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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 7 June 2014

A Wake-Up Call for Business and Politics

This is no small thing, though guaranteed no small number of successful people will be deluding themselves that it is.

People are increasingly disengaged and disenfranchised, but that doesn't mean they're sheep.  On the whole, quite frankly, we're all getting a little tired of the pseudo-Machiavellian manipulations of media, politics and most other people who rely on us to pay their bills - especially as they are doing an increasingly poor job of it.

We have always been able to smell a fake a mile off - the problem is, there's not been much authenticity to choose from.  In fact, salesfolk have been attempting to fake authenticity or attack opponents instead of actually doing the harder work of design thinking their products, service and presentation.

Don't tell me how good you are, or how bad your opponents are - show me.  Better yet, engage with us, make us agents of our own experience.  Create a Community of Engagement where we all have a bit of ownership, a chance at legacy.

But don't tell us that you are the only vehicle for our success or our salvation, especially if you're a Political Party.  We know you're all human and are seeing, in 48FPS, you're flaws up close and personal.  Try to hide, try do deflect, but we've seen that movie before, too.

Fake doesn't work and, as we become increasingly connected in social murmuration, we are rejecting it collectively.  Be real, add value, be committed and have a purpose larger than your own gain.  That's the future of success.

Friday 6 June 2014

Governance, Engagement and Motivation

This is a message being circulated by actual HR professionals in all kinds of forums.  It's working wonders in practice - look at Zappos or Google or, for a smaller-scale, closer-to-home example, Environics.

But it's largely being ignored here in Canada - especially in government and within Political Parties. The former considers itself a traditional institution, which justifies a resistance to change by far too many managers.  For the latter, well - there are so many people out there dying to work for Politics and the stakes are so high, the people in charge don't need to change - people need to adapt to them.

Is it widely recognized that government is an inefficient beast?  Yes it is.  Do Political Parties and reigning governments change regularly?  Yes, they do.  Yet the system remains stagnant.

Instead of trying to strengthen the team or grow leaders, the focus is on driving down negatives - firing under-performers, cutting departments that aren't meeting quota, reigning in activity to smaller, more siloed and over-worked teams.  This actually makes the problem worse.

What of employee retention?  It doesn't happen much, from what I've seen.  The worst example of "employee retention" I've seen is a political staffer declared "off limits" to outside employers, otherwise both firm and individual would be politically punished.

And motivation?

Government isn't about belonging.  It's not about people.  It's about services - not the people delivering them, not the people receiving them, just the services themselves.

It can and has to be so much better.  There's no way it can't reform, in the long run.  Getting there though is painfully frustrating and as a result, governments and civil services continue to fall below their maximum potential.

This isn't any one individual's fault - it's a systematic, culture-oriented problem.

But fault doesn't matter.  Fixing the problem does.  I guarantee that whichever leaders take it upon themselves to make this happen will win the most important prize of all - a legacy to be proud of.

It just so happens we'll all benefit as a result.

Which is the whole point of engagement, isn't it?

PCs and the Art of Rebranding

Don't engage, message.  Don't explain, sell.  And never compromise - attack.

That is how bosses and empires govern, after all.

We all know how well that tends to work out in the long run.

Rise Together: Solid Advice for Smart People

Being smart isn't enough.  Being aggressive isn't enough.  Being confident isn't enough.

The only way to succeed in the long term is to put what you do first.  The only way to do that is to know why you're doing it and believe that your mission is so important that you owe it to yourself and others to work at it relentlessly, no matter how long it takes, no matter what new skills or partnerships you need to be there.

When failure is not an option, you have no choice but to persevere.  

The Secret Sauce for Success

To sum up all of what follows if you don't have time to read - the next evolution in healthy people and a healthy society is going to be redefining mental health from being about managing illness to fostering fitness.

Angela Lee Duckworth is an amazing speaker.  She has executive presence; from the moment she opens her mouth, you're hooked.  She gesticulates just enough to be engaging, she speaks in a confident tone at a solid pace and above all, she makes it abundantly clear that she knows her stuff.

This last one is what interests me the most.  Lee Duckworth talks about bouncing between careers, studying completely dissimilar groups - all the kinds of scattered, unfocused activity that is generally seen as traits of failures.  

What do we tell youth or job-seekers today?  Pick one subject, narrow in on it and do just that.  Find your "critical path" and pursue it, accepting no deviation.

The same mentality is increasingly true for politics, as best exemplified by the Political Right (Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak and Rob Ford come to mind) with their one-point plans and dismissal of everything else.  We want simplicity, sound-bites, one-dimensional narratives and quick wins.

It makes sense, right?  Simple sells.  Functional fixedness and message repetition sell.  We intuitively recognize that people don't want to have their brains stretched, they don't have the time to study complexity, so we continuously aim for "the low hanging fruit."

When it comes to failure, it's three strikes and you're out - if you're lucky.  If you can't get it right in a very narrow timespan, you're clearly never going to win and are therefore not a good investment.

