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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.

Friday 25 July 2014

Why You Want to Be Where Worlds Collide

Open Government.  Open Data.  Open Communication.  It all leads to an Open Community of the willing who are informed, engaged and collaboratively making a difference.

That's what it's all about.  That's what we're gunning for next Tuesday, July 29th starting at 7pm at 67 Yonge Street, 16th Floor.

In collaboration with the brand-new ThinkData Works, Wakata Inc (that's me and the amazing Jen Li) is hosting the second Where Worlds Collide, this time with a twist.

The first outing was to see who would come out and what they were interested in.  It was an amazing turnout of public servants, community catalysts, private sector players and a whole lot of big ideas.  My favourite two were Jabullah Murray's Basketball/Leadership program, PUSH Elite and the My SoJo platform.

Where Worlds Collide even attracted a couple of Mayor candidates in David Soknacki and Morgan Baskin.

The conversations were amazing - new connections were formed, new ideas raised; the energy was palpable.

And now we're upping the game.

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As Open Government continues to build like the falling of small stones that start an avalanche, initiatives like #OGAP2 and #OGT14 are changing the way we engage and, hopefully, the way we do both government and civil society.  We want to build on and add to that.

Where Worlds Collide is just that - a collision of events, of styles, of people.  It's going to be part concert, part consulting session, part networking, part reality show (with Richard Pietro updating us on his OpenGov on the Open Road adventures.

Here's what's in the works:

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First - what says open more than a rooftop patio?  Thanks to Bryan Smith and the ThinkData Works team, that's where we're going to be.  Space is limited, so if you wanna come - sign up now, here.

Keith McDonald will bring the music, his own compositions about Open Gov and Open Data.  Picture a perfect fusion of data geekness and head-bopping tunes and you get the idea.

We'll also have some chart paper scattered about the place that'll look like a prettier version of this:

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The point is to encourage people from different sectors to comment on what they think the pros and cons are for peers from other fields.  What does, say, the Private Sector have to offer Open Government?  What will they get out of it?

As I've learned from the Design Thinkers at Exhibit Change, the perspectives we hold about ourselves and each other are hardly universal.  Exploring these points of view is key to determining where both our communication challenges lie and where open ground can be found.

Of course, there'll be networking - a chance to pitch your idea, suss out new talent, find the partner you've been looking for but unable to find anywhere else.  Courtesy of ThinkData Works, there'll be some snacks and beverages, too.

We'll get a LIVE FROM SOMEWHERE IN CANADA update from Richard on his discovery of Canada and chats about Open Gov.  You can get a bit of a teaser here.

Lastly, we'll have a panel discussion about what Open Government is and what it means for Canada.  Who'll be on the panel is a bit of a surprise, as will be the direction of the conversation.  The goal is to start somewhere and see where we go from there.

It's gonna be different, it's going to be helpful and I have no doubt it'll be fun.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Superman vs. Lex Luthor: Kathleen Wynne, Max Landis and The Adult in the Room

Let's be clear from the outset - Kathleen Wynne is no Superwoman.  She is a mortal human being with strengths and weaknesses, abilities and limitations like the rest of us.  It's as naive to assume she can single-handedly solve Ontario's problems as it is to blame her for them.

So why the Superman analogy?  We'll get to that in a bit.

First, Wynne.  What sets her apart as a leader is that she has never tried to portray herself as the Woman of Steel.  She has never suggested she's got all the answers, nor has her team ever said only she can prevent forest fires.  In fact, this "I'm not the answer, but I will be a conduit" narrative has been part of her identity her entire career.

When Wynne says "move forward together", she means it.

This is not common in politics.  There's a reason for this, of course - in any electoral race, only one person can win a nomination, a seat, a leadership or the responsibility of being Premier.  Winning is all about beating the other folk, which in politics tends to translate into "I'm the path to salvation/they are the path to damnation" framing.  If you turn the other cheek to your opponents, they'll smile as they step on your throat.

