Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Asking Questions That Get Answered

Many people approach me seeking guidance as to why their questions never get answered to their satisfaction (if answered at all).

As a strategy guy, I’m not a fan of asking questions merely for the sake of asking them nor am I a fan of randomly asking more questions when I don’t find the answers I seek.

I ask questions because I seek knowledge, context or something else that matters to me.

And because it matters, I am cognizant of the importance of the following attributes that a question must honor.

1. Is the right question being asked?
2. Is it being asked in the right way?
3. Is it being directed towards the right person(s)?
4. Is it being asked by the right person(s)?
5. Is it being asked at the right time?
6. Is it being asked with the right intention?
7. Is there a preconceived answer before the question is even asked?

To not honor these fundamentals for a successful question (and thus a successful answer) is to not truly care whether the answer is accurate, timely or even delivered at all and thus leaves one’s results (personal and professional) to chance.

I personally don’t want to leave my Life results to chance.

Do you?

I doubt it.

When it comes to asking questions, more is not necessarily better.  Context, content, delivery, timing and appropriate participant identification is everything.

To not care about this produces as much value as the question:

Are we there yet?

Questions like “why?”, “how do we know?” and others are critical to success.  I once mused that the question “why” is The Most Important Question Of All.

But questions only produce value when we know how to ask them.

Otherwise, you will not receive the desired result you seek OR someone else will ask the same question at a different time, of a different individual or in a different way and produce a result that honors them and not you.

The same rules apply when it comes to offering ideas that are accepted by others, as cleverly shown in the following FedEx commercial.

Do you really care about the answers that your questions are producing?

Are you sure?

Because if you really care, then you will pay more attention to how your questions are asked (or your ideas are offered) in the first place.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Predictability–Reliability Versus Vulnerability

As someone who has a background in providing solutions regarding the prediction of human behavior, I was thinking the other day of the conundrum of being predictable as an individual, a society and as a species.

Being predictable is often considered a desirable trait to have since it gives others a sense of how reliable we are.  When we are predictable, others know if we will rise to the occasion and deliver when called upon or if we will collapse and not deliver as needed.  Based on this predictable outcome, others can decide if they should engage with us or not for a given need and situation.

Being predictable also helps us to create a reasonably organized, structured, non-chaotic society (at least to the best of our ability).

However, when we are predictable, the same knowledge can be used to exploit vulnerabilities within individuals and society.  This is common knowledge used by law enforcement, terrorists and other organizations and individuals.

Discovering vulnerabilities provides an opportunity to do one of three things:

1. Remove the vulnerability with an eye towards strengthening the individual, society or species.

2. Exploit the vulnerability for the benefit of others.

3. Exploit the vulnerability at the expense of the person(s) being exploited, possibly putting them in peril.

Remaining unpredictable does not provide protection against such exploitation since it introduces chaos at the individual or society level, thus potentially creating a net negative result for either or both levels.

Perhaps the best answer as to how one’s predictability affects the results in their Life and the result of those who interact with them (for positive or negative reasons) is simply to be more cognizant of the message one sends out when it comes to one’s predictability.

Do you prefer to be chaotic, keeping everyone off balance, including yourself ….

….. or ….

…. do you consider yourself reasonably predictable, in which case have you ever asked yourself the question of whether your level of predictability demonstrates reliability or vulnerability?

Because in the grand scheme of Life, if you are not cognizant of the question (and the answer), you can be sure that someone else may be asking it on your behalf, for your benefit or to your detriment.

Does it matter to you?

Are you sure?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Alberta Bureaucracy - Spending Versus Productivity

Danielle Smith, Leader of the Official Opposition for the Alberta Legislature, has been consumed lately by some recently discovered executive expenditures and has spent a LOT of time drawing attention to them.

If I could put my Newfoundland accent on (long lost on the streets of New York), I’d say to her – “Give it up, gurl.  Sure, yur lookin’ in da wrong direction, by”.

In fact, if you end up spending a dollar or more looking for every dollar you can claw back, are you really winning?

There’s a much larger pot of gold to be discovered within the Alberta bureaucracy and any bureaucracy for that matter but it takes audacity and courage to root it out.

That pot of gold is in the areas of human productivity and effective resource utilization.

Many studies have been conducted to analyze productivity in public and private sectors around the world and can often be boiled down to the following scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Self Assessed

Very few people will ever assess themselves as underutilized or even utilized at optimal levels (for fear of being removed or having their friends removed) so we can discount all of these assessments. Period.

Scenario 2 – External Assessment

These break down into two sub groups.

2a. Friendly Assessment

Some assessments are at the request of a “friend on the inside”.  They are set up to produce a desirable result much in alignment with scenario 1 but under the guise of an objective, external assessment.  These results can be discarded.

There are other assessments that didn’t start out as “friendly” in the same fashion but the people conducting the assessment discovered that they get paid faster or their journey is less confrontational when their approach is considered friendly to those being assessed.  Please see scenario 1.

2b. Objective Assessment

There are a few objective assessments where the people conducting the assessment call it the way they saw it.  Few of these studies get acted upon or are acted upon in a diluted fashion so as to not offend anyone (especially unions) but which can be referenced as a “strong effort to make things better”.

It also happens that the few assessments that produce positive, measurable results (but which are in the minority) are highlighted and presented as the majority of the results when in fact they represent a small portion of the true effort.

