your best candidate.  

Who will campaign door to door for the country/province?   Why, the super-heroic leader with a plan, of course.

In political warfare, everything flows inwards and uphill; every hour volunteered, dollar donated, call made or video retweeted is meant to build the brand and capacity of the leader, like a rush of blood to the head.

For senior political operators, this is the message that needs to be communicated to the public, but especially to every paid staff, association member and volunteer - to support the cause and fend off the barbarians at the gate, you need us.

Regional members that question the Leader get chastized.  Paid staff who aren't spending their spare moments knocking on doors get fired.  Wannabes who don't go knocking on doors don't get hired.  Members who can't add to the War Chest don't make Cabinet.  Cabinet Members who disagree with the Leader don't stay in Cabinet very long.

Follow the Leader to win.

This is where political wisdom and actual military practice diverge wildly.  

In politics, the theory is that you can brow-beat, cajole, bully and pester your team as much as you want so long as you produce a win.  Do that, and all else if forgiven and forgotten.  Those who fought most aggressively (or advertized themselves most aggressively) get rewarded for what they do.  Those who didn't measure up (or, heaven forbid, complained) get ignored until the next election or dropped from databases entirely.

Morale is considered a product of victory, not a tool to achieve it.  If you can't suck it up, then you don't belong in politics.  It is a blood sport, after all.

In the military, the reverse is true.  Through hard lessons and by studying previous ground wars, great generals have learned it is an absolute failure to dismiss your troops as pawns to be moved by master strategists.  If your ground commanders take issue with a set of instructions or an approach, it pays to figure out why.

Whenever I'm giving advice to political people, this is the message I try to drive home - leaders don't win wars, teams do.  Particularly in this day and age where one campaign bleeds into the next - where, essentially, the war never ends - the maintenance of morale should be the second item on the leader's must-do list.

If a front-line soldier is dispirited, if their morale is low, they lose their focus and are more likely to wither at the first sign of steep resistance.  If a front-line retail worker feels underpaid and unappreciated, they're going to give customer service commiserate with what their bosses have indicated they are worth.  

Or, they're going to treat that customer in much the same way as they're treated - as someone that needs to get in line and do what they're told, rather than as a partner who's valued and respected.

The same holds true for politics.  Where morale is low, chances of success are low; chances of sustained success or growth are even more dismal.

It's wrong to assume that a local association or candidate is obstinate or lazy because they disagree with an approach or don't seem to get your message.  Odds are they have a reason for disagreeing, that your message wasn't properly communicated or they don't feel empowered and emboldened enough to act independently.

You might be surprised at the level of resistance this notion receives.  It goes against the whole "star spangled man with a plan" of traditional political wisdom.  It's the numbers - of dollars in the bank and memberships signed - that matter; everything that doesn't directly fuel these two endeavours is wasted effort, especially when you're talking about the leader's time.

There are three main reasons that contribute to this top-heavy, morale-low culture:

1) Politics isn't about winning, it's about survival of the fittest

If volunteers don't pan out, they'll wander off; if staff aren't doing what you demand, they can be replaced; if associations or candidates can't manage on their own, that's their problem.  

Which is why Partisans become so disconnected from reality, become geographically centralized and end up with a bunch of people at the top who think and act in exactly the same manner.

Evolution isn't consolidation, however - it's about adaptation.  You don't get that without diversity and expansion.

2) Politics focuses on battles, not the war

Get through this battle, worry about the next one later.  Promise whatever to win now, worry about implementation later.  

You can always spin your way out of the next problem, right?  Those who disagree with this sentiment just aren't functionally focused enough on what matters (see point 1) which is to keep winning (see point 3).

3) Partisans put the Party ahead of the People

Remember how I said that morale is the second most important thing leaders should focus on?  The first is vision.  

Without vision, politics is tribal warfare.  This is why you can see the same policies come from completely different Parties - even if that same Party has previously criticized that policy.

Tribes, by their very nature, are small and much more homogeneous than larger, more complex societies.  They don't need vision or complicated infrastructure to function and are much better at identifying who enemies are - they're those who aren't us.

Politics as we see it can't be tribal - not if it wants to succeed on the grander scale and certainly not if it hopes to build sustainability into our system.

