Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Caring For Alberta’s Foster Kids–Room For Praise & Scorn

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. - Norman Vincent Peale

There has been quite a buzz in Alberta these days regarding recent reports of 145 children who died while in the care of the Alberta Government between 1999 and 2013.  To quote this article in the Edmonton Journal:

Of the 145 children who died in the care of the Alberta government between 1999 and 2013, 53 cases merited a public fatality inquiry or a documented in-depth internal review. When those reviews issued recommendations to prevent future deaths, there was no system in place to track them, or to ensure they were implemented.

Now in fairness to the Alberta Government and to all the agencies involved with this story, taking care of children, especially those who have lived difficult lives, has many complexities including but not limited to:

- the creation of effective programs to help these kids and their families

- the coordination of the many groups that work together to help everyone in need

- the addressing of child and family needs that are often specific to each individual

- finding budgets for such programs in fiscally difficult times

- the protection of the the privacy of the families and children who are involved.

And let me be clear …

THERE ARE MANY HEROES IN THE SYSTEM WHO LOOK AFTER THE CHILDREN THAT SOCIETY MAY APPEAR TO HAVE TURNED ITS BACK ON.

However ……..

I believe that the press conference that Minister Hancock held this morning was a tremendous strategic communication mistake.

Here’s why.

I got the feeling as I listened to the press conference that there was an attempt to claim the title of who was the greater victim – the children or the people who help them.

Some quotes:

[Reporting of these problems] "should not be allowed" – Katherine Jones – Alberta Foster Parent Association

“While it [the story] is true, it is hurtful” - Danica Frazer - Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families Executive

“We don't need to traumatize everyone working in the system” - George Ghitan – Hull Services

The Minister also noted several times that the focus of the media should be on hope and the great results produced and not on the problems that have surfaced.

Where does the media fit into all of this?

The media has been hungry to dig into this story but to be honest, this is what they do for a living.  When they do it for a cause we agree with, we think they are heroes.  When they do it for something we would rather hide, they are villains.

It’s all perspective.

Regardless of the bad news that has surfaced, it is true that the system has thousands of people doing great things for children who really need help and there are many success stories in the system.

Everyone who participates, either offering or receiving help, is a hero in my mind.

But people must never be afraid to embrace the criticism that comes their way or to deflect the criticism by suggesting that they are the victim instead of the real victims … the children and their families.

We must also never get side-tracked from fixing injustices in the world just because someone suggests that to focus on such problems is pessimistic. 

Correcting problems is not the role of a pessimist.

It is the role of an optimist.

Such optimists are also realists since they believe they can make the world a better place by acknowledging and tackling the problems as opposed to the pessimists who throw up their hands and give up or the people who would rather pretend the world has no problems.

And besides, most of us have learned that our greatest growth has come when we tackled our problems directly rather than pretend that they are not there or that they are someone else’s fault or responsibility.

I think now is the time for the heroes in our system (front line workers and the Government) to show us how they are going to make the system better instead of implying in official press conferences that there is a fight to claim the title of “greatest victim”. 

We already know who the real victims are.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum

Much has been made of this cartoon:

I’m sure that it has offended many, including Minister Hancock.

But like many things, expressing an opinion as this artist did has a way of applying a cranial defibrillator that we can claim to be offended or hurt by when we should be using our aroused energy to actually find a solution to the problem at-hand.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Strategy - Have You Hired a Million Monkeys?

“We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.” - Robert Wilensky

I was asked to observe a group of people today who have been tasked with solving a particular problem but who up to this point seemed unable to solve the problem despite the amount of time invested in it and despite glowing references of their past successes.

After watching them participate in a fascinating but pointless stream-of-consciousness session for about an hour (I was asked to observe, not participate), I asked my client if they had ever heard of the one million (or infinite) monkeys theorem:

A monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time, or an infinite number of monkeys hitting keys at random, will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

When they indicated that they had, I commented that they were observing the theorem in practice and that if they had an infinite amount of time, they would eventually hit upon a solution.

They weren’t happy to hear this but they had asked me to tell them what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear.

More and more often I see people and organizations attempting to solve problems using random execution with no awareness regarding end goals, intentions, objectives, resource availability, resource leveraging, environ concerns, constraints, deadlines, etc.   Many people don’t seem to know why these elements matter (despite their vehement protests to the contrary) nor do they seem to know how to create the strategic and tactical roadmaps that illustrates how one gets “from here to there”.

It is certainly not for lack of available information.  We are overloaded and overwhelmed with theories, best practices, methodologies, frameworks and the like for how to solve most problems.

The reasons for inappropriate or inadequate problem solving are many and diverse.  A quick Google search reveals a bazillion theories as to why such problems exist and how to compensate for or nullify them.  I can cite a number of cute sayings, expressions, theories and cartoons (I am guilty of having done so on occasion) as to why this problem is still so pervasive.

