Thursday, December 31, 2009

You Have a Lot to Say

After education comes application. If you have been on the job for a couple years, you've learned some valuable lessons on how book knowledge applies to real life. Experience counts. I bet you can think of a few things you wished you could have told your younger self. All of us could save this next generation so much heartache and waste, if they only knew what we know now.

Which gets to the next big lesson in life, how to be heard. The bible's King Solomon spoke of the folly of wisdom at Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. In Solomon's story, the poor wise man was heeded but then forgotten. Or take this blog for example. I write, but I do not have an audience. Then again, I haven't deliberately gone out to find one.

How do I speak up? It depends on how critical my information is, isn't it? There is some pleasure in watching our children make the same (little) mistakes we did. My daughter credits my advice on driving, to look at each near miss as a lesson, as helping her become a more confident driver. She says she no longer focuses on the mistake but rather what she can learn from it. If we shared all we knew, all the time, we deprive this generation the power of life lessons learned.

When I speak up can be just as important. When an issue is shared around the boardroom table, it pays to wait until everyone has shared their part of the whole. If a conclusion or solution is offered too soon, it may be drowned in the torrent of fact sharing.

A late lesson in life I have found that it can be just as important who said it. Shockingly, not everyone has pegged me as an expert. It pays once in a while to quote an expert in the field in order to make a point.

I've blogged before about the significance of children's literature as a cultural indicator. I am guessing that my inspiration came from Dr. Sandra Williams. In my last blog about children's literature I talked about Munsch's book, "Jonathan Cleaned Up..." There's another little known book by Dr. Seuss, and his last, "You're Only Old Once!" , a satire of hospitals and the geriatric lifestyle.

I dread a future of ill health, where my time and place are not of my choosing, where patience is the final virtue as I wait in waiting rooms for intrusive tests. Reviewing her book, "Life So Far" the other day, reminded me that Betty Friedan used her considerable research and observational skills to tackle old age. Her most obvious point is to avoid ill health in the first place. Have a vital old age. Keep the mind and body limber.

Good advice.

I'll keep blogging.

In the meantime, I intend to buy a couple of children's books to help make my point.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Iconography of Middle Age

At every stage of her life, mom took her cues from society on what she should be. We were raised on Dr. Spock. She followed her neighbour in to a lifetime of bird watching. As we grew, however, she swiftly floundered, and aged. Though our world understands and defines what a grandma is to be, there are few examples to follow for middle age.

Which got me thinking to the icons we use as a society to guide us through the phases of our lives. Few are as extreme as my mother, but I think it is no accident that the "crisis" happens at mid-life. Consider the images we are given from the media. We have our babies; so many cute and bubbly babies. Then the "terrible twos". When we hit the elementary years, Disney has provided us the fat kid, the genius, the jock, the bully, the popular schemer, the pretty girl, or if the child is very lucky, the protagonist with angst. Heaven help the child who does not fit a stereotype. That child is slotted in to "weird".

These images, or icons, are a kind of visual short-hand which help us swiftly categorize people and fit them in to a world view. Icons are comforting because they follow a pattern, are predictable. Icons are easy on the eye and the mind. Think Currier and Ives, and Thomas Kinkade.

Teen movies, college movies, and chick flicks follow. Singleness is a temporarily wild condition quickly remedied by marriage.

What icons are left for the adults? There's the parent, funky uncle, exciting career in emergency services, lawyer, law enforcement, media relations executive, and suburbanite.

Then we have grandma and grandpa. Freedom at 55. Golf, travel, buy a hog, and play with the grandchildren. Why are the images always of fit, pink-cheeked and silver-haired seniors? Where are the streaks of grey?

This leaves a huge vaccum of images for middle management, middle age. Even for those of us with greater flexibility than my mother, that shortage of images can leave us floundering. There's Jane Fonda working out. And we have The Office, an image of quiet desperation. I don't know about you, but I know I am no Jane Fonda. And I hope I am not half the fool that Steve Carrell plays so well.

What am I left to guide my way? Mid-life can be an opportunity for reflection. Though the dreams of youth may fall short, I also have a wealth of experience to share. I can revisit early dreams and now that the obligations of parenthood are over, start a second career. There's many years of middle-age to come; there are many more years than there used to be thanks to the advances in medical care.
One great model for ageing well is Betty Friedan in her book, "Life so Far". This astute woman pointed her sharp finger at the "Feminine Mystique" and the hollow promise of suburbia. Now she tackles old age with the same vigor. From her book, page 346, "All my research was showing that in age as in youth the important things are work and love. Not surprisingly, the longest-lived people were in professions in which there was no forced retirement, among them symphony conductors, Supreme Court justices, artists, and rabbis. "
Well, I think Supreme Court Justice and symphony conductor is out. But I am still left with my own way and "weird". Funky grandma. I like that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Parenting is not for Cowards

So says Dobson in his book, "Parenting isn't for Cowards". I was reminded of this as hubby and I finished painting our bathroom last night. Wiping the sweat from his brow, hubby asked how long we would enjoy it. I told him we'd be noticing the flaws for years to come. Moaning, he asked why we bothered in the first place.

It came to me that the ability to look at flaws straight in the face is one of the rites of passage of parenting. I have raised two children. Hubby has not. Being a parent is a humbling experience. Even if you "everything right", each child grows in their own way. Then they hit puberty and they go through this delightful differentiation phase where they become their own people, separate and apart. You realize that all your hard work is only tiny part of who they have become. Even so, they bear the marks of every success and failure in their raising. Just like bumps in our painted wall, or the blob of excess caulking, the flaws show. Chances are, though, visitors won't notice.

I've seen parents take this reality with varying degrees of success. Some reject the flaws, refusing to accept the tarnished reflection they see in the face of their children. It takes a great deal of willpower to resist trying to always set it right. Once our children are adults, the rest of the road belongs to them. If we keep grabbing for the steering wheel, we will kill their confidence and possibly send them permanently off track.
If on the other hand, we can reconcile ourselves to an imperfect life, and even the beauty in nature's flaws, there can be peace. Our spruced up little bathroom is a testament to a hard days's work. If we remember that our bathrooms - and our children - are each beautiful in their own imperfect way, we can relax and enjoy them for what they are.
I've borrowed the picture from another blogger, Out-of-the-Way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bumping Places

In his book, Neighbor Power, Jim Diers speaks of "bumping places", those spots in a community where people meet. We get a sense of our larger community by greeting familiar faces in these places. This reminds me of family identities and the importance of seasonal gatherings and traditions to solidify, in our family, who we are and gives us identity.

I've been on the prowl for Clareview's bumping places.

  • Londonderry Mall. We don't have our own, so we go there.
  • In the mall is the Library, which hosts programs for tots, childrens and teens, toastmasters, and english language learning.
  • Also in the mall is the Tae Kwon Do facility. A crowd of proud parents gather outside the large glass wall.
  • In the mall there's a gathering place with leather seating and television monitors. There's a police information station. There's young folks and old. Why aren't the children in school?
  • The "Town Centre", touted by a Clareview Outline Plan. This is where we have the Superstore, the big box stores, strip malls, and Wal-Mart. Where in this "Town Centre" can people gather? That plan is beginning to depress me. It speaks of large developers, and land cheap for building affordable housing. Our community has been planned for "basic" from the very beginning. Are we understood?
  • The Belvedere station. I see a gang of young black men hanging out by the washrooms and impressing each other with their toughness.
  • The Belevedere heated shelter, which has the bus driver's rest stop. No-one in the shelter looks at each other.
  • Our own strip mall has the Mac's store. There's a new book exchange store, "Never without a Book." Farther down is a popular dance studio, Dance Theme. This place is swarming with parents on Saturday morning.
  • The hockey parents, I imagine, gather around the Clareview arena and Homesteader community league outdoor rink.
  • There's usually several bargain hunters gathered around the second hand drop off in the Giant Tiger strip mall. This is a very busy strip.
  • All the Tim Horton's are busy. The now defunct Conversations cafe is closed for lack of business. Why? Does name recognition carry that much weight?
  • The Belmont town centre has vacancies. The McDonald's is undergoing renovations. I do know children from the local school swarm the facility at lunch hour. The dollar store is closed. It had dire warnings to the children on the consequences of shoplifting.
  • I'm told we have a community garden. I must go see it.
  • We host the one of the big indoor soccer fields for the city.

