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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, 23 November 2013

Canada: Through A Glass Darkly

A few friends of mine with some background in behavioural analysis spent a bit of time around Harper recently.  From what is admittedly a very small and contextual sampling of our PM's behaviour, the sense conveyed to me was that of a man who was very comfortable and clear-eyed; one friend raised religious conviction as a potential underpinning for this unwavering righteousness in the face of everything that's coming to light.

Rob Ford is a man whose bellicosity grows in tandem with his sins - he truly is the Hulk Mayor.  His supporters, his Ford Nation, are unwavering in their loyalty - one wonders if anything, even being tied with a murder, would change their minds or simply entrench further into their belief that he is the hunted representative of the common person.

There are spots of compromise and shared solutions on the political horizon, and a great many more when looks beyond, but there is a more immediate emerging picture of angry people focusing on besting their opponents or stripping them of power, title and entitlements (whether it be the inherited wealthy or the welfare bum, the unionist or the spin doctor).

We have taken to defining ourselves not by what we bring to the table nor what we stand for and who we stand with, but by who and what we stand against.

When your neighbour becomes your foe and compromise is seen as defeat, you've lost sight of the shoreline.  

It's not the sea of troubles without we should be most concerned about, but the storms brewing on our own soil that present the greatest threat to the House we've built.

The Smal Matter of Motivation: Rob Ford and the Sexual Sneeze

In politics, good communications teams will always sit down with their candidates prior to an election and ask the all-important question:

Why do you want to run?

This is largely a framing exercise - how do you create a narrative that is reflective of your past achievements and positions and will resonate with your target voters.   All to often, the issue at question is how to sell the candidate, not what is really driving the candidate to run.

The same applies to education, to career choices, to choices of partners or hobbies.  We tend to think about why we make a certain choice after the fact, trying to figure out how that decision fits within our perceptions of ourselves.

But how often do we scratch beneath the surface to really ask and explore why we do the things we do?
Why would someone who is anti-crime consort with criminals, or someone that believe strongly in accountability refuse to accept accountability himself?

The easy answer is that these people have no moral compass, that they will sell whatever line it takes to get ahead.  It's pretty simple, but it also misses a key point - anyone selling one message while practising another has to square the difference internally as well.

Rob Ford is an international example of this in practise.  Ford is increasingly being shown as representative of everything he stands firmly against; he also has some seriously unresolved daddy/legacy issues (well-respected political dad was Doug; string-puller brother is Doug; son is Doug.  The Mayor met with a drug dealer in Doug Ford Park).  Oddly enough, Robbie is now filling and failing at a political position of power for which he is ill-equipped, but refuses to give up.

Across the world, including right here in Canada, we have governments standing against externally behaviours they are increasingly practising internally.  Again, the people in charge wrap themselves into pretzels or shrink their media presence to unwavering speaking points as their former values wilt all around them.  They see but through a mirror darkly; the world they see becomes a reflection of the confict they rationalize within.

Political bloggers will in one post espouse cynical trickery, then vilify the very sort of political play they themselves dabble in through the next.

Are they any different from us?  We rationalize the phone call we didn't return into the friend we're no longer close to, or the corner we cut as justified for any of a host of reasons.  It suits our purpose to tear down others, not to make ourselves look better, but as justification for the skeletons in our own closets.

The action comes first, then justification follows - yet it's through the justification that we define our frames of self.  We don't don't delve in to the why, perhaps because we are afraid what we'll learn may shatter the glass houses of our self-images, or maybe simply because we don't know how - nor that we could.

Forgive us lord, we know not why we do.  We're trapped in a prison of the mind, a confabulation of our own making.

Waiting For a Train ?

He doesn't know what he'll find, but that's the beauty of being part of the swarm: Even if you don't know where you're going, you still get there.

When  you're on a smoothly-running train, it doesn't feel like you're moving; instead, it feels like the world is falling behind you.

It's only when the ride gets bumpy that you fully realize the truth:

You're not waiting for a train that will take you somewhere you're supposed to be going.

We're in transit already.

Friday, 22 November 2013


hi from ABC News. Can you DM me with any information on the scene? Stay safe. Thanks.

There's something happening at Los Angeles Airport.  There's been a shooting, people have been told to get down, others are being kept out of Terminal 4.  Or, there's been a car crash, citizens are self-evacuating.  Nobody really seems to have any clue what's going on.

I know this thanks to Twitter.  Reporters are going to Twitter to connect with people on the ground, citizen journalists who have become our front line for information sharing.  There's an amazing picture on Twitter now of the terminal, people on the floor, one woman poking her head up to take a picture on her smart phone.

This isn't how it used to be.  People used to get information from authorities - it wasn't always accurate, but it was consistent (ideally) and provided comfort (occasionally).  There's real-time updates, but is there comfort in citizen journalism?  Either way, mainstream institutions have not adapted to this change yet, not by a long shot.

