Monday, July 30, 2012

Giving Up When Success Is Within Reach

I was in a Starbucks today when a lady walked up to the door, pulled on the left door (which was locked), pushed the same door and then pushed on the right door (which only opened outwards towards her).

Realizing that her efforts had been thwarted at every turn, she turned to walk away, upon which I ran over and pushed open the door, indicating that the coffee shop was indeed open.

We made a joke about it and she went inside and ordered her drink.

Reflecting on this afterward, I wondered ….

How often do people give up in business or in Life when they believe they have tried everything, when in fact the most obvious thing they needed to do was staring them right in the face (or as in the case of this lady, was literally in her hand)?

I suspect that too many people give up when the reward for their efforts is closer than they realize.

I also suspect that all many people need is someone to open a door to help them see the reward … if they would only “stick around” and persevere a little longer.

Maybe someone you know is waiting for you to open such a door. 

And maybe, just maybe, someone may be opening a door for you.

In the case of the latter, it still means you need to stay in the game and be ready to claim your reward whether you are invited inside with the help of someone else, you finally figure out how to open the door and stagger inside or you kick the door down in triumph.

Oftentimes this is easier said than done, but it is necessary all the same.

“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In service and servanthood,


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Facts: Requiescat In Pace

As many of you know, my personal and professional Life is wired around knowledge, data and facts and the appropriate application of each.

I grow concerned in the modern era when people who are not armed with facts use innuendo, intimidation and personal attacks to “persuade” people to see their side of things.

While many people who employ these tactics find it works for the easily intimidated, usually by the time they get to me, they find their “irresistible force” has met its match in the immovable object that is me and the question “How do you know?”.

When the world becomes governed by the loudest or the biggest bully on the street and not by knowledge, facts and the intellectual exchange of both, then it diminishes our claim to be living in the knowledge and information age and in fact, has the potential to set our world backwards in development and evolution.

All that being said, I read an article today published on April 19, 2012 by Rex Huppke, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

It’s title and tagline are:

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012

In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died.

The article is funny and disturbing and is highly recommended.  I couldn’t say it better than Mr. Huppke has so aptly done – please check out his article here!

Maybe now it’s time for me to believe in reincarnation.

After all, if Facts has died, what hope do we have on this world unless Facts will somehow return? 

As Mr. Huppke notes in his article:

“Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.”

Disturbing indeed!

What is little known about Facts is that he was also a leader in the fight against three dangerous diseases in the world, namely the diseases of Indifference, Apathy and Ignorance.

The big question is - without Facts, who will save us now?

In service and servanthood,


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chick-fil-A and Intolerance of Intolerance

The Mayor of Pittsburgh has joined the Mayors of Chicago and Boston by informing Chick-fil-A that its leaders’ stand on same-sex marriage is not welcome and thus their chain is not welcome in their respective cities.

I think this is a very dangerous slippery slope.

For starters, there are the legal and constitutional ramifications of governments that punish companies for the beliefs of the leadership of those companies.  I’ll leave that subject to the experts in those respective fields.

But if we are now going to start a moral crusade by punishing every company whose leadership has beliefs that we don’t agree with, then let’s line up the leadership of the Fortune 500 and fry them now because I’m sure every company has a leader who has a belief or who has committed some act that someone doesn’t agree with.

I happen to know that the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world has a significant hash pipe collection.  Does this mean that if we are strongly anti-drug that we will stop buying the products of that company?  Would someone consider this leader’s values to conflict with our “war on drugs”?  What about the paradox for those who work for the company who have to undergo drug screening?

Secondly, when Chicago Mayor Emanuel said that Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago’s values, I’m not certain who appointed him the de facto representative of everyone’s values on every issue.

I’m not even certain what Chicago’s official values list looks like.  Can someone point me in the direction of this official list?

Thirdly, it’s easy for many people to get behind the mayors of these cities and support their pro-same-sex message.  After all, it’s always easy to get behind someone and support their message when you agree with THAT message.

But what happens when at some point down the road, mayors or other government leaders decide to take similar action for other areas of moral judgement based on THEIR opinion and you suddenly discover that you don’t agree with THAT particular choice?

It will be too late to do anything, because we will have enabled them by our support or apathy in this instance.

There is also an irony in the Boston mayor’s comments – to preach intolerance of other people’s opinions because we feel they are intolerant of ours is to hope that two wrongs make a right.

Weren’t we taught as children that this doesn’t work?

Whether we strongly agree with or disagree with an opinion is one thing.

However, when a government threatens legal action over the opinion of a citizen or when it claims to represent everyone’s values and morals is another.  Such assumptions have the potential to destroy the great nation built upon ideals such as the First Amendment and the belief that through the expression and debate of opinions, a great nation can learn to strengthen itself.

But then again, yelling at people who disagree with us appears to be the norm these days.  Maybe the people of the great nation of the United States of America would prefer to intimidate anyone who dares to have a difference of opinion.

And if that’s the case, I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before the First Amendment and the Second Amendment collide.

Whether that happens or not, when the day arrives that we are not entitled to our own opinion, it will be a sad day indeed.

Maybe that day has already arrived and we just don’t know it yet.

In service and servanthood,



Addendum: July 27, 2012

The bashing of Chick-fil-A continues, as does the rhetoric and the false information suggesting things about Chick-fil-A that are not true.  I wonder what social cause these government representatives will embrace next. 

There is another slippery slope here.

What happens if a mayor or other politician with intent to run for election / re-election discovers they have a powerful opponent in a particular organization’s leadership and uses the guise of a “social cause” to discredit / disempower their opponent?

Would the average voter be able to see through such an act?

I highly doubt it.

What happens if the same politician leverages an emotionally-loaded cause to “use” the electorate, playing on their feelings and emotions while vaulting the politician in their campaign, all the while leveraging an issue that the politician doesn’t actually care about?

Ah … I forgot.

That would be politics as usual.

Final thought

Someone told me I was brave for publishing this because I said what they wanted to say but were afraid to do so for fear of backlash.

While I didn’t say anything that was controversial, such a comment reflects the possibility that perhaps the sad day has indeed arrived where differences of opinion are truly not welcome.

What is also sad is that I don’t see the leadership in Washington, either incumbent or challenger, make any comment that would demonstrate their desire to stand with the law and the Constitution on such a sticky matter.

But such wishy washy behavior would be politics as usual also.

Life and Software–When The Obvious Is Not So Obvious

Some years ago, I was working on a project on Wall St. where one of the Big 4 consulting companies had just implemented a very expensive IT system.

Its architecture was glorious in theory, perfect in its purity and yet one day, this glorious manifestation took down the entire internal network of a major bank.

What happened?

Without getting too technical, the application was designed to get any message that needed to be displayed to its user from a centralized database of messages.

One day, someone inadvertently took the message database offline and the application realized that an error occurred when it couldn’t retrieve the messages it needed to display.

In order to display the error message describing what happened, the application naturally went looking for the error message in that database and it couldn’t find it, producing another error.

That error in turn caused the application to look for the same database to obtain the same error message to display and then ……

You get the picture.

The application architects and developers had failed to plan for the fact that the message database itself could disappear.

The application “panicked” and tried harder and harder to obtain the information it needed and in doing so, spun itself into oblivion while producing nothing in the way of a positive result.  Thousands of PCs started doing the same thing and the network came down.

A multi-million dollar system had been brought to its knees by a simple oversight.

Life Is Like That Sometimes

Sometimes Life is the same.  Something that we thought should be happening in Life is not happening and so we try again.

But instead of doing something different, we try the same thing and produce the same result.

Getting frustrated (or panicking) we do the same thing again.

It feels natural to do this until someone points out that in fact we are doing the same thing over and over. 

And if n0body points this out or they do and we ignore them, eventually our “network”; our brain, our strength, our courage or our faith in ourselves and others fails.

And then comes the inevitable crash just as the crash that occurred within the Bank I mentioned.

All it would take to avoid this crash is a slight change in our approach or a slight change in our understanding of the environment that we live within.