Imagine if this was the approach we encouraged in our students.  "Look, you're clearly not a math whiz, so give up on it.  Science?  You're not bright enough, so move on.  The only think you'll amount to is manual labour, so forget all this learning and develop on your critical path to getting your foot in that door."

Education is about challenging our kids to expand their minds.  Learning to read, write, do math, think critically - these are all tough activities to undertake, like training for a marathon.  They're not easy; they take effort.  They are meant to take effort.

At some point along the way, though, we give up on this concept of a growth mindset and switch to functional fixedness.  "Don't confuse me with facts," our policy makers will tell us, "I know my plan is the only one to get the job done."

Bosses work the same way - "I have the answers, your job is to implement them.  Do what you're paid to and leave the rest to me."

Cognitive development, myelination of neuropathways has something to do with this, but again, that's complexity.  We don't want complexity, because we're too important or too busy to have to actually learn any more.

Sales, not growth, becomes the fixation.  How we feel shapes our behaviour, without us exploring the reason why.

We ask "what's in it for me?" or "what's my ROI?" or "why should I care?" putting our selfish best-interest first.  We focus on pushing content and taking what we can get, not on what we can contribute or what we have to learn.

Go back, watch Angela Lee Duckworth again.  Listen to what she says and how she says it.  She makes sense, she provokes thought, she engages - and she does it all in the span of six minutes.

Chuck Berry once said that it should take a long time to craft a great song - but only two minutes to sing it.  Songs are sourced from experience, from listening to music, from thinking about life - all activities that provide no immediate ROI, but that you can't innovate without.

It's really hard to write a great song for money, on the fly - songs are art, an expression of complex thoughts and feelings in digestible formats.

Like Lee Duckworth's presentation.  She's up there on stage, captivating an audience and inspiring people like me to share her story not because her primary objective is to make a buck or sell a book, but because she's twigged on to something that, in her mind, is so critical for people to understand that it would be wrong not to share.

Angela Lee Duckworth is an amazing speaker because she believes what she's telling.  She has dug deep and searched far, doing all the things we're told not to do in pursuit of answers to the questions that challenged her.

She has grown, she has come to see how her exploration has facilitated her cognitive growth and, through multiple iterations, she has excelled.

In short, Angela Lee Duckworth has done what all successful people do, throughout history - she has put the Why before the What or the How.  Her question has become her mission and that mission keeps driving her to greater heights.

Had she stopped at some point along the line, no one would have heard about her.  She'd be considered an abject failure.

The same holds true for people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs.  

It's interest to note that these three men, like most successful, world-changing leaders, spent more than a little time exploring their own minds and their own motivations, as well.  They were driven to push past themselves and truly become agents of change.

What, then, is the secret?

It's the exact opposite of what we are taught, what we are told and what the marginally successful people we are told we should emulate represent.

Don't focus on selfish interest, a simple path over a short distance and get there as fast as possible. That may bring you wealth, it can even bring you fame, but these are passing things.  

The people that change the world think broadly, see failure as a teachable moment rather than an endgame and look far down the road to where we can and need to go.

They're not interested in scoring wins or beating opponents - history's actors are committed to understanding the world and making it a better place.  They are perpetual students, constantly learning, constantly iterating, constantly honing their message, drawing new connections and filling in the dark spaces of their understanding.

And every single last one of them circles back to cognition.

Angela Lee Duckworth is fascinated with how motivation works, how the mind functions and how we might develop grit through the educational process.  This is the same challenge CEOs, policy makers, managers, mentors, parents, health care providers, everyone is butting against.  Tried-and-true methods aren't working, but few know why.  They should work - carrot and stick financial motivation has been successful throughout the age of the Manufactured Economy, so it should work now, right? 

But it doesn't.  Why?

We generally come to understand a given process, but not the underlying mechanics.  Attack ads work because they do; bonuses work because they have; people that don't succeed are failures and are therefore not worth investing time or money in.  That's just how we think things work.

The way we used to think the world was flat, or the earth was the centre of the universe.  The way we think sales determines success now.  Or the way we think it's bluster that leads to success, or that success is an individual achievement.

Cognitive science is proving all of our assumptions wrong.  It's doing this by going beyond what we know and accept as true and asking why it might be the case.  People like Angela Lee Duckworth no longer accept the notion that some kids are failures, some people are just bad seeds and that people have personal plateaus that they reach and cannot surpass.

The way we understand the world is changing.  With this growing knowledge of why, new tools, technologies and processes are being developed that are fundamentally going to change our world.  

Open Government, Social-Emotional Learning, work culture, employee engagement programs, changes in metrics, new economic sectors, nudge theory, it goes on and on.

The successful people who will shape tomorrow are active today.  Many are flying under the radar, others are being dismissed entirely.  That doesn't bother them, because recognition isn't their motivation.

They are driven to know and as they learn, they see an emerging picture of where we are going next.  It's daunting, but very cool.  They want to be part of that world.  