There seem to have been a lot of shootings of late, a lot of overreactions, too much confusion from which there is no release.  There  Lots of anger boiling over, lots of unsustainable tension rising, jobs being lost, populists gaining ground and faith in public institutions being lost.

This is the burning platform.

But at the same time, Corporate Social Responsibility, Open Government and grassroots groups are organizing and becoming progressively louder.

Consciously or not, the revolution has already begun.

Those Who Firewall Themselves From History...

I'd warn the powerful people working hard to secure their own legacies and cover their own skins that they are unintentionally creating a monster they won't be able to control.  They won't listen, though - instead they'll accuse me of committing sociology.


CSR, HR and PR: Redefining Wealth and Maximizing Success

UPDATE 10/12/13: Scott Stinson makes some legitimate concerns about limiting Executive salaries and the impact that could have on attracting seasoned talent.  I'm sure he's aware of the additional challenges Ontario faces around frozen capital, youth unemployment and some serious innovation challenges in the province - not to mention the mammoth human/social service delivery problems we're facing.

I'm all about one stone, many targets; what if a percentage of Executive Pay (or frankly, anyone who gets on the Sunshine List) gets put into a donation by the Province on behalf of the individual to a charity of their choice/added to a fund for would-be entrepreneurs that have ideas, but no business development/sales training?  It's public dollars, but it would have been salary - now it's going back to the community.  The donor gets brand recognition and some press play out of it.  The province, which would have to jig some regulations to accommodate such an arrangement, could have a truly innovative policy win on their hands.

It'd create work opportunities, inspire youth and who knows, maybe catalyze some other clever solutions, too.


Last night I attended a series of short talks on open data and open government.  Among the themes that popped up in each talk - the importance of data (and of sharing data), of trust-facilitated communications and how to motivate people to share information and participate in aggregation and shared-solution development.

On the subway ride home, I got to thinking about motivation and how we're using the wrong tools (carrots and sticks) to try and motivate cognitive labour in today's knowledge economy.  Being the lateral thinker I am, I started weighing the changing nature of PR, the prevalence of social media and the increasing trend of recognition being a form of compensation valued by youth entering the workforce.  What can I say, I like elegant solutions.

Canada is in a bit of a spot right now on the economic front; as a nation, we are failing to translate good research and out-of-the-silo ideas into innovative products and services. Corporations are sitting on capital that could go to more R&D or youth hires, but political and fiscal uncertainty have them playing a wait-and-see game that, unfortunately, means other players on the international stage are getting ahead of us in advanced manufacturing and completely new services like data framing and extra-sectoral capacity building. 

There's a growing demand for Public Relations to change its model from one that's focused on talking to one that's designed to build relationships over the long term.  It's not enough to manage crisis communications as the need arises, or even to do fun social media outreach pieces as marketing tricks - if you don't have a positive brand between campaigns nobody will take you seriously - in fact, you might find your noble intentions cause you more blowback that anticipated.
So what do you do?  How do you tie up a perfect Gordian knot that leaves no thread exposed?

It starts, of course, with hiring, retaining and motivating the right staff
There's a lot of grumbling in the corporate world about young whipper-snappers coming out of school with advanced degrees and expecting to get a ton of recognition with their first job.  That's not the way it works, these bosses will say; you have to work hard and climb the ladder, with success being the only reward you need.

This is an approach that needs to change.  The economy we're entering now is not your grandpa's economy; the labour requirements are different, as are the labour supports and incentives.  This isn't just whipper-snapper talk; study after study shows that knowledge work, creative problem solving and innovation aren't motivated by traditional financial carrots and sticks; if you take that approach you're simply creating a drag on your cognitive labour.  This a big part of why we haven't got innovation happening right now.

So if raises and titles don't motivate the best in cognitive labour, what does?  First, you do need to pay your team well - if they are worried about paying the bills then they aren't focused fully on your work.  Beyond that, you need to add value to your employees; this means building a community of experience that lets every one of them know they are part of the team and that their work matters.  It means accommodating them in such a way that they can spend less time worrying about peripheral stuff and more time producing on your behalf. 

The last point gets its own paragraph, as it feeds into the other two issues.  The big reason we value money is that it confers social status; higher salaries equate to greater personal value, but also allow for more expensive everything, the ability to buy drinks for friends or host fancy parties.  Money allows you to contribute and enhance your status.  When you have status, people want to hang around you.  That's called lekking.

Of course, it's not just the rich people that develop retinues; in fact, most founders of religious movements and many a social movement were poor.  The same thing applies to fashion trends or memes - a charismatic person or a cool idea can attract people and encourage them to contribute to a bigger brand because they want to be part of that experience.

This is where we return to corporate social responsibility.  There are all sorts of reasons why it's good for companies to give back proactively, just as there are multiple reasons for companies to properly motivate their employees.  Why not do both at the same time?
Picture this; you're a young person with a bag full of ideas, looking to make your mark on the world.  You're considering positions at two different firms; both have more or less the same job description, but Firm B offers a bit less direct compensation than Firm A.  That's because Firm B has a built-in bonus system that, on top of the already decent pay, ensures that value-added work will be rewarded with an additional contribution of capital that will go, on behalf of the employee and the company, to a charity of choice.  This donation will be promoted through social media and maybe even a press event. 