Now … before I continue, I must make two observations:

1. Many large-scale private sector organizations have tremendous issues in the areas of productivity and utilization also.

2. There are many public sector workers who are committed to their job, are proud of their service to their municipality, state, province or nation and are doing an amazing job.  In fact, if it weren’t for them, we’d be toast.

However, having been in a number of public sector areas over the years, as a consultant to different groups, as a consumer of their services and as a long time provider of productivity assessment / enhancement services, I can state without fear of condemnation that the public sector has a long way to go when it comes to discovering where the money is really being lost.

A small example

While one data point doesn’t make a study, I remember a couple of years ago having the need to be in a blood testing center twice in the same week in a hospital.

The first time I was there, I was one of two people there for the hour I waited.

The second time I was there, I was the only person there for the hour I waited.

At one point during the second visit, the receptionist, who had an amazing high score going with her computer-based solitaire card game, picked up the phone and called a colleague to complain about how she was run off her feet with her busy day.  She spent about half an hour on the phone complaining about it.

I was amused by the event until a few days later when the hospital produced a self-assessment of the work load of that particular area, citing how the workers there could not be expected to cope with such pressing workloads for much longer.

I contacted someone in the hospital who had worked in the noted area and she indicated that the workload I observed was typical for any given week.

I guess the hospital (or the union) had embraced Assessment Scenario 1 in order to get a few more people in there.

Cash Outlay Is Not the Only Source of Expense

So when I think of Danielle Smith making a fuss about a $7,000 expense here or a $10,000 expense there, my thought is “chump change”.

Not only should she (and others) care about what is being spent but we should spend more time examining how we spend it.

After all, what we get for what we spend is often equally if not more important than the actual amount spent.

I wonder if too many people think that ROI, KPI and other forms of measurement are actually four-letter words.

The challenge I lay before any politician is this

Do you, Mr. or Ms. Politician, have the courage and the audacity to get to the real core of not only how much is spent but how we spend it, because I can assure you that there is a REAL pot of gold out there waiting to be discovered?

Be forewarned that such a pot of gold is only available to those who have the guts to go after it – those who are not afraid to acknowledge the productivity/utilization-centric economic elephant in the room.

Those who have the courage to set out on that journey of discovery are the real heroes amongst the political corps.

But if you as a politician are afraid to go after that pot of gold and prefer instead to hide behind the safety of criticizing an executive’s expense here or there (or you do nothing at all), then I realize that you’re not really serious about making a difference.

You just want us to believe you are.

The question for the rest of us then becomes ….

Have we been fooled or do we dare to demand better?

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Drive-By Platitudes–Life Saving or Life Draining

A colleague of mine issued a personal cry for help on social media over the weekend (see repost note at bottom of blog).  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 lift me 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 to your fellow man.

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 or that convincing him that he can run a marathon makes perfect sense even though we haven’t helped lift the mental or physical “elephant” off his back first, thus enabling him to run the best race he can.

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

And sometimes instead of a demonstration of your mastery of clichés, all the person needing help wanted was for someone to listen.  Many people who have thanked me over the years, after my suggestion that I had done nothing that I could see, indicated that to have someone listen was what they really needed.

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,

Harry

* Reposted from July 16, 2012 (with minor modifications) by special request (many of them).

Additional thought:

For those of you who love “successory” posters, I offer the following item from the great folks at Despair.Com. :-)

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job.  The kind robots will be doing soon.

I am reminded of an exercise I participated in some years ago when we were paired up and asked to listen to our partner’s problem but we were NOT allowed to interject with observations, attempts to solve the problem, platitudes or any other comment.

It was a humbling exercise that reminded all of us present that while we may feel obligated to solve someone’s problem in the best way we know, that may not be what the other person is asking for or needs.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Focusing on What Unites or Separates Us

People who know me well know that I have a fascination for politics at all levels and can often be found monitoring various in-session legislatures in Canada and the US while I am working.

If I hear something that sharply resonates with me or disturbs me, I have been known to make an observation or two in social media, observations that often draw a variety of responses and yesterday was no exception.

Some of my observations about the Alberta Legislature drew some comments from a number of people including Rick Newcombe (@RickNewcombe) and we had a light exchange before our dialog grew a little more serious, including appearing to lean towards becoming slightly contentious.

I’m not afraid of nor do I shy away from such dialog and most times after such dialog takes place, I move on, either because I’m busy, the conversation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere or the person I am chatting with is unable to conduct an intelligent, respectful conversation.

However, this exchange seemed different.  I figured out where Rick lived and despite a heavy schedule, I did the improbable in a world that prefers to send (or hide behind the safety of) emails, Facebook messages, tweets and texts.

I called him.

I’m not sure what he expected when he saw my name appear on his caller id but he answered the phone.

What resulted was a great, positive, respect-filled conversation between two men passionately committed to improving the nature of political discourse and with the ultimate intention of creating a better world for the generations that are following ours.

I was intrigued by our conversation since I have repeatedly asked Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith for answers to various questions, statements and assertions in the past and she has responded by blocking me and others who dare to demand truth, transparency and accountability (even though she demands such things of others).

For this reason, it would be easy for many to believe that a former Wildrose Party election candidate and I couldn’t have a positive conversation and yet we did.

Why?

Because people passionate about the creation of a stronger future for our young people find that they have more in common than not and that intelligent, respect-filled, mature individuals can always find a way to collaborate to build such better futures.