And this is the biggest difference between politics and true warfare.  Wars haven't fought for leaders since the days of feudalism.  Today, wars are fought for the well-being of the people and they're fought together.

That's what our politics is missing.  Leadership isn't about people supporting you - it's about you supporting them.  

Leaders know where they're going and will do whatever it takes to help their people get there.  That's morale.

The Unabating Storm

And they didn't even have hard drives when she was born.

At somewhere along her career, I'm sure Hazel McCallion was told it's a bad idea to be interested in many things at once.  You have to focus if you want to get ahead in life.  

Someone probably scoffed at the wasted mental effort Hurricane Hazel was obviously expending by retaining useless conversations or bothering to read every single piece of communication she got from her constituents.  You can't care about them all, she may have been told - you have to pick your battles, and equally pick your fights.  Everything else is extraneous.

She may have even been told that if you're good at something, you should never do it for free.  "Never think about something unless you're paid to," she may have heard.

But she didn't listen to any of this sage, traditional advice, did she?  Meanwhile, those who criticized her approach are probably dead, buried and forgotten by everyone - except for her.

So what's the secret?

"It's a combination of good genetics and living well, being active, passionate and engaged with what you do."

Think about that for a second.  We are telling our youth to be more aggressive, more strategic with their engagement and to focus on building brand and selling what we do instead of embracing why we want to do it.

Spend less time on the links and more volunteering for a cause you believe in.  You'll do it better and you'll live longer.

Thursday 13 February 2014

A Lego Lesson in Leadership

It's common sense that if everyone in one boat rows in their own direction, that boat will go nowhere.

And yet we build everything in our society around aggressive competition and selling messages rather than creating solutions.

So how do we build a solution?  For that, we need to co-design a plan.  But we've always been able to do that.  What's holding us back, what are we waiting for?  A missing piece?

What's our Piece of Resistance?  

If everyone only listens for what's in it for them, nobody will see what the big picture looks like

Emmet can set you free, but the rest is up to us.

We realize, with perhaps a shock of recognition, that the tension between creativity and necessary rules is hardly limited to the Lego universe.  And we get a lesson about how that strain might be resolved.

Teaching to Fish vs Making Sausage in a Healthy Ontario

Dear Bob Hepburn,

All press is political, I guess, and this could just be Hepburn trying to prove a point.  Or, he could believe his own rhetoric - I generally tend to assume people take the time to think through the complexities of a given situation, whatever they choose to communicate - but I've been wrong before.

So let's outline some problems with this post.  This is the sort of advice you could pay a high-priced Government Relations consultant $700 an hour for - if you did, you would be taking copious notes.  Which means probably no one will read it.  We don't respect what we don't pay for, right?

1)  Nobody can pick up the phone and immediately get the Minister.

Her number is (416) 327-4300.  Give it a try, see what happens.  But of course that's not her direct line, which is a less-shared number.  It's not her cell which should be even more exclusive.  Even her staff won't be able to reach her their 24/7, or even 9-5 (which in politics is more like 8 to 8).

Ministers tend not to answer their phones while they're in Question Period.  They shouldn't be answering their phones while they're in meetings - with stakeholders, getting briefed by Ministry staff or their own political aides or constituents (because they are MPPs, too).  If they're giving a speech or taking a tour somewhere, they should have their cells on mute.  Interrupting people in front of you because someone one the phone "outranks" them is elitist, exclusionary and discriminatory - not a good way to lead.

If you want to speak to a Minister, you need to schedule something in advance.  It's as simple as that.  

Yet the execution is far more complex.  Ministers will agree to meetings and calls all the time, delegating to their staff to sort out the details - my people will call your people, etc.  They have dedicated schedulers who try to make everything work, with everything including the demands of the constituency office, time demands from the Premier's Office, Legislative responsibilities, committees, time asks from fellow MPPs of both Parties, individuals with significant health challenges, advocacy groups, agencies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, doctor associations, front-line worker unions, interest groups like seniors health, diabetes, cancer, mental health, so on and so forth.

They call it "drinking from the firehose" - there's no way on earth one person can successfully manage every demand, every nuance, every crack in a system that's bigger than most jurisdictions in Ontario.  

Which is why delegating to Executives is so important.