Tim Hudak was a great example of this kind of politicking; he constantly protrayed himself as Stern Father, the man with the plan, the Master of Political Kung Fu, the only one who could fix everything if we'd just give him the keys to the Premier's Office. Hudak relished a good fight, as did his team - as do most political operatives.  

For them, politics is a bloodsport, the grand arena; they love epic contests, battles of skill and fortitude. There's nothing they relish more than dining on the ashes of their opponents on the field of victory.

Which brings us back to Superman.

Faced with some public criticism of the massive devastation Metropolis faces in the Man of Steel movie, direct Zack Snyder has said:

For Synder, Superman is an American stand-in for a Ronin or a demi-God like Heracles or Perseus.  The wanton destruction of property and loss of live was necessary to give Superman the scope and scale of a mythological hero.

That's fine, I guess, for a movie, but it's really not a constructive way to build brand in the real world.  Yet that is what the political fighters out there subconsciously are trying to do.

I've argued before that a great number of War Room operatives see themselves as modern superheroes (like a James Bond), all that stands between us and oblivion.  This is in no small part a narrative that feeds their ego; the more important you are, the greater the stakes are in your actions - and as such, the more of everything you deserve to have for being the superhero.

There are psychological underpinnings to this mentality that are hard-wired into our species; think Alpha Male getting all the best food and the best pick of mates for being the guy who keeps threats at bay.  Of course there are other males that want that privilege, so are constantly looking for ways to bring down the Top Dog, leading to internal competitions.  

Chest-thumping gorillas, deer antlers, peacock's tails and narcissistic personalities are all genetic variances on the same theme.  Our cognitive capacity has simply allowed us to blow up this narrative to epic, god-like proportions, with some casting themselves in the role of the Alpha and doing what it takes to get there.

Thing is, Superman has never been the Alpha male - he's never sought power, prestige or fame.  As such he's never felt the need to be at the centre of glorious, epic battles the way a samurai, demi-gods or super-spies have.

Superman has never been about himself - he has been a symbol for the better angels of our nature.  He is more often portrayed as a mythical equivalent to a Jesus rather than a Heracles.  As an outsider, he has been distinct, therefore not tied to the same drives as the rest of us.  As a being of unmatched power, he's never needed to fight for title or dive into epic, destructive battle to prove his superiority.

In the words of Chronicle scribe Max Landis, Superman has always been the the adult in the room.

Landis has a great rant in which he articulates why he has no problem with Superman killing one person, if that's what it takes to save many, but takes issue with the fact that Supes allowed his epic battle to ravage his home town and the entire city of Metropolis.  

Instead, Superman should have drawn the fight away from populated areas, away from earth even to ensure the minimum amount of damage to others.

Superman isn't interested in the win; he's interested in the public good.  That's his difference; that's what makes him special.  It's also why a guy like Lex Luthor, who strives to be the Alpha, loathes the Man of Steel as he does.

Lex Luthor may become the wealthiest business man, the master of the criminal underworld, even the President of the United States, but he can never beat Superman, and that's what fuels his hatred of his nemesis.

So how does a guy like Superman defeat an implacable foe like Lex Luthor? 

We go back to Kathleen Wynne.

Wynne, again, is no demi-god, no superhero, no saviour.  What she is, though, is a leader.  Leaders differ from Alphas in that they put the people before themselves, always.  

When she won the Liberal Leadership, Wynne immediately reached out to her former rivals to find ways they could move forward together.  Others may have gloated, kicked Wynne loyalists out of the Party and claimed victory; Wynne immediately started to go back to work.  

Even as her "defeated foes" continued to pick at her, trying to demonize and bring her down, force her to play at their level, Wynne has always remained the leader.  She works with everyone who's willing and always leaves the door open for those who aren't.

Faced with an implacable foe, Wynne does what the best of leaders do - put the people first.  If a "foe" of hers has a success, she recognizes it.  When she herself makes a mistake, she recognizes that, too.  The focus is never on bringing others down or making oneself bullet-proof - it's always, always on moving forward together.