Reading what I've written and observed, it seems that the natural bumping places are Timmy's, Londonderry, and the Giant Tiger lot. Hockey parents rule. Bargain hunters rule. This is a young family community These locations weren't identified on the community plan. Do we build up the natural gathering places, seeking to understand their popularity, or do we build assets within the "Town Centre" that was planned for us?

P.S. How could I forget? Movies 12. I see young couples arm in arm strolling along the grassy curb through industrial Belvedere, groups of friends, families, and caregivers with their charges, all off to the movies. Bollywood is making an appearance, a nod to our growing Indian community.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Frou Frou Flounces and Suits

In the spare corners of my mind, I've been tossing around how our generations will influence the future in fashion and design. I've learned a lot lately about the next big generation coming up, the Gen X and the Gen Y. Contrary to demographic prediction, the babies of the boomers are not a boomlet, but boom-bigger. Birth rates continue to rise. It turns out that boomers kept having children even as they've aged, and that Gen X started having families earlier.

So what is this newest generation? They are scheduled and watched over and cherished by helicopter parents. They run in packs. They dress alike. Think golf shirts, chinos and jeans.

Which got me to thinking about how this newest generation will influence fashion as they hit the work force.

There's another little nugget on how this generation will change us. The girls are continuing to secondary education in record numbers, and boys' attendance is dropping. It will be the girls running our corporations, not the boys. Where will our young men go? I predict they will go to the trades, where there will be flexibility and freedom. It will be the young fathers, I suspect, who will be picking up their children from school.

Another pondering in my crowded brain is the difference between frou frou flounces and suits. Why have men perfected an office uniform, while women continue to flit through the spectrum of color and design? I suspect it has to do with the gender biases regarding power and control. A man in a pack must establish his conformity and dominance early. This means a power suit, which exudes confidence, dominance, wealth, and intelligence. For a man in our current culture, these are attractive attributes. A woman in a severe suit, however, is mildly terrifying. I quote Marlo Thomas, "A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold." So the woman's attire at the office is a little frillier, sillier, and impractical. The message here is that "I am harmless, creative, and sweet. You want to help me."

But this dynamic will change as women in packs start to take over the office. Power for a woman will be in her ability to work her team. As much as this makes me shudder, think Gossip Girl all grown up, strutting down the hallway with her posse.

So I predict that this next generation of women will dictate a new uniform for the office. It will be softer, it will be easy maintenance, but it will also be more alike. I'm thinking Chanel classics here. Not the latest stuff, but the suits of the fifties and sixties.

I cite two sources for my new-found knowledge, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe, William Strauss, and R.J. Matson and a presentation by Bani Dheer, Futurist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When Those We Admire Fall Short

There are people who achieve greatness, like Tiger Woods, who inspire our admiration. This is natural, considering the work and discipline it took to get where they are. It is natural, also, to assume that they are not only able in their area of expertise, but also capable of integrity and character.

So it is a shock to us all when Tiger Woods gets caught up in something silly this past week, and is obviously lying about it.

But does it follow that greatness in one area means greatness in all? I think of what I've learned from other greats, and I wonder. Perhaps for some, after achieving strengths in one field, they are either incapable or don't bother to be good at everything. Consider the diaper toting astronaut, Lisa Nowak, who resorted to extremes to try and get her lover back. Her calculation and intensity of purpose reminds me, chillingly, of the intensity required to be successful in her chosen career.

Then there's Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch. I'd always admired the man before that. Heck, I just admired looking at him. But his ignorant spurtings around that time, like his comments about Brooke Shields did it for me. He is no longer attractive. Looking back at his body of work, I wondered if I confused attractiveness and luck with achievement. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to hire a fantastic publicist.

Anecdotes about other greats have surprised me. The public persona of Bill Cosby as the lovable Dr. Huxtable, and his obvious comic genius is undenied. Comics by profession understand human nature. Great comics understand us greatly. How could someone with that degree of understanding, fail to be great in all areas? Yet I hear on set he can be remote and dismissive of newcomers. I wonder sometimes if my premise is flawed. That even for comic greats like Mr. Cosby, his achievement in one area does not necessarily follow in all others.

Heck, I have been accused of not listening, not caring. I know it comes from my analytic nature, which I resort to in times of stress. Approach me when I am in that state, and I will tell you exactly what I think. Or I might fall silent in deep reflection. When I am in that state, you might as well be wallpaper. I am not being dismissive or mean; this is just part of who I am. When I come out of that state, I may be fully engaged again. For those who don't know me well, might they assume that I am faking my interest?

As a postscript, Albert Schweitzer is on my list of heroes of all time. I hear that starry-eyed visitors were given short shrift if they didn't follow his instructions. Tourists suffering heat stroke were a distraction. Again, I suspect the visitors wrongly assumed that this man's generosity flowed in all directions. His achievement, I am guessing, was rather a result of his intensity of purpose than depth of his warm and fuzzies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Telling the Truth Through Children's Books

I was at my sister's graduation from medical school over twenty years ago, and the keynote speaker was an expert in children's literature. My sister graduated just fine, by the way. As she says, "I didn't trip or anything." Besides finding out that my sister graduated near the top of her class (apparently a well-guarded secret), I was convinced that children's literature is often ahead of the adults in providing cultural indicators and trends for our society.

I wonder if that speaker was Dr. Sandra Williams.

I was thinking of that speaker and what she had to say when I wondered how to describe government's interaction with the public. Jim Diers warns us not to confuse public apathy with alienation. I do encounter those who believe the worst in our government, applying sinister motive or applying various conspiracy theories. Distrust in government is rampant. I counter that the situation is worse than they think. No-one is in charge, and those running the show are no smarter than you and me. The injustices and failures that people see are not sinister, but accidental.

I envision an entity built so large, it has forgotten it's purpose.

Which brings me to a children's story, "Jonathan Cleaned Up - Then He Heard a Sound" by Robert Munch. You can hear the story by following the link. In the story, City Hall makes a mistake and runs the final subway stop through Jonathan's living room. Jon marches down to city hall and runs in to various officials - and the computer - to try and solve the problem. He discovers the whole show is being run by a lone little man behind the computer. "Don't tell the Mayor the computer is broken. He spent ten million dollars for it." Jonathan solves his problem by applying a little blackberry jam.

There are so many truths in this little tale, I don't want to ruin it by explaining them all. I do think the story does hint at where the solution lies. We have to snoop around and acknowledge what we see as the truth. Something this big won't be fixed right away, but individual heroes can fix what they see. We have to find ways to make big government small - not by literal downsizing - that little man was mighty lonely and mighty hungry - but by bringing the services closer to the people.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Privacy laws bite bid for doggy justice

A Calgary dog owner seeks damages after her border collie cross was attacked by another dog. Trapper was left with a gaping chest wound but has recovered after about $1,300 in vet bills. Shirley Poole, Trapper's owner, seeks compensation. Calgary bylaw officers will not release the name of the attacker's owner, citing the FOIP Act. Shirley's son, Phil Towler, sought legal advice but he was told that the costs of identifying the owner through the FOIP Act is prohibitive.

