Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Waiting for Permission

I was honored and privileged to speak at the 2012 Calgary City Teacher’s Convention last week on the subject of leadership and education and as is often the case, a number of post-presentation exchanges between myself and convention attendees took place.

One thing that really strikes me with such spontaneous conversations is the number of fantastic ideas brewing in people’s heads that never reach the light of day.

What is intriguing is that many of these ideas are not “how I can get rich” ideas but instead, are often “here is how I can positively impact the world or give back to the world” ideas, all the more reason why these ideas need to be allowed to develop and flourish.  These ideas are not only worthy of encouragement, they are in fact ideas that I believe the world is hungry for.

Sadly, another theme often stands out when I speak to people about their great ideas.

It is the theme of fear.  They worry that people may think their idea is stupid, that their spouse or partner may not support their idea, that the idea will collapse anyway so why even bother or they have some other self-limiting, unjustifiable belief.

Of course, when you speak to them, they don’t describe their fear in this way.  They will rationalize their failure to execute in any number of ways and when one analyzes and nullifies the rationalizations, then the real origin of their fear manifests.

Can you blame them for being afraid to follow their passion?

Think of the following tactics often used in raising kids.

1. Don’t speak to strangers – they are out to kidnap you and hurt you.

2. Fit in and conform – standing out is not worth the effort and you will probably be punished for it anyway (the “tall grass catches the lawnmower blade” syndrome).

3. Don’t play in the street or close to water – a car may run over you and kill you or you may fall in and drown.

4. Don’t tattle on others – it is not good to be a tattler; one should strive not to do bad things to others or to make waves and the one you are tattling on may beat you up when they find out you tattled on them.

5. Don’t question those in authority – they are always right and have your best intentions at heart.

6. Always put others first (even if it means sacrificing one’s self) because that’s what good, “unselfish” people do.

Think of how this programming impacts us later in Life.

1. All strangers are evil and out to destroy us and for this reason we should be suspicious and distrustful of new connections.  Unfortunately for many people, this also results in them not pursuing the connections that would enable their dreams.

2. Good ideas are something that will only get us in trouble, and we all want to avoid trouble, right?  So the next time a cool idea pops in our head, we should prepare for a lifetime of angst as the need to bring it to fruition competes with our belief it will fail anyway.

3. Don’t try anything fun or new because it is inherently risky and has a significant opportunity to end painfully and potentially catastrophically.  See the previous point.

4. When you see something that is wrong, don’t bother reporting it.  It will probably create more trouble than it’s worth anyway.  Meanwhile, we criticize others (especially public figures) when they don’t do “the right thing” quickly enough for our liking.

5. We don’t question people in authority or with a long list of accreditations because this would be considered disrespectful.  Meanwhile, in many situations, people who should be held accountable for less than desired behavior are allowed to continue their behavior (and sometimes are actually rewarded for it) because we choose not to do something about it.

6. Too many people live with the belief that serving others first is ALWAYS more important than honoring themselves, producing a martyrdom in many people that creates frustration, burnout and a stifling of personal passion and purpose.  After all, many have grown up believing that to think of one’s self first is selfish when in actuality, investing in one’s self actually empowers one to serve others much more effectively.

After years of burdening our youth with the baggage of “this won’t work / it can’t be done this way / it must be done that way”, we expect them to transform themselves overnight and to live a life of passionately following their dreams.  Meanwhile they pass on the same baggage to their kids.  It’s not their fault – it’s the only thing that they know.

Those who weren’t raised with these crippling rules or who find ways to overcome this baggage are the ones who make a big impact on the world.

Good and bad.

They don’t wait for permission, support or an endorsement of any kind.  They embrace their passion and they go for it, taking no prisoners and asking for forgiveness later … if at all.

We need to raise the next generation to think this way, to balance respect and knowledge of risk with the importance of following their passion unabashedly, with the right amount of fear that propels them and keeps them honest while not crippling them.

We need more people to move beyond thinking and talking about things and to actually making them happen.

Yes, we have many people who inspire … but we need many more.

Then and only then will we see the human race reach its true potential.