This brings us into PR disruption.  Instead of reinforcing the importance of what you do periodically, or solving crises reactively, you can spend some of your energy showing why you work in the space you work and how you are working with your team to make the world a better place.
You've just found one solution for your innovation, HR and PR needs.

Here's the real kicker - you don't need to just pay lip-service to social demands, you can actually realize them and strengthen your company at the same time.  People will believe in you more, feel better about buying your products and when the inevitable crisis does hit, will be that much more likely to forgive, or even defend you.

Funny how doing the right thing turns out to also be the most efficient, value-added thing to do, too.

Communication: Oppa Message Style!

We tend to define success as a ladder; you inhabit one rung until circumstance, be they hard work, connections or blind luck allow you to climb up to the next one.  It's a one-way track; you want to put as many rungs behind you and never revisit them.

Of course, our world isn't strictly horizontal, nor is it strictly vertical.  When we focus on ascending within silos or digging in at the grassroots level, we are missing the Outer Limits of our complex, three-dimensional social reality.

Increasingly, planners and policy makers are internalizing this concept - that for a sustainable, functional society, we can no longer afford to be putting walls around our operations and our careers.

This fragmented, neo-feudal service delivery model is buckling under the weight of demographic realities; there are too many people with too many complex needs for a lassiez-faire, singular-focus approach to work.

So what does this have to do with communication?

First, let's make sure we're all on the same page as to what communication means.  While it theoretically means the imparting and exchange of information through any number of media, we tend to focus on the imparting bit - after all, the goal is our ascendance up the ladder or our holding firm on a given turf, be it physical or ideological.

"It was nice talking to you," we'll say, rather than "it's nice talking with you."  We'll ask "did you get my message?" instead of double-checking "was what I provided clear?"  The boss will reprimand their employees with "why didn't you do what I told you to?" instead of asking "were the expectations clear" or even "having done some homework, do you think we've identified the right targets?"

As a whole, in the one-way track world of ascendancy or protectionism, we don't communicate so much as we message.

I have, by choice, the frequent opportunity to spend time at the extremes of both the vertical (policy makers, corporate leaders) and the horizontal (community activists, cause advocates, grassroots organizations).  While these are two spheres that see themselves as worlds apart, they actually communicate (read, message) in exactly the same way, only using different language.

The uber-rich will take a variant on Mitt Romney's 47 percent - there are those people who just aren't willing to work hard enough, who don't have the stones or competitive drive to succeed.  They could, but they don't.  If they're going to be sheep, they're going to get treated like sheep.

Networking with these people is like a mix of speed dating and the Dragon's Den; they're either trying to figure out if you are worthwhile of their time or trying to sell themselves or pitch their product/service.  It's talking at, not engaging with.  They might ask your names, but they aren't really listening, nor do they care.  It's more about how whatever you say provides them an opening.

The ardent community activists, be they anti-poverty advocates or anti-wind farm advocates do the same thing; they view the haves or the imposers as selfish obstructionists who just aren't listening to them.   These folk have their messaging firmly in place, are ready to dismiss any evidence that contradicts their messages with evidence of their own.  They need to stand their ground against those who would take away from what they have.

This is Oppa Message style - it doesn't matter what you say, what matters is that you listen to me.
           * Oppa (오 빠) is Korean for Big Brother.

On both sides, you'll have those who've read some "how to communicate effectively" self-help guides and will make a point of repeating your name to you, both as a mnemonic device and as a way to convey to you that they're paying attention.

Bless these folk for their efforts; sometimes they even pay off.  On the whole, though, you can't rote-learn communication, nor can you mine it.  Communication has to be a shared enterprise, planted in a bed of trust, patience and a willingness to both share and understand.  True communication isn't about ascendancy or holding ground, it's about bridging gaps.

Which brings me to the picture at the top of this post.  Last night I was at a speakers' series on Open Data and Open Government that featured a roster of characters ranging from bureaucrats to lawyers to data activists (yes, there are such creatures).  The audience was as diverse as the speakers, with the crowd punctuated by power suits and t-shirts, hipsters, urbanites and grass-roots activists.  There were no power brokers or policy makers in the room, which was unfortunate, but there's always next time.

As is the case at any of the events I luck in to ranging from the Forum of the America's Toronto Conference to the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods consultations, I eagerly participated in the discussion, both live and through live-tweets.

At most events, when people take notice of my engagement they will seek me out and ask "so what is it that you do?" as a way of placing me into their social relevancy charts.  There's no shame in this, as it's a cross-cultural practice that helps determine which are the appropriate social pronouns to use, but also tends to limit conversations to specific rungs or territories, fueling the silo-effect we're trying to solve.