But for all the explanations out there, there is something that I don’t see enough people talking about.

It’s in how problem solvers are evaluated and selected

For many organizations, their quick-hit interview or selection processes don’t objectively determine whether the person or organization being considered can actually solve problems consistently.  A candidate’s past performance in solving problems may be based on luck or specific context as much it was on process and knowledge and therefore asking a few questions or asking people to fill out an exhaustive (or exhausting) RFP often doesn’t differentiate between luck and predictable consistency.

It’s like the worthlessness of many of the “top x under x” designations that many people seem to tout, impressive sounding until you realize that for many of them, their ability to win the moniker was based as much on how well they self-assessed themselves as it was on any measurable criteria.

And so the next time you are selecting candidates to solve large, complex or high profile problems, you can entertain yourself with glossy brochures, slick presentations, self-professed “intellectual giants”, worthless, pie-in-the-sky “what was the toughest problem you ever solved” questions, goofy (pointless) “who’s the smartest hominid in the room” questions, questionable “one size does not fit all” psych evaluations or massive but often meaningless RFP processes …. or … you can pick up one of your toughest problems, march it over to a candidate’s facility, throw it on the table and observe how they tackle it.

Doing the latter will often provide better insight than the former as to whether you are hiring problem solvers or a million monkeys.

If you think you don’t have the time to do this, you might be kicking yourself at some point as you wait for words of wisdom to emerge from the monkey house.  While your problems won’t be solved, the upside is that you can pay them in bananas.  The downside is that some people may consider you (and not the people you hired) to be the biggest monkey of all.

And unless monkey business is your business, I don’t think the downside is what you really want.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

The Bottom Line

The quality and effort invested in your evaluation process must always be commensurate with the scale and impact of the problem you are trying to solve.  The crop you harvest is always reflected in the quality of the seeds that you sow and how you nurture them, not just the length of the growing season.

Client Notice

This blog was written with the encouragement of the client in question.  No clients were injured in the writing of this blog. :-)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Conspiracy Theories–The Economic Savior?

The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It's the age-old struggle: the roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other. - Douglas MacArthur

Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences. - John Buchan

Whenever you're faced with an explanation of what's going on in Washington, the choice between incompetence and conspiracy, always choose incompetence. - Charles Krauthammer

I upset a lot of people with my blog post the other day entitled Obamacare–Harbinger of Doom? where I suggested that the government’s inability to deliver a simple system is a warning regarding its ability to deliver protection against more complex cataclysmic events, manmade or natural.

The second addendum attached to that post has really upset some people also, not because it’s a lie but because it reminds them of what’s going on in the world.

My apologies – while we live in an amazing world filled with mind-boggling potential, reality can still suck sometimes.

After a series of meetings this week, I got to thinking that we can turn a lot of our worries (real or imagined) into a real boom to the economy.

<<Putting my logic-based, analytical hat on>>

Think of what would happen if we embraced such worries and just ran with them, officially admitting that there is a possibility that all the risks are real and imminent.

1. A certain percentage of people would not be able to deal with the news and would not stick around.  They may suffer the same fate soon anyway (thinks some emergency preparedness people) and so their actions would solve a significant logistics problems for planners.

2. The news media, wired to report bad news or sensationalist items instead of useful information, would experience a huge upswing in media spending.  Instead of 400 useless channels on TV, we could have 4000 – all drilling bad news into us incessantly. They could even dare to ask viewers to pay for the right to be depressed by them.

3. A large percentage of people would go crazy for a while, probably rioting or committing other acts of violence.

4. Riot squads would be needed to settle down the populace and martial law would need to be invoked for a while while the wave of insanity passed over people.  Maybe then we will finally find out how our privileges are restricted as defined within Executive Directive 51.  Most of don’t us like Congress or the Senate these days anyway so would it matter if they were dissolved?  Since many (not all) politicians are out of touch or in it for themselves, elections would be seen as an unnecessary expense, with the money saved from banning elections being used for an awesome annual fireworks show instead.  The significant portion of people who don’t vote would also appreciate this more appropriate use of government funding.

But once realities set in and everyone calms down, we would see an economic boom in the sale of things like riot gear, weapons, survival shelters, personal survival equipment, SPF 50000 suntan lotion, real gold bars (not gold certificates) and extended shelf life food.

We would finally get around to building a massive asteroid deflection system, employing millions of people.  We could name it after Bruce Willis just for fun.

We could finish those climate control systems like HAARP (or is it mind control – I don’t remember). During the testing, a few nations will be fried to death by drought while others would be flooded out of existence but hey – they’re taking one for the team.  We can always remember them with a cool monument.

We could finally sell our nuclear stockpile to terrorists, knowing that the proceeds would help pay for the new nuclear protection dome that we build over each nation.  We would be impervious to the terrorists then anyway and we could start a new Truman-like reality show where we watch them blow themselves up. 