This is the secret to success, which is the exact opposite of what we are taught.  

Understanding, not messaging.

Communication, not sales.

Be what we can contribute to, not take what we can.

Altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.

The only barriers between what we are and what we can be are in our mind.

When we are conscious of these barriers, we can tear them down.

When that happens, everything is possible.

You just have to believe it.

Angela Duckworth does - it's working pretty well for her so far.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Real Leaders Are Talent Scouts

There's some great advice in this article for people trying to get noticed.  How you present yourself, how you communicate and the wherewithal to go ask the boss for advice matter in getting the nod for greater things.  What's missing, however, is the other side of the equation.  Shouldn't a leader be proactively looking and testing for capacity in their teams?

We live in this crazy, discombobulated paradigm where laissez-faire bosses (capital holders, landowners, owners of means of production) are waiting for people to come to them, to sell to them, to essentially do all the heavy lifting for them.

Fine - this is how laissez-faire capitalism works.  Bosses sit back and give out positions and gold starts to the most aggressively sales-oriented employees.  As the article above states, it's the capacity to have "executive presence" that matters - not the presence of executive function.

Certainly, there are a lot competent, capable folk out there who have great talent and manage to rise to the top of the economic spectrum.  At the same time, there are a lot of people really good at faking executive presence and, wouldn't you know it, downloading the work to those good at doing, not selling.

You know how we keep being told to "fake it until we make it?"  This is where that trend leads, folks - too many people at the top have made it, but they've never stopped faking it.

Meanwhile, there are incredibly talented people out there who might not be as comfortable with self-promotion as, say, promoting something they believe in (like their company) or have less confidence than ability.  

There are also a ton of people with incredible, untapped potential that will never get ahead because they don't speak the language or can't afford the dress of success.

We can say throw out Horatio Alger and say these people just need to work harder, but we're missing the point; when they don't, won't, or can't, they aren't the only ones losing out on opportunity - we are, too.

How successful would a talent scout that sat in their office waiting for people to come to them be?  Not as successful as the one who went out, watched potential hires in action and learned to identify rough skills that could be nurtured.

Real leaders learn how to identify talent and work to nurture it.  They see it as their primary objective to create new leaders.

This is why we have this paradigm shift where leadership is developing more among the front lines than it is at the top.

If they don't want to become completely obsolete, it's high time the world's bosses start making this link.

Hudak's Virtue: At Least He's Consistent

By Wednesday morning, he was speaking with theological certainty: "I stand by my numbers.  It's going to create the jobs that I say."  "I know I am right."

Of course he knows he's right - he feels right.  People who disagree with him make him feel frustrated, angry, agitated.

In the back of his brain, Hudak is certainly wondering why these people don't get it - but doesn't much care, because he feels like a steam-roller, like one of history's actors.

There's no surprise in this - Hudak has always displayed the same functional fixedness, the same animosity towards opposing viewpoints and the same urge to punish those who challenge him.

He's like Rob Ford this way - we know exactly how he'll govern, because he'll govern in the same way he's always operated.  Like a boss.

For this, he is to commended - he's being who he is rather than trying to present himself as something he's not.  Which means, if he's elected Premier and voters have buyer's remorse, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

Caveat Emptor, folks - be careful what you wish for.


Manhunt: Residents of Moncton are being urged by police to stay indoors

A surreal and terrifying scenario is playing itself out in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Three RCMP officers are dead and two more are injured.  The whole city is on lock-down as the killer, suspected to be a 24 year-old named Justin Bourque remains at large and well-armed.  

Thought to be hiding in woods right now, possibly living out a twisted fantasy-version of First Blood, Bourque has terrorized the community.  

That picture above was taken by a resident as an armed, unstable man walked across their lawn.

School has been cancelled.  Red Cross meals to seniors have been cancelled.  Businesses have shut their doors for safety; their customers are likewise staying indoors.  Life in the city has come to a jarring halt.

However this ends - and pray it ends as quickly as possible with a minimum of additional casualties - this indecent is an injury that will leave a deep scar on the memory of the people of Moncton.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country - indeed, many places around the world are riveted to this car-crash of a story.  It's just so horrific, it's hard to look away.

All this, because of one man.

We'll learn more about Justin Bourque as the tragedy draws to a close and questions rise about how it happened in the first place.  For now, we know that he liked guns, didn't like police and was decidedly anti-establishment.  He'd be a poster-boy for the NRA, if it weren't for the fact he has become a terrorist.

We know what we know about him through a study of his social media presence, where Bourque left countless hints at where his mind was heading.  We've also got some quotes from people who knew him - how he disturbed friends by snuggling a rifle while camping, how he wanted to go out with a bang and bring people with him, etc.

It's always nice learning about how many warning signs were present after the fact.

All of this is going to fuel broader conversations about online privacy, gun ownership, education, crime and punishment, etc.  Atrocious incidents like this tend to get people worked up about their existing position, leading to passionate clashes.