2) On that "Culture of Fear" 

Boo-hoo, you might say.  If you can't take the heat, get out of the fire.  A tough leader has no issues with prioritizing and skipping past the less-necessary issues and stakeholders.  Same goes for funding - if a program fails to deliver tangible, measurable results, kill it.  It wasn't necessary in the first place.  Staff that waffle?  They simply need a firm hand to keep them in line.

It doesn't matter that the issues on the table range from ridiculously costly drugs that can save the lives of a marginal few, hospitals to serve increased need at present or preventative measures to address avoidable costs, like the kind that come from Diabetes Type II (we'll get back to this later), Smoking-related lung cancer or workplace mental health initiatives.  Tough leaders are ruthless, right?  Focused on the money.   Efficiences.  That kind of thing.

The smart thing to do for tough-minded Ministers to find tough-minded Executives who aren't afraid to bust some heads and make some ruthless cuts to make the beast financially sound.  Who, pray tell, are these aggressive, money-focused individuals?  How do you tell them from others in a crowd?  

Generally, they will have a record of being tough and making cuts, but they also demand to be paid for their labours - which they'll be sure to tell you about over golf.

3) If you reached the Minister, what would you say?

Let's say Bob Hepburn manages to get Deb Matthews on the phone, for a health-related issue; maybe he's got a relative dying of some rare and treatable disease whose cure costs as much as ten MRI machines desperately needed in Northern Ontario.  What would he say?

"Hey, Minister, my mom's dying of empathitis, why aren't you treating it?  Why are you letting my mother die?"

The Minister knows that Bob has some political savvy - that, and access to a whole lot of ink.  He may or may not understand or care about the complex funding landscape that is health; if he's being aggressive, like those Executives who get what they want, he could very well be exaggerating his mother's condition so as to elicit a response.  That's how Question Period works, after all.

Knowing Matthews, who suffers from a bit of empathitis herself, she would probably say "that's terrible, let me look into it and get back to you."  But what happens next?  Does she pull a twenty out of her taxpayer-dollar wallet and walk Bob's mom to the nearest clinic?

Of course not.  Like in a hospital, especially one in a state of emergency, the ask gets triaged among all the other asks that come in to the Minister, her staff, the Ministry staff, the agencies, other Members, so on and so forth.  Somewhere within and between thousands of players, decisions get made.  

But are all of these players after the same thing?

4) Ontario doesn't really have a healthcare system.

System: a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.

The only thing tying Ontario's multiplicity of services, agencies, divisions and stakeholders together is, frankly, money - not public health and certainly not structural sustainability.

What we think of as a carefully integrated system of services is actually a feudal empire with lots of little lords guarding coveted ground.  Executive get where they are because they're willing to fight for what they want and have more than a little ambition.  That's the way the system works; that's how rank is rewarded.

It is true that our feudal healthcare non-system is largely funded by public dollars; there's some metrics in place to show something akin to ROI but as is the case with any system based on financial rewards, to the squeaky wheel goes the grease.

Of course, smart, tough, fiscally-focused Executives play to win and build their teams accordingly.  

Knowing the pressures on healthcare and recognizing the necessity of making strong cases/using inside channels to make them to, these Executive earn their salary by ensuring the saliency of their organizations - by hiring GR experts.

5) Lobbyists are part of the non-system.

GR, Government Relations - lobbying.  It's considered a dirty, corrupt industry, full of self-serving conivers using inside connections to score wins for their clients, regardless of big-picture consequence.

That's by and large true, but such is the case in any industry - much like Executives, it's the people who demand more who get more and earn respect for doing so.  Do you know how many high-priced lobbyists (and some don't list themselves as lobbyists, but are lawyers) are heavily involved in Political Parties, to the point where they get called upon for consulting duties?  A lot.  They have strategically networked their way into positions of influence and profit both themselves and their clients from those connections.

After all, half of work is networking, right?  If we are telling our kids out of school they have to hustle, make the right connections and aggressively promote their interests to get ahead, is it in anyway fair to get mad at professionals who've made successful careers doing the same thing?

Along these same lines, government tends to fund in buckets (which we'll get back to with Diabetes Type II) - a problem gets identified, money is allocated by Finance to a Ministry who then allocates money to agencies.  Those agencies put out Requests For Proposals which service providers will compete for.  

To simplify that - service providers have to compete with each other over money that goes to serving Ontarians.  If they don't get money, what happens to their operations?  