Think of the ratings!!!!!

We could also prepare for every natural disaster known to man and build every solution, driving employment levels to new highs.

Pharmaceutical companies would have a field day as doctors overprescribe medications to help all of us cope with this sudden success in society.  As Aldous Huxley suggested - "A gram is better than a damn".

Advances in medicine would also allow us to consume anything in unlimited quantities without fear of dying early from an illness caused as a result.  The fitness industry would be a victim to this progress since we would ban them as being counter-consumer and thus anti-progress!

We could finally acknowledge that one of the single largest drivers of increased Internet bandwidth is pornography and could make watching it mandatory to encourage research and development into a better Internet.

Speaking of making things mandatory, we would need to make sure that people’s minds aren’t too sharp and so in order to ensure this, we would make pot smoking and the playing of Facebook games mandatory.

And yes …. let’s not forget the potential boom in the tinfoil hat industry …. just in case.

We could even combine form with function – perhaps a nice tinfoil lining inside your favorite fashion statement.

And since we’re on the topic of alien invasions, don’t forget the boom in the personal lubricant industry, just in case the aliens don’t bring their own.

For the next 5-10 years, our economy would go ballistic, setting revenue records like we have never seen before.

To keep up with such an economic boom, we would have to print a lot of money and go insanely in debt without justification.  However, if you check our global resume, we’re already pretty good at that so it shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish.

At the end of it all, our nation and the world would be prepared for practically anything, wouldn’t it?

Admittedly there might be an adverse affect on the planet’s ecosystems but who cares – we’re not doing much now anyway outside of talking about it so it doesn’t matter.

Once we have finished Operation Preparedness (every good project needs a strong, assertive name to rally people blindly), we would then be able to be audacious, daring anyone to come after us since we would be safe from practically everything outside of a natural, cosmic event.

Ahhhhh …. Life would be sweet as we revelled in the security of our brilliance.

<<Removing my analytical hat – damn – I didn’t realize I had put my sarcastic one on by accident>>

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it?

Or does it?

Does it sound any more stupid to over prepare than it does to under prepare?

I’m not sure.

But I do know one thing.

This damn tinfoil hat sure scratches a lot. I wish we could stop thinking about Obamacare, the Canadian Senate, Rob Ford, global climate change and all of the other stupid stuff long enough to design a better one.

After all, priorities are priorities.

Don’t you agree?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum – The Umbrella Man

My friend Kevin shared this video with me regarding the Kennedy Assassination.  Take a look – it’s not what you think.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Obamacare–Harbinger of Doom?

Do you know how sometimes - when you are riding your bike and you start skidding across sand, or when you miss a step and start tumbling down the stairs - you have those long, long seconds to know that you are going to be hurt, and badly? - Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience. - Milton Friedman

As I watch the meltdown of Obamacare, I am reminded of the old “duck and cover” commercials in the US during the peak of the Cold War.  Duck and cover was a program providing people, especially children, with advice and guidance regarding the “right” things to do in the event of a nuclear explosion.

For those of you not old enough to remember the program, here is one of the commercials.  It is pretty disturbing to watch in its overly simplified response to the challenges of nuclear war.

 

 

Officials have since admitted that the duck and cover program was designed to provide people with peace of mind (idiotically downplaying the danger of a nuclear bomb while playing up the survivability of something that “could give you a serious sunburn”) and that it did absolutely zero to help people survive a nuclear war.

However, the program was useful because it helped people live in ignorance to the danger around them and the inability of their government to protect them from the danger.

What does this have to do with Obamacare?

Announcements today that the healthcare marketplace (a key foundational component of Obamacare) is only 30% complete after billions of dollars have been spent should disturb a lot of people.

People should also be disturbed by the news that the marketplace has already had its security compromised or is in imminent threat of being compromised.

I find it especially disturbing that post mortems indicate that proven best practices in the areas of software architecture and design, project management, project oversight, project communication and just about everything else were ignored or violated in creating the nightmare that the President is trying to make his way through.

After all, for those of us who have worked on much larger systems in terms of transaction volume, concurrent usage, security requirements and the like (where we were fined heavily by the government if we didn’t deliver as required), healthcare.gov is a relatively simple system to implement.

Of course none of this was known publicly until it was time to turn it all on and it didn’t work ….. at all.

Truth be told, there were plenty of warnings communicated by a lot of people that the system wouldn’t work. 

But hey, why disrupt a perfectly good gravy train for a lot of IT folks by disturbing the fantasy with a few claims of reality?  After all, there is nothing more of a nuisance than cries of “the emperor is not wearing any clothing” coming out of the wilderness.

Which leads me to more important things ….

When I think of a simple IT system that can’t be architected, designed, implemented or deployed properly, I wonder about REALLY complicated problems.

Problems like a response to terrorism.