In a Legislature that is often fractious and full of over-the-top personalities trying to portray themselves as super champions in epic combat, Wynne continues to be the adult in the room.  Does she slip sometimes?  Of course she does - she's human.  But she never gives up, never stays down - and she's winning converts as a result.

Instead of trying to bring her down or demonize her, Wynne's "foes" would do well to learn from her example and start leading themselves.  

If our politicians can pull together and focus on fixing the province, just think what kind of message that would send to the rest of us.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A Human Irony

Human beings have this remarkable ability to anthropomorphize.  We see faces in the clouds, in trees; we go so far as to envision God in our image.  It's a skill that's particularly useful to babies (recognizing a human face out of the morass of images helpless infants are confronted with) that plays fun games with our minds as we get older.

At the same time, we have a remarkable ability to dehumanize actual people.  We are very good at not looking in the eye of a homeless person or someone manifesting mental illness on the street - or dying in a foreign land of war or starvation, or suffering under our very nose.

Such is the human condition, I guess.

The Lesson of Justice Johnston Nobody Wants to Learn

I'm sure nobody is paying attention the number of similar stories that pop up regularly in the headlines and are connecting the dots between them - John Duffy, Chris Mazza, War Roomers being particularly nasty because of personal problems, a limbic Mayor, a functionally fixed political leader, etc.

We expect people to be super-human, to switch off home life at 9 and switch it back on at 5, like worked back in the days of mindless assembly-line work.  Only nobody works 9 to 5 any more and the work we do isn't mechanical, it's cognitive.

Across the board we are doing such a poor job of understanding and working with the reality of cognitive labour, despite the evidence-based best practices that exist for doing it better.  Attitude, personality, confidence, delusion, stigma all get in the way of real solutions for real people from the top to the bottom of society.

It's not they that's the problem, folks.  There is no they - there is only we.  

We are the problem - our reactive ignorance, our insistence on low-hanging fruit, narrow focus, short-term wins over long-term solutions and our belief that power is a pyramid and that everyone at the bottom has to come all the way to those at the top.

Justice Johnston ruined lives because of things that impacted his choices.  Some were physical, some were experiential, but they were all present.  If the context behind his choices had been understood - if he was able to step back and assess his state of mind while making decisions - things would have been different.  

That's the case for the defendants, too.  It's the case for every bone-headed decision made by any person, ever.

Theory of mind, social-emotional regulation, EQ, empathy, communication, consciousness.

We simply have to do a better job at all of these.  We all do.

War, Power and Failure: The Politics of Picking Fights

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The Middle East has become a tragic caricature of the politics of human failings.  Pick any side in the conflict, and you will find plenty of justification for position and rationale for actions taken.  Spin doctors and apologists will gladly help you.

We in the West can cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the obstinate madness of it all - if those people would just put shared survival ahead of individual survival, less people would be dying and suffering - but I go back to the caricature part.

See, we work the same way.  The only difference is the severity of our conflicts and hey, escalation does takes time to spark into war.  World War I was started by one assassination, but had been stewing for much, much longer.

Read the article linked above the whole way through.  Study what it tells us about Hamas, the political strategy behind picking fights and how that fight was seen as the most secure investment that would bring a return of continued power.  

Find it disgusting?  The way resources needed by the people were funneled towards infrastructure for war? How about the cynical, aggressive spin portraying them as bad guys that only we have the ability to stop, as indicated by the hits we've inflicted? 

That's not unique to Hamas, folks; that's our modern political landscape across the board.

One of the lessons I have been taught (but rejected) by political strategists in every corner of the political spectrum is the importance of picking fights.  You can't please everyone, the saying goes, so instead, pick the people you're going to piss off.  It's a more secure investment, attacking one group to mobilize another; you get to demonstrate "leadership" by presenting narrow priorities to a coalition of people you think will vote for you and then shellac your chosen bad guys.

This is the world of War Room politics.

We saw it when the Ontario Liberals took on their traditional allies, teachers, in a by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo.   We saw it from the Ontario PCs when they declared war on foreigners or the public service. We see it federally by a government that is increasingly demonizing everyone - opposition parties, activists, the public service, the courts, etc.