My best wishes to Trapper for his full recovery. For Shirley and her son, I do hope they find the attacker's owner is so that they can seek some compensation. It should not be so hard to find out who the other owner is. Outside of the FOIP Act, there's a long history in law that courts are to be open to the public, and that our rights to court information supersedes any right to privacy. The principle behind this is that justice cannot be perceived as being just and fair unless it is open to scrutiny. Shirley and her son are obviously interested members of the public, and are entitled to this information.

All they have to do is attend court on December 3 and look for names and courtrooms for the related charges.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has given greater recognition to the constitutionally protected right to open courts than to the fundamental value of privacy. Discussion Paper, Judges Technology Advisory Committee on Open Courts, Electronic Access to Court Records, and Privacy, May 2003 (See 5)

See also FOIP Guidelines and Practices, Section 1.5, Records Excluded from the Act

Friday, November 27, 2009

Torture Resonates with Me

I am responding to an editorial by Peter Worthington on November 26 in the Edmonton Sun that issues of torture would not resonate with the Canadian public. I would like to go on record that this issue does resonate with me, and I am deeply ashamed of our military and our government. Until the news of this latest cover-up came to light, I was in support of Canadian presence in the war in Afghanistan. I was convinced by an ethical giant in our country, Sen. Romeo Dallaire. His position for being there is that we were invited through United Nations. Dallaire’s lesson, which I am unsure we have fully accepted in this country, is that we must never step away from a moral fight. Oppression, if it is allowed to exist, degrades all of humanity; even if it is perpetuated in the farthest corners of our world.

Worthington in his editorial suggests that “…as long as our own guys don’t indulge in abuse, we don’t have much control over what Afghans do…” and “Nor should we put ourselves in a position where we dictate cultural behaviour.” Tolerance of abuse is not cultural. It is always wrong - even if we are not participants but passive observers. With that reasoning, the world allowed the Rwandese genocide to continue unabated, ignored.

Besides the murky moralilty of turning a blind eye to torture, I am also deeply concerned that this information was first covered up, then denied. I can guess at the motivation. Our leaders wish to maintain the Canadian mythos of an army that extends the olive branch and works with the locals to improve conditions to raise confidence in democratic intervention. With this shameful breach in ethics, however, the locals know the truth. The Canadian soldier has an olive branch in one hand and a blindfold in the other. How could the common people trust that anything can be any better in their country, if we have given away the moral high ground?

The only resolution is for our government to come clean, take it’s licks, and reform. I also wonder if the trust has been breached in Afghanistan to such a degree that we might consider withdrawing.

I borrow the picture from General Brock's blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting all your eggs in one basket

Here's a phrase I'd love Fred Shapiro of Freakonomics to parse, "putting all your eggs in one basket". I've used it to describe my decision to put my calendar all in one place - first on my Palm, and later my Blackberry. Not that the phrase is the best choice when you think about it.

I imagine the smart farmer's daughter would not want to risk transport of her entire investment in one basket. Better to split up her product in to smaller bundles, in the hope that most would make it to market in one piece.
But when it comes to calendars, I love my big basket. On my e-calendar, I can put in re-occurring events like birthdays without fear of skipping a year. When work life and home life complexified ten years ago, and I was living off my Outlook calendar and my Day Timer, I was missing personal appointments during work hours, and skipping work assignments during home hours. I could no longer operate off two books. Kind of like my financially challenged friend who tried to take charge of her finances by purchasing not one, but two beautifully bound cheque registers. You can imagine what happened next.

(Picture of the Saskatchewan Palm Pilot, borrowed from Ollie's London Pub Choice,
When I got my first Palm, it was the new thing on the block. People wanted to know why I bothered switching. I would use the phrase, "put all my eggs in one basket", to describe that glorious master calendar that watched over all the events of my life.

"What happens if you lose your Palm?"

"No problem," I replied, "because of sycing, all I need to do is buy a new Palm, and may calendar is downloaded again." We'll cast a blind eye for a moment to the heartbreaking loss of an attractive asset, and the lurking fear that my password would be breached.

So perhaps one basket is not the best way to describe the joy of the mobile electronic calendar, because in the electronic world, there never is just one copy. There's my PDA, of course, and the mainframe for backup. The mainframe in turn is backed up regularly. Backups upon backups protecting my eggs.

I see the attractiveness of one basket in other places. My IT buddies tell me the mainframe is coming back (one big basket). Personal PC's become dumb terminals, or thin clients, logging up to one big beast. From a maintenance point of view, the IT guy's job just got a lot easier. Put everything in to his big basket, and watch that basket.

It happens in the world of bulk purchasing, too. The idea is that the corporation offers an exclusive contract. It is expected that vendors will be motivated to offer the best price in exchange for the big score. My dad offered this cautionary tale from the seventies. His company (Bell Canada) accepted an exclusive bid from a hotel for all their conferences in Montreal. They received a very competitive rate. Dad says the outcome was horrible. Having snagged exclusivity, the hotel was no longer interested in providing quality service. After all, they had captive customers. Besides, the hotel wasn't making that much on each individual sale.

So are we better off putting consolidating all our valuables? In the e-world at least, the risk is low. There are copies upon copies of our basket squirreled away in those mysterious places that backups go. For things like eggs and hotel rooms, though big, exculsive contracts might just get us egg on our face.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Psychology of Waiting in Lines

A twitterer, Jess McMullen, twigged me on to a paper on this very topic. I am thrilled! The paper is by Don Norman, and I've also found a fine review by Bryan Hurran in his blog, "Social Graph Paper". Aside from the strong odor of mansweat from three male minds, the concepts are a sweet breath of - - - goodness - - - reality - - - looking - - - caring about the little things that make or break our day. It's more than just a line. It's where people gather and interact.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Invigorating Organizations

What happens when two great ideas collide? We could get a new element or a nuclear explosion. The two great ideas that came together for me was when I was considering the problem of invigorating an organization that is disempowered and hobbled by age and size.

I'm speaking generally, of course, of a pattern of any organization of a certain size that is old enough and battle worn enough to have lost it's way. Individual employees simply do not believe that or understand how they contribute to the whole. Leaders are flummoxed by the scope of problems, and are tempted to throw bandaids at them. Flying bandaids don't exactly inspire the staff, but the staff also have no voice to say so.

The revelation when considering the problem is a combination of ideas from Jim Diers and Malcolm Gladwell when they consider community. What if we were to view an organization as a collection of communities with assets that can be harnessed for the greater good?

Why assets?

Asset based assessment is based on the idea of energizing a community to contribute what it can, rather than pouring resources in to it's weaknesses. The first step to reform is to find out where our great assets are in the community and engage them. People are involved, rather than passive participants. I compare this to the traditional organizational assessment where it's weaknesses are identified. Any one of us could go home depressed if our weaknesses are exposed and analysed. Not to say that such assessments have no value. We do have to take stock once in a while. But the trick is that resolution is not based on what we don't have, but on what we do.

Why community?