Just as Political Parties spend ridiculous amounts of money competing for votes, service providers have to spend money competing for dollars.  That means knowing the mind of Ministers and grant proposal reviewers and, often as not, figuring out how to undermine opponents so as to ensure they don't get what you need.

And when has survival of the fittest ever been about curing the weak or ill?

6) Lobbyists are necessary

Get mad at lobbyists all you want.  Yes, they trade on the fact that they're golfing buddies with Chiefs of Staff or cut their teeth campaigning on by-elections with the former-staff, now PA to whatever.  The best lobbyists have spent time in government which yes, means they have buddies, but more than that they understand government.

If you don't understand government, you can't get position yourself to get funding.  You certainly can't shape the process that leads to funding, which is where the real wins are to be found.

There's a big difference between government - the sustainable institutions, the bureaucracy - and Parliament, which serves as government's Board of Directors.  Cabinet is the Executive Committee and the Premier is the Chair.  None of these elected officials necessarily have the professional competency in any of the fields they may end up being Minister for.  

You can argue this as a good thing or a bad thing, but either way, it means Ministers need to do a lot of on-the-job learning, which comes in the form of briefings, consultations and visits.  Who schedules these meetings, consultations and visits?  Political staff, who always have one eye towards delivering wins and avoiding faceplants for their boss and their Party.

But who decides the content and direction of these meetings, consultations and visits?  How do they pitch the importance of their particular ask to the Minister/the Minister's staff?

Most briefings are done internally, by bureaucrats who inherently bring their own biases, intentional or unintentional, to the table.  Just like anyone else, when they present options for solutions to the Minister, they're going to frame the positions in a way that nudges in the direction they think is best.  

This process is rife with filters.  Even when it's the Minister looking for information down the chain, Executives, managers and front line folk want to sell themselves positively and possibly present issues in frames that serve to protect their self-interests; especially true in a climate where cuts loom and jobs are on the line.

The only way that Ministers can get sufficient opinions and perspectives to make balanced decisions is to get outside points-of-view directly from agencies, stakeholders and even individuals.  But again, how do you squish everything in to a busy schedule and a cluttered brain?

Lobbyists (at least the good ones) are more than backroom buddies; they are translators, simplifiers, analysts.  They do their homework, get to know the Minister, her/his inner circle of decision influencers and understand the bigger political picture that decisions are being made in.  Like a guide, they lead their clients through the bureaucratic wilderness and across the political chasm, touching just the right benchmarks along the way.

When the best lobbyists do their work, it's the Minister's inner circle who communicate the interests of their client.  When mediocre lobbyists do their job, they simply put clients in front of the Minister and charge for the access.  The worst ones, however, will bully Ministers through attack ads, planted stories in the news and the like.  

By worst, of course, I mean ethically.  As is the case with politicians, executives or journalists, it's the ones who shout the loudest and compete the fiercest who get ahead, at the expense of the system.

Know, though, that some of these lobbyists are brilliant.  I've seen complex problems reduced to connect-the-dots solutions and bureaucratic nightmares streamlined into cogent decision trees in about five hours of meeting time.

But again, we don't pay for talent, we pay for brand and competitiveness.  A quote from one of these detail-oriented, ridiculously wealthy problem solvers: "I don't think about anything unless I'm paid to."

To sum up:

If we want to spend less and want government to lead by example, we're going to have fewer Ministers responsible for bigger Ministries.

- Those Ministers will, in the name of efficiency, promote tough, aggressive Executives to manage their agencies.  Those Executives don't work for cheap; you have to pay big bucks to get ruthless.

- If you demand a lot, you're going to defend a lot.  Which is why we have such an inefficient, feudal system in the first place.

- Cut money to Executives, you get less aggressive Executives, which mead to less aggressive agencies, which means less funding - and less service.

- Smart Executives (who make money) understand the value of twisting government's arm or whispering in their ear and hire the best (i.e., wealthiest and best self-promoting) lobbyists to ensure their issues are heard and responded to.

- In a consumer-based, sales-oriented health system, the focus is on the Executives, sales agents and the service - not on the health and well-being of the people.

Get mad at Deb Matthews all you want, but tell me - what would you do to fix this systematic, structural problem?