Check your inboxes, people, for all the donation requests we get.  Only our leader can keep the bad guys at bay, they say.  We've scored XX wins because we've had the ammunition to take those bad guys on in the media and whatnot.  Your dollars make the difference!

It's war bonds.  War bonds, War Rooms, fight the good fight, etc.

How many millions do political parties rake in?  How much of that gets invested in walking the walk?  How many volunteer hours do seasoned political strategists, logicians and fundraisers donate to the communities they supposedly want to help as a gesture of good will, of actual leadership?  What do political parties give back, beyond the promise of what they could do if they had power? 

I'd love to see some open data on this one.

The reality is that enemies are chosen for strategic value and fights are picked as ways to gain support, be it money or votes.  All the millions of dollars raised that could go to helping youth from marginalized communities develop entrepreneurial skills goes into the pockets of high-priced experts who aren't spending their earnings in ways that help these people directly.

The undeniable skill of those experts gets sucked into the political ether instead of being applied, even if in moderation, to helping build up the people themselves.

Don't like being compared to Hamas, war room people?  Too frickin' bad.  You can confabulate the differences and degrees all you want; you can justify your actions by demonizing whoever you want, including me.  

The fact remains that the processes used and the overarching rationale is the same.  Pick a fight, wrest resources, score some PR wins and keep hammering your opponents.  That's how you win; that's how everyone else loses.

Yes, attack ads work in mobilizing some people - in the same way drug abuse is a sure-fire way for folk to escape the harsh realities of life.  Do you think a single Gazan would support Hamas if there was an alternative that could demonstrably offer an end to war and an improvement of life?

The black-hat, white-hat "loathe your enemy, step on their throat"-types are hell bent on destroying all alternatives that aren't them.  They don't want the people to have security, safety, good jobs or a quality of life unless it comes through them.

That's not leadership.  That's tyranny.  It doesn't matter if you brand yourself as a tax-fighter or an elite-fighter or a man of the people or whatever; actions speak louder than words.  

When you accept collateral damage as the cost of winning, and invest in war more than the people, you are letting us all down.

Not that a general "we" matters - every time you use the words "coalition of voters" you reinforce the fact that governance is not your priority.  

Leaders don't buy conflict to force others to give concessions.  That's what North Korea does.  Leaders take responsibility for their people and will tear down their own walls if that's what it takes to build homes for their community.

Rockets vs milk.  Different priorities.

On days like today, I weep for humanity.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Why Not Both?

Fair enough.  You can't reduce a deficit if you keep spending more than you earn.  If you can earn more, though, then revenue starts to close the gap with expenses.

So why not do both?

I may be no economist, but I like to think I know a thing or two about behaviour.  Whatever the bean counters like to think, it's behavioural economics - in another words, sociology - that determines spending habits and realized earnings.

There's a slow creep of behavioural economics and nudge into policy making, taking a look at the why behind spending behaviour, hiring, investment, so on and so forth.

It's a bit of an embarrassing process, really, as it's proving that a lot of people who've spent their careers touting their competency and savvy haven't been as clever as they thought they were.  Management practices, HR, work/innovation incentivization, poverty reduction, everything is coming under the radar of behavioural economics and fields like industrial psychology to determine how we can do the whole lot better.

As data becomes open, we're finding a great deal of avoidable duplication, gaps and overlaps within public services; money going to services that aren't proven to be effective or provided in formats/timeframes not helpful to their target market, usual suspects getting funds that could and should go to more innovative players (along with some in-kind organizational assistance), so on and so forth.

In both the public and private sectors, presenteeism is a real problem that has very little to do with employees, as is generally assumed, so much as it has to do with the nature of work design, hiring, etc. Interns or summer students are brought in to do menial work, instead of harness their modern market insights to assist with redesign of services, marketing, etc.  Marginalized communities are ignored, seen as burdens or threats, when they present a clear opportunity for innovative growth.

We fixate on big wins and the most clearly defined investment potentials and look at money as the only thing we have to offer, when there are so many better options out there.