What does an organization have in common with a community, and why would we engage communities rather than, say, indivitual change champions or consultants? Organizations have a lot in common with communities. It is a collection of people with common (sometimes) interests, gathered at a place and time. Gladwell and Diers point out that communities can be nurturing places that allow people to be great. In his book "Outliers", Gladwell shows how apparently "self made men" and women were given a great boost by the environment they were raised in. Communities make a great contribution towards individual health and development. Revitalized communities attract.

We need consultants, too. Sometimes we need those kind outsiders to gently point out what we already know. But anyone who has worked on a project with a change champion or with a consultant will know; reporting or consulting on the problem, and coming up with a list of recommendations, is only the very start of the show. We still have an organization to engage. And they haven't been invited to the party yet. All they've seen so far is flying bandaids, and how do they know that this time it will be any different? How do we engage every person in the organization towards positive change?

What does community do better?

When I heard Jim Diers speak this week, he gave a handy list of what communities do better.

  • Care for the earth

  • Power to prevent crime

  • Care for one another

  • Demand justice

How could this translate to an organizational community? Well, right off I could see that energized groups of staff would be great at:

  • Implementing green solutions in the workplace

  • Increase compliance with internal checks and balances (reduce white collar fraud)

  • Care for one another (more positive interactions with the public)

  • Alert their leadership to weaknesses within (before, say, it gets public)

I am reminded also of the principles of Kaizen, where individuals are engaged to make small, incremental changes in areas they can control, and leadership is engaged to promote the large scale innovations that will help the organization leap forward. Middle management, as usual, are in the middle, helping both groups stay engaged.

Ideal Size and Bumping Places

A spin-off idea from all this is in the engaging and implementing of such an idea. What is the ideal size of an organization or community so that individuals are engaged? In Gladwell's book, Tipping Point, he suggests the ideal size is 200 people. Jim Diers says the ideal size of a community is about 6,000 people. Any bigger, and people are not engaged. Within that community, however, there must be gathering places, or bumping places, where we see the same faces and meet the same people on a regular basis. It's this sense that we are part of a larger community that helps people be engaged rather than be a faceless sojurner.

I'm running out of time but not ideas. I must pick up this thought and expand on it. Where, in a large organization, can the communities of practice bump in to each other and engage? I don't know about you, but the idea of energizing a large organization, as Diers did so effectively in the city of Seattle, inspires me. I think we've got a new element here. Not an explosion. And certainly not flying bandaids.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Civility and Humanity

I've just finished Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. If you are unfamiliar with the book, Griffin modified his skin color to walk as a Negro in the deep south in 1959. He journalled his experience, and his deeply moving account is described in this book. What struck me is the dehumanizing effect of withholding simple civilities like a smile, a hand-shake, eating together, cautions (watch your step), and looking a man in the eye.

Withholding economic opportunities also, no matter how politely rebuffed, oppresses ambition. I once witnessed a native couple walking hand in hand, initially hopeful, making their way down a row of apartment buildings displaying vacant signs. When I exited my building a couple hours later, they were walking dejectedly, less hopeful than the start. How many times must a person face rejection - or worse, the "hate face" as described in Griffin's book - before he gives up and believes the lie? I am reminded again of Gladwell's comments on meaningful work. Griffin also describes in detail how the persecutor demeans himself by stooping to cruel behavior. To deny another his humanity is to diminish your own.

An afterword in the book describes the violent upheaval a scant decade afterwards, in the race riots of the late sixties. Mr. Griffin describes the pattern of oppression and explosion, as whites heeded rumor rather than the blacks in their on community and in the white community's reaction to a phantom threat, sparked the black communities in their midst. In the subtext is a suggestion that a lot of this could have been avoided with simple communication. In helping the black man, ask him. Provide an atmosphere where he will be honored and heard.

I can't help thinking in the general neglect, the failure to offer simple courtesy, and the polite refusal to allow a sub-group access to good housing and good jobs, that we as Canadians continue to do a disservice to our native communities. I overheard Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) that it is the First Nations responsibility for instance, to develop a response to the H1N1 virus. I think he is talking about upending the paternalistic response to "the problem" (As Griffin speaks of in his book), and allowing this community to speak for itself and take care of itself.


On another note, I stumbled across this article while investigating online acquisition of queue. Guess what? Other people took it before me. At, a Canadian IT company, they speak about Customer Relation Management (CRM). Like most things, it's not the tool that makes the company, but the application. Guess what? Just like community interactions, a company will also be much more successful if it listens to it's customers, and is willing to make changes to their process in order to make it better.

The technical issues with CRM are not unlike those of any software development project. First, objectives and specifications must be well defined and documented. Tools and technology must be selected based on relevant criteria (features, cost, etc…). Implementation milestones are then set according to business timelines and availability of resources. A significant testing phase is recommended to ensure functionality, so problems can be corrected on schedule. Final delivery of the application should also be accompanied by a maintenance plan for regular housekeeping issues (backups, synchronization with remote locations, database maintenance, etc…). E-CRM is not EASY by Alex Lee, 2002

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Efficiency 101

Today I make notes for myself and you are along for the ride. I'm drowning in work. I've been in this place before, so I know what to do. Some of us think we're busy but it's because we're running fast. But are we being effective; are we doing the things that really matter? Busy busy is running to get the important things done. I'm in that second place.

I am compelled to dust off those techniques I know that work, use them to their potential, then wave the white flag. If I've done all I can and I still can't keep up, I gotta let people know.

What works?

Well, off to it, then. I have my marching orders.

P.S. Found another one on my google foraging expedition. Email: The Variable Reinforcement Machine

I'm going to try this:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Random Act of Kindness

I witnessed a random act of kindness the other day, and seeing it turned a bunch of assumptions on their heads. While another couple helped out a young girl, my husband and I watched from a block away, laughing at her predicament.

What had happened is that she backed up too fast, throwing one back tire over a curb. She was very lucky she did not twist the frame. But now, how was she to ease the car forward back over the curb without doing damage to her frame or her suspension? I watched an older couple approach and with some pointing and waving of arms, the man took the wheel of the car. The older woman took a position at the side of the car to keep an eye on the action and to motion if he were to gun it or to take her easy.

I imagined the man as her father, and imagined the girl's loss of driving privileges that night. I laughed.

He did a commendable job easing the car forward, first with the tire blanced on the curb, back end of the car pointing jauntily in the air. Then, with infinite care, he eased the car forward and back to the ground.

I shuddered at the thought of the rear back scraping against the curb.

Then, to my surprise, it was all over and there was hand shaking all around. The couple continued on to the store, and the girl drove away. My assumptions, turned on their heads, was that the couple knew the girl. They did not. These were strangers who took the time to help a young woman in distress. And hubby and I had the opportunity to watch an act of kindness in private. Kudos to the couple who took the time to help. I imagine the young woman felt a little bit better about humanity that day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What' Wrong with Webmaster?

Webmaster, another word that emprisons. Even the way the word rolls from the tongue. Web-master. The word brings to mind wizards or black belt instructors. "Grasshopper, you have much to learn." The imagery is of complexity, mystery, exclusivity.

In older organizations, web content is managed and posted by this one person. In any process, one assigned person equates to a bottleneck. Bottleneck imagery is pretty easy to figure out too. There's a whole bunch more content to post than one person can handle. You end up with good content put in a holding pattern as it is reviewed and converted to the new format.

As the web has evolved, it becomes the "source of truth" and the first place that the web savvy look for their information. For organizations that are controlled by a webmaster, however, it may be the last place that is updated.