After all, reacting to an event with thousands (or millions) of people, all reacting in different ways, all having different needs, etc. (basically a machine with millions of moving parts) is MUCH more complicated to figure out than a simple little healthcare marketplace.

In addition, unlike the needs of the healthcare marketplace which are fairly static and well defined, responding to a terror event would be very fluid, changing by the minute.

Because of the complexities involved, an emergency preparedness plan that addresses terrorism presents a very sharp double-edged sword.

1. You can’t reveal your response strategy in advance because it plays into the hands of terrorists who alter their own plans as a result.

2. You can’t reveal that if an event happens, most of it will be trial and error because you don’t want to panic the public (think “duck and cover”) and such an admission further emboldens those who wish to strike at our freedom.

3. In fairness to bureaucrats, you simply can’t invest in every possibility since the costs will quickly get out of control, you might tip your hand, people will complain about freedom infringement, etc.

4. Have you ever tried to practice a response with ten thousand (or a million) people who have no formal emergency preparedness training?  We’d probably injure or kill quite a few in the process (not withstanding the tremendous cost and complexity of successfully staging such an event).

With all of that in mind, people put together a few things and cross their fingers that they never have to face such a scenario.  If they do have to face such a scenario, they stumble through a response, sacrifice a few people when the event has passed (blame matters in political circles) and then quickly march out the political rhetoric of how we all rose to the occasion.

For many of us who lost friends and family on 9/11, we would rather have those people back in our lives rather than be praised for “rising to the occasion”.

So I was curious ….

I was curious about what emergency plans were in place for a particular place that is highly susceptible to an attack that, if successful, would have a major impact ecologically, economically and on the human capital in the area and for the nation.

I recognize that sensitive information wouldn’t be shared with me but I was curious as to what, if anything, I should do as a citizen to do my part before, during and after such an event since the likelihood of a successful terrorist event is high for the location in question.

Here is the response (redacted to prevent identification of the source):

The █████████ Emergency Plan (████) is a strategic plan that defines the Public Safety System, identifies the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and very broadly details the procedures for coordination of emergencies in █████████████. It is not an operational plan, nor is it a hazard (specific or all-hazard) response plan. Within the ███ the department of the ███████ and ██████ (now joined with the department of  ██████ to form a new department known as █████████) has responsibility to monitor, implement and maintain the █████████ Counter Terrorism Crisis Management Plan. This plan, which is naturally a restricted distribution document, provides the operational and tactical framework for addressing human-induced intentional threats.

Which means that, like Obamacare, we won’t know what the plan looks like (or what our roles within it are) until we see it and the master architects of it won’t know if it even works until they throw the switch.

If the implementation of Obamacare, FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina or similar large-scale solutions are any indication of what we can count on when things matter, it reminds me yet again of the importance of self-preparedness.

After all, confidence in government’s ability to solve such problems relies on an organizational principle known as rationalized myths to sustain such confidence.  Specifically, we rely on logics of confidence:

Avoidance – barriers are placed between the information holders and the information seekers and the less information (especially bad news) that leaks out, the more confident that we are that things must be under control. Translation: If it’s under control, I don’t need to do anything myself.

Discretion – we trust a few experts who say that everything is under control and therefore we don’t need to examine things more closely. Translation: If he/she says it’s all good, then it must be and so I don’t need to do anything.

Integrity – the integrity of appearances are assumed, meaning that people or organizations with this much time, energy, money and knowledge assume that anything they do will be right and so they overlook their own weaknesses and mistakes. Translation: We are confident in our ability to deliver quality solutions, therefore you can be confident of the same and need not do anything to help us.

If that’s all I have to go on (and with all due respect to the many great people who are saddled and burdened with trying to find answers to many complicated scenarios) I think we need to do more to help ourselves so that if any significant event comes along, either at the hands of man or Mother Nature, that we are prepared.

The Affordable Care Act marketplace is not just a piece of poorly implemented technology.  It’s a sign that whenever anything complicated needs to be built by modern governments in relative secrecy, we may not know if we can rely on it until we need it and by then it may be too late.

Well .. with the exception of military hardware of course. We have mastered the ability to kill others but are less adept in other areas.

It is for this reason that duck and cover came to mind today.

Have you done your best to help yourself, your family, your loved ones, your community and yes, your government (including first responders) when it comes to preparedness for events that governments believe are a “when” and not an “if”?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum – The Complexities of Our System

Here is a 50,000 foot view of how technology is implemented in one part of the US Government.

Government Spending

Consider that each box has many boxes of its own contained within – hundreds and in some cases, thousands of them.

Consider as well that not only is communication difficult to maintain laterally and vertically between the boxes but in many cases, the boxes are actually competing with each other and are quite happy to see another box fail if their box has an opportunity for success – measured in budgets, accolades or other rewards.

Is it any wonder that things are so hard to deliver?

I would posit that anyone who can successfully navigate such a minefield and produce a useful result should be up for a Nobel Prize for “something”.

