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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, 4 May 2012

Justin Trudeau, Dalton McGuinty and Sun Tzu

I have spoken with Justin Trudeau just once, but as I do with everyone I took the effort to probe his meaning, mine his body language (for sincerity, intent and broader awareness) and look through his words down the rabbit hole of his cognition.

Again, it was just once - and just for a couple of minutes - but I was impressed.

There is only one other political leader I have had the pleasure of deconstructing who demonstrates the same facile self-awareness, a comfort with their knife's-edge place in a much bigger social picture and a vision of the puzzle-like nature of the world tomorrow.  That's Dalton McGuinty - another man too easily underestimated, but at his opponents' peril. 

Both these leaders see the patterns of our times and have a good sense of what themes and emergent opportunities have longevity and which ones don't.  They both have a business-like sense of the societal market and have their sights set on growth rather than continuity or ideology.  Each of these men understand the fundamentals - vision, discipline, integrity and compassion.  Social evolution isn't achieved through shrinking one's world, but by expanding it.  This is why they both share, through different wording, the same vision; an idea of Canada that is realized by moving forward, together.  Plus, both know how to both take and throw a punch.

McGuinty has made a point of learning from the many experiences his trajectory has carried him through.  Trudeau, a young man at 40, has his best days of learning ahead of him.

Dalton McGuinty is a man with patience and will.  What he sets his mind to, when he trusts his deeply-informed instincts, he achieves.

I don't think it's fair to weigh Justin Trudeau against the legacy of his father.  Doing so just underestimates what Trudeau the Younger might accomplish in his own right.

"Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible."

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Who Shall Lead?

  - Carol Goar, The Toronto Star

There it is again - we need a leader

I have heard this from academia, from the world of finance, from Not-For-Profits, from the public services, from teachers, students, parents, seniors, from government, from all walks of life across every cultural and social divide imaginable.  The world is changing, the models we have relied on for so long are simply not up to tomorrow's challenges - and nobody quite knows what comes next.

Everyone is waiting for someone to bring forth one answer that is so clear, so irrefutable, that we'll all have no option but to follow the singular path laid down before us.  Alas, the only thing that seems irrefutable is the KISS principle: even when we have seen that message brought forward as part of a broader context, we miss it, focusing on the trees rather than the forest. 

Of course we're talking societal development, economics and poverty, here - not religion.  Yet there's a common theme, isn't there?  It's not for us to take responsibility, think impossibly broadly, make the tough choices, risk being wrong and then owning our mistakes; that's someone else's job, right?

It all keeps bringing me back to this quote from LOST:

Whoever you feel we are waiting for, consider this - leaders don't come down from on high, they emerge from within.  Same is as true in business, politics, social revolutions and industrial revolutions as it is in every major world religion being practiced today.

If you're religious, call it God manifesting through His/Her/Its own creation.  If you're not, consider it social evolution.  Either way, the leadership we seek is already here; all that remains is for us to become conscious of that fact.

Don't Get Smug: Competition and Success

Hence, the brogrammer phenomena.  This is not a new thing, though - success has always bred overconfidence, a shift in focus from work to trappings and, eventually, collapse.  Look at the world banking industry (or troll through @GSElevator for a short sugar-dose of testosterone).  Look at politics; any Party over time, or a whole host of candidates. 

Smart people tell me there is all kinds of in-depth strategy in the antics of, say, a Tim Hudak.  I think that the reality is, there's a strong element of walking circles in the woods to this; the longer you keep at it with a righteous attitude, the more you're "strategy" becomes a reflection of your personal inclinations.  Planks become so much confabulation, justifying smug positions.  The kind of positions that, if you're very lucky, might work out for you, but are by no means a recipe for success.

Standard business logic tells us you have to exude confidence to win.  Practical experience tells us that overconfidence leads to failures.

My solution is easy - your only competitor should be yourself.  If you constantly push yourself to do better, to reach further, to strain for the next level, it doesn't matter whether the other players are competitive or not - you will never cease to excel. 

Reach higher - and deliver.

UPDATED: I never do this intentionally, but it happens none-the-less.  Here is an article I read after this post which also builds on the risk of personality impeding successTonya Surman, the visionary behind the Centre for Social Innovation, said essentially the same thing I believe during a recent chat: never make it about yourself - everything you do should be about the vision.

In the words of Lao tzu:

“When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

Catch the Idea Train - Re-Sourcing R&D to Social Entrepreneurs

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and speak with some of the brightest, most successful people in the province.  These fortunate encounters came at three events in particular: The ORION Network’s THINK2012; The Graham Boeckh Foundation Next Frontier in Mental Health Symposium and the Canadian Club of Toronto’s presentation to Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, with the Canadian of the Year award.

While these folk came from backgrounds as diverse as finance, academia, policy and mental health care, each brought a lot of the same themes forward, independently: the need, for example, for disparate silo-based industries (particularly in the public sector) to really integrate into a proper, efficient, coordinated system; the need for some new, connective tools to bring partners together to find new solutions and reduce the duplication, gaps and overlaps built into our existing pseudo-systems; the need to do government, finance, industry differently.  The biggest challenge of all – how to build in transparency and accountability where some top-dogs might not want it, ensuring that our institutions work for the public good, not just the CEO’s or shareholders’ wallets.