There's software, however, that can distribute the job to the content authors, such as Red Dot of Open Text. Even more open are wikis, where content, moderated, may be opened up to the web. Some of my peers sneer at wikis, having read the articles in conventional media where a wiki page was temporarily spammed with false content. Here's a list of some of the biggest wiki blunders. I think these examples should not overshadow the huge step forward that open content has blessed this planet with. We now have 77,000 contributors to the biggest encyclopedia ever. Even bigger is the reader community - 48 million.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Emprisoning Words - Metadata. Webmaster.

Meta kind of sounds like mega; like big. Or many. Marry it with data and you have a supersyllable tongue twister. I swear some use it just to test the word out in conversation. I swear people's eyes go big as soon as they hear it, as if they had just spotted the sabre toothed tiger crouched on the ledge above. "Yes, but what about the metadata?" asks the square-glassed geek in the corner. The crowd is hushed in to submission.

But what is metadata really, and why do we attach so much significance to it?

Metadata are all the little invisible bits of information that is stored about a record that you don't see. For instance, in this blog you normally don't see the html hash that tells one computer to another how to read what I've written. Also in the background is who wrote it (well, my sign-on ID), and when.

I'm saying, it's no big deal. Records people get excited about it because in the replacing of one media to another (paper to electronic), metadata allows us the certainty that the electronically generated information has as much reality as a printed piece of paper. "This is what happened on this day." We have put the information in context of time and place. Some metadata features allows us the freedom to replace paper.

Other metadata elements have the potential to let us do new things with information; sorting and sifting it in new ways. Consider google earth, and the potential to tag photographs (metadata) with where they were taken.

What I resent is that metadata is used as a show-stopper rather than an introduction to freedom. People don't understand it, so they avoid it. Paper persists.
I'm running out of time so I'll discuss why I see "webmaster" as an emprisoning word later. I've borrowed the geeky text from Jamtronic and the map from Flash Artist.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Transit and Mobility

Yesterday I was thinking of a great advocate in Edmonton for transit riders. His name is Brian Gould and he writes for the Metro. He organized the Transit Rider's Union of Edmonton (TRUE) and has held several positions with that organization. He twitters, too

He's vocal, he's bold, and now he is heard. This is democracy at ground level.

Finding young advocates like Brian and Mack encourages me for the future. Let's not waste their energy. Let's give them resources, support, encouragement as they advocate for a better city.


Riding to work yesterday and watching a senior make it down the stairs got me thinking about painful mobility. With twinges forming in my own knees, I am starting to get a sense of the tenacity and the courage of these seniors, when their entire body must be screaming to stay at home in the la-z-boy. When every step counts, location matters. When every step counts, clear directions have to be there. Retracing steps at my age is annoying. Retracing steps on borrowed hips is harrowing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Government Gets it Right - Mental Health Act

The Government of Alberta has proclaimed an amendment to the Mental Health Act, loosening involuntary admissions criteria to "likely to cause harm to self or others, or to suffer substantial mental or physcial deterioration or serious physical impairment."

Bravo for implementing a much-needed change.

I know the government has been under fire lately with news that a wing of Alberta Hospital will be closing; but in the storm of criticism, mustn't we also pause to thank them when they get it right?

With so many close family members who are mentally ill, and having spent many, many hours with mental health professionals, with the police, with the court system, I can say with a great gust of relief that this change was needed. The burden on family members I can tell you; when everyone knows that your parent/child is ill but you must stand by and watch their fall - until their fall is so terrible that they are in immenent danger - it is a horrible feeling. How close do you want your loved one to get to the edge before you yank them back?

Which is probably why I won't watch horror movies. I don't need the vicarious thrill. I've lived it, and it's not nearly as thrilling in real life.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A new book to try

I was browsing through one of my favorite blogs today, Running a Hospital, and a quote and a new book caught my eye:

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. The opening of the book reads "It's possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control."

Boy, would I like to maintain that sort of balance.

Those closest to me know how I've been freaking out lately because of my insane work schedule. There are just so many things that must be done, and precious few things that cannot be delegated without sitting someone down for an hour just to get them oriented.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review - Neighbor Power

How did I get hooked on this book? I stopped at an information booth set up in the Giant Tiger parking lot. An invitation to help spend $10,000 caught my eye. The invitation came from the local Crime Council. I and a friend went to the meeting, and voila, we are board members. *sigh*. We were shown tons of resources and materials that I hardly knew of. Another invitation caught my eye:

Neighbourhood Engagement
People are the answer!
November 17, 2009 at Santa Maria Goretti Centre (11050‐90 Street)
5‐9 PM
A Light Supper will be provided. No Cost. Parking available .
Registration is required, seating is limited
Please call (780)442‐4972

I signed up for that. And I got to asking myself, who is this Jim Diers and what is this talk about Neighbour Power? So I got the book. I've just finished it. In all my wanderings, why am I pursuing this? Because my gut says that neighbourhood engagement builds genuine human interaction between those who need help and those who give it. I am wandering full circle back to the reason I started this blog in the first place. What follows are marked passages and my own comments from sections of this book.

"organizers organize organizations" - When inspiring change in a community, don't run the show. Listen. Otherwise the initiative is dependent on you. When you go, the reforms will go too. Empower people to bring about the changes they want.

"Asset Based Community Development - ...Government, like social service agencies and other institutions, tends to disempower communities by focusing on their deficiencies and fostering dependence on outside interventions. Asset-based community development, on the other hand, builds on the resources that are found in every community. These assets include a community's associations and all its members, even those members who have been labeled and dismissed: the disabled, welfare mothers, at-risk youth, and elderly; all persons of every description have skills, knowledge, and passion to contribute to their community. (p. 13)" This sets me to wondering; what assets do we have in Clareview? We definitely have families, sports parents, ethnic, immigrant communities, at-home seniors. I've just discovered that we have a strong interest in city farming. It would be great to build an inventory of assets. For further reading, I should check out the Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD, get it?).

[Local governments]...resources are not keeping pace with increasingly complex social issues...voters are reluctant to approve additional resources becasue they feel a sense of alienation from their government at all levels...this deep sense of alienation is often misdiagnosed as apathy....Citizens don't vote becasue they have seen little evidence that their votes matter....I am convinced that people still yearn for a sense of community and want to contribute to the greater [has to do] with rediscovering democracy. (p. 18, 19) Now this resonates with me. Much is ballyhooed in the press about Canadian apathy at the pollls. If politicians want to see greater voter turnout, more work has to be done between elections to convince citizens that their involvement counts. It seems to me that this strikes closest to home, close to home. This means potholes, graffitti, community revitalization. This means listening and engaging people in a meaningful way. No lip service.

Whose decision was it to treat the community of Southeast Seattle as second class?..We discussed the growing drug and gang problem and concluded that the city had already tried nearly every solution that money could buy. Affordable housing was amajor neighborhood issue, but there was little the city could do, especially when the state legislature had outlawed rent control. Likewise, the city had no jurisdiction over the schools...Traffic congestion and inadequate parking were equally perplexing. I quickly realized that public officials felt as powerless to address these issues as did the citizens (p. 27). Again, resonating. Which takes us back to the foundation of the book; asset based community development. Any one of us can be terrified in to inaction when trying to handle the beast that is bureaucracy. Instead of focusing on the failures, however, why not take an inventory of our assets and build from those?