Conversations like the one between Rick and I prove that despite initially perceived differences in political stripes, there are many opportunities for dialog – dialog that is healthy, respectful, intelligent, mature, built upon facts and evidence and that recognizes that we all thrive or die together as a society.

Oftentimes we only become aware of our commonalities when we lay aside the sterile, emotionless (or emotion-mistaking) environment of social media and we actually reach out and make human contact.

It is at that point that we discover that our common foundation in the grander human context unites us and calls us to work together to create a stronger future.

I wish some political leaders, including Danielle Smith and others, could understand this and practice the art of sharing, listening and understanding more than the art of shouting and posturing and start focusing more on citizen solutions and less on government failure / replacement?

I think this is critical if we are going to create the stronger future we have the potential to create and which we must create if we really care about future generations.

I also think we need more leaders like Rick Newcombe in the world, providing role models that our young people and some of our political leaders can learn from.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Does Premier Dunderdale Enjoy Pornography?

More than likely she doesn’t and frankly I don’t care what she thinks of it.

However, the scuttlebutt developing in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Premier’s interpretation of guilty by association when it comes to social media automatically implies that she does.

Doesn’t it?

Earlier this week, MHA Gerry Rogers was tossed from the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature because she was a member of an anti-Dunderdale Facebook group, a group in which a couple of stupid people made threats of violence against the Premier.

Threats against ANYONE have no place in society, especially against the men and women who give up many things personally and professionally in order to serve in public office.

However, because Ms. Rogers was a member of this group, she was informed that any comment by anyone in the group is considered to be automatically endorsed and condoned by all members of the group, including Ms. Rogers.

When the House therefore demanded an apology from Ms. Rogers for the threats she didn’t make (since she was considered guilty by association), she was removed from the House.

The Premier made a big fuss about how we should always be cognizant of who we associate with in social media, after which she had to deal with the embarrassment that she was following a porn account on Twitter.  Her embarrassment led her to close her Twitter account altogether instead of doing what most of us would do, blocking the offending account in question.

Now if I were to follow the Premier’s reasoning for punishing Ms. Rogers by association, I could state that one of the following is true:

1. The Premier enjoys pornography

2. The Premier enjoyed it for a time but stopped enjoying it this week

3. The Premier (and/or her handlers)  have no understanding of social media and the difficulties associated with managing one’s reputation in a world where anyone can state anything at any time.

Please make your selection now.

Regardless of whether Ms. Rogers was in the group wilfully (to monitor what others were saying) or she was enrolled without her knowledge, to place the words of an ignorant person into her mouth doesn’t make sense at all.

After all, heaven help us if we are all guilty based on a collision of the principles of guilty by association and 6 degrees of separation.

There wouldn’t be an innocent person left in the room …. or in the world.

As a proud Newfoundlander, I have heard many “Newfie” jokes.

But the worst (or best, depending on perspective) Newfie jokes of all are the ones where someone didn’t set out to make us laugh but did anyway.

As Premier Dunderdale did this week.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum – Leadership Observation

I could have titled this blog “Premier Dunderdale’s Favorite Porn Sites” or something nastier.

However, to do so would have unfairly associated the Premier with the subject at hand and judged her without data, without facts, without merit - unfairly and unprofessionally.

Most importantly, it would have unfairly judged her character.

I think we must be careful not to jump to conclusions or to intentionally sully anyone’s character before we know the facts.

What do you think, Premier?

Addendum – April 23, 2013

The Speaker of the House of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has now offered an official apology to MHA Gerry Rogers.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wikipedia, Pornography and Bomb Making

As a long time opponent of most forms of censorship and a life-long student of the human experience, I am curious about something that I am hoping someone can explain to me.

Wikipedia has been embroiled in many a court action over the past few years regarding the use of explicit pornographic images.  They have also made a concerted effort to remove them where possible, especially in the area of child pornography. 

Many a website, including giants such as Megaupload who enabled the piracy of digital content, including movies and music, have been shut down because commercial entertainment entities were being denied their royalties.

Hundreds of websites selling counterfeit products have been shut down by federal agents after ripping off consumers and authentic merchandise vendors.

And yet. the Al Qaeda magazine Inspire, a hate-filled diatribe that promotes violence against Americans and allegedly provides suggestions, ideas and plans on how to carry out acts of violence is still widely available on Wikipedia.  This is the case even though in places like England, mere possession of the magazine can result in prosecution.

Apparently included in one of the issues are plans on how to use pressure cookers as a bomb component to hurt Americans.

And now we have the events of the Boston Marathon and preliminary information that such a device was used to kill and wound so many innocent people.

As a strategy guy, I understand the concepts of follow-the-money, all-things-for-a-reason and all of that.

But I can’t understand why Wikipedia is allowed to present all of this material given everything else that authorities have shut down so quickly.  I even sent an email regarding this material to various government agencies almost two years ago and never received a reply.

Personally, regardless of my beliefs about censorship and information sharing, I would NEVER allow anyone to use anything associated with me to enable people to commit atrocities or acts of violence.

And yet this American organization allows and enables such actions.

Since we are so quick to shut down websites that adversely impact other organization’s financial well-being, why can’t we shut down content that threatens someone’s personal well-being?

I think there is a consistency / priorities issue here that warrants an explanation.