There's also the other side of this - the community side.  Twitter has exploded in conversation about Moncton; human tragedies have a habit of compelling people to communicate, to reach out.  It's a good instinct, this, as community solidarity gives us strength of numbers against common foes.

Twitter has also become a tool for alerts, far more effective than a TV blast or even robocalls could be.  Police have been able to use Twitter to post warnings; people within Moncton have used Twitter to warn friends and neighbours, communicate information about safety and whereabouts.  

There is, of course, risks associated with this - there have been more than a few cautions issued about not tweeting information that could harm the police's investigation.

From a big-picture, removed perspective, the story is of one troubled man who gave out warning signs that a community did not respond to, until it was too late; when the crisis hit, though, that community came together in support of each other.

But the people of Moncton don't live in the stratosphere.  They're on the ground, huddled in their homes, fearful of their safety and soon to face the harsh reality that they now live in a world where such horrors are possible.

Spare a thought to the people of Moncton, especially the families and comrades of the fallen.  
Honour the men and women who put themselves in the line of fire, daring to do what most of us would not - not for money, but out of a sense of duty.

Think a bit about how this could have been prevented - how and to who could those around Bourque have registered their concerns so that intervention could have happened?

Most of all, be mindful of the world you live in.  Drink in every moment, be present in your joys, be conscious of the challenges of others.

Because the reality is that what is happening right now in Moncton could happen anywhere.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Stephen Harper and the Nature of Evil

stephen harper

Actually, evil never "calls itself" anything.  Those who do evil tend to think they're doing what is necessary and do it in good conscience.

And human liberty tends not to be destroyed, so much as lost through indifference.

Harper's right on one thing, though - it does tend to reinvent itself.   

Partisan Problems: Hudak's Latest Hypocrisy

I don't imagine many pundits noticed this (and fewer probably care) but it piqued my interests, so here goes.

Then-Minister Kathleen Wynne, along with the whole of former Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal Cabinet, signed off on his decision to relocate the gas plants.

Frankly, we have no idea how the discussion around the table went - what we have exposure to is the end product, not the discussion that led up to it.  Maybe Wynne did say no, maybe she didn't - at the end of the day, though, majority ruled on the Premier's decision and the deal was done.

Hudak seems to be suggesting Wynne should have refused, resigned, broke Party ranks and stood by her ethics - or, framed a different way, she should have broken ranks and ignored Party discipline.

Like, say, Dave Brister did.

Dave Brister was the guy who publicly spoke up against Hudak's right-to-work policy as wrong-headed.  For publicly disagreeing with the Party line, Brister was unceremoniously dumped by Hudak.

Brister's comments were unacceptable solely because they broke ranks with Hudak's message.  What he was saying clearly wasn't the problem - after all, the PCs backed down on Right-To-Work in response to the same kind of message Brister brought forward - it was the fact that he, one of their people had said it that was the issue.

That wasn't the first time Hudak has put Party interests above public interests.  When Peter Shurman decided he wanted to run where he now lives - not in his former riding of Thornhill but in Niagara Falls - Hudak explicitly told him he couldn't.  

Why not?  Shurman had a lock on Thornhill that Hudak didn't want to lose.  It didn't matter that his Shurman no longer lived there and was willing to run where he did - it was the seat, not the constituents, that Hudak considered first.

That didn't work out so well for the PC's public image - instead of accepting responsibility for his choices, as leaders do, Hudak fired Shurman, too.

Hudak has played the same sort of game over his on/off dance with Doug Ford.  He doesn't want to alienate Ford's massive base, but he doesn't want to be seen as too close to the toxic politician himself.  
In these matters, it's not Hudak's conscience that drives him - it's that numbers game he's so fond of.

If Hudak had been Premier and made the gas plant call - which, by his own admission, he would have - and one of his Ministers spoke up publicly against the move, he would have turfed them.  More to the point - seeing how focused he has consistently been on his Party's interests, we can pretty much expect similar scenarios to crop up should he become Premier.

Think infrastructure developments like hospitals, schools or roads in friendly ridings when they're needed elsewhere - say, the North.  Think outsourced contracts to Party-friendly consultants without open competition.  Think fights picked with stakeholder groups he knows will never vote for him, because he knows it will mobilize his base.

Hudak has made it clear that, when he's the boss, dissension is not tolerated.

Which is exactly the attitude Ontarian s (and even partisans) are fed up with.

This is no passing thing - look at what's happening with the Federal Parties, or any Party for that matter. Elected Officials that exercise their judgement are punished.

They have no hope of becoming Ministers, Leaders or Premier - that door is only open for those who toe the Party line, no matter how wacky that line is.

Nobody cares about this, of course, and it's impossible for the Liberals to make this argument without being branded as weak or whiners.

But it's true none the less.

Sporting Fun Vs. Engaged Democracy: The #ONDebate

If you're bothering to read this, you're probably someone with some skin in the game.

I'm not talking about governance, or even democracy - I'm talking about politics.