What do you think?

Addendum 2 – A Real Threat … Right Now

This video shows the state of the Fukushima reactor and what could happen if the fuel rods are removed incorrectly.  As one expert  indicates in the video, if things “go wrong” with the clean up of the fuel rods or if containment building 4 collapses because of an earthquake, she is evacuating her family from Boston, a city 6,560 miles away, as the northern hemisphere will be significantly contaminated by radiation.

Adding complexity to this is the recent announcement that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has been cited for security failures at other facilities in Japan.

The question is this ….

What happens if someone decides to “make things go wrong” at Fukushima?

What would / should we do if an accidental or purposeful event occurs in Fukushima that significantly contaminates the northern hemisphere?

I don’t know what the answers are.

Do you?

In case you’re thinking that that’s a long way from home and too far away to be of concern, consider this report - U.S. nuclear reactors vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Then there was the debacle with the Stuxnet worm developed by the west to target Iranian nuclear installations and which I noted in June of 2012 in my post Viruses, Politics and Slippery Slopes would come back to haunt us.  Later in 2012, US power plants were disabled by malware not identified as Stuxnet but problematic all the same.  Russian power plants have also been attacked by Stuxnet.

When you are told that security procedures keep US nuclear power plants secure from cyber attack, keep this little ditty in mind – Homer Simpson would be proud: Nuclear regulators crack firewalls to access porn.

So the system is unable or unwilling to protect the people it serves.

How does that make you feel?

Do you even care?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You Have To Trust Someone …. Right?

Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent. - William Shakespeare

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …….

The President rubbed his eyes in the early morning hours as he shuffled in slipper-clad feet down the halls of the White House.  It was early on a Saturday morning and most of his staff had not yet arrived, with Secret Service being his only company this morning.

As he acknowledged the “Good morning, Mr. President” comments from the people he passed, he found himself looking forward to a reasonably quiet day, as quiet as any that the President could imagine anyway.

Stepping into the Oval Office, he noticed his morning briefing notes on his desk.  He sat in his chair and sighed.  “Always more paperwork”, he thought.

As he thumbed through the file, there was an urgent request from one Senator in particular, a Senator who had been a particular pain in his butt for some time. 

As his eyes skimmed over the latest rant from the Senator, his mind thought back over the last couple of years to the many antagonistic exchanges with this Senator.

There was the time when the government had established a connection between electronics, the heavy metals in them and cancer.  It was a proven fact and passing laws limiting electronics manufacturing had been a no-brainer.

The Senator protested vehemently to no avail.

The fact that this law targeted private storage medium such as hard drives, thumb drives and the like was purely coincidence but the Senator whipped up the conspiracy people  with an intention to block such the law.

He failed.

Passing laws requiring the mandatory returning and recycling of this technology had been a hassle as well but made easier using the contact information gathered in the healthcare legislation.

The Senator had yelled and screamed about this also but no one listened.

Giving citizens time to migrate all of their locally stored information to the cloud was also a nuisance but the pain was compensated for by the tens of thousands of jobs that had been created to help people with their data migration.

The Senator screamed much less regarding this when large contracts were awarded in his state.  “Everybody has their price”, thought the President.

In fact, the NSA, the EPA, social media companies, private industry and other groups collaborated in ways he had never seen before in order to get everything done as quickly as possible, with the NSA doing an outstanding job quarterbacking the entire effort.

“Maybe we’re finally learning to work together”, he thought.  “There is hope for us after all”.

The President returned his attention to the Senator’s note and his latest conspiracy-laden rant that with the capture of 99.9% of all privately owned data storage, the American people were putting their trust into agencies that were not to be trusted, either because of their own intentions or their inability to protect the people from the intentions of others.  The Senator also claimed to hear of rumblings of a concern that he needed to speak to the President about immediately and in private.

The President tossed the note onto his desk and leaned back in his chair.

“This is ridiculous”, he thought, “If the President of the United States can trust his information to the cloud, then surely the average American citizen can.”

Feeling agitated, he turned towards his tablet to fire off a note to his Press Secretary to address this matter once and for all.

As his tablet awoke from sleep mode, the President stared at the message displayed on the screen:

Unable to connect to the cloud. Please contact customer support.

Sighing in frustration, he pulled out his cellphone to call his exec for help.  Pressing the contacts button on his cellphone to find the right number, he was surprised to see a message appear on his cellphone screen:

Error: Unable to connect to provider.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and an urgent voice calling for the President’s attention.

To be continued.

-----------------------

© 2013 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Addendum:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is continued from ……

National Security–Arming Both Sides – October 30, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For – October 27, 2013

When Avoidance Produces The Unavoidable – September 26, 2013

By Way of Deception, Thou Shalt Do War – August 30, 2013

Serving Two Masters – August 22, 2013

Growing the Rot From Within – August 6, 2013

The Coming Storm – June 8, 2013

The Master of Distraction – May 15, 2013

Living on the Edge – How Close Do You Dare? - March 29, 2013

Preventing A Disaster – Or Preparing To Survive One - November 29, 2012)

Divide and Conquer - August 5, 2012

Financial Crisis – March 11, 2008

There is benefit to reading those first (oldest to newest) but it is not required.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Will the Ignorant Inherit the Earth?