I also think that when it comes to doing what it takes to minimize the level of terrorism we face, if we really cared and were sincere in our intentions, then we would remove obvious sources of information for terrorist wannabes.

I also also think that we can never be perfectly safe and that we face a difficult balancing act when it comes to security versus freedom as I noted in Boston: Freedom, Security and Difficult Choices.

And finally, I think that everything happens for a reason.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum:

In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, MHA Gerry Rogers was found in contempt of the House yesterday for being a member of a Facebook group where someone else had made threatening remarks against the Premier of the province.  According to the Speaker of the House, Ms. Rogers is considered to be automatically condoning such remarks merely because she is a member of the Facebook group and therefore she should apologize immediately (which she refused to do, as would I).

While I recognize that we are the company that we keep, if any of us are considered to be automatically condoning any social media content just because we can be loosely associated with it, then how do we explain allowing Wikipedia to continue to carry such content, given how many of us have contributed to its content somewhere along the way.

A slippery slope indeed.

Addendum 2 – April 23, 2013

Officials finally admit that the Boston bombers may have gotten their ideas and plans for the explosives from Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine. 

Are we really doing what we can to protect ourselves?  The new CISPA bill now before the Senate will allow employers to demand social media passwords from employees / employment candidates under the guise of “security” while Al Qaeda’s bomb making plans are on Wikipedia.

Everything happens for a reason. I just wish I knew what this one is.  I have some ideas but they are best left private …. for now.

Addendum 3 – May 9, 2013

It is intriguing that shortly after viable 3D gun plans are made available on the web, they are removed at the request of the Pentagon as noted here.  Meanwhile, the bomb making plans remain available.  Curious indeed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston: Freedom, Security and Difficult Choices

The cowardly, senseless attack at the Boston Marathon this week once again brings a powerful question to the fore – a question that people seem unable to come to grips with.

It is the question of which do we value more – freedom or security?

We all demand security for ourselves, our families and our nation.  We all like to live as we please, doing what we enjoy.  Many of the latter also demand the ultimate right to do as they please outside the all-seeing eye of government, various security agencies, law enforcement groups or Big Brother organizations.

Sadly, when we demand both and champion such freedoms that we enjoy in Canada and the US, freedoms that many brave people have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect, such freedoms also provide reasons for some to resent us. 

More importantly, such freedoms also provide opportunities for nutbars to leverage vulnerabilities created by such freedoms to inflict pain upon us.

The only way that the cowards, miscreants and deviants of our world can be totally prevented from inflicting pain upon us is for us to totally give up all the freedoms that we cherish, including but not limited to the areas of:

- the right to assemble (especially to celebrate)

- privacy of communication

- privacy of financial transactions

- the right to go anywhere in the world and be assured of our safety

- the right to do whatever we want without fear of oversight (including regulatory) and

- the right to go wherever / whenever we please without the inconvenience of metal detectors, being wanded or being corralled inside specific areas.

Few people are willing to give up such freedoms in totality.  We believe that such freedoms are a foundational component of our society, a foundational need for our species and one of the many things that makes our society great.

Unfortunately, while we have become a society of “I want it all and I want it now” there are still a few areas where we can’t have it all, including in the areas of freedom and security - at least as we define them today.

Our society, as it strives (and struggles) to find the best solution possible, will always find itself navigating the difficult balance between these two things that we believe we need and deserve.

As Dwight Eisenhower once said:

“If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom. ”

A truly enlightened species wouldn’t have a problem with figuring out how to have both.

But an enlightened species we are not and so we must do our best to recognize that such violent acts will always be with us – at least for the foreseeable future.

However, when such heinous acts occur, human attributes in the areas of bravery, love, unselfishness, teamwork, collaboration and yes, justice, will always stand out and clearly send a message that such acts are not acceptable.

It is a message that we are not defeated by the intimidation attempts of the few, the weak and the cowardly.

And maybe, just maybe, if we give ourselves enough time and don’t tear our society apart before we figure this out, we will have an opportunity to discover that we can find a way to bring freedom and security together.

Until then, we move forward, together, in support, in mourning, in strength, in love and with a vision and intention to move towards the promise of something better and with a strong message to those who oppose such ideals that their actions are not acceptable nor will they ever be.

But until then, human beings will continue to demonstrate the perfection of our imperfection, reflecting the best and worst of our potential.

And until then, the question of “why?” when it comes to understanding the evil motives of certain individuals will rarely produce a satisfactory or even a rational answer.

But those questions can be answered tomorrow.

Today we mourn the lost, comfort the living and show the world the best of humanity.

What human potential do you promote, allow, enable and create?

How do you know?

Are you sure?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Unemployment Statistics–A Worthless Measurement

Statistics were released today suggesting that unemployment rates fell slightly across the US in February over January, now tracking at a national average of 7.7% instead of 7.9%.

Personally, I find this measure of the health of an economy to be a worthless measurement because it provides ZERO insight into the quality of the employment in America.

I wonder what kind of hue and cry would be produced if we showed a monthly index that reflected how the employed are living, with the index being a composite factoring in:

- how well families are doing versus the poverty line

- the number of people dependant on the worker’s income

- the impact of the job (or jobs for many individuals) on the quality and availability of family, volunteer and personal growth time

- the number of workers who must make use of state or federal assistance programs to make ends meet despite being employed

- locale-specific cost-of-living data

- the nature of the employment versus education levels / alignment with personal purpose (difficult to measure but insightful into the sense of satisfaction obtained from employment and potentially providing insight into “happiness levels”, which may impact healthcare costs as well as provide a better understanding of the ROI of student loan programs)

- other data points of relevance.