Here's a case study to show you just how messed up the system is, and not just in healthcare:

Diabetes Type II: A Case Study

Diabetes sucks.  It sucks for the individual who has it, but it also sucks billions of dollars out of Ontario's economy via healthcare and other costs.  By 2020, that suckage is expected to be over $6.9 billion.  That's a lot of money that could go to other health services, or to infrastructure, or even to tax cuts.

Diabetes Type II is preventable.  It is catalyzed by things like diet and exercise.  You know all that oppressive, socialist health promotion stuff people get mad at?  Taking pop out of schools and whatnot?  The point of that campaign is to reduce children's exposure to heavily-marketed, unhealthy products that will hurt them down the line, meaning more money out of your pocket and fewer healthy bodies to pay taxes over all down the road.

Better than denying something to someone, of course, is educating them about the risks and nurturing the self-regulation required to make healthier, more sustainable choices.  But we don't see self-regulation as a health thing; it belongs in another silo, education, if it belongs in the purview of government at all.

Educating around health, though - that counts as healthcare, right?  Just not in the school, it's more of an agency thing.  So, Ontario has put some cash together and handed it to municipal health agencies to provide peer-training opportunities.  Service providers can take a course, learn about Diabetes Type II and it's prevention and then go forth into their communities and tell people how to do their lives a bit differently and save themselves some long-term pain.

It's all very noble and sounds great on paper, but.

Service providers less successful at getting money directly are applying for whatever money they can find so as not to have to close their doors, leaving both their staff and clients on the street.  All kinds of groups have lined up for the money, agreeing to whatever terms to get it.  They will take the course - which is brief, and has no follow-up testing or consistency metrics - and will do what's required, providing the scant paper-trail of evidence required to show they'd done what they got money to do.

Will any actual community behaviours be changed?  I highly doubt it.  But we'll never know, because there's no metrics to record this.  

Put the right aggressive, cost-oriented Executive in place, though, they'll solve this problem by cutting the program.  Problem solved, right?  Only no problem has been solved - Diabetes Type II remains prevalent.

You can overall focus on a leaner, meaner government and more competitive work environment, as Tim Hudak would do, but not everyone is good at being competitive.  They tend not to get ahead.  They also tend to fall into behaviours detrimental to their health and overall, the health of the province.

But it's because of reduced funding for agencies across the board that these providers are turning into service thrift shops, providing whatever it is that will sell.  Whatever it takes to survive, right?  Consumers get competing thrift shops to buy at, but the structural problems go completely addressed.

Feudalism doesn't work.  Competition isn't systematic; if anything, it impedes structural ingratiation, which is why our healthcare system is in the mess it is.

There are shared solutions to these structural problems available, but you aren't going to hear about them from the tough-minded, self-promoting lobbyists or Executives.  They're in the job of increasing their own value, after all, not of solving problems.

So who gets the big bucks to promote cross-pollination, empower individuals - teaching to fish, as it were - and essentially put themselves out of work?


You get what you pay for, I guess.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Well Worded by Ivison

It's absolutely true, too - in much the same way as the Harper Conservatives have written checks for parents with kids and given money for the burial of veterans, they are always about the money.  They're proud of being economists, after all.
But affordable isn't the same as equitable, and economics isn't behavioural economics.
Flaherty legitimately does care about persons with disabilities for reasons both familial and family friendial.  I have no doubt that, in his heart of heart, he believes that money measures are really the only way to go.
But what of services?  What about social-emotional support for burned-out parents or persons with mental illness?  What about training or incentives for employers to hire persons with disabilities and understand it as good business, not charity?
Team Harper still has an opportunity to go big on this score before the election; one carefully-crafted plan could empower individuals, give more flexibility to the private sector, assist in reducing healthcare costs and present an issue the Opposition would be hard pressed to stand against.
They won't, though.  When you're focused on the money, it's almost impossible to see the innovative solution.