But sometimes when we are in the thick of things, the slight modifications needed in our actions or our environment are not easily visible – we’re too focused on rapidly finding a solution.

And when we get caught up in our ever-increasing need to find a solution, the solution we seek will evade us with ever increasing speed …. causing panic, pain or failure as a result.

The Objective Observer

In the case of the application I mentioned, the architects came to me and said “We’re stuck – what can we do?”.  They had spent weeks of meetings trying to sort it out.

I looked at the architecture and said “Perhaps if the error routine already had knowledge of the “Message database is not available” message without having to go get it, it could report the error without spinning itself into oblivion”.

A simple answer – easily discerned and seemingly obvious to me because I wasn’t buried in the weeds of the thing nor did I have any concern around admitting I had created the problem.

Life is the same.

Sometimes when we find ourselves buried in the weeds of something that doesn’t appear to be working, we need to find the objective observer who can point out what is obvious to them.

It took the Big 4 consultants with their $2500 per day bill rates a long time to suck up their ego before asking me what the issue was.

But eventually the embarrassment (and potential punishment) from failure was more powerful than the ego that was holding them back.

Einstein’s Law of Insanity applies here, the notion that we shouldn’t expect a different result from the same actions. However, I wonder if it should be renamed Einstein’s Law of Ego.

When we finally push our ego down enough to ask “Can you help me understand why this is not working?”, we open ourselves up to new results that are dramatically better.

Isn’t that better than spinning ourselves into oblivion?

Our level of perfection as human beings may be perfect in potential, just as this application’s architecture was perfect in theory.

But potential means nothing if the results don’t match the potential.

In service and servanthood,


PS  I was reminded as I wrote this about a conversation I had with an NTSB investigator years ago.  He mentioned that in some situations, a pilot was able to avert disaster when, as an unanticipated event occurred, he took 10 seconds to stop and ask “What is happening here?” instead of just instantly reacting to the situation and possibly making it worse if not fatal.

An interesting thought and somewhat related.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Aurora Shooting–A Surprisingly Quiet Voice

The shooting that took place last week in Aurora, Colorado has revealed a surprisingly quiet voice.

Yes, we have the usual debate that starts up whenever something like this happens – a debate between the people who support the right to bear arms, including guns that can shoot 50+ armor-piercing rounds per minute and the people who want to see guns banned altogether.

Then we have the ridiculous, absurd claims of John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime” who asserts that if more people had guns, then they could defend themselves at events like the Aurora shooting before the police arrive and thus such crimes would become a thing of the past or reduced in devastation.

When one considers such a claim, how many events like the Aurora event, whether it be that event itself, Columbine, Virginia Tech or any other, did we have people who were armed and able to defend themselves against armed assailants?


And besides, the last thing we need is a theater full of untrained people with itchy trigger fingers who hear the wrong sound and just start shooting.

Imagine what that massacre would look like – with no actual assailant and no other reason than a simple mistake that caused everyone to start shooting in all directions.

Truth is, not many of us carry guns to the theater, to school or most places where our day takes us.  Many of these places now have security measures in place where citizens are screened by metal detectors and the like and so they couldn’t have their weapons with them anyway.

The law-abiding ones anyway. 

People who are intent on committing crimes find a way …. just like a certain airline that has a Rome to NYC flight several times a week where weapons are routinely found planted on planes.  No one knows why or how, whether it be  terrorists making plans, terrorists evaluating options or the good guys testing the system.

The point is that people with evil intention will find a way no matter what people believe to the contrary.

The Silent Voice

All that being said, there is a voice that is relatively silent on the matter and I find the silence intriguing.

I’m not hearing a lot of noise one way or the other from law enforcement.

If I were in law enforcement or had a significant attachment to someone in law enforcement, I would feel a level of concern about the types of weapons out there.

Now I know that when law enforcement responds to a call that involves violence, they have to assume the worst is possible when it comes to the weapons they may face.

But there’s a big difference between being prepared for the worst and only facing a 12-gauge shotgun or a hunting rifle versus actually having to deal with a guy in full tactical gear firing a weapon that can penetrate law enforcement body armor.

And when it comes to defending one’s self in a crowded space, one has a better change of surviving or even overcoming the shooter if the shooter is not armed with an assault rifle, capable of having a 100-round drum magazine that shoots armor piercing bullets.

There Will Always Be Violence

It has been said that if we ban guns, then we will have to kill each other with knives, clubs and other messy things.

So people will always kill people, no matter what we give them access to.

However, do we have to make it so easy for them and so difficult for us to defend against?

If people like Lott are to be listened to, it suggests that I need to bring an assault rifle wherever I go in case someone else pulls his or hers out.  I’m not going to bring anything smaller – it would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

But if we all start carrying weapons such as that, then it will feel more like 1920’s Chicago than 21st century America.

And it will make the jobs of law enforcement that much more difficult.

Imagine Occupy Wall St. last fall if one had to assume that everyone there had an assault rifle.

We wouldn’t need police to oversee their activity.  We’d need the National Guard.

Why Bother To Change This?

I wonder how President Obama or Mitt Romney would have reacted if someone they knew had been injured there.  Regardless of their personal beliefs, they know that this is a hot potato that they can’t touch.  Their personal needs trump what they may believe to be right for the citizens they allegedly represent.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to shrug off responsibility to make change until we are directly affected by it, after which we can’t make change fast enough.

In a situation like this, why should we wait to make the world a better place for everyone? 

To do nothing suggests that history teaches us that history teaches us nothing.

I’d like to believe that the life of a six year old girl like the one who was killed in Aurora is more important than the paranoia that we each face imminent attack and therefore must defend ourselves against it.

I’d like to believe that politicians and lobbyists would put the safety of citizens above their own personal needs but then again, I gave up believing in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny so that one may be too much to believe in.

However, I’d like to believe that we can produce a better result than we are producing.

What do you believe?

In service and servanthood,


PS  Some years ago, the administrative assistant for one of my clients went out and got her handgun licence and was carrying the weapon in her purse.

Why did she obtain the weapon?  It was because she was tired of being jostled on the crowded subway in the morning and felt that she needed a deterrent to assert her private space.

Who faces imminent danger in such a situation - the person whose fuse is on slow burn waiting for someone to bump into her or the unfortunate person who stumbles into her by accident?

By the way …. she still carries the weapon on her daily commute …. waiting ……

Addendum: July 25, 2012

I want to be clear that I am NOT against gun ownership.  However, I am against guns designed to kill people en masse (for example, the 100-round drum magazine that the Aurora shooter used) or use ammunition specifically designed to defeat the personal defense systems of law enforcement or military units such as the National Guard.  I would only buy armor piercing ammunition if I knew I needed to pierce armor and currently, such armor is primarily used by the afore mentioned law enforcement groups.

So, if I need to have such ammunition, what does this say about my intentions?

As for everyone carrying guns in public, I still believe that such a policy exposes us to a different kind of problem.  Here is an example of road rage settled by guns that is getting more and more common.  People with guns are more apt to use them if their anger runs hot enough.  It only takes one side of an argument to pull the weapon (even if just as an intimidation) but once that happens, all bets are off - not only for the people carrying the weapons but for any innocent bystanders in the area.

Addendum: July 26, 2012

In fairness to the President, he noted in a speech to the National Urban League in New Orleans on July 25, 2012:

I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminal.

True words.

Now – how do words become action and subsequently policy?

That’s where it really matters!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Improving the Result

A colleague of mine the other day was trying to solve a difficult problem with a lot at stake and he was really struggling with why he wasn’t producing the desired result.

In exploring this with him, two things became apparent.

1. In trying to solve the problem, he was not asking the right questions.

2. In asking the questions, he was not directing the questions to the right people who could really help him.

In fact, by not caring if he was directing the right questions at the right people, he has as good a chance at hitting upon a solution as if he consulted one of these:

or one of these:


If one wishes to find a result that meets their needs and expectations, it’s better if one considered a formula similar to the following (click to enlarge):


Knowing how to direct the right question to the right person can mean the difference between an answer that looks like this:

or this:

When your reputation, your success, your business, your family or your life depends on it, I think taking the time to do the right thing, the right way, right now is worth it.