It would be equally important to find a way to factor in the hundreds of thousands of people who are not counted in unemployment statistics because they gave up on their job search out of exhaustion and frustration and are thus considered “no longer looking for work” or they exhausted their benefits and are thus statistically considered as being “work ineligible” (for reasons I don’t understand).

This index would attempt to measure the true “employment health” of the nation (or at least the potential for it).

I think that waving around such statistics on a monthly basis would be far more revealing in terms of the true health of the nation and a better predictor for month-over-month economic health (or lack of it).

I also think that politicians would never agree to promoting such numbers because they (and we) might be afraid of what we might see …. and it might draw cries for better accountability and results.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Aliens–And Now For Something Completely Different

Long-time readers of my blog, looking for content regarding strategy, business guidance, wake-up calls, calls for accountability or stories to grab their heart may be amused by the title.

In fact, when I contemplated writing this, I had an image of John Cleese sitting at his desk …. this image … found at 2:20 of the following clip.

Thousands of people have written me over the years to ask for my opinions on aliens, alien abductions and everything in between.

While I’d like to ask them why they are asking me, in truth it’s partially my own fault.

Having consulted to some curious parties who will remain unnamed, having a former father-in-law, now deceased, who was a USAF Colonel working on black projects at Wright Patterson AFB and who occasionally shared details of them after one scotch too many and after having written some musings on sort-of-related subjects, I guess I have it coming.

Some of the musings can be found here:

Financial Crisis

Divide and Conquer

Preventing A Disaster – Or Preparing To Survive One

Truth or Fiction – Perception and Life Experiences (one of my father-in-law’s stories)

Yep – I deserve to be bombarded by questions, especially questions about the recent TV Series Alien Mysteries.

And so instead of answering them one email / SMS at a time, I will answer everyone at once.

Consider this.

If …..

- you were routinely abducted in the middle of the night

- you were taken whenever and wherever someone else wished to take you

- you had no say as to whether you were taken or not

- you were routinely examined and / or sexually examined / assaulted

- the abductions continued for years

- there was a chance that this event was hereditary in nature and that previous or later generations might experience the same thing

…. do you REALLY think you could recount your story in vivid detail with a smile on your face or a sense of “my purpose is to bring a message to mankind”?

Exactly.

Many assault victims from Terrestrial sources blot out the entire experience for reasons of self-preservation.  They don’t recount such details with a smile or how such assaults are part of their purpose and destiny.

The “victims” in Alien Mysteries are either:

- misguided (or guided by an over-zealous producer)

- deluded or in need of medical attention

- attention seekers

- snake-oil salesmen/women

- some combination of the above.

I’m waiting for one of the victims to lament that the examination probe was somewhat painful, after which the segment will be followed by a commercial espousing the sensual nature of personal lubricant products.

Or as one friend of mine SMS’d me and made me burst out laughing in a public place, maybe the events recounted by these people and the commercial could be morphed into an erotic series called “50 Shades of Greys”.

That’s when the real value of this program will be revealed ….

…. in its commercial / promotional value, as Dr. Steven Greer has discovered with his “Disclosure Project”.

But as a reveal-all documentary, don’t waste your time or your precious brain.

As far as my own beliefs go, I’m a pragmatic, data-focused, evidence-based, strategy-centric guy, surrounded by powerful clients who believe in such things and with a collection of life experiences that make for terrifying campfire stories.

What conclusions can you draw from that?

None.

Whatever is out there will or will not reveal itself when it / they are ready to.  Until that event occurs, if it ever does, continue to focus on the needs of the Earth.

Because it and the curious inhabitants who are Terrestrial in nature need a lot more attention than the Great Gazoo and his merry band of Extraterrestrials.

At least for now.

Now if you will excuse me, there’s an unusual blue light illuminating my backyard and a strangely familiar song playing …..

I thought that they were angels but much to my surprise,

We climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies - “Come Sail Away” – Styx

And in the spirit of music and Monty Python, I will close with the very appropriate “Galaxy Song”. :-)

In service and servanthood, wearing a rather stylish tinfoil hat (just in case),

Harry

Addendum: April 10, 2013

I noted with interest and amusement, elevated reading statistics originating from several US military groups.  I’d love to make a tongue-in-cheek comment in fun but I’m liable to fuel the misdirected passion of the conspiracy crowd, those who need medical help or those who are easily misled.

So I’ll leave it as “reading stats noted” with a grateful nod to those who put themselves at risk every day so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have.

One other item … a long distance dedication, an interesting musing, a warning and a great hit from the past, all rolled into one. :-)

Addendum: April 23, 2013

I had an opportunity tonight to watch the much (over?) hyped Sirius Documentary by Dr. Steven Greer.

After watching it, I tweeted the following comment:

image

Yup …… Sirius Documentary: Where facts, myths, smart / conspiracy people, New Agers, Marshall Applewhite, Zeitgeist & Ancient Aliens collide #fail

I usually post a link when I reference something but this time I didn’t even bother.  Why?  Because it’s a tremendous waste of time, energy and money – for the creators as well the viewers.