I always struggle with that question, because I know what they are looking for is a frame of reference on how to relate to me.  Depending on who I am speaking with, I may answer political consultant, a GR/PR guy, a program developer or a project manager, a capacity builder or a comms guy - all of which are true, but none of which actual convey the why that informs my multi-disciplinary specializations.

At the CitizenBridge event, however, the question I got from people wasn't "what do you do" but rather, "what drives you?"

The difference was amazing.  As I explained what the why behind what I do is and they did the same, the walls came down, the horizontal and the vertical merged into a three-dimensional platform and were were able to discuss systems, both in their components and how those pieces connected (or didn't connect).  

For a ladder-climber, a turf-protector or anyone trying to sell something specific, the conversation would have been maddening; we veered from the need for data to the challenges in extracting data, which morphed into a reflection on trust, institution, governance, staff, cognitive labour, training and behavioural economics.  Each person in the conversation was focused less on what they'd get to take away and more what they could contribute to.

Which is how problem-solving works.

This leads into the great paradox of our time; we have a growing recognition that sustainable solutions are shared and collaborated on, but at the same time we have an increasingly hyper-partisan political climate and are telling young people entering the work force that there number one job should be to sell themselves to potential employers.

We aren't going to solve this problem with the same thinking that got us into it - we've got to think different.

That means that Open Government, Open Data and service delivery reform have to be about more than disrupting our systematic status quo - it means culture change as well.

It's time to stop putting the personal, professional or political win first and start recognizing the value of achievement.  We can all generate out-of-the-box solutions when we become conscious that the box in question isn't a prison of our mind, but rather a limitation we choose to accept.

When we stop myelinating our selves and start expanding our capacity, we'll find that we aren't competing with each other for space - rather, we will bridge the gaps of perception that divide us and become more than the some of the parts.

That's when we'll realize that Open Government isn't about the institution, it's about the people.

The Raven

You gotta love Haida art, particularly its depiction of The Raven.

Synopsis of this video: a cute girl is talking about how she fell in love with a guy who wasn't incredibly handsome or ridiculously wealthy, but then learned that all the things that made her go head-over-heels in the first place was a series of tips and tricks found through a process called "Pandora's Box."  Naturally, she needs your help to decide whether her love is true or if these tricks are manipulative.

The subtext of the message, of course, is that any average guy could get a girl like that if they just click on the link and open Pandora's Box.  The same trick the girl says she fell for is the one she's foisting upon the public, looking to hook into the self-interest of guys-wanting-girls everywhere.

It's trickery, plain and simple, but very effective.  The video was featured on YouTube, helping it get notice and giving it some legitimacy.  The title Is This Dating Trick Really Fair intrigued the social justice advocate (who doesn't want fairness?) in me just enough to see what it was saying.  

Had it been sent to me in a random email or popped up on Google, I wouldn't have touched it, nor would I open the link being proposed - Pandora's Box sounds a wee bit too much like a Trojan Horse to me.

As someone who works in communications and catalyzing behaviour change, though, I give props to the minds behind this campaign because it's very effective, even as it's cynically manipulative.

Historically, we've tended to judge these manipulators and tricksters as bad guys - everyone from Satan to Loki to the Raven have the ability to morph shape, catalyze behaviours and get us to do things we wouldn't normally do, often things considered bad.  Tricksters see ways to tease personal wins out of manipulating others and use trickery to get what they want.

At the same time, we idolize the tricksters as wise; Master Oogway and Master Yoda will trick their pupils into changing their behaviours, only for the better.  They see the potential in others and use trickery to help their students realize their greater potential, often in spite of themselves.

This is a matter that those who aspire to truly lead should consider deeply.  There's a lot of money to be made in understanding how other's think and manipulating those thoughts for your own advantage, but consider this - to truly understand how another person thinks, well enough to defeat them, you can't help but learn to love them (or face a growing amount of cognitive dissonance) as a result.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

A Healthy Society is a Conscious Society

This, fundamentally, is what open government and open data is about.  It's the purpose behind redesigning user-friendly services, changing the way information is accesses and training is received, how we do human resources, how we do work - everything.

It's a massive, structural challenge that no one leader nor organization can fathom, let alone address, on it's own.

We can go fast alone, but we can't take the world with us.  Sustainability is a shared endeavour; we can only get there by tearing down the walls and glass ceilings between us and consciously building together.

Rob Ford's Path to Victory (UPDATED)

So you're clear, folks, by guys she means Toronto Council and the City of Toronto staff.

Toronto Council has a lot of massive issues on their plate right now.  Having finally stripped Rob Ford of the majority of his mayoral powers and after a long, embarrassing month (or years) of Ford-centric mayhem, they are probably relieved to be able to move on.

Ford, however, isn't moving on.  He's declared war on the City and is hell-bent on taking back his powers, on behalf of the little guy.

See, Rob Ford never looked at himself as The Mayor - he looks at himself as a normal, regular person who has now been silenced by "the man" for not being perfect.

Ford now has a platform and the time to go out and sell it to these very communities that are afraid of being marginalized, even victimized by "the politicians" whose names some of them don't even care to know.