Yours to Discover

Not really.  That would imply the mountain is intentionally withholding knowledge from us.  Which, of course, is silly.  Mountains don't withhold - they just are.
If we don't recognize that a mountain is there, we can't conceive of climbing it.  If we choose to climb, the heights may make us dizzy, or we might feel awed by the expanding landscape that reveals itself.  We may feel we've gone too far and feel the need to either cling to the ground or go back.  If we keep on climbing, our horizons will continue to expand - but the mountain can only take us so high.
Is it then the sky keeping the universe veiled?
Knowledge has never been hidden from us.  In fact, the reverse is true; we're the ones who've made up whole cults around mysteries.  It's easier to explain the dark parts of our world that way, and less daunting than reaching for the light - it might burn, or we might fall.  
Besides, being part of something secret and sacred makes us feel superior to others.  We build worth out of keeping things from others.   

It's not that we weren't meant to climb the mountain - it was only ever a question of whether we evolved the ability and something sparked our curiosity enough to leave our starting point.

Knowledge works this way, too - it surrounds us no matter where we go, regardless of whether we miss, fear, ignore or even suppress it.
But knowing is a double-edged sword; great power, great responsibility and all that.  Build your tower too tall on too small a foundation, it's likely to topple.
It's therefore fitting that fire is such a common metaphor for knowledge; it provides both light and comfort, but wielded carelessly it can burn out of control.
Which is why gardening makes a perfect metaphor for wisdom; the wise gardener tends all plants to their needs and ensures balanced growth, avoiding calamitous brushfire.
Wisdom is the combination of knowledge and empathy, an understanding of the need for balance in all things - even growth.
When we understand this there's no telling what heights we'll overcome or barriers we'll break, but again - the mountain isn't hiding anything from us.  It just is.
And that's the punchline those happy mystics have landed on, the nugget of truth we're burning our way up the mountainside to discover.  The end of our journey is right back where we started.
It's an apple and tree thing.


Visionary Leadership: Ontario's Less-Traveled Road

Ontario happens to be at a fork in the road, only this one is three-pronged.  Depending on who you talk to, 

- the Tories are the only man with the plan/will turn Ontario into a socio-economic Bangladesh

- the NDP have no plan and are playing crass politics/are the only Party that hasn't been in power for a while and can't be worse than the others

- the Liberals are doing a tricky balancing act between economic and social sustainability/are same-old, incoherent, wafflers

Of course the truth is never black-and-white simple.  The fact is that each Party has its core constituencies, core funders and pet causes that, taken in isolation, do not a sustainable province make. 

This is particularly true in this hyper-partisan age where Parties are so hell-bent on differentiating themselves that they will intentionally ignore good ideas from their competitors so as not to appear as weak tea.  

Each Party is supported in this endeavour by special interest groups (yes, they all have special interest groups) that aren't looking at the big picture of structural sustainability, because that's not their job - that's what government is for.

But if the Parties that aim to lead government are focused on disunity and scoring support from specific constituencies, they're not serving the public good, are they?  It's a cycle we've seen before - one side gets in, scores wins enough for their base to piss off someone else's, who are that much more motivated to kick the bums out, etc.  It's tiring, its cynical and worst of all, it's ineffective.

Worst of all - the focus on fighting over wedge issues keeps ignoring the creeping threats that should be concerning each of us - democratic disengagement, severe weather events and a diminishing sense of individual agency among individuals in an increasingly consumption-focused society, which in itself is symptomatic of our worsening and all-pervasive mental health crisis.

Don't believe me?  The data backs me up; productivity loss, healthcare costs, insurance costs, road rage, depression, medication usage, suicide, spousal abuse, people who aren't on social assistance but have given up looking for work - the list goes on.  

You could read up on the details and connect the dots between sectors, if you had access to the data and if it was presented in a user-friendly format.  Which is something governments of all political stripes are starting to pursue, globally.  

Which is what Open Data is all about.  I'm pretty sure that's something all Parties are behind.

As all three Parties (and their Members and Candidates) start fine-tuning their approach to an election likely to come in very short order, they're going to be focusing with increased intensity on what it is they think will land them a win.  Typically in politics, you do that, and punt figuring out how to make it work down the road.

I'd like to see something different.  I'd like to see all Parties take the road less traveled and dedicate at least some time during the pre- and during-campaign season talking about the things they all believe in and recognize, publicly, the need to work collaboratively and without snide partisan gamesmanship around these issues.  

Here's what my high-level list looks like:

- Occupational Mental Health (framed this way because it's work, not home, that has become the centre of our lives; this framing impacts HR practices, employment training, economic growth, labour safety, etc, etc.