I believe for every great idea that we see come to fruition and for every person who inspires us, there are 100 (or 10,000) more ideas and people who would inspire us equally.

Maybe one of those people is you.

Howard Thurman, minister, educator and civil rights leader, once said:

Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

People who commit evil in the world don’t wait for permission to do what they do.

People who are able to do good in the world shouldn’t wait either.

People like you.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to do some good in the world.

Well … that is if it’s ok with you.

Well … if it’s not, I don’t really care. :-)

Create a great day for yourself and others.

In service and servanthood,


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Privacy and the Real Weakest Link

An interaction I had with someone in a coffee shop today reminded me that much of our anxiety about privacy is being focused in the wrong direction.

This gentleman was speaking quite loudly into his cell phone and given that he had his phone volume turned very high, I was able to hear both sides of the conversation quite plainly.

When he was done, he noticed I was sitting in close proximity and came over with paper in hand.  As I looked up, he asked me if I would be kind enough to review and execute the document he held out to me.

I looked at it and realized he was asking me to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) on behalf of a company clearly identified on the documents.  The purpose of the document, for those unfamiliar with NDAs) is to protect him and his client from any inappropriate use of the information I had gleaned from his conversation.

When I indicated that I had no interest in signing the document, he grew a little agitated and insisted that I sign it or face some kind of unidentified penalty.  I got equally insistent (and slightly agitated) that I had no interest in signing it and was not legally bound to do so merely due to his inappropriate activity.

He got very upset but left without further incident.

After he left, I got to thinking about privacy in general.  As someone who has consulted to Wall St. organizations, Fortune 25 companies and government agencies for years, I know for a fact that privacy and security of information is merely a suggestion, an empty promise made to the public so that they will continue to consume the services offered by these organizations.

Major compromises of this information by people who have the capability to steal our private information at will are not an “if” but a “when”, with most of them waiting for the appropriate time that provides them with maximum value for the data stolen.

Meanwhile we live with the myth that everything has been done to safeguard our information (in much the same way that we promote the myth of airline security so that people will continue to fly).

Despite these myths, we pour billions of dollars into information and personal security, providing little real security with the exception of financial security for the firms providing ineffective solutions.

Closer to Home

Thinking back to my interaction with this guy this morning, I have enough information to sink this company or to create an overnight competitor.  Clearly his activity is in violation of the very NDA agreement he and his client are pushing on others.

But he is not alone in inappropriate behaviour.

I have overheard other interesting conversations in public places over the years, including accountants explaining to clients how to illegally circumvent taxation rules, lawyers explaining to DUI hit-and-run clients how to successfully get the charges dropped through various loopholes, company executives discussing private information prior to mergers, acquisitions and takeovers and a potpourri of other tidbits that I really shouldn’t be privy to.

Such incidents are not limited to conversations overheard in public areas.  On a red-eye from Calgary, Alberta to St. John’s, Newfoundland a couple of years ago, as I walked to the bathroom in executive class I walked by two well-known Newfoundland and Labrador Government Ministers.  They had both fallen asleep in their seats, with a collection of clearly marked highly confidential documents spread out on their trays.  I could have lifted a few, dropped them off at a newspaper office anonymously and watched with amusement as a controversy developed.

How about the NTSB official sitting next to me on a flight out of Newark, NJ who went to the bathroom and left a highly confidential crash report (complete with delicate photos) spread out on his tray?

How about the two women (whom I assume to be social workers of some type) sitting next to me as I write this, explicitly naming the people in their case files and expressing disgust over the best way to “handle them”.

Or one of my favourites … when I inadvertently happened to look over someone’s shoulder in a Starbucks and discovered a potential terrorist documenting his interests and intentions.  I wrote about that in “The Power of Trusting Your Instinct”.

The bottom line is this.

Technology is not and should not be the sole focus of our concern around the protection of sensitive information.

The weakest link is, not surprisingly, the individuals who carry the information and how they conduct business when in possession of this information.

Until we demand better common sense and accountability from these individuals, our concerns around privacy will go unanswered, mostly because we are pouring too much of our time, energy and money into solving the wrong problem while still feeling good about how secure we are.