Were I Ford and his team, I'd be out in those neighbourhoods right now, fuelling the fires of dissent, playing the populist card, reinforcing the "I'm the only one who cares about you, because I'm one of you" line and playing up the "you don't need to work with those downtown people, you have to force them to work with you" approach.

Conversely, if I were the City, had trashed Ford's name yet was uncertain if criminal charges will ever be delivered, I would be obscuring his path to victory by seriously engaging with his potential voters, listening actively, recognizing what you hear publicly and seriously discussing related policy/funding initiatives that reflect at the very least the spirit of those concerns.  The side benefit to this approach is that they may even land on some innovative, more sustainable and wide-reaching solutions.

Of course, there's no reason for the successful people to listen to me - after all, they've managed to get where they (and we) are all on their ownsome.

UPDATED Friday 22/11/13: Friday's poll also found that one-third of Toronto voters say they will cast their votes for Ford in next year's mayoral election.

Seriously think about that for a second.  Despite the embarrassment being heaped on Toronto, despite the vulgarity and use of his wife as a prop, despite the physical assaults, the video threatening murder, the misuse of taxpayer funds and abuse of taxpayer-funded staff, despite the drinking and driving, swearing in front of kids, lying about everything from his political accomplishments to his substance abuse and the crack smoking, Ford's support hasn't budged a dent.

This is not an endorsement of Ford as a leader; this is an assault on an institution that people rightly feel is letting them down. 

Well played, Stephen Harper - you wanted an angry, system-bucking, fight-for-what's mine Canada; Toronto is one step on the way to what that looks like.

Ford has my vote as I believe in democracy and what the Councillors have done here is undemocratic.  I also believe this is driven by the Toronto police who should be investigated by the OPP or RCMP preferably.  It also stinks of the Toronto Star ans rallying the media against him.

This quite possibly comes from a paid troll, but there are without question enough people out there with rage against the machine that it could be real.
When a third or more of the populace doesn't only mistrust every institution that makes a democracy thrive and wants some form of justice, that's neither funny nor tragic - that's dangerous.

Politics has always been amateur psychology.  Because it is amateur, lots of assumptions get made that don't fit; lots of tried-and-true techniques get applied to situations that don't fit the traditional mold.

A big thing in political campaigning is "define or be defined" - i.e., make sure that you've established in the public mind the brand you want yourself/your opponents have before they do the same to you. 

This makes sense - it's about establishing both a solidified memory and an emotional attachment to it - positive for your candidate, negative for the opponents.  This is behavioural economics; it's why attack ads are both popular and effective.

The reason you want to get in early is because existing memories are hard to challenge; this is also why incumbents, particularly municipal ones who largely fly under the media radar between elections, are so hard to supplant.  Memories and their emotional attachments are the framework through which we see the world; these entrenched perspectives are very hard to break and reshape.

Target did some interesting research in this space and concluded that it takes significant disruption to our lives for established beliefs and behaviours to change.  This, again, goes back to attack ads - political opponents will always try to tie each other to the latest scandal, exaggerating its significance in almost Godwin-like proportions to make you feel threatened, opening you up to suggestion.

Which is what the teams of various mayoralty contenders or potential contenders are trying to do with each other's candidates and, naturally, the incumbent Mayor.

Herein lies the problem.  Ford's entire term as Mayor has been disruption - crack scandals, videos, football, rules ignored and briefs unread.  It's been like one prolonged campaign season - people have come to associate Ford with heightened political tension.

But they've also come to associate heightened political tension with a failure in politics in general.  

Political staff will be familiar with this almost PTSD-like state of mind, where the tension/emotional highs and lows of campaigns become addictive; normal life doesn't quite measure up and, like an addict, you almost long for the next fight to feel at ease again.  

As the campaign grows in steam and the blows start to fall with increasing force, Rob Ford will remain a constant in the mix, a bit of predictable instability for people to latch on to.  

Plus, he's already out there, solidifying his brand as a failed human being in a time of low-unemployment and economic uncertainty when many people are feeling like failures themselves.

Now, I'm now trained neuropsychologist - I'm as amateur as the rest of them, so I could be wildly wrong.  But I don't see the traditional War Room approach to campaigns working against Rob Ford.  In fact, it might just benefit him.

Politics is broken.  It's broken because of conniving manipulators that care more about notches on their campaigns belts than they do about the actual people.  The people are losing - their jobs, their sense of security, their sense of self-worth.  Rob Ford is like that, too - he's clearly got issues, like real people do, rather than being a slick operator.  And, he's consistent.  Better the devil you know than the one you don't, right?

Time will tell, I guess.

What Would Harper Do: Why Canadians Are Cynical About Politics

This letter, written by none other than Canada's Prime Minister, is circulating in in the mailboxes of Brandon-Souris.  Their byelection is on November 25th.  One might like to hope that the top politician in the land would focus on matters of national importance, but that's not how we do politics in Canada any more.  It's all about the partisan win and everyone from the top-down (in Harper's case, everything is top down) is functionally fixed on beating opponents.