McKnight told me about his friend who is a duck hunter. The friend has different kinds of calls for different kinds of ducks. Organizations, McKnight said, should do the same thing, adding that "too often the only call that organizations use is the loon call, and then they wonder why only the loons turn out for the meetings." For organizers, as for duck hunters, a variety of calls is essential. Some people will answer the call to rally around a particular issue. Some will turn out for work parties or to pitch in on a particular project in their neighborhood. Others will be attracted by a dance or a festival or by freshly baked brownies. The more calls an organization uses, the more broadly based its membership will be. And the more broadly based the membership, the more power the organization will have to address whatever issues matter most to its members. I knew it. Bring food. I wonder, what is with all these afternoon meetings? Are working people excluded? Perhaps for the Clareview Crime Council sake, we need to team up with other groups in our community to get a broader based plan on how to spend the $10,000. Maybe we need a party, and everyone is invited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Overcoming the Betrayal of Myth, and a Public Service Announcement

I was going to talk about Susanna Wesley and her son, John Wesley yesterday, but I chickened out. Instead I will pass on a public service announcement. Get your regular flu shot today; I am.

Yesterday I was going to talk about the betrayal of myth, when a hero turns out to be tarnished. This happened to me for the first time when I read the personal journals of John Wesley. If you are unfamiliar, Susanna Wesley, especially among evangelical circles, is held up as the perfect mother. She home schooled all her nineteen children. Her private sermons were so influential she was soon teaching practically the entire village. Her son John was the unintentional founder of Methodists, which eventually merged with the present-day United Church. John Wesley taught an experiential faith, which of course evangelicals love.

So what knowledge shook me to the very core? It turns out that Susanna had a breakdown of some sort, and had to go away for a while. I should not be surprised. Nineteen children. As for John, he was a failure in the New World when he tried to apply his Church of England principles on a raw populace. His strict principles failed in practice. He came back to England a humbled man and was better for it.

Now the principles I'd lived by were shaken, and all of a sudden I was alone on a rocky shore. I wondered, are there any heroes? There's a sense of betrayal, too. Both by the idols on their pedestals, and the institutions that put them there. Why have their flaws been glossed over?

These unhappy emotions were followed by relief. Maybe these perfect models cannot be followed, because nobody's perfect. Perhaps the endless search for perfection is the burden I am to put down. Of course no-one is superwoman. There's a price to pay by trying to do it all. Now that I have a clearer picture of these "perfect" models, I can give myself, and my principles, a break. I am now much more ready to put aside a cherished principle, if it proves to fail in practice. Instead of blaming the victim, blame my application. Try again.

Now, why have the institutions glossed over the flaws and for the casual observer, these heroes are modeled as perfect? I think this tendency comes from our desire for order in the universe. It would be so much easier to make it through this chaotic world if there were a list somewhere of do's and don'ts. The alternative is to weigh each decision examining personal motives, make the wrong decision anyways, and apologize a lot. The alternative is to be human.

Anyways, enough about what I wasn't going to talk about. I notice that the announcers for the flu shot are careful to preserve personal choice. It's up to you if you want to get your flu shot and your H1N1 shot later.
  • For those who don't want to take any risks at all, I guess you will be spending the next few months in the basement wearing an N95 mask eating tins of beans out of your emergency stash.

  • Some risk takers are hoping to get the real flu and get it over with.

  • I've weighed the relative risks and decided to go with both vaccines.

I notice that our slightly neurotic society doesn't like any risk at all. We prefer choices without ambiguity. Unlike our ancestors, we are unacquainted with death and tragedy and would prefer to skip that lesson altogether, thank you. If the story of generations is correct, however, our youngest generation will become all too familiar with overcoming adversity. We face a pandemic and a serious economic recovery at least. For a season, gone is the luxury of a hazard free life.

I guess the Wesleys and the flu shot do have something in common. There are no perfect choices. We all must bumble through the best we can, and apologize a lot.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Changing our Town

I just found out about on October 17 about participatory government. The event will be inviting participants to ask the question, “How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?” By participation they mean connecting through the monstrous, chaotic, glorious web.

On the web, the founders have a great site, On twitter you can find out more about Change Camp by following them here:

On twitter you can follow along on the progress of the Edmonton event by searching under #yegchange and you can post a comment by replying @yegchange. As you can see, I am new to twitter.

For facebook users, there's an event page.

You can also join the google group, Change Camp Edmonton.

There is even a change camp wiki.

For all of this exposure, I am finding little dialogue about how we might accomplish the stated goal. A great deal of the discussion is about organizing the events themselves. It seems a little cold. I wonder if perhaps critical mass has not been reached, where swarms of Canadians are drawn together to build, grow, learn, talk.

I am drawn like a moth to flame, though, at the prospect. Anything that helps connect those in need with those who can help.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Shakespeare and Never Passing on a Compliment

I got a compliment on my writing style yesterday, "You have a way with words." I'm still glowing. As I do with compliments, I analyse it, turn it around, savour it.

There are a few things that I do that make my words better. There are principles in the book "On Writing Well" by Zinsser, that still run through my head in everything I write. First of all is to write what I really mean. I always take one more look through my writing to see if anything can be cut. The result can be lean and hard-hitting. When I first started doing this, I even shocked myself. Did I really mean that? If I did, I sent it. Sometimes we couch in extra words in the hopes of softening the blow. But even cutting words are cleaner if they are sharp. No-one wants to be cut with a dull butter knife.

I can't help thinking also of Gladwell's description of talent acquisition. All it takes is 10,000 hours. I don't know how many hours I have racked up, but I do use my business writing skills every day.
Another great habit, even in business writing, is to never pass on a compliment. If someone has impressed me, I say so. And I tell them why. Look how a few nice words gave me a glow for a day. So is it for others who I pass on a compliment. And it's free.
As for Shakespeare, I was watching an episode of "Inside the Actors Studio" that got me thinking what it would be like if I had taken up acting. This is a good sign. If I am giving time to let my mind wander, that all-consuming project at work is beginning to lose its' hold.
Anyways, as we will do at mid-life, I wondered if it is too late to pursue a new activity. My body shape also is not exactly a casting ideal. Unless I were to be an extra on a fat farm or something.
But then I got to thinking about a role I've always relished; the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. I've always imagined her to be warm, round and jolly. She has the crudity of the common people, reminding me of Art's wonderful mother. She used to grab her breasts and roar how wonderful it is to be here in Canada. Look how she had grown! Anyways, I wonder if I might be able to take on a persona so completely, to be that person so completely that the audience would be carried with me through the story.
Let's see if I will add this to my lifetime achievement (or bucket) list, along with driving a race car and playing the piano.
Photo borrowed from Paul Dry Books.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Volunteering for the Homeless

Well, I'm back. I volunteered for the first time with Homeless Connect, Edmonton. This event is sponsored by Homeward Trust, Edmonton, and follows the example of the first Homeless Connect in San Francisco. The idea is to put all the sorts of resources that homeless and the street poor need in one place, like a large trade fair, and let these people know where to come. Connect.

A large army of volunteers work to make the experience as comfortable as possible. There are greeters at the door, and there are guides to personally escort the homeless to the services they are interested in.

In my pursuit of excellent examples of intake experience, I was curious what this event would be like. As a volunteer, I found the experience revelatory and profoundly satisfying. The event has no problem attracting volunteers. The place was swarming with blue volunteer t-shirts.

Revelatory because I had to get over my reservation to approach people I usually avoid. For their sake, I welcomed, directed, brought coffee, reassured, and gave eye contact and a smile. The experience was satisfying because I made the leap to humanity, and I felt cleaner for it. I had signed up for just half the day and I had a very, very hard time saying goodbye.

Not to say that there were no jarring notes. These are people living on the edge. Some have problems that make it difficult to relate in a social situation. The paranoids wanted to know what the catch was. We had a few rebel street kids there to goof and stir up trouble if they could. But the vast majority are so grateful for the leg up.