Well, it is if you care about the result.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood.



While this was written mostly tongue-in-cheek, a more detailed analysis of this subject can be found here.

Asking Questions That Get Answered

Solving Puzzles–Follow the Breadcrumbs

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aurora, CO Shooting–The Root of it All

Last night just before midnight, I was giving a statement to two police officers regarding an incident that really disturbed me.  In the incident, a four-year-old girl and a five-year-old girl had been playing and words were exchanged.  So what?  This happens daily all around the world.

But what happened next doesn’t happen all around the world.

The four-year-old girl left the scene, went home, obtained a steak knife and returned with it to “settle the discussion”.  According to the girl, her mom told her to do it.  Fortunately no one was hurt and appropriate authorities are now dealing with it.

As I talked to police about this last night, I made an observation about the type of environment a child grows up in that would have taught them that this is how we deal with our problems – with violence and with weapons.  I also made a comment along the lines of “I wonder where this kid will be in 20 years - will she mature normally or are we witnessing the early signs of a messed up life”.

Several hours later, a 24-year-old gunman in Aurora, Colorado killed 12 people and injured 38 at an early screening of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” using a combination of tear gas, automatic weapons, shotguns and pistols.

After my sadness, shock and anger had passed, I asked a question: “I wonder what this kid’s life was like 20 years ago?” and I thought of the young girl in the police report I filed just hours before.

Statistics show that mental illness continues to grow, gun ownership in America (including people-killer guns) continues to grow and the pressures of basic Life continue to squeeze tighter.

Three statistics that don’t go well together.

The President told us last weekend that if you are a businessman who is successful that you can’t take credit for it.  In his speech, he said that credit belongs to everyone who may have helped you, including teachers, governments and other entities.

As I noted in the blog Democrats: Kicking Our Butt Instead of Kissing It:

If I have to give away all the credit for the successes in my Life, can I also blame the same people for my failures and shortcomings?

While none of us are solely responsible for this act, we collectively are accountable and responsible for the environment, the laws and everything else that produces or enables it.

And as people inevitably start shouting for changes to laws and anything else that allows them to push responsibility onto others for making the world a better place, I think we need to also examine ways that we can do our part.

In the case of the young girl I was talking to police about, it’s too easy to say “ah, kids will be kids” and not do anything about it.

But that’s not taking responsibility for what is going on around us and in the case of this child, may be denying her the help that she may need.  She’s sending out a beacon of warning and a cry for help with such action and I responded to it.

What beacons do you see around you – beacons calling you to respond and to take action?

We need to work harder to make this place a better, safer one.

But we can start tomorrow.

For today, the people in Aurora, Colorado, need our support, our love and our prayers - for the lost, for the wounded and for everyone else affected there.

Let’s take time to grieve.

Then let’s take time to understand ….

To make decisions …

To take action …

To demand and expect improved accountability, responsibility and results in making this a better world ….

Not only from others but from ourselves as well.

A Life well lived is a beautiful thing.

But it is a proactive experience – not a passive one.

In service and servanthood,


Support Aurora

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Balancing Hope and Reality

Once again, after writing some blogs calling for accountability in politicians and business leaders, I am receiving a fair bit of email from faithful readers asking me to stay with the stuff that inspires them, raises their spirits and reminds them of the potential of humanity and NOT the stuff that reminds them of the problems that need to be solved.

I would love to but here is the challenge I see.

I am amazed with the potential of humanity.  Every day I witness examples of unlimited kindness between strangers, stories of inspiration that blow my mind, incredible solutions in the areas of technology and medicine and a plethora of stuff that makes me gape in awe at the positive things we can create.

Every day I have exchanges with friends, family and complete strangers that makes me reflect on the day and be thankful for the blessings in my Life.

We ARE an amazing species when we choose to be.

However …..

There are things going on in this world that call us to stand up and fight for what we believe is right.

When we don’t, we are telling the Universe that protecting that which matters to us doesn’t really matter – that  we are taking the blessings in our Life for granted instead of choosing to fight for them.

Unfortunately, many of of us have discovered what happens when we take things for granted in Life.

The world is made up of incredible people containing an amazing combination of love, intellect, talents, strengths, purpose and passion ….. people that remind us that the world is a beautiful place.

But it also has people in it who don’t care about making the world a more beautiful place - people who are playing the game for their own benefit for a variety of reasons and often at the expense of others.

And some of these people can’t be reasoned with by sharing a little love, inspiring them with a powerful story that reminds them that they are doing the wrong thing or by turning the other cheek when they slap us.

The only language they understand is confrontation and so they must be dealt with in a manner that they understand.  Sometimes they need a cranial defibrillator applied to their head, sending them a message that we won’t stand for what they represent or how they live their life at our expense.

It’s like taking a walk down a street in the bowels of a large city.

One minute, you may be witnessing a heart wrenching scene as you see a homeless person lying on the street in despair, all hope being lost.

Then your heart is raised to dizzying heights when a complete stranger approaches the homeless person and extends a gift of food, love or companionship.

As you walk down the street contemplating this, someone steps out from a darkened doorway and says “give me your *&@%#(@ wallet or I’ll kill you”.

Telling that person a powerful story about the homeless man you just saw is not likely to sway their intentions for you.

And so while we must always be aware of and share the beauty, love and inspiration we see around us, we must also be prepared to defend against those who don’t care or would see it destroyed.

It is only when we demand better from those who seek to make the world a darker, more dangerous place, those who steamroll over us to achieve their own selfish objectives or those who allow misinformed / uninformed emotion to carry the day instead of relying on facts and dialog directed towards solutions can we ensure that the prospects of a better world remain within our grasp.

Life is not about seeing everything that is bad or by assuming that by pretending it’s all good, that the bad disappears automatically.

It is about balancing hope and reality.

The things that inspire us, motivate us and remind us of the positive power of the human spirit are not simply a right as some people believe nor are they guaranteed.

It is something we have to choose to fight for and defend.

Well … only if we really care about it.

So there are days when I will make my readers laugh or cry or inspire them to model the inspiring work of others.

But then there are days when I may frighten or anger them, either in what I state explicitly or in what I hide between the lines.

No matter what the result, I will have made the reader think and perhaps encouraged action to be taken as a result.

And at the end of the day, if I have accomplished this, then I will have considered my mission to be complete.

How is your mission coming along?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Democrats: Kicking Our Butt Instead of Kissing It

Do you remember a time when during an election year, the average politician, both incumbent and challenger, promised us everything under the sun to either get in office or to stay there?

No matter how outrageous the voters needs were and no matter how unsolvable they were, politicians assured us that they had a sure solution while their opponent had none.

As they made all these promises, they were very accommodating to our requests, demands and everything else in between.  Well, at least in public they were.

The President’s recent aggressive stand on a number of issues has surprised me and caused me to ask “Why?”.

Last weekend, the President made a number of comments to the business community of America, suggesting that they had nothing to do with their success at all and that if it hadn’t been for government, businessmen would be nothing.  He’s not the first Democrat to make such assertions.

I guess my response would be:

If I have to give away all the credit for the successes in my Life, can I also blame the same people for my failures and shortcomings?

And by the way, I didn’t hear the President thank us for helping him win the Nobel Peace Prize …. but alas I digress.

Back in April, the President warned the Supreme Court not to rule against Obamacare, setting off a firestorm as to the power of the Office of the White House and the constitutional relationship between the White House and the Supreme Court.

Democrat Senator Patty Murray indicated yesterday that Democrats were willing to let taxes increases across the board in order to force the GOP back to the table, punishing all Americans for Washington’s inability to solve issues.

Then there was the matter of the inappropriate tweets made by the President and others in June as I wrote about in my blog POTUS – The Impact of Lower Standards.

Alas, I could go on. 

But the point is this.

In an election year, most politicians, especially incumbents, are usually kissing our butt.