It's political cynicism, but whatever - we've become immune to that.  What still drives Canadians nuts, though, is rank hypocrisy.  What drives me nuts is people that are so entrenched in their talking points that they are blind to how far they've veered off course until it's too late.

Here's where Harper's message and reality part.

In his letter to the people of Brandon-Souris, he calls Canada an advanced economy.  Advanced in what way, exactly?  Harper's entire economic policy is focused on natural resource extraction and export - an approach being abandoned by other nations, even oil nations that are seeking to diversify their economic portfolio.

He's not pursuing advanced manufacturing.  He's not investing in the Knowledge Economy.  Countless studies, including Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada's Research Strength and Innovation Weakness have made clear that our laissez-faire reliance on hewing wood and hauling water is an unsustainable practise and we need to start promoting and monetizing our research ability.  Harper ignores all of this evidence because it doesn't support his personal narrative.

Think about that for a second; we have a Prime Minister that stifles and challenges the science and studies that could really help Canada become an advanced economy because he's functionally fixed on supporting an industry that gave him his first job, in a mailroom.

Related to this - the truly Advanced Economies out there have realized the need to increase service capacity, reach and efficacy by redesigning funding and social service delivery into integrated, collaborative models that put the end-user first.  The Mowat Centre and KMPG have discussed this trend and identified best-in-class practises Canada could borrow from in The Integration Imperative: Reshaping the Delivery of Human and Social Services.

What's Harper doing?  He refuses to speak with Premiers, micromanages Canada's top bureaucrats and is doing his damnedest to fragment Canada's service delivery.  It's all well and good that Harper's government is transforming healthcare transfers to make Canada's health funding more sustainable, but in the tradition of a Paul Martin, all he's really doing is outsourcing the burden to the provinces.  This is an abdication of responsibility that does nothing to help actual Canadians who need and deserve integrated, user-friendly healthcare services.  

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure putting Canada behind the curve on economic opportunity, falling behind other nations on service integration and punishing sick Canadians to make the federal books look good doesn't help Canadian families any.  In fact, it sets them back.  I guess planning ahead is a bit too much like committing sociology for our PM.

But the hypocrisy gets worse.  One of Harper's key partisan planks has been that he is tough on crime, that no bad deed will go unpunished on his watch, being the responsible, accountable and transparent guy that he is.  It's the other guys who would defend wrong-doing among their own until the blowback from doing so became too great to avoid.  It's the Lefties that hug thugs and suggest crack-smoking, law-breaking bullies really just need help.

Except Harper has defended his own hires, leaving his strong, stable message blowing in the wind.  At least, he defends them right up until they become a liability, at which point he throws them under the bus. 

Two cases in point, obviously, are Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.  It's all in the past, Harper will tell us; his don't ask, don't tell style of leadership (which is in complete contrast with his tendency to micromanage, but that's his cognitive dissonance to square) he's moving on, why can't you?  Sorry, Prime Minister, but when you constantly focus on the entire career history of your opponents as fodder for attack, you don't get to play the "the past doesn't matter" card.

Then there's the saddest example of the PM's cognitive dissonance - Stephen Harper's fishing buddy, Rob Ford.  Ford is a deeply troubled man who should never have run for Mayor in the first place.  He did so because Right Wing political operatives wanted to have a winning horse in the race, whether he had a checkered past and an untenable populist streak or not.  

Throughout his troubled mayoralty, Harper has been a Ford enabler, chiefly because he wanted to use the man for partisan gain.  Now that Ford has become toxic, Harper is keeping his distance, a reversal that has surely come as a blow to the Mayor who revers the PM.

Harper may have abandoned Ford, but is still counting on Ford Nation to supply votes in the 905.  It's for this reason that Harper's unwavering, tough-on-crime approach turns to jello when if comes to Ford, his drug abuse, drunk driving and litany of other sins.  Justin Trudeau is clearly a dangerous man, what with his pot-smoking talk; when it comes to Ford, or any other sitting Conservative and substance abuse, however, Harper turns the other cheek.

See, he frankly doesn't care whether criminals get punished or not.  What he cares about is smearing his opponents, winning seats and retaining power.  Despite what he tells himself, Harper's ethics are matters of partisan convenience.

Harper probably believes his own rhetoric and sleeps well at night, assured that he is righteous, his foes are villains and therefore, anything he does is justified.  The problem is, his delusion is feeding into Canada's disillusionment about our democracy on the whole.  We don't trust politicians because holier-than-thou folk like Harper are so transparently full of shit.

Harper has a choice - he can put what he stands for first, or he can put his partisan wins first.  He can't have it both ways.  If he truly puts his agenda and values like integrity, transparency and accountability first, he would commit political seppuku and set a good example for his peers, his team and the nation.

But clearly, he's not prepared to do that - which is why pretenders to his throne like Jason Kenney and James Moore are starting to do to Harper what Harper has done to Ford.