I've written a bunch of posts on how to do work differently, how to outsource R&D, foster employee engagement/value add/new service and product development, CSR, UGC, etc.  All are ways to innovate more solutions, more new products and services and engage new markets.

They also focus on social good through a realistic, behaviour-oriented frame; how might we get people to serve the public good through the realization of their own interests?

If anyone wants to hear more about these ideas and who's working in the space, they can feel free to browse my blog, if they've got the time, or contact me directly.

I'm sure we can work out a reasonable fee by which I can help you solve society's problems and score some wins along the way.

Monday 21 July 2014

Hooked on a Meme

Innovation isn't about brand new - it's always about evolving and updating the old.

Which is why myths live on with a thousand faces, but I digress.

You gotta start somewhere, right?

Ouroboros and Political Evolution

You can call it a ploy if you like.  Me, I see it as simply where we're headed next.  I've been saying that for a while.

That, of course, is the real sinister sub-plot of politics; it's not the master strategists who shape where we go next; such is beyond them.  The smart ones look ahead, see where we're going next and get their first.  Then they claim credit for having shaped the course of history.

It's never the toughest, most obstinate who last.  It's those best able to adapt.

Conflicts and Powder Kegs: Butterfly Monday

Not on the news this morning - Rob Ford.

You know where things are at when not hearing about Rob Ford is a bad thing, because something worse supersedes it.

Tensions continue to mount between East and West over the Ukraine.  I keep remembering the chat I had with an intelligent Russian man in April while in Germany for the commemoration of the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

He was convinced that Russia was in the right, carefully protecting itself from an expansionist West that, through NATO, was increasingly creeping up to Russia's borders and presenting a real threat.  This fella thought that Putin was playing his cards strategically, defending Russia's interests from countries like ours.

Of course, that's not how we feel.  We don't see Putin as a tough-minded leader keeping seas of troubles from lapping at our shores.

Then there's the worsening conflict in Israel/Gaza.  Frankly, there are no white hats or black hats in the Middle East - there are victims, threats, long-standing grievances and all kinds of foreign intervention.  The only real solution there is to change human nature, or better yet, to really embrace the core tenants that bind the Abrahamic religions together.

A hard thing for the aggrieved and righteous to do.

Especially when politics comes in to play.  As troublesome as the conflicts overseas may seem, they're not on our shores.  And hey, there's something to being engaged with a war or two that may make a good political narrative here at home.

After all, who would you trust to be a war-time president?  The kid with the flowing locks who loves China, the mad man in the beard or the tough-minded leader keeping seas of troubles from lapping at our shores?

Whether Harper makes it to the next election remains to be seen, though it's clear he likes being the boss. It's also clear that, in all Parties, there are folk who look at everything on the landscape for its tactical value. That means somewhere, someone is gaming out the advantage and disadvantage of differing positions and levels of engagement on international conflicts.

Which, of course, involves military equipment (which we can't afford) and boots on the ground (something in dwindling supply, before considering the morale of our troops and the increasingly offloaded costs of taking care of them).

Not that this matters, though, because Canadians have been told and readily accepted the notion that we're a consumerist society - we buy stuff, pay as little as possible and leave everything foreign in the feds' hands. We're not about to sign up for a conflict in which we may have to sacrifice anything.

Heck, in increasing numbers, we can't even be bothered to keep our democracy alive.  

As Canada becomes more increasingly polarized between those whose lives carry on as they have (positively) and those whose lives have been dramatically changed, worsened, reduced, the only consistency are those who've lived with the short end of the stick for far too long.  Their voice is growing as it's bolstered by those who used to have more and are starting to look for coalitions of their own.

Meanwhile, youth are becoming more organized, more vocal and more demanding of a society that doesn't leave them worse off than their parents were.  Some of those parents may think the kids are whiny complainers, but a lot of them are looking to youth as champions of the solution, not bearers of the problem.

Maybe it's always this way - conflicts and powder kegs.  I'm sure there are those who will say things are always the same, pay the rhetoric no mind, we will always carry on as we have.

As I get my family ready for another challenging week, I can't but wonder.