Blessed are..
...the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
...those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
...the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
...those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6)
...the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
...the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
...the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
...those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10) – Matthew 5:3-10

Anyone who has studied theology understands that the format of the Beatitudes is always the condition followed by the result.

After a conversation with a friend and business colleague today, I’d like to create my own set of anti-beatitudes that I refer to as the Anti-Success Beatitudes.

They are as follows.

Cursed are ..

… those who prefer fantasy over fact, for reality is inevitable and painful when ignored.

… those who think that the details don’t matter, for the devil is always in the details.

… those who prefer politics over partnership, for they will find themselves without friends when they need them the most.

… those who prefer obfuscation over clarity, for they will be overwhelmed by complexity.

… those who think that values, ethics and morals are inconvenient or fluid, for when all else fails, they are how we are perceived, judged and remembered.

… those who ride coattails, for they will find themselves naked and exposed.

… those who focus on the small and unimportant, for the ignored may become significant and critical.

… those who are ruthless, for they will find themselves without favor when they need one.

… those who prefer academia over Life experience, for wisdom comes from how knowledge is applied and not how it is cited.

… those who think that more process is always better, for they will find themselves owned by the process instead of owning it.

… those who hide their weaknesses or incompetence behind bravado or “the rules”, for they will be revealed at a time most inconvenient.

… those who think that excessive busy-ness is the mark of a winner, for they will find their productivity and Life-work balance diminishing exponentially.

… those who think that a packed calendar is a good one, for they will be owned by it and will suffer as they discover that what matters couldn’t find its way into it.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus promised rewards for those who could identify with the Beatitudes.

In the corporate (or government) world, much can be suggested about the punishment that awaits those who allow their team members to succumb to the Anti-Success Beatitudes.

That is of course, unless they fall prey to the worst of the Anti-Success Beatitudes.

Cursed are ..

… those whose ego is significant, for punishment awaits those who are unable to learn, to adjust, to improve, to share and to serve others because they see not the reason to.

Will the ignorant inherit the earth?

I don’t know but I have a fear that we are definitely trending in the wrong direction.

What do you think?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Dedicated to P – who lives by the real Beatitudes and not the Anti ones.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Canadian Healthcare–Villains Amongst the Heroes

Who is to say who is the villain and who is the hero? Probably the dictionary. - Joss Whedon

Of the many gifts that my parents gave to me when I was young, two stand out.

From my mother, I received the gift of reading and the insatiable need for constant knowledge acquisition.

From my father, I received the gift of constantly asking questions, the need to understand the “why” of things and the need to never stop asking until I was satisfied with the answer.

Both gifts came together suddenly on Saturday past when my father was admitted to hospital in Eastern Canada in septic shock and renal failure.

It turns out that he was suffering from a retroperitoneal abscess, a massive, internal pus-filled infection that has a 75% mortality rate.

Thanks to the healthcare practitioners who quickly and correctly diagnosed this condition, my father is now recuperating, fortunate to be in the 25% and not the 75%.

I am very grateful to them for their quick thinking and the result.

But as my father taught me, after an event occurs it is important to understand why this happened so that it doesn’t happen again to my father or to anyone else.

Blame is not important but prevention is.

So a little due diligence produced this interesting trail of events.

Retroperitoneal abscesses are caused by a number of things including infections introduced via hospital procedures such as routine diagnostics or surgeries.  They are also caused by bleeding within the body, including bleeding from ulcers or micro ulcers.

A little extra digging revealed the fact that my father was on an anti-inflammatory medication for 17 years as a preventative measure against a bout of arthritis he had suffered years ago.

That’s like taking aspirin for 17 years on the off-chance that you might get a headache at some point.

I spoke to a couple of doctors about the use of this medication for this long as a preventative measure and they told me that it is simply not allowed.  One doctor, when I described the use of this medication for this long, replied with one phrase, that being (and forgive the language) “Holy Shit”.

One of the interesting by-products of this medication even in short-term use is the potential for the creation of micro ulcers and bleeding and the risk is especially heightened in the elderly.  For this reason, monitoring for bleeding is required although in my father’s case, no such monitoring was performed.

Hmmmmmm …. the plot thickens.

The documentation accompanying the medication indicates that it must be used in the minimum dosage possible and for as short a duration as possible.  I wonder what the risks are from taking it for 17 years.