It didn't need to be this way.  If Harper had put what he believed in first from day one, people would take him seriously.  Instead, despite his rhetoric, his agenda has shifted with the winds of opportunism, turning his Party into exactly the sort of entitled, self-serving and stagnant entity Harper got into politics to fight in the first place.

On November 25th, the people of Brandon-Souris have a choice to make.  It's not my place to tell them how to vote, but I will leave them with this question - if Stephen Harper, with all the things he says he believes in, were an non-partisan voter looking at the complete cognitive dissonance between what the Prime Minister is saying and what he's doing, what choice would he make?

I think the answer to that question says it all. 

I am not precognitive (Updated)

What I would admit to being, however, is pro-cognitive.

Case in point:

Scott is bang-on to say "globally" - there're moves being made in the same direction right now in New Zealand and Britain, just to name two other jurisdictions.

If you peruse my blog, you'll know that I have discussed MCIT, online tools and a third emerging piece of the puzzle (the inclusion of smartphone Apps) before.  If I've gotten these bits right, what else might I have landed on?  

Of course, all of these trend lines were in place before I found them - at most, I get to help connect the dots between likely partners.  The process of connecting those dots is what helps me map out emerging patterns and get a general sense of directions they are likely leading in.  I don't get 'em all right, but my batting average is not that bad.

So - how do I do it?  It's easy, really; I do the reverse of what I am constantly told is the formula for success.  

We are constantly told that we need to keep our messages simple and to focus narrowly on what we know clients want and familiar territory we know we can sell confidently.  Don't worry about what others are doing, unless it takes away from your opportunities; stay functionally fixed on your mandate and don't get distracted.  Know what you are about and what you aren't and leave it at that.

I don't do any of this.  I start with why - it's knowing why I'm motivated to work in this space that informs everything I do.  My goal is a shared destination, a conscious society that thinks laterally, thinks ahead and lives sustainably.  I can't get there on my own - I don't know the way.

By constantly challenging myself, pushing the boundaries of my expertise and connecting dots between people and projects, I'm adding value to others as we fill in the map, together.
This is a terrible strategy to pursue if you want to make a million bucks by the time you turn fifty.  If, on the other hand, you have any interest in what the world will look like fifty years from now and want to shape it, there's really no other way.

UPDATE 24 March 2014:  I wish people could see this article the way I see it.  Or perhaps better wording would be that I wish people could see this when I see it.

Transparency is in the headlines again, circling towards specific examples - including staff.  Those who may have happily coasted by talking the talk are being forced to either walk the walk or walk the plank.  They should have seen this a mile away, but as it stands I don't know if the people in a position to do something about this and protect their own fortunes even recognize their is a pattern.

Recently, I was diagnosed as being on the Asperberger's spectrum (to which I replied, "they've take Asberger's off of the DSM-5, so maybe you want to reframe that" - arguably proving their point).  Let's be honest - that's a pretty bad-ass diagnosis to have, as it's a bit like being branded a genius.

Whereas you might think of a high-functioning autistic person being a whiz at physics, though, I'd like to think my pattern-recognition talents lie more in the social sphere.  There's an irony in this - autism has the same root origin as auto-pilot or auto-nomic, as it "does its own thing", implying social withdrawal.

I have no interest in social withdrawal - I thrive on interaction with people.  There's just so much to learn and absorb from them and to facilitate between them.  I do, however, find that others will often withdraw from me; I can be pretty intense.  Moths may be drawn to flame, but people recoil from the sun.

Either way, the healthy tension between being immersed and being disengaged allows for some interesting perspectives.  There's value in that, no?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Exportation of Responsibility: Stewart On Ford On Mayor On Crack

So I have just seen the latest (but guaranteed, not the last) The Daily Show bit on Rob Ford and will admit, I cracked a politely amused smile.  Having said that, I also still think Stewart's must astute line on Ford was this:

Ford is clearly in denial about his personal issues; everyone in his inner circle, including his own mom, is enabling his fall.  All politicians live in a bubble, but few dwell in as toxic a space as Toronto's Mayor.

Yet, as Stewart points out, Ford still has a ton of supporters who, if a vote was called tomorrow or ten years from now would stand by their man.

The question has been asked repeatedly - how on earth can anybody still support trailer trash like Ford?  It's a question that gets asked bitingly, satirically, even mockingly, but so far not seriously.

Nobody does anything without a reason, though they may not always be conscious of what that reason is.  That's key, because there is often a significant distortion between how we see ourselves and the world and how we actually are/how the world sees us.

What happens when we are forced to face the fact that our actions don't meet our self-image?  The harder choice is that we change our actions to become what we aspire to be - that's taking responsibility.  The complete cop-out is to declare that we're entitled to our entitlements or decry that there's no morality in the world anyway, we're victims as much as anyone; this approach tends to really piss off everyone else.

The third choice is to place blame elsewhere.  If our actions are justified - even if they aren't how we believe we would act under normal circumstances - then we must have been pushed to extremes by some one or something.  This is the exportation of responsibility and by far, the most common approach of the three.