Whatever we might tell ourselves, politics is not about governance.  It's about competition, scoring hits, winning and above all, ideology.

Not one of the leaders on the stage last night has a fully comprehensive plan to address Ontario's myriad challenges.  In reality, they can't - our challenges aren't fully home-grown.  Even those that are can't be solved by one policy regimen or another without behaviour change from the top down in every sector private or public.  And that's before even getting to every day citizens and their role.

But back to the debate.

On Twitter last night, in columns this morning and at select water coolers throughout the day, pundits are handicapping the race, discussing knock-out punches and essentially dissecting last night's Leaders Debate like a sporting event. 

Since the game's not over yet, the opinions are fairly easy to predict.

If you were a Libs fan, Wynne clearly held her ground and took Hudak to task.  If you're a Con fan, Hudak was the clear winner, and Wynne the loser.  For the NDP fanbase, Horwath looked like a leader and the other two clearly showed contempt for the system and the people.

From each side, we saw attempts to nudge swing voters: "I'm a liberal," says one fella who donates money to the PCs, "but I gotta say Hudak won this one."  "I'm sensing momentum," says a Horwath supporter, basing their opinion on no poll yet commissioned.  "Wynne showed strong leadership," wrote people on Team Wynne.

It seemed pretty clear the teams prepping their leaders cribbed from sporting event methodology, too. Candidates had their game plans, their key moves and lines to pull out when the opportunity arose.  For avid politics followers, you got a few fun Easter Egg moments: "You had an option," said Horwath, channelling Brian Mulroney.

But what if you aren't a die-hard political enthusiast, or a vested stakeholder group, or a rabid partisan?

I was in downtown Toronto near Union station a few hours before the debate.  The Hudak bus was parked nearby and a Hudakmobile was driving up and down the streets, playing video of Hudak saying something - his words were drowned out by the hopeful music on the soundtrack.  

As the debate was approaching, Twitter was exploding and there was even a partisan ad circling, I started to ask local commuters if they were going to watch the debate and who they thought might win.

The most common answer: "What debate?"

I asked my small sample of busy commuters a range of questions; what Party do you support, which leader to you like best, what plan do you think has the best chance of succeeding.  

The answers made it pretty clear most people didn't know much about the leaders (if they knew of them at all) and even those that had picked their horse couldn't really articulate their plans.  

There were refrains of "cut taxes" and "don't cut services" mixed with "punish for gas plants" and "I'm still mad about Harris' teacher strikes", but that was it.

Oh - and nobody was really going to go out of their way to watch the debate or follow the convo on Twitter.  Only a few people I bugged even knew the name Steve Paikin.

When I prodded a couple folk about issues - "come on, there's got to be some issue you care about" - the tone changed immediately.  People are worried about healthcare, about opportunities for their children (or about jobs, if they were teens or twenty-somethings) and, not surprisingly where I was at the time, traffic congestion.

For the most part, though, people seem not to connect the challenges they face with the policy makers who have the capacity to do something and work with others to do even more to address those challenges.

This really got me thinking, as I headed home.  To what degree to Ontarians in general view politics as a sport they don't watch rather than an unavoidable component of our system of governance and, therefore, critical to their everyday lives?

Or to reverse the question - how much do the political bubble people feel the whole world (that matters) is already in the stadium and closely following the game?

I didn't watch the debate.  As many debate-prep coaches have suggested they find the best way to analyze a debate is to watch it with the volume off, I decided to try deciphering the debate from Twitter alone.

The results were not surprising - there were four distinct interpretations of how the debate was going and who won, neatly aligning with the three political parties represented on the stage and the disaffected/disenchanted/trolls that were dismissive of the whole process.

Even more interesting was the degree of sarcasm dripping from the tweets of journalists.  They really have seen this movie before - again, and again, and again - and seemed to have reach their saturation point for spin.  They were hoping for authenticity, maybe, but didn't get it.

And of course, most of Ontario's voters didn't know there was a debate and wouldn't have bothered to tune in if they did.  We all know what to expect - messaging and attempts to score clear hits.  If we want to watch a boxing match, we prefer to go for the real thing.

The Political Parties know this; most of their efforts have been off-the-radar, through direct emails, phone calls and polling surveys.  With the rise of micro-targeting, but now the Parties have a good understanding of where there vote is and are amping up their GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts.  

Particularly given the decrease in volunteers (disaffection, people having too many jobs to work, a cultural shift from civic engagement to laissez-faire capitalist thinking?), these Parties and local campaigns want to push out as many of their identified vote over the Advanced Polling period so they have less to worry about on actual Election Day.

While Parties (but mostly pundits) do care about performance in a debate, there's a deeper understanding that it doesn't really matter - with such low audience engagement, it's less about persuading voters than it is about maintaining brand over the duration of the campaign.

Smokey the Bear - only smokey can prevent forest fires donate $25 to smokey's campaign here
Which is what Question Period has become, too.