Exploring the doctor’s background, one quickly learns that he:

- sought to put a 20 year old male on valium to slow him down because “he works too hard”

- once put a 22 year old male on Dolobid, Feldene and Orudis (all anti-inflammatory medications used for the treatment of osteoarthritis and / or rheumatoid arthritis) and aspirin simultaneously upon receiving complaint of a sore back and without any further testing to justify the use of the medications

- sent the same young male to the hospital a short time later with the diagnosis that he was having a heart attack (he turned out to be fine although the medical team that had been alerted weren’t too pleased with the doctor).  There are known complications from the previously named medications and heart and stroke risk although the connection was never made or explored.

- told a mid 40’s patient after placing him on cholesterol treatment medication that it would be easier to treat the patient if he weren’t an alcoholic.  The patient, a non-drinker, discovered that the initial baseline liver test that is required for this medication had not been performed and the subsequent liver test for monitoring abnormal medicinal impact indicated that the liver was seriously malfunctioning (a known side effect of the medication).  Without a baseline, the doctor was blaming it incorrectly on the lifestyle of the patient and the liver function returned to normal when use of the medication stopped.

- told a female patient that the pneumonia scars on her lungs as seen in a chest x-ray were in fact the signs of lung cancer and that treatment for such was imperative.

People are still emailing me their stories.  I think these are sufficient and are verifiable with doctor-written reports, hospital reports and prescriptions.

So, as a strategy guy who asks a lot of questions (thanks, Dad – it’s all your fault), I look at past performance as a predictor of current / future behavior.

And what I see appears to be much more than coincidence.

All that being said, we must not forget  ……………..

The Canadian healthcare system is filled with many heroes, people who go above and beyond to treat an incredibly diverse collection of diseases and injuries with ever-tightening constraints in the resources that they have access to.

Such are the heroes who saved my father’s Life this weekend and I am grateful to them.

In fact, I believe all Canadians should feel grateful to have such a healthcare system, one of the best in the world.

However, it is doesn’t help the heroes when there are doctors who are actually introducing patients into the system through carelessness or negligence that probably shouldn’t have been introduced in the first place.

Maybe a prescription of litigation such as is used in the US might cure the system of what ails it.  I’m don’t know as I’m not sure if the pandemic of litigation sweeping the US is actually solving anything or just making everything more complicated.

Meanwhile, the Canadian system won’t get better if we refuse to question the actions of a few bad apples merely because we don’t want to offend the heroes in the system, because we are told that we shouldn’t question anyone with more knowledge or authority or because we are told that we should feel so grateful for the entire system that to question anything is to be expressing a lack of gratitude for everything.

And it won’t get better in cases like my father’s when doctors will privately admit that this doctor made mistakes but will not admit so publicly for fear of losing their own jobs.

The bottom line …..

The best way we can help the healthcare system and ourselves is to follow the advice of my parents when they imparted these two key elements upon me many years ago:

1. Learn all that you can – in this case, about your health and any treatment options that a doctor insists you follow

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you’re satisfied, even if it means offending someone.  A good doctor will welcome questions and dialog.  Open dialog brings knowledge and understanding, both of which strengthen the relationship and the results.  Only the weak-minded or those with something to hide will get angry or defensive when the opportunity for dialog arises.  Either are a warning that perhaps a second opinion should be sought.

I was raised to always be respectful of doctors and I am, recognizing the incredible knowledge that many have, the constraints that they work within and their raison d'ĂȘtre, their desire to heal others.

But I think one can have the deepest respect for someone and still not be afraid to ask questions of them.

What do you think?

My questioning continues …..

How about yours?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Remembrance Day–Who Needs It Anymore?

War does not determine who is right - only who is left. - Bertrand Russell

The cold, cloud-filled skies of November are a reminder that Remembrance Day is upon us yet again.

And as I think about the memorial services that will take place around the world on November 11, I wonder why we even bother anymore.

After all, who cares about …..

  • The brave men and women who sacrificed their physical and mental wellbeing, their families and their lives to ensure the freedom of people they will never meet.
  • The gruelling, inhumane, mind-bending conditions that they endured, whether it was the mud-filled trenches, the lice-ridden clothing, the disease and pestilence, the sight of limbs blown off, the terror of being trapped in a burning ship or tank, the incessant thunder of artillery, the whine of a sniper’s bullet zinging by someone’s helmet or some other event that most of us wouldn’t have the courage to deal with.
  • A battle or war that may have physically lasted a few years but was relived in someone’s dreams and nightmares for the rest of their lives.
  • The families left to raise children with a single parent.
  • The families trying to help a mom, dad, brother, sister or child overcome physical disability or the equally crippling scourge of PTSD.
  • The millions of civilians maimed, orphaned, wounded, killed or traumatized by the battles all around them and the ordinance left behind, to be discovered by accident over the years.
  • Veterans who in later years have been abandoned by the governments whose call they answered but now barely survive on pensions that are an embarrassment.

So on Remembrance Day, when we think about the question “Who needs it anymore?”, the answer becomes clear.