Poverty and crime within marginalizes populations like aboriginals or the descendants of imported slaves?  What happened happened, man, they need to put it in the past and take responsibility for themselves.  Youth who spent extra time and money getting post-secondary educations with the expectation of extra pay for adding extra value?  They need to get over themselves and work their way up from the ground, just like their parents did.

People who commit crimes are not like us - they are foreigners.  Those who commit terrorist acts aren't even human or if they are, they must be crazy.  People who don't see the world the way we do aren't patriotic, they're socialists and separatists.  Those who put hugging trees and thugs before stability and security are ignorant (the reverse is also true - it all depends on your point of view).

Equally - if I did something that was wrong like hit my spouse, belittle an employee, stab a colleague in the back or completely dehumanized an entire demographic as trailer trash, I must have been provoked into doing so.  They had it coming, they deserved it.  Seeing as how they're not worthy but I am, it's frankly within my rights to take what I want and ignore them entirely; it's what they would do, after all, if they were as smart as I was.

There's a fine line between delusion and desperation - both narrow one's point of view and put self-interest first.  

The worst form of desperation is a response to an acute crisis - a typhoon, for instance. 

As we're seeing in the Philippines, the first response to a disaster is to become social - to seek and offer help, to look for or offer leadership.  When help doesn't come and when designated leaders fail at their tasks, the feeling of helplessness turns to bitterness and an urge for justice sets in.

Then there's chronic crisis, which is what poverty and all its co-morbidities (like illness and crime) are.  When you can't get a job no matter what you try, can't get out of trouble because there are no alternatives and when there is no hope to be found, desperation sets in.  You'll ask for help, for a while, but eventually you're going to conclude no help is coming - and that's when you get bitter.

So let's revisit the question - why do so many people still support Ford?  

There are those who are consistently maddened by fiscal waste and scandal and want to keep more of their deserved slice of the pie - let someone else earn theirs.  These folk will point to Ford's fiscal record as the only thing that matters, because it's the thing they have focused on as most relevant to them.  What he does in his personal life, consorting with crack-dealers in slums they'll never visit doesn't matter.

Then there are those marginalized folk in the poorer parts of Etobicoke who can't get ahead, can't achieve the success they see among others who mock them and can't shake the various layers of stigma that cast them as untouchable.  They see other people's kids get ahead while their own struggle with multiple part-time jobs or maybe fall into crime.  What happened to the Just Society?

If you don't believe in politicians because they're all self-serving and focused on issues that don't matter, it would be very refreshing to have a leader - the Mayor, no less - who focused on returning your calls and making sure you got a new playscape in your park.  Those are the things that are tactile, tangible and personal - it's the lowest tier of leadership, but the only kind you've experienced.

You want to like Ford, because he does something you can relate to.  You like the fact that he brands himself as something other than a condescending elite - he's a normal person, much like you are.  He's got substance issues, maybe, and maybe he has questionable friends, but so many in your community do because that's just the reality chronic poverty creates.  If a guy like him, warts and all, can become Mayor, maybe there is hope for your kids.

That's a powerful combination - a bit of hope, a validation of self and even more, support for your sense of inequity and desire for social justice.

Ford isn't the mayor - mayors are those kinds of people who take power and opportunity away from folks like you.  Ford is just a normal, regular person and quite frankly, the only leader on the scene that you can both relate to and feel vindicated by.

There are good reasons, contextually rational reasons for why Ford enjoys so much support and why, more broadly, we have a rising tide of movements like the Tea Party, Occupy or in the most exaggerate form, Golden Dawn.

Ford Nation isn't going away - and now, Mayor Ford will have that much more time between now and next election to stoke the fires of resentment, remind his people of what he did when he was functionally the Mayor and of course, he gets to work those phones.  He did promise a war, after all.

Do I see Ford going to extreme lengths to mobilize his base, tap into other disaffected populations and intimidate others from participating in the political process?  It's not like he's done any of those things before.  

The big difference is this time he's not likely to have the Nick Kouvalises of the world to turn to.  As we have seen, Ford is increasingly turning to the people in his world to round out his team.  Some of those folk have criminal records and histories of violence. 

You want to hope for the best, but it's wise to plan for the worst.  

Rob Ford is not rational; he dug his own partisan grave by not thinking ahead, assuming others wouldn't watch what he did closely and by ignoring issues he thought of as not essential to his narrative.  It's not that surprising; after all, he's only human.  What more can we expect of him?

Leaders don't have the luxury of being human; they have to own responsibility, unite the commons and chart a course forward, ensuring we've got the systems and resources we need to get there.  Which, of course, is why governments work better than dictators and democracy works better than feudalism.

Here's hoping our leaders are looking ahead, scouring the trend lines and planning accordingly.  Lots on their plate and it'll be hard to focus on sideline issues that distract from their core objectives, but such is the nature of public service.  They may be fun to ridicule, but I guarantee they won't be fun to eulogize - and that may just be where this is headed.