This time they are kicking it.

And regardless of where they stand in the polls, it is not a strategy that politicians normally take for fear or wiping out gains if they are leading in the polls or guaranteeing their loss if they are trailing.

So when I see someone being so aggressive in how they handle their PR and how they speak to Americans in general, I can only attribute this to one of four things:

1. They are so confident that they feel they can do anything (which would be a new model in the political world).

2. Brazenness, arrogance and intimidation are the new model for getting anything done in America.

3. They are deluded or officially psychotic.

4. They know something we don’t know.

I have personally known many politicians who were secretly confident but never waved their confidence in voter’s faces, so I’m pretty sure option 1 is out.

I would like to think that option 2 is not a possibility.  If it is, we as a society are doomed, relegating success to those who can beat the tar out of others verbally … which eventually escalates to physically.

I think these people are very smart, so I think that option 3 is out.

Which leaves me with option 4.

Option 4 is difficult to explore.  The modern political engine has whipped up emotions within the American people to the point where cerebral dialog is almost impossible.

Just trying asking for facts and watch what happens.

I rest my case.

The emotion levels remind me of a commonly used tactic in the private sector. 

I sat in on many a boardroom meeting on Wall St. where an executive had to sell something to the room that they knew would be unpopular or they had to cover up either a lack of knowledge or competence on their part.

A common way to handle this when one has few facts to rely on is to whip the room up into a frenzy (playing both sides if one has to) and while the room tears itself apart, the person with “the problem” sits back, relieved that no one is looking at them ….. at least for now.

It reminds me of the old cartoons years ago where everyone is fighting in a dust cloud while the antagonist crawls away unscathed.

Divisiveness is a powerful tool.  People end up yelling and screaming at each other instead of in the direction where they should be demanding accountability from.

So if we look past the emotion and try to examine the data points in the current political environment, an intriguing scenario arises.

In an very unscientific poll of 1000 people that I administered to a number of colleagues in New York and Washington during the month of June, including business executives, politicians and military personnel, I asked the following questions:

1. If you could do anything you wanted within the law to prevent a challenging party from winning an election, would you do it?

2. If such action included invocation of Executive Directive 51, would you do it?  Blog reader note: Executive Directive 51 allows the authority of Congress, the Senate and the Supreme Court to be waived by the President, elections postponed and citizen rights to be curtailed  for "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions”.

3. Do you believe that Executive Directive 51 has been or is being contemplated by the White House?

Here are the results:

1. 85% would do anything within the law, with 5% of naysayers indicating that the primary reason they wouldn’t hinged upon a conflict between their personal values and what the law allows.  10% would do anything, inside or outside the law.

2. 83% were willing to invoke Executive Directive 51.

3. 74% believed that Executive Directive 51 was an option that the White House has or is considering.

Good fodder for conspiracy stuff, isn’t it?

Or is it?

As one person noted:

The problem with Executive Directive 51 is that if you don’t like it and protested it on a large, disruptive scale, it could theoretically be invoked to prevent the demonstrations against it in the first place.

This caused me to think that democracy is no longer a right for each American.

It is in fact on loan to them as long as they behave.

I wrote back in March (Something Wicked This Way Comes) that the recent laws and preparations by the government were intriguing and disturbing to witness.

These laws were expanded in July when an Executive Order giving the President total control over communications during an “emergency” was signed into law.

Now to be truthful, in the hands of a competent leader during times of distress, these laws can mean the difference between saving a nation and losing it catastrophically.

In the hands of a less-than-competent leader or a devious one, these laws open Americans to a world of pain.  There are also no checks and balances in place to prevent such a leader from invoking them.

But as they say, you have to trust someone right?

When I look at the current political climate in America, I see a lot of emotion and little fact-based dialog.

This is perfect for a politician.  While everyone is screaming at each other, no one is examining what the politicians are doing (or not doing) to help the American people.

Their arrogance in recent days reminds me of this scene from Mel Brook’s History of the World Part 1.

Drifting to the left.


It is easy for leaders to ignore the noise of emotion in the masses as long as the masses are not presenting a consistent, unified call for accountability and solutions.

And so as we get closer to an election, the arrogance and confidence of the Democrats continues to grow.

As a strategy advisor, I need to strip the emotion away from this and examine the data points to answer the all important question.

The question of Why?

Politicians prefer that the electorate not ask too many questions with the understanding that sheep are easier to guide than leaders.

If America were a nation of 330 million leaders, we would never get anything done at all.  We need sheep to get things done.

But our ratio of leaders to sheep is way out of kilter.

And this suits some people perfectly.

But does it suit the American dream and the greatness that America has represented and has the potential to represent in the future?

The politicians believe they have the answers and want to give them to you.

Unfortunately, the weak minded, the uninformed and the misinformed allow themselves to build their lives around these answers.

How about you?

In service and servanthood,



Addendum – July 17, 2012

It appears I missed two options in my original explanation for why some politicians are so brazen.

5. They don’t care if they win or lose.

Since we know that they care, we can discard this one.

6. One reader pointed out a variation of my original #4, the notion that they know something we don’t.  I mentioned it with the thought that perhaps they had a reason to be confident that we weren’t aware of (such as the possible use of laws to help them win should the use of those laws be required).  However, one reader mentioned that maybe there is a genuine concern on the horizon that we don’t know about and that making it public knowledge would be counter productive to the population-at-large.

That’s an interesting spin – a national security concern so great that it is pushing them without allowing them to speak about it.  The best analogy I could come up with would be asking people to leave a theater because it is burning to the ground but you don’t want to tell them about the fire because the resulting panic would kill many people in the stampede for the exit.  However, because you don’t tell them about the fire, they resist leaving the theater, forcing you to get very aggressive in your “motivation techniques”.

Eventually you have to come clean about the fire and deal with the panic that ensues or you say nothing and let the fire take its course.

An interesting thought.

Final Thought:

I wrote this a year ago Strategy 101: What Are Your Objectives? and this in 2009 Taking a Break – Recharging to Take Charge.  In the latter, I wrote about how Ben Bernanke had claimed to have solved the economic problems in America and then admitted that he hadn’t, how global warming was producing just talk and no action, etc.

There have been many ups and downs on this roller coaster since then with no solutions in sight.

It’s scary that we are not getting on top of the stuff that needs to be fixed.  What’s even scarier is that the stuff is relatively easy to see.  In March of 2008, I wrote a blog called Financial Crisis predicting the financial crisis of September 2008.  If we can see this stuff coming, why can’t the experts see it coming and prevent it or at least minimize the damage?

Maybe it’s because they are focusing too much on bashing the other side and staying in power rather than focusing on solving the problems.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Platitudes–Life Saving or Life Draining?

A colleague of mine issued a personal cry for help on social media over the weekend.  It wasn’t an obvious one – he is too proud for that and hasn’t learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.  However, it wasn’t too difficult to read the signals contained within his posts.

Given the nature of his request, it was the responses that he received that struck me and it made me realize this:

If you are ever seeking additions to your collection of clichés and platitudes, hover around the social media watering holes where people are asking for help.

You’ll find everything you need there.

The sad part is that people don’t realize that offering up a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or a “things can only get better” doesn’t help someone in need.  In fact, when Life is squeezing someone hard, the “go get ‘ems” are as likely to drag them deeper into that which mires them down as they are to lift someone up.

Yes, they can help someone feel like they’re not alone but that isn’t always enough.

Sometimes the person in trouble is in so deep that they can’t “hear you” and needs more than pithy platitudes.

How do I know?

Because I was there once.  And at that point in my Life when I thought the bottom was falling out, the platitudes around thinking positive and such weren’t resonating.  Perhaps if I hadn’t fallen so deeply into my self-analysis, self-doubt and self-criticism, wondering how I had arrived at the situation in question, then the “words of wisdom” may have meant more to me.

However, I had long passed the point of those words meaning anything and many of them left me feeling cynical at the time, having helped so many people in my years and seeing that the best that they could come back with was a “you’re smart, you’ll figure it out”.