Last night, I sat in a room of primarily young, enthusiastic social entrepreneurs at The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Annex location for a presentation by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Britain’s National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts.  He and I agreed that the social changes we’re undergoing right now (and he was touching the same conceptual elephant as the blue chip crowds I’d heard elsewhere) are similar to those faced during the Industrial Revolution.  The world has changed, opportunity has changed, work design needs to change – but the champions of the 20th Century model of business-as-usual aren’t in the right head space, so to speak, to harness our 21st Century potential nor solve our 21st Century challenges.

The social entrepreneurs in that Annex basement, full of ideas on how to reduce waste and turn it into power, how to redesign public health to be more accessible to target groups, how to sell oneself in an age of social media, etc. – they’re the ones who will generate these opportunities and solutions.  They’re doing it already.  They just need others to believe in them, give them a chance, give them some support.

These two groups (the holders of capital/the means of production and the social entrepreneurs) are tiptoeing around each other like heartbreaking new friends, needing each other but not sure how to reach out in meaningful ways, how to balance the risk and trust concerns that come along with fastening new relationships.

But they do need each other – and society needs for them to work together.

Here’s how to bridge the gap.  Big industry and government musn’t look at social entrepreneurs as would-be capitalist successes, although some of them could be.  Instead, the people with resources should support the people with ideas as an outsourced Research and Development capability.  In other words, supporting these social entrepreneurs isn’t a maybe-investment in tomorrow’s opportunities or a form of charity, but a direct cost of doing business and staying competitive.

The ways in which government, the private and Not-For-Profit sectors and now, the Social Entrepreneur movement communicate are changing; there are those of us creating the right linkages, developing conduits for these conversations to happen.  It’s going to be an exciting new world.

The Knowledge Economy train is leaving the station fueled not by coal, but by ideas.  And it’s not too late to get on board.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Pay Attention to Your Mental Health

If you have never lost hearing, you've probably not spent much time wondering what the world would be like if you couldn't hear it.  Same applies to using a wheelchair or stroller - unless you have had difficulty accessing society, you'd never have thought about what it would be like to be restricted.

You probably have, however, been laid up by a severe cold, unable to do the things you would like to.  The cold is not a reflection of any personal flaw, any more than hearing impairment, though it might be caused by a loud workplace or listening to music at full volume, says anything fundamentally negative about you as a person.

What about having an off day?  A day where you just have the blues, or things set you off a bit more than they would otherwise?  "I just need my coffee," you might say, or "I'm due for a vacation."

That's mental health.  Just as a cold, a sore muscle or weakened eyes are manifestations of physical health, how you feel, overarching thought trains that cloud your judgement or make you hyper- or less-aware are mental health.

We all have brains.  Those brains function through complex neurochemistry that are impacted by internal factors like diet, general health, genetics and by external factors like work environments, family life, the weather.  Since we spend so little time thinking about how we think, we aren't connecting these dots; moods are dismissed, people either make us feel good or they don't, life is pain or a box of chocolates.  We tell ourselves it's got nothing to do with us, we're just responding to what the world throws at us.  Well, what causes us to respond reactively vs proactively?  To be patient in one situation yet short-tempered in another?  Ultimately, it's all in your mind.

Because we don't take conscious ownership of our mental health, we have very little control over it.  We don't design our systems - our home lives, our workplaces, our social services - with cognitive function in mind.  As such, we are all being moved around, like pieces on a board, by factors beyond our comprehension.  The rich businessman who thinks he can escape consequences for graft yet gets caught - that's mental health.  The politicians who postpone important decisions in favour of flashy ones, knowing it will burn them in the end - that's mental health.  The tired parents who yell at their kids for no deserving reason, with all the consequences that entails - that's mental health, too.  The call we're not returning because we owe information or the call we are taking because the person is fun to talk to - that's all our cognitive selves, motivating us in ways we don't even fathom.
This simple reality (our unconsciousness about consciousness) has huge consequences for how we plan, how we parent, how we manage or respond to management.  The subconscious rating of expense vs payoff tells us whether we act today at the expense of consequences tomorrow or if we plan ahead.  Here's the fun thing, though - you can train yourself to have conscious control.

Social-emotional learning.  Programs like Roots of Empathy.  Cognitive workplace design.  "Mindfulness," which is a fancy way of saying "pay attention to your thoughts and what impacts them."  The mind, like the body, is a tool we can harness, if we know how it works and if we make the effort to do so.

Mental health isn't just about disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia, any more than health is just about cancer or diabetes.  Mental health is about individual control in a social context and fostering a social context that empowers individual control.

Unless we are conscious about what's going on in our own heads, we will continue to be victims of circumstance.

There's a Storm Coming

Chris Nolan has a unique insight into the state of society.  I'll be very interested to see where we're at in the months following the release of The Dark Knight Rises.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Withdrawals From the Public Trust Always Get Collected

Of course we know that, in practical terms, this isn’t really true.  People break the law without consequence all the time.  Even governments break the law – and we let them get away with it.  For every Riadh Ben Aissa that gets caught, there are countless more that don’t.

Having said that – no withdrawal from the public trust is ever really forgotten.  If we’re busy and flush enough, we might overlook an unpaid debt for a time.  Particularly when political and financial capital are harder to come by, though, the time always comes to collect.

Taylor is one example.  Gadhafi is another.  So is SNC.  We have political examples right here in Canada where promises made are now being called in and withdrawals from the public trust are starting to be felt.

There’s a better way.  Instead of acting on a narrow wedge of interests and putting off consequences, we can proactively consider potential outcomes and plan broadly.  Rather than take withdrawals from the public trust and hope nobody comes to collect, we can make investments.

Either way, one thing is certain – we reap what we sow.