That's the rub - there really isn't debate in our politics any more - just messaging, positioning and attempts to undermine opponents.  Winning by defeating is the goal, not policy.  Not structural solutions.

Think about that for a second - the partisan advisers shaping the direction our province will take are designing policy in a way that mobilizes vote in their support, not to structurally strengthen our province.  

It's a more efficient use of time and resources for them - if the majority of Ontarians don't care and aren't tuning in, there's really no incentive to develop plans that appeal to them, is there?

This is why we should care.  This is why we need more, not less debates and formats that promote discussion rather than encourage sound-bite expression.

We have a system that focuses on political sports teams winning the pennant rather than elected officials serving as conduits for their constituents.  

Last night's performance was not a debate - it was an alarm bell.

Word on the street is that Ontario is ready for a change - but are we open to collaborative change?

If the system and the people can't find ways to engage each other more effectively, more transparently and with a focus on solutions over spin, bad math is going to be the least of our problems.

If you  

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Pitfalls to Simplified Thinking

All true, but here's the rub - in a boss-driven culture, pressure is put on teams to simplify their messages, to cut out the extraneous and talk in hard numbers, not associations.  We are increasingly teaching our youth/employees to narrow their perspectives, focus on core deliverables and sell those relentlessly through repetitive messaging.

It may make for good sales, but results in poor policy.

As we continue to see from the message-driven bosses running our shows at present.

When it comes to forming associative thinking teams, it means that broad experiences, interests, expertise, motivations and talents trump narrow ones. People who like many types of foods, music, books, activities, movies, experiences, people etc. are more likely to have associative thinking advantages than those with more narrow ones. - See more at:

Monday 2 June 2014

James Cameron's Lesson for Politics

Imagine, if you will, that instead of screenwriters crafting movies you had political parties crafting public policy.  These parties know they're going to be authors of some policy pieces or leading the process at one given moment of time or another, but aren't quite sure which during the planning phase.

While each party brings a different perspective to the table, they all know and believe in the bigger picture they're contributing to.  They're passionate about getting it right, because they know what an important story they cal tell - what a positive impact they can have.

... or as Cameron has done: plan really far ahead, accounting for countless details and, naturally, leaving lots of notes.  

The goal couldn't be to get ahead as quickly as possible, leaving others behind; it would have to be the other thing.

Open and Yellow: Effective Advertising Starts with Why

@YellowPages_ca gets a tip of the hat for a brilliant ad campaign currently adding some freshness to Toronto's subway system.
Most ads promote a company, service or product directly.  They tell us what they are in flashy phrases, tell us how they do it better than anyone else and of course, tell us we want what they have to offer.
This wasn't Yellow Pages' jumping-off point.
Yellow Pages clearly thought through why they exist - to provide people access to the services and information they need.  How might they do so more effectively?  Through the development of an App, of course.  They adapted to the times to ensure they were implementing their why in the most effective way possible.
Then, they developed an ad campaign that carried their why further.  Instead of using ad space to tell people what they do and how well they adapt to the times, they designed a campaign that actually demonstrates what they do.  It's mercilessly efficient; no opportunity to implement their why is wasted.
Even better, the campaign is clearly targeted to the end-users that are being exposed to these ads.  What do people using public transit do?  Well, the use public transit to get from point A to B.  Why should the care about Yellow Pages?  Yellow Pages can help them use the tools they use already more effectively, giving them more access within their existing patterns of behaviour.
That's smart, but that's barely scratching  the surface of what these ads achieve.
By promoting local business areas, Yellow Pages is supplementing the work of local BIAs - something individual businesses will surely be appreciative of.  By providing information about things to see and do in Toronto, Yellow Pages is enhancing and aiding the City's Economic Development and Culture division.  The City (and its elected officials) will surely recognize the value of that.
It's CSR, advertising and social capital-building, all at once.  So what's this got to do with #OpenGov and #OpenData?
Across the board, government is struggling to implement it's why effectively.  This is in no small part because governments and bureaucracies are focused on what they do, not why they do it.  What they do is provide services, build and maintain infrastructure, create and enforce laws and occasionally consult with stakeholders (like voters).   
Why they do it is murkier.  That's their mandate is the short answer, but why is this mandate important?  Why do we need government at all?
Government is not focused on individual wins or maximizing the profit of shareholders any more than its goal isn't to put a chicken in every pot.  In practice, government is a Social Gardener - it exists to foster sustainable, dynamic growth across the system.  Strong individuals, strong communities, a strong society.
This is why we are seeing increasing interest in Open Government and Open Data across the board - how might government better empower citizens and companies to cross-pollinate and support each other?  How might government spend less time (and money) in sales or defense and more implementing their why?
Governments could do worse that follow Yellow Pages' example.
Through opening public data and making it accessible as possible, Government empowers citizens to see what the landscape looks like so that they might navigate it better.  Transparency isn't just about letting people see into the sausage-making process; it's an opportunity to clearly articulate the why in each and every decision and engagement.
By embracing the tools that people use and designing both their services and promotions with end-users in mind, government can design services that are actually meant to be used, rather than simply exist should someone decide to look for them.
The other key thing that government could learn from Yellow Pages is that ROI isn't always a clear-cut two-step process.  Sometimes adding value because you can helps achieve your why more effectively than only committing to something transactionally.
There are plenty of people in government who think the way Yellow Pages does, just as there are plenty of external partners ranging from Make Web Not War to Samara to the Maytree Foundation who feel the same way.