It’s not until one has been pulled from the mire that one realizes that there is truth in the words.  But we also learn through experience that the power and truth in those words of inspiration can only really be understood by someone after they have survived the gauntlet that was dragging them down. 

Having overcome our challenges, we also know better than to casually hurl the same phrases at others.  We know that if the other person is feeling crushed, they may not feel the power in the words that we intended them to feel when we so cavalierly tossed out encouragement in a tweet or a Facebook message.

In my situation, it took a combination of hard work, luck and the help of others to get out of it.

That’s the way Life is – anyone who says that they turned their Life around without the help of others is lying or deluded.

That’s not to say that we can, should or must help everyone.  There are many times that we can’t or we shouldn’t, based on many factors unique to every individual and situation.

However, if the person in trouble really needs help, you want to help and you are able to help, don’t offer an off-the-cuff “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers” or some other collection of words that help you feel that your two-second drive-by inspiration has fulfilled your obligation.

That’s like yelling out to the drowning man that being alone in the water and feeling like he’s drowning is the best way for him to learn how to swim.

Sometimes what is most important is a helping hand and not a demonstration of your mastery of clichés.

If you have really “been there and won”, then you know this already.

Someone you know (or maybe don’t know) is waiting for a hand-up today (not a handout).

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS As I wrote this, I received a news alert that Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and many other influential works, has passed away at age 79.  His impact on many, including myself, is deep and profound.  He will definitely be missed.

I was deeply impacted by his rules for living – the 4 L’s: to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.

How can one go wrong with such a formula?

Addendum: July 26, 2012

My cliché for the day:

That which doesn’t kill you causes you to spout clichés.

I couldn’t resist! :-)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Calgary Stampede Crash–A Different Viewpoint

My heart broke when I saw the video showing the chuck wagon crash at the Calgary Stampede last night that took the lives of three horses and injured a fourth. 

Slow motion video appears to show the left lead horse suddenly dragging a hind leg just before it crashed.  Even as its ability to run was compromised, it kept running until it collapsed into the other lead horse, creating the disaster that followed.

As the expected debate rages on about the cultural history of the Calgary Stampede versus the people who are screaming about abuse to animals, a different thought comes to my mind.

These horses died doing what they love – working as a team, driving hard and striving for “the win”.

They died doing what they were created to do.

And so while the debate rages on, I can only think of this …..

I hope, when my end-of-days has arrived, that it could be said that I went in the same way – working side by side with the people I love and respect, driving hard and still striving for “the win”.

Doing the things that I was created to do.

How about you?

When I think of this, I think that maybe, just maybe, that’s the real question that we need to find an answer to.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


The Shaw Fire And Why It Matters

At 7:12am MDT on July 13, 2012, Alberta Treasury Branch tweeted that their online systems were officially back up, approximately 40 hours after the fire in Shaw Court took out the primary servers of the data center they exist in and water from a sprinkler system took out their backup servers sitting in the same location

I’ve been on a bit of a rant lately about the thoroughness of IT architecture and this unfortunate incident makes me angry.

I know there’s a lot of debate going on around why sprinklers were in the data center and why a non-water-based fire suppression system wouldn’t have been used.  As my buddy Mike D. explains, in a world where inert gas and other forms of fire suppression are very expensive, there are many data centers that actually opt for sprinklers (with an important caveat, which I will explain in a moment).

When hardware was expensive, we tried to save the hardware with non-water solutions.  As hardware became cheaper, the services provided by the hardware (and not the hardware itself) became the priority, which means bouncing control to the secondary site while aggressive fire suppression (including water) deals with the primary location. 

The following statement, released yesterday, explains why this incident makes me angry as an architect:

The system-wide outage was caused when a transformer exploded in an electrical room at Shaw Communications’ downtown headquarters Wednesday afternoon. Although the backup system was activated, when the sprinklers came on, they were also taken out.

This statement violates a basic truth in IT infrastructure.

It doesn’t matter if your building is fire proof, earthquake proof, tornado proof, nuclear bomb proof or whether it has its own nuclear reactor for unlimited power.  It doesn’t matter if error-prone humans are not allowed in the building, replaced by “perfect robots” (created by error-prone humans).

You never put your primary and backup servers in the same place.

There’s one thing that we know about IT and communications.

Murphy’s Law rules everywhere.

When you put your primary and secondary systems together, you are doing so while crossing your fingers, picking a 4-leaf clover, sacrificing a goat to the gods and saying a silent prayer that bad things won’t happen to you.

Most people who put both systems together often do it because:

1. They are saving money

2. They don’t know any better

3. They are overly confident of their solution

4. They don’t care, exposing themselves to Hanlon’s Razor – “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Money Rules the Day

I suspect it was reason #1 … well, I hope it was anyway because the other 3 reasons are REALLY problematic.

The reason this event makes me angry is that physical separation of primary and failover servers is basic, teach-the-kids-in-college stuff.

And so when I see some significant names taken out because economics seem to have ruled the day, I wonder what other architectural best practices have been compromised by economics – best practices in the areas of privacy, security or other areas.

I worry because I have seen over the years that the factors listed above tend to not settle in just one area of an organization’s architectural best practices.  Once factors that limit effective solutions are present, they tend to be pervasive through all aspects of an organization’s IT solutions.

If it was for reasons 2-4 (non-financial reasons), the players involved need to be considered for re-education, reprimand or “retirement”, including but not limited to:

1. The architect(s) who designed the solution.

2. The data center facility manager(s) who approved it.

3. The customer service exec(s) who sold it to other orgs (unless they don’t understand it, in which case they shouldn’t be selling it anyway).

Regardless of the reason, the following need to be considered for the same “special treatment”:

1. The leadership team of the creator of the solution.

2. The buyers representing ATB, Alberta Health Services or other groups who evaluated and recommended use of the solution.

3. The leadership team of the buyers who signed off on the solution.

If it was for reason #1 (which, in a twisted sort of way, offers the most comfort), the bean counters now need to reflect on the result of their cost saving venture as they sort out consumer impact and a multi-tier service level agreement involving IBM, Shaw Communications and the many users of the facilities, including ATB, Service Alberta, Alberta Health Services (which cancelled surgeries as a result of the fire) and other groups.

Failures like this matter to all of us since that which we tolerate today becomes the norm tomorrow. And we know what history teaches us:

Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it while those who study history are doomed to watch those who don’t to repeat it.

Or maybe, given that similar failures have occurred in the past such as with Aliant 6 years ago, maybe the truth is that:

History teaches us that history teaches us nothing.

The Bottom Line

For me, no matter what the reason for the failure, doubt has been planted in my mind.  Doubt that makes me wonder where else compromises have been made.

And will such compromises produce a 2-day inconvenience the next time or will it be more dramatic or problematic?

Only the architects of the affected organizations really know.

I wonder how many 4-leaf clovers they have in their back pocket.

In service and servanthood,



PS   In reflecting on my experience over the years with data centers, I remembered an interesting incident early in my career.  During a tour of a data center containing classified government information, I was asking questions about the halon fire suppression system.  The system was designed to seal the data center, with no means of reopening the doors or exiting from the inside until the fire was under control. 

As a young, naive IT guy at the time, I remarked that while I saw 20 or 30 people working in the data center, I only saw a small handful of breathing apparatus to be used by these people should escape be required.

With that, he escorted me to his office and pulled out their operations guide.  In it, in clear language that could not be misinterpreted, one policy jumped out at me.

In case of fire, the first priority was to save the facility.

To be able to save the people inside was secondary in importance.

In essence, they were expendable.

Of course, everyone assumed that a fire would never occur in that data center and so such a policy wasn’t questioned. 

But as in the case of the Shaw Court fire, you know what happens when one assumes things.

I would like to think that in today’s world, such a policy within a data center like that couldn’t exist.

But then again, who knows?