If there is a truth out there that is just beyond our horizon, this movie doesn’t bring anyone any closer to discovering it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

You Must Know Me Before You Can Transform Me

I received an invitation today that promised nothing less than to reinvent and transform me as a leader and a human being.

I was intrigued by the offer since the person who sent it to me knows nothing about who I am, what I have learned in my lifetime or what I need to learn to grow as a human being.

And yet the offer contains the perfect plan to help me and thousands of other people, many like me and many totally unlike me … a generic one-size-fits-all plan.

PT Barnum was wrong.

There isn’t one born every minute.

There is one born every second.

We’ve all seen the offers of “I can help you become more “whatever”” that many of us are bombarded with every day.

Most are as worthless as saying “I’m going to sell you a travel plan to NYC that is equally easy for anyone to follow” without caring what the starting point is.  The journey will be dramatically different for the person starting out in Hoboken, NJ versus the person starting out in Sydney, Australia.

It’s also like a 5-year old boy in the Congo and Wayne Gretzky both being given a plan to become a great hockey player or a child in a poverty-ravished part of South America and Bill Gates both being given a plan for developing a level of phenomenal wealth.

One person has no context for how the plan even applies to their Life while the other can only say “been there, done that” or “do you really think you can teach me?”.

And there are millions of people between the two extremes.

The odds that a generic plan can be successfully applied are as mathematically remote as me winning the next Miss America or the next Powerball Lottery.

However, people keep being sucked in by the promise of making their lives better with no effort on their part and no context on the part of the person offering the plan.

So the next time you get all excited about the Super Transformational Galactic Framazam Offer, remember one thing:

Unless the person promising miracles has a means of helping you create a plan that starts by objectively, pragmatically recognizing where you are in your Life right now, it is highly unlikely that they can help you develop a plan that leads you to the promised land since the map requires knowledge of both ends of the journey.

Context is everything.  If they don’t know or don’t care what you have done, what you know or what is left for you to learn, then they can’t help you with your journey.

By the way, I’ve got a guaranteed plan that will make you a master hockey player , one of the wealthiest people in the world, a Miss America winner and a Powerball Lottery winner – all with no effort on your part.

Interested?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why Do Heroes Stand Out?

Over the weekend, the Nebraska Cornhuskers moved into what I call the “Hero Club” when they allowed a 7 year old boy, also a member of the Hero Club in my mind as he struggles with brain cancer, to score a touchdown for the Cornhuskers.

The powerful moment is captured here.

As I marvelled at this powerful moment, I realized why such moments grab our hearts, cause our eyes to mist up and inspire us.

I refer to it as shark attack syndrome.

Shark attacks make the news because they are vivid, raw and rare and because of this, we are captivated when news of such an attack splashes across the media.

Moments like the one in this video are similar, grabbing our hearts because:

1. The powerful moment, in its spontaneity, is all the more heart-gripping because it is so vivid in contrast to what we see in day-to-day life.

But they are rare because:

2. Such events don’t happen as often as they should

or

3. We don’t share awareness of them as much as we should

In a world caught in the crossfire of unlimited potential versus unlimited greed, apathy, indifference and yes, stupidity, I think we need to work harder at either creating more of these moments or work harder at creating awareness of them.

I also think it would be amazing if moments like the one captured above were so common that they were considered to be almost mundane.

Although I suspect such a world would never be considered mundane.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Friday, April 5, 2013

We Need More Selfishness

In the midst of fulfilling client requests, answering phone calls, filling out an inordinate number of forms and the like, I had a blog rattling around in my head today that was prompted by British PM Cameron’s warning yesterday that North Korean nukes were about to start raining down on the UK.

The fact that North Korea may not even have a functional, deliverable nuclear device and definitely doesn’t have a means of delivering it that far doesn’t seem to matter to politicians who use fear to either control / coerce people or to encourage them to randomly consume more (both of which serve the needs of politicians who aren’t “getting it done” when it comes to solving the problems they’ve been elected to figure out). 

While I recognize that the nutbar in power in North Korea is taking the world to the edge of disaster if we are not careful, such words from the PM bring to mind the notion of “surely not the old WMD thing again”.

And in fairness, I believe that many problems in the world are now too large to solve (at least by humans) and have passed a critical point of no-return but alas, I digress.

Yup …. I was all set to write about this subject when I reconnected with a friend and colleague whom I haven’t seen in 14 years.

This person was a voice of sanity at the client site where she and I met back in the 1990’s.  Whenever the ignorant, the mundane, the greedy, the nasty and the dangerous would rear their ugly head, she was always there to raise people who needed to be lifted or to calm down people who needed to hear a voice of reason.  She was a source of sanity in a world of madness.

She’s still like that but she has endured much in the last couple of years and despite my repeated questions about “what can we do for you”, she indicated that having someone who listened was good enough.

Funny thing. 

She was the one who always listened to us and I wondered at the time how many, when dumping on her, actually stopped and asked if there was anything she needed.

Such heroes are not as uncommon as we think

I met a colleague yesterday who, in the midst of single-handedly raising children with challenges, is committed to making the world a better place for kids with similar challenges.

And while she obviously has needs and aspirations of her own, she places them aside for the sake of her children and for other children and families in similar circumstances.

As I closed the conversation with each of these women, I commended them on everything they had done for others and implored them to do one thing this weekend.

I asked them to do something selfish for themselves.

If we give constantly, eventually we will have given it all away and then we can’t help anybody.