- Individual Empowerment (don't give people fish, don't tell them to fish and get mad if they don't - teach the skills - this works for entrepreneurship, community engagement and preparedness for the next ice storm, flood or epidemic)

- Democratic Engagement (changes to voting?  Maybe, but even more important than this, political literacy, capacity building and fostering new partnerships and creative ways to encourage people of all walks of life to get involved)

The candidates would hate this, as they will largely look to build their individual wins by demonstrating how their Party is different than the others, who all suck.  Too bad for them.  If they want to be elected officials, that means they want to be leaders.  Leaders don't ride on the coat-tails of others, they set the example themselves.

To stand out in a crowd, candidates shouldn't be looking to their leader and explaining how they're better than the other guys - it's deeds, not words that matter.  Smart candidates can start showing how they would lead and what they would do right now by setting the example.  If you empower your community and raise your voice on their behalf now, you'll be that much more likely to do the same in office.

We're likely to end up with a minority situation anyway - Parties can focus on beating down their opponents now, continue beating down their opponents after the election and then start focusing on beating down their opponents for the next election, or they can do what they are elected by the people to do.  

We don't elect our politicians to oppose - we elect them to lead.

So I would propose that each Party Leader spend a little time off the beaten campaign path this election season and dare to tread on some common ground.  Forget the catchy sloganeering of any one group - it's not for nothing it's called The House of Commons, not The House of Partisans.

Think about one big vision that ties all Ontarians together, that all partisans can agree upon.  Then talk to them about it - talk to everyone, friend and foe alike, about what that vision means to them.

Attack your opponents on all else, if you must, but when it comes to this common ground, focus on how Parties can work together, bring different voices to the table and ensure that moving forward truly leaves no one behind.

The name doesn't matter; it can be the Open Society or Successful Society; what matters is that it sets a big enough foundation that everyone can see themselves in that future.

Lords look to secure their own holdings; it takes a leader to unite the commons behind one purpose

Or, in this case, it might take three.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Canada's Veterans: Dead Or Online

At least, that's apparently how Canada's Government sees them.
Because all the remaining WWII vets are clearly online and if veterans of modern conflicts commit suicide or crimes as a result of psychological damage suffered, how's that the government's responsibility?


Why Cars Should Be Considered Hes

The Harper Government is not fond of unions.  They block growth, demand the world and generally impede success through aggressive obstinance - right?

The auto industry, clearly, is a different matter.  They simply do a good job of selling their value to the Canadian economy.  Squeaky wheels and grease, so to speak.

This sounds oddly familiar:

The auto industry is subsidized beyond it's actual contributions to the economy, because they put up more of a fuss about money.  They complain, they threaten, they spend time, effort and money advocating for themselves - and as such, get more.

But is this overall a good thing for the Canadian economy?  Are we greasing the wheels at the expense of our economic chassis?  By heavily investing in traditional manufacturing, are Canadian governments impeding our national ability to innovate and growth into new opportunities?

Well, no - because if those new opportunities were so great and bountiful, clearly someone would be aggressively selling them to the laissez-faire purse string holders.  These innovators, social and otherwise, would be aggressively pitching, attending fundraisers, golfing and otherwise strategically hobknobbing with our socio-economic influencers.  That's the way the capitalist system works, right?

By doing things like going out for drinks after work, weekend golf tourneys, all that kind of thing.

Which is kind of hard to do if you have kids.

It's sad how many competent, even excellent women I know in fields ranging from community consultations to government relations who are almost apologetic when they get pregnant, because they know it's going to place a burden on their employers.

Worse still is knowing how many working mothers (who don't make enough to afford nannies) simply can't go drinking after work or play golf on the weekends, because it's just accepted that they're primary caregivers - even when they are full-time employed.

To sum up, women who take responsibility for both work and family are punished because they aren't pushing themselves while men who take the time to sell themselves get the raise and the corner office.

Conversely, men who "act maternally" by taking responsibility for family and firm, putting the interests of both before self are marginalized.  They aren't man enough, you see - they don't complain enough or drink enough or go to the links enough.

I laugh when I hear people like Michael Hlinka talk about how employers reward value as a matter of principle.  We've got a very primitive notion of what value is.

But so what as along as the economy keeps rolling as it always has, I suppose...