Addendum: July 14, 2012

Three days after the fire, the impact on Alberta Health Services and other organizations continues to be felt. Public accountability and transparency are essential to understanding what happened and how such situations can be prevented moving forward.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let’s Trade Lives–Yours is Better

I ran into someone recently whom I don’t know but who knew quite a bit about my Life.  At one point in the conversation, he said “Your life is so cool. I would love to live the Life you have”.

In thinking about this comment, I can somewhat see what he based this observation on.

After all, my early years were spent growing up in this house in Newfoundland ….

[First house[2].jpg]

and my career eventually evolved into an award-winning one in New York where I got to associate with people like Bill Gates and others (I’m on the right, Bill is on the left, in the photo below) …..


I survived 4 muggings in NYC, having an up-to-now 4-0 record.

I walked away from 4 airplane incidents that some pilots have rated as the most terrifying moments in their career.

I was blessed to co-found a successful company in NYC with some of the most brilliant people on the planet.

I have a bazillion stories that make people laugh and cry.

Yup – my Life has been perfect.  I can see why he would want to live my Life.  Who wouldn’t?

Well … not exactly ….

He is basing his desire to live a Life like mine based on the rewards that he sees.

He doesn’t see the difficulty (as well as the blessings) in growing up in a poorer part of the country and feeling, as a kid, not as worthy as the wealthy crowd.

He doesn’t feel the terror when confronted with imminent death, either at the hands of a mugger or contained within an aircraft that is destined to splatter us all on a runway.

He is not feeling the anguish at 2 in the morning when one is wondering how to make the payroll for all the staff (and their families) relying on him as the company attempts to make the transition from inception to sustainability.

He doesn’t feel the guilt of knowing that one of his teammates died in the World Trade Center as a result of an action he did or didn’t take.

He hasn’t experienced the pain in the gut one feels when terminating the employment of an individual who tells you, while you are firing him, that he just discovered this morning that he and his wife are about to experience their first child.

He hasn’t experienced the difficulty of balancing success with personal relationships.

He doesn’t experience the burden that I carry as a result of being exposed to confidential information that can’t be shared that conflicts with my own personal values and my concerns for the planet.

He’s not seeing the times when I have been taken to the edge spiritually, emotionally, physically or financially.

He just sees the glory.

The truth is that everyone’s lives are a mix of triumph and disaster, glory and struggle, terrifying moments and immense rewards.

And while he compares his Life to mine and compares the mundane stuff that he perceives in his own Life versus the rewards he perceives in mine, he has blinded himself to the great stories that he has in his own Life and the complexities that I have in mine.

He’s not comparing the whole package, either his Life in its entirety or mine in its entirety.

And there’s a great flaw in this method of comparison.

As is noted in the Desiderata:

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Personally, I see my Life as a series of blessings that I am grateful for every day … the good parts of it as well as the difficult ones.  I wouldn’t trade any of it nor could I easily recommend it to others - not all of it is for the weak-minded or the faint of heart.

And so, before we so quickly aspire to live someone else’s Life, we should ask ourselves three questions:

1. How much do we really know of the unknown side of the person whose success we marvel at and what they have experienced in their Life besides just “the good stuff”?

2. Are we truly ready and prepared to endure what it takes to harvest the rewards that the other person appears to have?

And most importantly ….

3. Should we not examine our own lives first and recognize that our individual stories of Life’s tribulations and rewards are as amazing as anyone’s?

While we may marvel at the story of someone else’s Life, someone is marvelling at ours.

And that’s a cool story worth wanting, living and sharing.

In service and servanthood,


So How Secure Are We Anyway?

I was in the process of completing my annual report on security vulnerabilities yesterday when the news reported that an explosion in a communication hub in downtown Calgary had compromised landline and 911 service for 30,000 Shaw customers, including some municipal and provincial services.

As I write this this morning, service is almost completely restored.

No biggy …. they only lost service for 12 hours or so, right?

Well, maybe …. but where was the redundancy that should have prevented the failure from impacting those affected?

Here was the cause for the failure:

The system-wide outage was caused when a transformer exploded in an electrical room at Shaw Communications’ downtown headquarters Wednesday afternoon. Although the backup system was activated, when the sprinklers came on, they were also taken out.

I guess they didn’t think of or couldn’t afford a non-water-based fire suppression system, typical for rooms containing mission-critical computer or communication equipment nor did anyone consider the impact of a total site loss, given that they kept the backup system in the same building as the primary system.

Then I think about the time I was in Newfoundland when a fire in a communication hub took out land lines, cell phones, Internet and all forms of communication (thus knocking out any use of debit / credit cards).  The outage was only hours in duration but while the event was in progress, spokespersons for Aliant (the communication company that owned the building) were saying they had no idea when the outage would be corrected, creating extra concern at the time.

Was there redundancy of technology in this situation to protect consumers against a catastrophic failure?

Yes, according to Aliant.  They had full redundancy of all systems.  Unfortunately, the primary and backup systems were in the same building and shared a common power supply.

Where did the failure occur?

You guessed it – the power supply.

So much for redundancy in either of these events.

Ironically, the Aliant redundancy mistake, which occurred six years ago, was studied by information and communication providers across Canada to make sure no one repeated the same mistakes in the future.


When the World Trade Center came down, some of the major communication providers had been using it as a communication hub.  After all, they figured, what are the odds that we could lose the entire site?

Sadly, we know the answer and communication in the NYC area was compromised as a result of the WTC collapse and an excessive number of people using the system in the hours of terror that followed.

When we build communications systems such as these, we strive to strike a balance between need and cost, factoring in the probability of various external factors and events.  We don’t build systems that can handle everyone and everything because, as we like to think, what is the likelihood of a worst case scenario occurring.

As we proved in NYC on 9/11, the likelihood is low but when we need it, the importance of having systems that can handle emergencies is critical.

But alas, I digress ….. on to my originally intended subject.

My Security Report

As part of what I do as a strategy advisor and global technology architect, I provide services to some clients in the areas of assessing security vulnerabilities.

Specifically, how secure are various client’s IT infrastructures, what can be done to enhance their security and should a compromise occur, how quickly can the compromise be neutralized while minimizing the impact of the compromise?

The contents of my report, which will be distributed to specific organizations, shows a number of interesting slices of society that are vulnerable to attack.

The list includes, but is not limited to:

- Specific large-scale banks and credit card providers

- Specific health-care providers

- Specific municipal, state and provincial governments

- Specific airlines

- Specific energy generation / distribution groups

- Specific infrastructure organizations, including some that govern water distribution and public transit

- A specific Roman Catholic Archdiocese that has been rocked by pedophile priest prosecution in the past and is alleged to be hiding a list of known pedophile priests (unknown to the public) who are still active priests

- Other large corporations in manufacturing and retail

- Other entities whose “commercial” nature I am not allowed to mention here.

The vulnerabilities range in nature and scale but the bottom line is this.

There is still way too much vulnerability in our infrastructure, whether it be in our communication infrastructure, in the security and privacy of our data and in national security overall.

Why Is This Happening?

Some folks do the best they can with the limited funding they are given by their leadership - leadership that downplays the risks of not having a thorough solution or who don’t understand the impact to their organization, public or private, and the people they serve should a compromise occur.

Some organizations, governed by greed, pour their efforts into maximizing return, assuming that creating secure, redundant  architecture is just a money-wasting venture that impacts their bottom line unnecessarily.

Some organizations create solutions so complex that obvious vulnerabilities slip by them and they watch in dismay as the seemingly ultimate in technology falls to simple attempts to compromise them.

Some organizations have a lack of knowledge about the threats they face and what is needed to neutralize the threat.  I saw with amusement (and concern) last year when a national retailer placed a classified ad looking for someone to take charge of the design and implementation of a security solution for their entire corporation.

Why was I concerned?  The minimum requirement for the position was a high school diploma.  No other experience, education or security solution background was required.  I guess they will learn on the job.

All of this being said, I still believe that ego and an excessive amount of hubris is responsible for most of the problems we face today.

Beliefs such as “nobody can defeat my security solution” or “the likelihood that compromise or disaster will hit us is minimal” are responsible for many of our compromises, both the ones that make the press and the ones that people on “the outside” never hear about.