In this beautiful but chaotic world, we are often bombarded with calls to help others more, serve others more and the like.

I believe this request rings true for the majority who are contributing nowhere near what they should commensurate with what they have received from the world.

But there is a certain segment who live to serve every day, constantly carrying people, lifting them up and providing a ray of sunshine where others see stormy skies.

And for those people, I think we need to help them be a little selfish for themselves once in a while.

It goes against their grain and they will fight it because it is not who they are.

But it is something that they have earned.

So do me a favor and look for those people who have made a lifetime out of lifting others and encourage them to be a little more selfish. Maybe you won’t have to look far.  After all, the person you need to encourage to be a little more selfish may be yourself .

Don’t worry – it’s just for a little bit.

They or you can return to a life of incessant giving and service soon enough – the world is never short of people who need or who take.

But a little selfishness isn’t always bad when for the right reason and for the right person.

In fact, I think it’s not only not bad but I think such selfishness is well-deserved and necessary.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood, I dedicate this today to four selfless women, V, K, F and M.  You know who you are.  Be a little selfish this weekend – something really decadent and / or self-indulgent should fit the bill.  You’ve earned it.

Harry

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Curious World of Dreams

I have always been fascinated by dreams and as a result, I have kept a dream journal for many years.  If at some point during the night I am awakened by a dream, I am always quick to note as much about the dream as I can as well as the time that I was awakened.  The reasons for this are many and are not important here.

At 5:18am this morning, I was suddenly awakened by a dream that I had been in a plane crash.  I was on a small plane waiting for permission to depart from the gate.  The plane was unusual, looking more like a public transit bus on the inside and had almost no nose that is typical of an aircraft.  At one point, our plane was “bumped” by a truck moving on the tarmac and the pilot went out to inspect the damage.

Returning to the aircraft, he indicated that we were going to attempt departure again and suddenly we were taxiing down the roads of my hometown 4500 miles away, looking for a break in traffic that would allow us to gain appropriate speed to lift off.  The road was wet and we had a mix of light snow and rain falling.

Eventually the pilot saw his opportunity, throttled up and just as we lifted off , the pilot suddenly yelled “This is not working”, the plane inverted and we were killed.  We knew we were dead and waited for people we knew who had died previously to “come and get us”.

A strange dream amongst a collection of billions of dreams that occur around the world on a nightly basis.

So what.

But this morning, I awakened to the news that one of the main arteries in my city was closed due to a fatal accident.

In the accident, two semis were responsible for moving a very large crane and were accompanied by a traffic directing vehicle known as a pilot.  The rear semi was “the pusher”, bumping up against the front semi to assist in moving the heavy load and at some point, an event occurred where the rear semi rolled over and became ensnared in the lead vehicle.

The driver of the rear vehicle, the one that had rolled over, was killed.

The accident occurred less than 3 miles from where, at the very same moment, I was noting my dream of pilots, roll overs, wet roads and fatalities.

Don’t worry – I’m not about to undertake a career as a psychic or dream counsellor.  In fact, my uber analytical, Comp Sci / math brain struggles with such a world.

However, I do find it very curious that I had dreamt about an event very similar to an event that actually occurred and at almost the exact same moment.

So what does this mean?

Maybe nothing.

Maybe everything.

I guess it depends on who you ask.

I recognize the power of dreams and how they sometimes offer insight into problems that we are trying to solve in our physical, conscious world.  Some of the most brilliant people in the world have revealed that their greatest discoveries came to them in their dreams.

In recognition of the fact that dreams sometimes have nuggets of information buried in them, I could spend days analyzing this dream, the accident and everything else in a vain attempt to connect dots which may not be connectable.

Or I can acknowledge that whatever the connection is, if any, it is not worth the effort to even try to connect the dots.

At least not yet.

Many things in our lives are like that

We can spend a lot of time connecting dots that are not connectable, not meant to be connected or not meant to be connected just yet, attempting to force something that is not meant to be forced.

Or we can focus our time on what matters and what makes sense at the moment, allowing things that are meant to be revealed (if at all) to be revealed when it makes sense for them to be.

All things in this world have purpose, a purpose that is revealed when the time is right.

The purpose, value and timing are often only discovered when we allow things to unfold as they are meant to, not when we deem it important based on our own time table, agenda, needs, intentions, desires or interests.

Do you try to bend the events of the world to your own will or do you follow the flow of events and people around you, being alert, enabled and thus capable of seizing opportunities when the timing fits a greater plan as opposed to your own.

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Life is a combination of listening to and following your dreams, learning from them or creating them (and helping others do the same) while simultaneously living in the world of realities.

I think success comes from finding a healthy balance of both.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum  - July 6, 2013

I am again reminded of the curious world of dreams with the crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco today.  Six nights ago, I had a dream about being on a plane that was flying up and down as the pilot fought to save it before it finally crashed.

Here is a screen shot from my phone-based dream journal (anytime I wake up suddenly, I record what I remember onto my phone, later copying it into my hard copy journal).  Note the top entry.

Screenshot_2013-07-07-10-57-19

If I dreamt about plane crashes all the time, it would be nothing more than a coincidence.

But I don’t.

Is it still a coincidence?

I don’t know – what do you think?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life: Making Complexity Out of Simplicity

In the mid 2000’s , I was traveling outside the country and through my own failure to pay attention to detail, I discovered that my residency visa had expired.