Government doesn't need to be all things to all people any more than Yellow Pages needs to deliver every service they promote.  That's not their why.
It's time government rediscover their purpose and spend less time maximizing revenue or downsizing services and instead dedicate their time and resources to improving efficiency by reducing duplication, gaps and overlaps within the system.  They might generate less profit that way, but they'll inevitably reduce costs, which leads to the same goal, and they'll improve circulation within the system.
I can't think of a better why than that.


Governments Should Not Be Comfortable with their Watchdogs

Mr. Clement ultimately “decided on someone he was comfortable recommending to the Prime Minister,” one source familiar with the selection process said. Mr. Harper approved and announced the pick last Wednesday.

Should the Prime Minister "be comfortable" with the professionals tasked with keeping an eye on the operations of government on the people's behalf?

If the PM is "comfortable" - does that not imply he/she will feel less, not more, likely to check their actions for transparency, ethics, etc.?

We've seen a trend that precedes team Harper but has drastically sped up under their watch.

Critics are silenced or threatened.  The actual organs of Canadian democracy - like Parliament - are seen as barriers between the Harper government and voters, rather than the people's mechanism for holding government to account.

Facts that counter the Harper Conservative's ideological bent are being buried, their collection halted. Watchdog positions are being stacked with individuals likely to fall in line, serving as "government spokespersons" rather than agents of accountability.  Anyone who calls this government to task, including Supreme Court Justices, is having their credibility attacked.

The Conservatives tell us they want to speak directly to Canadian voters; in practice, what this has really meant is that they seek an unfiltered, unchallenged conduit to get their message out.  At the same time, they have actively tried to suppress arguments and evidence that counter their message.

That's more in line with North Korea than it is with the principles of democratic governance.

North Korea, the hermit state, is famous for bad governance.  Their unbalanced, poorly considered (but unchecked) policy regimen has seen human catastrophes beyond measure.  The Kim's dynastic rule has increasingly relied on opacity, internal fear-mongering about the outside world yet threats to other states as leverage to get the goods they can't afford to buy.

Not a model I would think any sane Canadian government would want to ape.  What do I know, though - I'm not one of history's actors.

Why Rob Ford Isn't Getting Any Better

Note the framing here.  Rob Ford, who has repeatedly denied and repeatedly apologized for substance abuse and out-of-control behaviour is talking about his recovery in terms of losing fat and building muscle.

While it is vital to be in good physical shape both in terms of energy levels and discipline, you can be in marathon-running shape and still be an addict and still be manic.  

I've never been consumed by addiction problems, nor had to face the re-evaluation of self that comes with it.  For a great read on that process (and the one Ford needed to go through) read Jim Coyle's brave depiction of the process, here.

What I can relate to, however, is the need to recognize that behaviour isn't just a matter of choice; it's got deeper underpinnings than that.  More on this in a bit.

Rob Ford makes bad choices.  He makes them all the time.  He lies or diminishes his actions, but invariably gets caught and is forced to apologize.  These apologies are followed up with a promise to never again do all the bad things he does.

Then the cycle resets, and he ends up a bit deeper in the hole than he had been previously.  This is how he ended up in treatment in the first place - not out of a "come to Jesus" moment that he needed help, but because he/his brother thought it was necessary for PR.

It's great that Rob Ford has apparently taken ownership of his choices (It's a cop-out to blame it on others.  No one has enabled me) but he still hasn't identified the right problem.  By figuring some exercise and time in the rehab penalty box counts as paying his dues and lets him back into the game, Ford is missing the whole point.

Back to me.

In elementary school, I was a terrible student - bad at taking notes off the board, regularly late for class, distracted, so on and so forth.  Despite this, I was gifted, a natural problem-solver and developed solid critical thinking skills early on (which, alas, landed me in detention more than once).

It wasn't until highschool that I was diagnosed as ADHD - a controversial label, to be sure, but one that gave new perspective on the challenges I'd faced as a youth.  This diagnosis wasn't a convenient excuse to forgive my dis tractability or diminish my social responsibility - quite the opposite.  By realizing I faced a different suite of challenges than my peers, I was better able to develop the internal tools and external accommodations I needed to excel.
Rob Ford - mayors are like goalies, see; the puck stops here.

The great thing is, with these accommodations and such, I'm able to waste less time lost in a distracted fog and am better able to harness the massive bandwidth my lateral thinking process affords me to addressing big-picture problems.  