There were a few images that will haunt my memory, demonstrating how close to the edge some of these people are living. For sake of their privacy, I won't record all I saw.

I noticed a few opportunities for improvement, but we also got smarter as the morning went on. A coffee and muffin station was offered to those in line this year, and it quickly became clear that it was smarter to bring the treats to them. This led also to some mess near the doors, which kept the cleaning staff busy full time. I could tell that this task did not thrill the Shaw staff.

I did see a chance to even out the intake process. This is the biggest delay in getting the homeless hooked up with the services they are so patiently waiting for. Intake workers filled out a double sided questionnaire for every applicant. Some of the paranoids in my line questioned why they were being asked for so much information. A few were certain that the information was being kept on a big government server somewhere. It speaks to their great need that they persisted in spite of their fears.

Now, I understand an administrator's desire for more information on the homeless. The more you know about the makeup of those you are trying to help, the better you can focus your efforts. However, the organizers now have detailed information from three events like this. Perhaps it is time to put the forms down.

Taking examples from the big retailers (Wal-Mart, E-Bay, Amazon), don't get between the customer and the service. Also, take care with the questions that are asked. The questions, though anonymous, are highly personal, and could evoke a deep emotional response. Are we ready to deal with all that - forcing these people to face how dire their situation really is?

What is the minimum you need to know? Perhaps the same amount of detail could be provided by having a couple of head counters (one for male, one for female) at the door with clickers, and providing the arm bands like you do now to prevent re-counting. (By the way, the form allowed for male, female, and transgender). Roving surveyors could ask for detailed information from, say, one in a hundred. And perhaps the event could learn a few things from improvement tools like Kaizen, which teaches that the best way to get to the source of the problem is through direct observation, or gemba.

The next even is in May and if I can make it, I will be there.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Caretaker's Rant and other things...

A Caretaker's Rant

Oh, my. It was a tough week with my son. He had a slip-up and used drugs. I was alert enough to notice the signs and I called him on it. He's apologized profusely and he promises to hook up with resources for help.

We went out to a movie together last night and afterward I told him how hard it is on me to follow him on his trips down. Most of the time he is struggling on a path of slow improvement. I drew a long, slow slope up the mountain with my finger. I help him along and encourage him on this path. Then he drops. My finger dropped. If I am following him on his progress, news of his failure drags me down, too. I made it clear I don't want to follow him on his path downward. It is too hard for me. He remembered that I'd said in the past that it is not fair for him to use me as his confessional. He might feel better, but I am left with the burden of another failure. And the worry.

As encouragement I did remind him it was much worse years ago, when months would go by where I would not hear from him, he did not admit to any problem, and I would not know if he were alive or dead.

Evangelical Snobbery

When I first caught wind that my son might be having a bad, bad week, I considered calling his assigned case worker. This man is an evangelical Christian and has encouraged my son to rebuke the devil (reminding Schizophrenics of demons and devils makes me shudder), study his bible more, and attend church regularly.

Now, I come from an Evangelical Church background, so I understand where this man is coming from. But, reader please be patient with me. Regardless what your belief system is, be careful in your beliefs that you don't try and fit all problems in to your mold. I've seen this error in the secular world as much as with the devout.

As a veteran Christian, I am coming to dislike that peculiar type of evangelical snobbery that suggests that there is only one answer and only one way. I am sure this counsellor would dismiss my suggestions if there were the slightest whiff that I might be "unsaved". I've exchanged the evangelical code words that should settle him on this point. Thank God I won't be held hostage to a conversation about my spiritual state.

But also, with the colored glasses of the evangelical, is this counsellor missing the obvious? My son's previous case worker was so practical in her approach. She spoke to my son about respect - showing for appointments on time - his dress - washing regularly. Her approach worked. My son is now religiously punctual. Just imagine how reassuring it is to me that he will show up for his appointed meetings and be speaking to a professional about how his week is going. What a relief for me. How much progress my son has made.

So, as a veteran Christian, I have no patience for mis-applied principles or beliefs. If the principle does not work, we don't blame the victim. Revisit the application of our beliefs. I may have to have a frank conversation with this case worker.

A Great Volunteer Space

Signing up for Homeless Connect yesterday, I was treated to a wonderfully designed volunteer sign up page. The questions were well-designed and in the right order. I received a prompt call-back and I have clear on expectations on my job. While they were at it, the volunteer page collected a lot of information on my interests, which may connect me to similar events and agencies in the future. The website is My Volunteer Page, and it is powered by software called Volunteer2. Kudos to the developers.

I'll be sure to document my experience with Homeless Connect. They are expecting over a thousand visitors to this one-day event to help hook up the street poor with available services. All I've read suggests that this is a world-class intake experience.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Allowing myself the freedom.... make mistakes.

I'm pretty sure my first response when someone is unhappy with a result is to do better next time. I don't think too hard about whose responsibility it is; I just jump in to do my part.

There is some logic to this approach. I will only have limited success in changing others. After all, I only have full control over changing me.

But - if I do not hold others accountable to do their part, or don't take the time to explain how their approach hurt me or hurt the situation - am I not doing them a disservice? Even though I may be able to see their error clearly, it does not follow that they do, too.

For my sensitive friends who are afraid to bring up the tough subjects, I ask if they would let a friend walk down the street with a tag sticking out of their collar. Or even worse, their skirt hiked in to their waistband when they leave the washroom? Of course not. A true friend helps out a friend with what they can't see. Kindly of course.

So why do I beat up myself so bad, if I failed to hand a situation perfectly? Cannot I allow the same generosity I give my friends, and promise to do better "next time"?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

I'm capturing some key thoughts from this book to keep in mind when I take on future projects. The chasm is the gap between Early Adopters and Early Majority (pragmatists). Early Adopters troll for innovations across industry (horizontal). They are easy to find and convince. However, these mavericks represent a very small segment of the population. Pragmatists, on the other hand, network amongst themselves (vertically), and are naturally suspicious of change. Change comes with the inherent risk of disruption and failure. Pragmatists therefore won't adopt innovation until it has been proven in their industry.

The innovator's challenge, therefore, is to invade a new market similar to the invasion on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Pour all resources on establishing a beach-head. Then move on from there.

How do you decide where to invest your resources? "First you divide up the universe of possible customers into market sgements. Then you evaluate each segment for its attractiveness. After your targets are narrowed develop estimates of such factors as the market niches' size, their accessibility to distribution, and the degree to which they are well defended by competitors. Then you pick one and go after it." (p. 89)

Sounds easy, right? The problem is making such a high risk decision in a low data arena.

"[Statistics] is like sausage - your appetite for it lessens considerably once you know how it is made...when you hear [the marketer] saying things like, 'It will be a billion-dollar market in 1995. If we only get 5 percent of that market...' When you hear that sort of stuff, exit gracefully, holding on to your wallet." (p. 91)

I look forward to reading more, to see if there are pitfalls to avoid, or new ways of reading the pragmatist's market. How do we help them relate to new ideas? How do we help them make the leap to adoption?

Picture borrowed from Blend Gateway.

Mind blank...

Here's some great quotes:

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." BrainyQuote - Barack Obama

"If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost." BrainyQuote - Barack Obama

"...for down through history death has come to all men, (and yet society survives); but the people who have no confidence (in their rulers) are undone." Janet's Home Page Confucious (p. 23, xii 7)

"Moral power does not live alone. It is sure to have neighbours" - Janet's Home Page Confucious (p. 21, iv 25)

By the way, the work that absorbs will be done on October 9. Then I come back, mind and soul.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If I had no time left...