How much of a problem is this?

A significant one.

While billions of dollars go into airline security and border control annually, I believe we face a much larger threat when it comes to the security and redundancy of our infrastructure then we do from someone taking a plane out of the sky or sneaking something across the border.

Much of the knowledge of how to compromise, penetrate, steal from or cause the failure of communications and IT infrastructure is available in the public domain.  We face multiple threats ranging from the seemingly benign example of kids trying to hack into the local high school to get the answers to an upcoming exam up to agencies (including foreign governments) attempting,  sometimes successfully, to penetrate our critical corporate, government and military computer systems.

The head of the National Security Agency recently said we need to pour more resources into beefing up our cyber security, causing many people to cry foul that Big Brother was using this as a guise to exert even more control over us.

While I am wary of how much insight government has into our private matters, this is one area where we must not underestimate the need to invest more into protecting our technology assets.

I once asked a well known US / UK military advisor-turned-journalist how he dealt with his knowledge of our vulnerabilities and this was his reply:

“I try not to stay sober”

Now that’s a sobering thought.

The people in my industry (information and communication technology) need to do a much better job at enhancing the security of the citizens of the world at the personal, corporate, national and global levels.

The people who provide funding and make the go / no-go decisions that enable / restrict the people in my industry need to be better informed about the importance and impact of their decisions in supporting such ventures.

And each of us, while varying in levels of technical savvy, must do our best to hold all of these organizations responsible and accountable to do the best they can.

And we’re a long way from doing the best we can.

Many organizations, private and public, have knowingly or unknowingly created ticking time bombs that will impact all of us.

Acknowledging this is not “sky is falling” pessimism.

Acknowledging it is the only way it gets fixed before we get punished for not taking appropriate action.

This is not pessimism.

It is reality.

Most of us say we would do anything to protect the security of our families, our businesses, our nations and the world.

It is time to prove it … with a sense of urgency and appropriate action commensurate with the threats that exist.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – July 12, 2012

This news story (about compromised Yahoo accounts) that broke an hour after I wrote the blog is a reminder of our personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of our personal information on the web.

And then a bank went down …..

I noticed that a Canadian bank, more than 24 hours after the previously noted fire in Calgary, still does not have an online presence as a result of this outage in one building.

Here is what Alberta Treasury Branch customers (both personal and corporate accounts) receive if they go to access their online accounts for bill paying and such (emphasis shown is theirs):

We're Sorry...

The fire at the Shaw Court building in Calgary yesterday caused our banking system to go down.

Overnight we moved our system to a back up location. We are working to resume normal services, and anticipate that it will take us a bit of time.

Meanwhile, ABM, debit cards and MasterCards are available, and our branch staff will also be able to assist customers.

We are currently working to restore ATB Online banking and as soon as possible, please check back here or on our ATB Financial Twitter account (@atbfinancial) for updates.

We can not access emails right now, so please call your local branch directly if you have questions or require assistance. Our Customer Care Centre associates (1-800-332-8383) are also available to provide more information. And remember, we never contact you via text or email to ask for your personal or banking information.

© 2011 ATB Financial | All Rights Reserved. TM Trademark of Alberta Treasury Branches. Unauthorized access is prohibited. Usage may be monitored. Please visit our website at

So an electrical fire in one building has derailed the online processing for an entire bank for an entire province.

Not comforting nor an unacceptable architecture, in my opinion.

Addendum – 5:40 PM MDT

I received the following note which I couldn’t help but share :-)

Dear Mr. Tucker,

My name is Dxxxxx and I live in xxxxxxx, Alberta.  I am a customer of ATB and because I am on the road, I need to pay some bills today using their online system and of course I cannot. When RIM went down last October, I had to deal with a lot of angry customers and almost lost one because of my inability to respond quickly to them.  With all the firefighting I had to do with my customers because of RIM, I got some free games from RIM for my trouble.

Since I need to explain to some people why I can’t pay my bills today, do you think that ATB will offer me some free games also?

I guess on days like this you need a sense of humour.



Dear Dxxxxx,

I hear that the new Angry Birds is pretty cool and might be appropriate. :-)

Thanks for the note!


Addendum: July 17, 2012

This little ditty was announced on July 17, 2012.  Info about up to 2.4 million voters may be compromised: Elections Ontario.  Preventable and sadly …. predictable.  We can do better and must do better.

Addendum: August 7, 2012

Here’s how easy one can be compromised.  If we are in the IT industry, we need to demand better of ourselves.  If we are not in IT, we need to demand better from those who are.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Boy Who Cried Wolf And Our Future

Authorities announced today that the “Internet Doomsday” virus that allegedly infected thousands of PCs (or millions according to some “experts”) and which would prevent them from accessing the Internet has failed to produce little of any threat or impact.

Some say that it was because of the attention brought to the situation that allowed us to solve it before it became a problem.

Unfortunately, when I asked for proof of such claims, I haven’t received any credible, verifiable explanations.

As usual, our media has overhyped the latest threat du jour beyond the fear scale commensurate with the threat.

The problem with the media doing this is that as each new problem facing the world gets overhyped, we get a little bit more desensitized to real issues that are developing all around us.

We’re Always Facing an Imminent Disaster

In the 50’s and 60’s, nuclear war threatened us at every turn and we were taught the ever so useful “duck and cover”.

Remember the energy crisis in the 70’s?  We were taught in elementary school in the 70’s that oil would be gone within 10 years and that a doomsday energy scenario loomed in front of us.  Scary stuff for 8 year old kids.

In the early 80’s, we were taught that our global food usage would exhaust all natural sources of protein within 10 years and that the only steak we would enjoy would be made from soybeans.

In the 90’s and up to the present, some promote the belief that terrorists exist at every corner and that the billions (or trillions if you factor in military action) being spent have actually protected us from an infinite number of planned attacks and thus have saved thousands or tens of thousands of lives as a result.

Experts predicted that Y2K would cause our energy production systems to shut off, bank systems to fail, planes to fall out of the sky and our nuclear weapons to launch by accident.

Some “global warming experts”, including Al Gore, have said that global warming will leave NYC under several feet of water.

Every time a new flu season rolls around, we are told that THIS is the year that we will be decimated if we don’t get a flu shot.

And now we have dodged the bullet of not being able to access the Internet.  Facebook users around the world are breathing a sigh of relief.

Some Useful Prevention is Occurring

Don’t get me wrong.

I do believe that some preventative actions have been successful.  Some systems were saved from disaster during the Y2K situation.  Some terrorists have been prevented from conducting attacks.  Deaths and the spread of contagion on a crippling scale have been partially prevented through the use of flu vaccines.

However, my vehicle still burns gasoline that is widely available, the steak I enjoy is still not made from soybeans and NYC is not in immediate danger of becoming the new Venice.

That is NOT to say that we shouldn’t be alert to the potential for challenges in these and other areas and the need for solutions to address them.  They are just not threatening to derail us “tomorrow” and therefore we have the time needed to find solutions to these and other issues if we methodically approach each challenge.

We just don’t have the will or the interest on a global scale.

There’s a big difference but that’s not what the media promotes.

When we focus on the fear surrounding these issues instead of focusing on them as just challenges that need to be overcome, then we will continue to crush our brain with unnecessary negativity or pressure, spend inordinate amounts of money that we don’t have in a manner that far exceeds the nature of the threat that is being resolved or embrace incorrect solutions that are a waste of time and resources.

And when we do that repeatedly and on an ever-increasing “fear-focused” scale, then we will not be prepared when the REAL problem arrives.

In fact, we will probably ignore the warnings (or the messengers) totally until it is too late or as if often the case lately, spend our time yelling at each other while the clock ticks down.

And so whose fault will it be when we find ourselves in real trouble?

Will it be the fault of the media that exists to sell entertainment instead of knowledge and facts?

Will it be the fault of groups who sell fear because it is useful to keep people in line or to get them to consume things?