Recognizing the challenges I faced wasn't an excuse or an admission of weakness; it was a crucial step in overcoming barriers and maximizing my personal potential.

I don't know if Rob Ford has ADHD - his behaviours suggest a number of potential diagnoses, best left to professionals - but he's clearly got some internal influences that guide him towards making poor choices.  Lifting weights and eating less fried chicken isn't going to change this reality; thinking so is only ensuring the cycle gets repeated, again.

Just as you wouldn't tell a diabetic to "just produce more insulin" independently, it makes no sense to tell someone with a "mental health" issue to just make better choices and be done with it.  Better choices are possible, but not in isolation.  Internal tools and external accommodations are necessary to facilitate those outcomes.

Who knows - maybe Ford is developing these tools at rehab and maybe his family has turned over a new leaf and will be proactively empowering Ford to make better choices going forward.  The "it's all on me and by willpower alone I'm going to do better" narrative might be PR, as the Fords are afraid of losing face or appearing weak, as they have accused so many others of being.

But I doubt it.

What we have all seen, time and again, is a family that insists Robbie is a good boy who just needs to clean up his act a bit instead of an individual with more pervasive but equally-manageable challenges that needs some help to be at his best.

In the real world, there's no shame in that - even Stephen Harper has sung that he gets by with a little help from his friends.  When you believe in survival of the fittest, however, you will refuse to admit anything that could be misconstrued as weakness out of fear an opponent will seize on that weakness to tear you down.

The Fords have reason to harbour such concerns, of course.  While Ford has been particularly egregious in attacking his foes and deflecting all criticisms, he's really just a caricature of what we see across the board in War Room politics.

"Defining your opponents" has become a more palatable way of saying "tear their character to shreds."  "Message discipline" is the modern-day equivalent of omerta.  Actually taking responsibility is impossible in this scenario, because to accept ownership of any mistake is to open yourself up to remorseless, vicious attack.

Just watch the remainder of the Ontario election for evidence of how this plays out.

By refusing to recognize that he's got additional challenges, Rob Ford is fixating on and attempting to address the wrong problem.  As such, he won't be getting any better - if anything, his next fall is likely to be even harder.

At least he's in good company.

Until we collectively get past the stigma and taboos we've placed around cognitive functioning, the witchcraft or left-handedness of our age, we will continue to whack the wrong mole and apply band-aid solutions to structural problems.

It's a frame the political right, by all regards, should already be comfortable with; you have to recognize that salvation isn't something that rests in your hands alone.

Only by accepting our own limitations and recognizing our place as parts of a greater whole can we empower a responsible society, rather than enable individual selfishness.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Free Market Radicalism and the Peaceable Revolution

He being Mark Carney, that ardent communist and committer of sociology.  

I mean, he'd have to be, right?  He's suggesting that the pinnacle of human civilization, the free market, has become a radical ideology.  That'd be like suggesting that science has become a religion.

Yet he's not the only one.  There's a growing chorus of people of position who should, frankly, know better, implying that behavioural economics is at least as if not more important than old-school financial economics.

Maybe it's that they're being Machiavellian in their cunning, feeding false empathy to the masses to continue reaping personal rewards, maybe even get a spike in likability.  That can only help their speaking engagement fees.

There is only the free market, after all - everything that gets imposed on top of it, like regulation, is like putting clothes on a naked body or education into the head of naive young minds - all egregious infractions of the traditional order.

Some people are better than others; they rise to the top.  If you were better yourself, wouldn't you be at the top?  If you argue with that, you're clearly a whiner looking for a handout.  See how it works?

Actually, no - it doesn't.

I've made the argument before that ardent free-market capitalism is as naive in its expectations as communism was/is, because both are rooted in an airy-fairy assumption of human motivation and socio-cultural reality. 

Of course, I'm the wrong person to be suggesting such a thing; after all, I'm no Mark Carney.  Nor have I written books, been on TV or ever been elected to office.  I don't even have a klout score that's in the 90s or whatever.  Clearly, nobody needs to be listening to me.

I'm actually fine with that, because I'm not looking for audience; I call things as I see them.  One of the things I see is a growing number of people calling it the exact same way.

It is absolutely true that lots of rich, powerful, manipulative people have milked the system for all they could and died happy, passing their wealth on to their kids or whoever.  There are plenty of people out there right now driving drunk, doing drugs, skipping out on taxes and belittling everyone not as entitled as they are.

But there are less and less of them every day.  As the formerly haves become have nots, they begin to realize how little they like being on the wrong side of the equation.  They start to recognize what their new peers knew long ago - the system is flawed, unbalanced and unsustainable.

The superstars of the world can keep assuming people are herds to be manipulated - their time is running out.  They can blame that, in no small part, on those who are simply lucky.

They'd be wiser to take a look at the positions being taken by the Mark Carneys of world and realize they aren't pandering to the masses; they're laying track.

It's not the toughest who survive the tumults of history, after all, but those best able to adapt.