When organizations tout some technology as the latest and greatest in information protection, we should never forget that the weakest link when it comes to vulnerability will always be people and we should hold these organizations to be appropriately accountable as a result.

When they assure us that everything is secure, we must never be timid in asking “How do you know?” and to continue asking until we are satisfied with the answer.

Now … what about this company in Calgary?

Their secret is safe with me.

However, the next guy who overhears such a conversation may not be as kind.

Create a great day for yourself and others, in service and servanthood.


Addendum – August 20, 2013

After listening to some team members of Alberta Health Services today openly discussing things that I shouldn’t have overheard, I wrote The Coffee Shop–The New Source of Privacy Leaks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Difficulty With Being Perfect

I was having an exchange with a colleague today who was getting exasperated with my advice.  In the last exchange, he (whom I will refer to as Dave) said “Look, it’s easy for you to say this.  You’ve never made mistakes.  You never worry.   People like you don’t understand how the rest of us live”.

It’s not the first time I have tried to help someone and been told that.

If Dave and others knew the burden of being perfect, they wouldn’t treat perfect people such as myself and others so harshly.

Of course, if they really knew the definition of a “perfect” person, they would know something else.

They would know that those whom they consider perfect are as far from perfect as one could get.

Yes, it is true that my upbringing gave me an unfair advantage that put me far ahead of the pack in the Race of Life.  For example, here is a picture of my family’s first house when I was young:


An unfair advantage indeed!

And yes, I had a very successful career from an early age, whether it was architecting Canada’s first PC-based insurance system or solving complex problems on Wall St.   I did it so effortlessly, I am told. 

Truth is, I just never let people see me sweat or hear me second-guessing my capabilities as I dealt with fraud complex at an early age (the inability to accept that one deserves the awards and accolades that one is receiving).

Years later, when I was driving the software company that I cofounded in NYC towards a subsequent acquisition / IPO, a number of colleagues wished they could trade places with me.  After all, they said, Life is much easier when you are on the top than it is when you are working for someone else.

Yes, there was a lot of excitement working at the top.  But sometimes when my colleagues were fast asleep, I was awake wondering if we would make the next payroll or if the next big deal was the one that would save or sink the company, its employees and their families whom I was responsible for.

Did I make any mistakes along the way? Hah – if you only knew! :-)

When it comes to personal relationships, I have made more than my share of mistakes.  In fact, some mistakes were outright failures on my part.

So what does all of this mean?

Absolutely nothing.

Life is what it is - I am perfect in my imperfection as is everyone on this planet.

If Life were easy, we would all steamroll to the top and then, looking around and experiencing a challenge-free Life, we would look to the sky and say '”Is this it?  Is this all there is?”

We would have little to be proud of, including accomplishments or examples of personal growth.  After all, how many of us brag about the days when we were rewarded for no effort on our part?

Fortunately, Life forces us to be challenged, forces us to grow and to rise above challenge.

Even when we don’t want to.

Or rather .... especially when we don’t want to.

It has been said that when a bird wants to fly fast, it flies with the wind but when it wants to fly high, it flies against the wind.

So the question is:

Do we prefer to get somewhere easily with minimal reward or to be forced to fly high to find the rewards that are commensurate with our immeasurable potential?

I believe that when we reach our personal end-of-days, we discover at that moment that we were indeed perfect for the journey we just experienced.

In the meantime, we shouldn’t allow our potential to be diminished by the belief that our state of perfection is any different than anyone else’s, since that belief becomes a millstone around our neck and prevents us from accomplishing the things we wish to achieve.

We should focus on enhancing the state of perfection in ourselves and others instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others.

Until then, we’ll have to be content with our state of imperfection and continue to work towards refining ourselves, to bringing our result as close as possible to our potential. 

We will also need to be content with failing once in a while, since such mistakes and the learning associated with them bring us closer to growth and a state of perfection.

Well … you will have to be content with this.

Because I’m already perfect. :-)

Create a great day for yourself and others, in service and servanthood.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Obligations and Responsibilities

I came upon an interesting prayer today by Richard Woike Sr. that really struck me.

I share it with you here.