Will it be the fault of governments who sell misinformation to redirect our attention from the many issues that they are unable to solve despite their election promises to the contrary.

Or will it be our own fault for failing to ask for specific, objective data that allows us to make informed decisions instead of allowing someone else’s intentions or actions to direct how we should feel and respond?

There are things in our future that will require our undivided attention to address on a global scale.

Unfortunately, it will be difficult to solve these things if we are emotionally, physically and financially exhausted from every cry of wolf that we get wrapped up in today.

Putting It In Perspective

We don’t get in our car fearing that we will die in a fireball on the nearest highway.

We don’t go to a restaurant assuming that this hamburger is the one that will give us a heart attack or stroke.

We don’t fear walking outside in case that killer asteroid has our number on it.

We don’t fall asleep thinking that the person sleeping next to us is going to slice our throat as we sleep.

So why should we feel fear just because someone tells us that our demise is imminent and therefore we must be very afraid.

Such fear doesn’t promote solutions.

It promotes anger, distrust, waste and paralysis.

And that is NOT what the world needs today.

In service and servanthood,



Addendum – July 9, 2012:

Here’s what I mean about sticking to facts.  I received an email from a reader citing a CNN article entitled “Officials: Past 12 Months warmest ever for U.S.” as proof that global warming is about to doom us.

If the reader had read the article, they would have seen this line inside the article (underline emphasis is mine):

The mainland United States, which was largely recovering Monday from a near-nationwide heat wave, has experienced the warmest 12-month period since record-keeping began in 1895.

“Since 1895 “is not the same as “ever” as indicated in the headline.

If the reader studied the history of the earth, they would know that during the Holocene Climatic Optimum, which occurred between 5000 and 9000 years ago, the average temperatures in some parts of the world were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer on average than they are today with MUCH LESS Arctic ice present then than there is today.  There have been other periods identified as warmer in the history of the earth as well.

So the temperatures today are not the first time they have occurred on the earth.

Am I trying to make a case that global warming is not happening or that we aren’t contributing to it?

Not at all.

I’m just suggesting that we stick with the facts and stay away from hyperbole.  In the case for global warming, it is only when we do this that we can truly understand the causes of the current changes in the earth, learn how to separate our contribution from natural causes and know the difference between preventing it (if possible without making a bigger mess of things) and living with it if current changes are unstoppable.

As the character Joe Friday once said on Dragnet:

“Just the facts”.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Art of the Conversation

I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman yesterday where we were discussing many of the challenges that confront the business world.

I posited that many of the challenges I see in the business and technology sectors are not because we lack technology, tools, processes, best-practices, methodologies and frameworks but rather because of a simpler and more mundane reason.

It’s because we don’t know how to talk to each other.

Or more importantly, it’s because we don’t know how to listen to each other.

There is a great company in the Republic of Ireland by the name of Vision  that offers a service offering called “Commitment Based Management”.

I like to refer to it as “the art of the conversation”.

While I won’t dig into the details of the offering, it is built around understanding each other’s needs and building mutually acceptable commitments to each other to ensure that each person’s contributions and needs are recognized and honored.

When I examine the many projects I have participated in or observed over the years and seek to understand what separates the successful projects from the disasters (factoring out unforeseen circumstances good and bad beyond the control of people), there is one thing that stands out.

It is the strength of the communication channels and the levels of respect, trust and understanding that are wrapped around the needs and contributions of the project participants.

I’ve watched companies with minimal resources score amazing successes.

And I’ve watched companies with unlimited resources create disasters.

It doesn’t matter how enabled you are in terms of capital, resources, knowledge and opportunities.

It matters how much you are enabled in terms of your ability to speak respectfully, to listen carefully and to build towards a win that honors everyone.

And it matters how you balance sufficient ego to create a success with appropriate levels of hubris that allow you to collaborate effectively.


When I look at the broader picture of the challenges that face the world, I have to respectfully disagree with the list that many people reference that includes but is not limited to:

1. Global warming

2. Global pollution

3. Disease and pestilence

4. Poverty

5. War

6. Financial disaster

7. Terrorism

While these are important issues to solve, none of them is the most important one to solve.

The most important one to solve is the need to speak to each other without shouting, listen without interrupting and respect that each side offers a piece in the puzzle.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a turn-the-cheek-no-matter-what-is-said-or-done kind of person.  Sometimes when someone is in your face screaming some diatribe that we are expected to just accept, we have to push back.  When people do bad things, they need to be held accountable and punished as a result.

If we don’t hold people accountable, bowing down to intellectual bullies or tolerating crimes, we encourage the ignorant or evil to continue doing what they are doing.

However, I see a lot of arguing between good, smart people who are passionately arguing towards a common goal but they are so fixated on labeling the other person that they automatically assume that the other person is wrong.

For example, the “tree hugger” looks at a Wall St. person and blames them and their “corporate greed” for all the world’s problems.  The Wall St. person looks at the “tree huggers” and writes them off as do-nothings who don’t “get it”.

Meanwhile, a solution that will make the world a better place for both sides remains unsolved because they are too busy attacking each other instead of understanding what each side brings to the table in terms of responsibly for the situation and for the solution.

The same could be said for the differences between the left and the right, the atheist and the devout, opposing political parties and any other polarized pairing.

Compromise exists that should be acceptable for everyone as long as we are not intent on proving the other side wrong first.

After all, how would we even know that the other side is wrong if we are shouting so loudly that we can’t even hear them.

Sometimes I wonder if, in the midst of the shouting, we are not actually fighting with the other side but we are in fact locked in a fight with our own ignorance and insecurity.

That’s the fight that must be won before we can solve all the other things in front of us.

In service and servanthood,


If You Can’t Explain It, Don’t Do It

I was intrigued but not surprised to see Microsoft’s recent $6.2 billion write-down of its 2007 acquisition of aQuantive.

I was a senior enterprise strategy advisor with Microsoft in 2007 when it acquired aQuantive, a then-premium name in the digital marketing service and technology space. While the deal was being consummated, the rank and file were all ecstatic about how this acquisition would enable Microsoft to catch up and potentially leapfrog Google’s advertising-driven revenue model.

As a strategy advisor and technology architect, I am motivated less by emotion and more by measurable outcomes.

In essence, what matters to me is “How do you know?”.

And so while everyone kept telling me how wonderful this deal would be for Microsoft, people could not give me a single piece of measurable data  that backed up their excitement.

Emotion ruled the day and I was left wondering what such an investment would produce.

It turns out that it didn’t produce much at all.

While this write-down doesn’t hurt Microsoft’s stock price, it’s a reminder to others that if you can’t explain what the reason is for doing something then you may be better off not doing it.

If you can’t explain it, there’s a good chance you don’t understand it.  If you don’t understand it … well … why are you even bothering or better yet, why are you risking the resources and future of others with your lack of understanding?

Sadly, there are a lot more bad business ventures out there than we would like to admit that cannot explain why they are doing what they are doing or why they are doing it the way they are doing it.

And even if one has an answer, we should always be prepared to submit it to scrutiny, to either strengthen the approach or allow people to bail out before too many people get hurt.

The worst scenario I ran into in this regard was a company burning through tens of millions of dollars without a shred of strategy or a plan of any kind.


Because, according to the owner, having a plan is an insult to God and His plan to guide these people to ultimate success.

Unfortunately, his investors don’t know that his plan is to have no plan.

Those investors aren’t asking enough questions either.

When it comes to not asking enough questions, not asking the right ones or not submitting one’s self to appropriate outcome-focused scrutiny, companies like “the Big M” can survive an occasional write-down on a huge scale when mistakes occur.

The question is ….

…. how many can you survive?

And when people like me come along asking questions or making observations that may make you feel uncomfortable, there may be a reason for the discomfort that is worth exploring.

It may be an invitation to strengthen why you are doing what you are doing and how you are doing it ….

…. but only if you’re open to exploring it

…. if not, you may be this guy.


Denial or in some cases, outright ignorance, are not a platform for success.

If that were the case, success would be easier to manifest and a lot more common.

In service and servanthood,