I was referred to a number of immigration lawyers who spent several weeks pontificating about the best way to correct the problem, including creative solutions that involved obtaining temporary visas to get back into the country, plans to convert those temporary visas to the right visa type once inside the country, extra plans in case obtaining the temporary visa didn’t work, extra extra plans to cover the issues that might arise in converting the temporary visa to the permanent one and so on.

That was just Plan A.  You should have seen Plan B.

After listening to these guys play chess with my Life for weeks, I asked a simple question – “What if I present myself at the border, admit that the visa had expired because of my own failure to pay attention and ask to be allowed back into the country?”

There was silence in the meeting until one of the lawyers said “It might work – we haven’t tried that before”.  Another lawyer said “Well, it might work, but photocopy your visa first in case they confiscate it, here’s what you should tell them if they ask “x” and if they don’t like that answer, then you should say ……..”.

Simplicity wasn’t something they adjusted to easily.

A few days later, I showed up at the border, flashed my expired visa, plead guilty to stupidity, was invited into a back room where a background check was conducted and my visa was renewed on the spot.

I wonder if those lawyers felt any guilt when they filed their invoices.

Another example of complexity over simplicity

A beverage retailer in Canada has been struggling with getting their associates to upsell clients on specific items in the store.  I understand training has been planned in the past and while more training is planned for the future, the lack of upselling has been a mystery to some.

As a business guy with an inordinate amount of curiosity, I conducted my own unofficial survey at several locations.  After assuring staff at multiple locations that I wasn’t “shopping them”, I asked them why they didn’t try to upsell me on product “x”.

The answer was pretty consistent across two reasons.

1. I didn’t know we were supposed to.

2. I hate upselling because I feel guilty that I am pushing myself on the customer.

I don’t know what training has been offered in the past (although I have been told that it’s fairly extensive) but I have a suspicion that it didn’t hit these two simple areas effectively, creating the perceived need for extra layers of training when the problem is sitting right in front of them.

Asking direct questions to get to the root cause of an issue is far more effective than burying the root cause under ever-thickening layers of training.

The IT Industry – A Major Offender

However, when it comes to creating complexity out of simplicity, the industry that I have lived in for 30 years is one of the champions.  Here’s an example typical of the ones that IT folks like to share at conferences as we cry into our Diet Cokes and cold pizza.

A client of mine a few years ago decided they were going to architect a system to track their hardware assets (even though cost-effective off-the-shelf offerings have existed for years).

After two years of building a system that could have been used to put a human safely on Mars and despite the fact that the system demonstrated attributes such as usability, extensibility, flexibility, adaptability, cross-platfom-ability  (“ity” words are critical in system design, you see) and other amazing attributes, the project was scrapped after a single, silly flaw was discovered.

It was unable to track hardware assets.

The engineers were so focused on the ultimate system that they forgot what the problem was that they were trying to solve.  They seemed unfazed by the fact that their application didn’t serve the needs of the people who paid for it (“the user just didn’t get it”) and they remember it fondly as one of the best architectures they ever created.  For a great summary of why enterprise architecture programs fail, please go here.

Maybe the CDC or the Surgeon General need to officially label ego as a potential cause of “blindness”.

I have seen the enemy and it is us

When it comes to our personal and professional lives, I can’t help but wonder if the reason Life seems so complicated to so many is because we have allowed it to become overcomplicated by way of our own actions and not just the actions of others.

We seem to have reached a conclusion that creative minds that are capable of creating complex solutions must do so simply because we can.

It’s almost as if we are saying that we are wasting our brain unless we create the most creative solution possible.  Anything less would be a demonstration of a lack of gratitude for “our gifts”.

Perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that many of today’s challenges become bigger, uglier ones when we layer on creative, complicated solutions ….

…. when all they called for were mundane, albeit less-sexy ones.

I have a solution

If many of our solutions were better able to answer the questions of “why” (especially in the form of the 5 why’s) and “how do I know” , then the reasons why we create this additional, unnecessary complexity could be understood and potentially nullified.

I have a few theories in mind but I won’t share them until I have lobbed them into a room filled with lawyers and system engineers so that they can produce a sexier model that describes my theories more effectively.

I don’t know if the result will be of value to anyone.

But it sure will be a thing of beauty to behold.

And for many, it will be useful to hide behind,  to justify outrageous, unexplainable budgets or to provide the groundwork for version 2.0, which will be even more gorgeous (because I’m going to make sure that its requirements cover all the “ity” words and maybe has a few Latin words sprinkled in for effect, something like “Si hoc signum legere potes, operis boni in rebus Latinus alacribus et fructuosis potiri potes!”).

Or maybe … just maybe …. it’s time to think smarter.

Not more …  not less … just smarter.

Do you strive for simplicity or complexity when solving problems?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Note: Answers shorter than 1 page will be submitted to my “Creative Solution Embellishment Department” and inflated to 100+ pages before being accepted for review, since I don’t want to describe simple, mundane stuff to others when they ask “What did you do today?”

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS There are in fact GREAT lawyers and system engineers (and others) out there who understand the importance of leveraging simplicity in their solutions.  We need to highlight and emulate them before our world systems, whether in the areas of IT, judicial, legislative or other areas get so complicated that such systems exceed the ability of their creator to correct, direct or control them.

If it hasn’t already happened, that is.