A Prayer to Avoid” - Richard Woike, Sr.

O thou pleasant, comfortable, kindly, good-natured God: How glad I am that I can look forward, with a reasonable degree of certainty, to another ordinary day. Keep me today from anything that taxes my faith, from discomfort, from unnecessary strain, from unusual problems, especially those involving sickness or death, or the necessity of extending financial aid to relatives and friends.

Dear Lord, grant that nothing may occur which will disturb my satisfaction with the way I am, and the things I say, and the thoughts I think, the acts I do, or the many deeds I leave undone. Give me this day, in addition to my daily bread, the butter, meats, and sweetmeats that are my necessary diet, and let me not be troubled by qualms of conscience concerning the amount of time and money I spend on food and clothing, pastimes, good and bad, and those pursuits which, while not of spiritual value, are the accepted hallmark of the normal citizen of this enlightened community in this enlightened age.

About the future and the darkening trend of things, keep me from thoughtfulness. Events rush on, the world travails. Can screaming headlines prove thy hand’s at work this very moment, bringing near that fateful cry, ‘Behold! He comes!’? O, Lord, such disconcerting thoughts! Keep me from worrying about such things, and guide me safely to and from my office, and my home.


As a strategy guy and an eternal-analyst, I usually have an observation about practically everything.

However, in this case, I think those who “get it” will “get it”.

As for the rest, eventually they will get it ….. hopefully.

In service and servanthood.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pit Bulls–The 4-Legged and 2-Legged Variety

I was in Lethbridge, Alberta recently, enjoying a walk around Henderson Lake on a beautiful sunny day when suddenly I heard yelling and screaming behind me.

Squinting in the sunlight, I observed what appeared to be people rolling around on the ground and the air was filled with cursing, screaming and the growling and yelping of dogs.

Making my way towards the scene, I realized what had happened.  A large pit bull, one of a pair, had slipped its collar and had savaged a much smaller dog (still on its leash).  The smaller dog was being cradled by its owner as it bled from its neck and chest  while the owner of the pit bulls was cowering on the ground trying to hold his dogs back.

The owner of the injured dog indicated that she didn’t have immediate access to transportation and needed to find a way to an animal hospital.  With no one around offering help, I took her, her daughter and her dog Mickey to the animal hospital.

We were so concerned about the welfare of the injured animal that no one got the name of the pit bull owner, who didn’t offer any help and left the scene, his sloppy control of these dangerous animals being a ticking time bomb to savage another animal ….

…. or maybe a child.

After I had made sure that everything was ok at the animal hospital, I was thinking about pit bulls and realized that we’ve all encountered pit bulls in one form or another. 

Occasionally, they are the 4-legged variety as in this case.  However, oftentimes they are the 2-legged variety, those who seek to savage or intimidate others personally or professionally.

Personally I have a zero-tolerance level for such people and take action immediately when confronted with such situations.  The funny thing with these “pit bulls” is that oftentimes the greater the intimidator they are, the more affronted they are when someone stands up to them, providing even more disincentive to fight them off.

But fight them off we must.

That being said, not everyone has the strength, ability or capability to fight off the “pit bulls of Life”.

In those situations, people need the help of others, people like you and I, to help them fight off those who savage them.

Savaging others is what “pit bulls” do naturally and instinctively – like the pit bulls at Henderson Lake.

So the next time you sense that someone is inappropriately savaging the Life of another, think about how you would react if that were happening to someone important to you and then find a way to do something about it.

You will not only find a way to help someone now but you may save countless people down the road.  In some extreme situations, you may actually save a Life.

Charles Dickens, whose 200th birthday anniversary is today, once wrote:

“No one is useless in the world who lightens the burdens of another”.

His wisdom is as appropriate today as it was when he wrote those words.

There are lots of people in the world whose burdens we could lighten with almost no effort on our part.

So what are we waiting for?

Create a great day, for yourself and for others.

In service and servanthood,


PS Mickey, after staying in the animal hospital overnight and with a few stitches, will be ok.  The pit bulls and their negligent owner are still at large in the Henderson Lake area of Lethbridge, Alberta.