This is what I would tell those I love:

Be excellent in your treatment of others. Regardless of any other achievement, honor, or award, be true in this.

There will be those who will seek to take advantage of your generosity, or may perceive you as weak as a consequence, but pay them no mind. The advantage lost from conceding to a petty difference is more than taken up by the good you will generate.

Do not be afraid. Fear brings out the worst in all of us.

A New Day at the Eye Doctor

A year ago, when this blog was young, I documented my visit to the eye clinic. Yesterday I had my annual checkup. Experiences are vivid, maybe because the eye is so vulnerable. I am hyper-sensitive during these visits. I bring hubby along and I am grateful that he drives me home. Drops are put in my eyes that keep my eyes dilated and keep me from focusing. For a brief time, my frenetic pace just stops. Until I can see again.

I noted some improvements from my last visit. Stations are now clearly marked with large signs, POD 1, POD 2, and POD 3 (large signs in an eye clinic. What a concept). But I get ahead of myself. I must first "report to the nursing station". Like last year, I take a number. I am 99. They are serving 98. Service was very fast.

I was directed to POD 2; much easier to find this year. There was still a hand drawn sign with a bold arrow, "Put your paperwork in the basket." the nurse was brisk, placing my paperwork in the basket and redirecting me to the POD 2 waiting room. I did note that she did not spare a moment for eye contact. So, despite the improvements, I still felt like a number.

The improvements needed now are human, and not as quantifiable. How many times a day are these nurses asked the same question? I can imagine how monotonous it can become...for them. For me, all is novel. How can they be engaged in their day so the experience is humanized?

As a side note, one of my favorite bloggers, Paul Levy, promotes Grateful Nation. Apparently, gratefulness is good for me. This I believe. I must learn more.

I am grateful that the tests for glaucoma so far come back negative. I treasure my eyes. I am grateful for a patient husband, who dreads the hospital even more than I do. I treasure him, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours and Talent

I am wrapping up Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers. His convincing conclusion is that the experience of those who have achieved great success " first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy." (p. 285)

His conclusions are reassuring in many ways. With ten thousand hours of practice, any one of us with even middling talent can become proficient. To become leaders in our field, we need a little more. We are helped by a supportive community and being in the right time and place. "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings." Proverbs 22:29.

My daughter, passionate about dogs, send me an editorial by Cesar Millan, dog whisperer. He is one of those people who has excelled in his line of work, and also had the good fortune to have a community, place and time to build great influence, or as Gladwell describes it, meaningful work.

On the twentieth of this month, he talks about how dogs have taught him.

"But that's not all dogs have to teach us. They educate us about the value of consistency. If you apply Exercise, Discipline, then Affection every day without fail, your dog will reward you with loyal companionship. And they show us how to live life to the fullest by being balanced and celebrating every moment.

Through my pack, I have experience birth, life, and death, and they have shared fundamental lessons about going through this natural life cycle. How do they pass from one phase to the next? How do they stay together all their lives as a family? They have taught me to value the simplicity of life itself. They intensify every moment that I am with them. And for that, I am eternally grateful."

Yes, I can learn a lot from hanging out with our dog friend, Ariel. She knows when it has been too long between visits. A quick exchange of affection is all that is needed. How many times do I neglect that simple thing? What price do I pay, mentally and physically, by ignoring this basic need?

How about celebrating the moment? I've seen that theme repeated over and over again as well. There's Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on Flow. I bet dogs and ten thousand hours champions enjoy many flow moments of intense concentration.

Drugs or Time?

Mental illness is an issue that hits close to home for me. My mother is bi-polar. My son, ex-husband, and son-in-law all show signs of schizophrenia. I've seen the devastation of these diseases up close and personal. We depend on our minds to self-assess our condition; to let us know when we are not well. Mental illness strips us of even this basic freedom and family, friends, or the state must intervene. In a delusional state, the mentally ill may blame family members for the indignity of forced care. The only comfort I get is to see them recovered, back home, and able to smile again.

Don't get me wrong; psychiactric medications have changed the face of care for the mentally ill. Gone (or nearly gone) are the ice baths, restraints, incarceration, and shock treatments. The attached article provides an extensive list of past treatments. I don't buy in to this author's assertion that true cure is blocked by the drug companies. We use drugs because they are the best solution yet available. We also still have short term incarceration when a person is so far gone they are a danger to themselves or others. And a very few are too dangerous to ever have in the population at large. But for the most part, these medications help people live out in the community and relatively independent lives.

I've often wondered, however, in the aggressive pursuit of lower costs, or by simple ignorance or neglect, if we do the mentally ill a disservice by characterizing their disease as only a drug problem. Bipolar Disorder responds beautifully to medication. There's a specific deficit in the brain, and medication replaces it. Schizophrenia, however, does not respond as well. All the medications do right now is to keep the worst symptoms in check. I suspect that Schizophrenia is really a bundle of brain flaws all of which present similar symptoms (delusions, paranoia) if left unmanaged long enough. Even my bipolar mother presented delusions and paranoia when she was very far gone.

From "The economic burden of mental health problems in Canada": By Stephens T, Joubert N.

"This study provides a comprehensive estimate of the economic burden of mental health problems in Canada in 1998. In particular, it estimates the cost of non-medical services that have not been previously published and the value of short-term disability associated with mental health problems that were previously underestimated according to the definitions used here. The costs of consultations with psychologists and social workers not covered by public health insurance was $278 million, while the value of reduced productivity associated with depression and distress over the short term was $6 billion. Several data limitations suggest that these are underestimates. The estimated total burden of $14.4 billion places mental health problems among the costliest conditions in Canada."

There are precious few classes and counselling sessions freely available to the mentally ill. There are clubs and group sessions. My son visits his support worker as often as once a week. But those sessions are primarily a check-in, to monitor if my son is better or worse. There's a wonderful program at Ponoka that helps people with combined mental health and drug issues. But it lasts only six weeks. Follow-up is minimal.

WHO Optimal Mix for Mental Health Care
Here in Canada, the burden of care falls on the family doctor, who spends up to half their time taking care of mentally ill patients. I suspect most are patients suffering from various depressive disorders. Why? Because psychiactric counselling is not fully covered by our health care system. Drugs are.

Mental illness in itself is a socially isolating disease. Treating the illness with drugs alone does not resolve the isolation. Some of my family members carry the burden of their illness, fears and anxieties unresolved, weighted down. My psychologist friend describes a day in the life of a person in depression as wading through jell-o. The effort to dress, to go to the store, to walk down the hall, takes all they have. Imagine for the schizophrenic getting through a normal conversation while ignoring the dozen other conversations or so competing in his head.

It seems to me that it could be possible that many mentally ill could experience greater empowerment over their disease, and less medication. The mentally ill might be coached through new coping techniques that would help them reduce their dependence on medication.

There's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance, that takes less time than the old psychotherapy. Greater community supports are needed as well, and supports for the families with mentally ill members.

The World Health Organization recognizes the need for better care for the mentally ill. Governments across the world need to see mental health as a vital component of primary health care. We need to change policy and practice. Only then can we get the essential mental health services to the tens of millions in need”, said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The world health report 2001 - Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope

I'll stop now. My researcher's gene has been activated and I'm having trouble putting this article to bed. To answer the title of this blog, I think we need drugs and time...much more time. We need to think about and talk about these issues openly. We need to be there for family members who are mentally ill. Help them out of the confusing maze of their illness. Help them find greater fulfillment and happiness from living.