We all do …. more than ever.

Our gratitude for those who serve should not be limited to a single day of the year.  Their sacrifice should be honored every day and be reflected every day in how we live our lives.

After all, this is why they serve – so that we are free to live lives of purpose, freedom and personal choice.

And so that, hopefully, the current war may be the last.

The veterans of WWI are all gone now but we still have many brave men and women around us who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and many other theaters of battle.

And as we stand freezing our butts off at a Remembrance Day service (if we even go) and we text a friend asking to meet up later for an uber-complicated latte while complaining that the kids won’t stop whining that they want to go home, remember this.

For many of our brave men and women, they didn’t endure such minor inconveniences from one day to the next.

For many, each day was hell and the day that followed was worse than the last.

They also couldn’t just walk away from it just because they felt like it.

And many, after enduring the worst conditions imaginable, were rewarded with death or permanent physical or mental wounds.

While we often choose many things to complain about in a world filled with abundance, most of us aren’t dealing with lice, typhoid, trench foot or PTSD, nor are we dodging exploding artillery shells, hiding from the threat of an unseen sniper, gasping for breath as poison gas tears our lungs out, jumping out of an aircraft in the dark as tracer bullets and AA fill the air around us, running across a beach while machine guns tear up the sand around us or swimming in frigid or shark-infested water while floating, burning fuel threatens to burn us alive.

May we never have to deal with the conditions and events that these brave men and women dealt with and continue to deal with.

Because that’s what they sacrificed and died for – so that someday we might finally live in a world where we won’t need to deal with these things anymore.

Wear a poppy to honor those who have served.

Find a veteran, look them in the eye and thank them.  Help one in need or make a donation to a charity in the name of a veteran; living, passed on or fallen.

We have what we have because they gave what they gave.

Lest we forget.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

IMG_146039397836966

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wall Street and the Unasked Question

There once was a racehorse that won great fame. What do you think was the horse’s name. – Children’s riddle

As a child, I loved to stump adults with this riddle since it is a statement and not a question - the horse’s name is actually “What Do You Think”.

However, sometimes there are interesting statements being made by individuals via their actions that begs a question that few ask.

In a meeting with some colleagues yesterday, we were discussing yet another colleague who was cashing out his holdings (a little under $400 million), converting it into things like bullion and building the house of his dreams.

But unlike what we believe to be the typical Wall St’er house of one’s dreams, filled with opulent or decadent baubles, his house will be several hundred miles away from civilization and will be completely self-sustaining in the areas of food, water, security, energy and medical needs.

We put together a list of colleagues we have worked with over the years who have done similar things and we discovered that approximately 40% of our network (at least to our knowledge) were in various stages of starting, finishing or had already finished such a project.

There was a common reason why they were building such “havens from society”.

It’s a reason that is not a secret but is not openly discussed either unless one simply asks them the question “Why are you doing this?”.  Most are happy to answer the question … honestly …. brutally.

I’ve never been one to conjecture or spread rumors so I invite you to find a couple of Wall St. folks and ask them yourself (off the record, of course).

Ask them about things such as:

- the impact of ongoing quantitative easing and the difficulties associated with weaning the market off the Fed teat (especially after QE has been going on for so long) versus the impossibility of leaving the market on the teat forever. Have you ever watched a person be broken of their heroin habit – it’s not pretty and yet it must be done before the person self destructs.

- how the annual S&P 500 consensus earnings-per-share are trending and what this means.

- the impact of stocks being priced more than 50% higher than their 10-year average.

- the unusually high ratio of bulls to bears and what happened the last time the ratio was this high.

- the fact that the volatility index (VIX) is very low (despite some recent bounces), indicating that investors have squeezed much of the risk out of the market and are feeling very complacent (you know what happens when people get complacent about anything).

- historical impacts of previous meteorical rises in the stock market and how corrections are inevitable.

- how market trends and other associated economic indicators that are usually in congruence are not in the last couple of years, confounding many economics “experts”, forcing them to rationalize such anomalies with new, unproven, convenient theories.

- how markets go up or down at will despite the predictions of the experts (indicating that the masters of the domain are not necessarily masters of anything but are merely educated guessers – like the weatherman).

- how individuals and organizations create their greatest profits out of the ashes of collapse, making collapse critically important to their success.  This collapses comes at the expense of the misinformed, the uninformed and the complacent.

And then think of what happens when you take a racehorse that prefers to be held back until the last furlong but instead, you decide to whip its hindquarters from pole to pole in the longest, highest-stakes race of its Life.

Would you put your money on such a horse race after race?

They’re not either.

Although somehow it wouldn’t feel as bad if it was someone else’s money …… or would it?

I guess that depends on the nature of your values, doesn’t it?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS As a long-time Wall St. strategy person, I am not licenced to provide investment advice nor do I give any, therefore please don’t ask for any. :-)

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sad Story of Rob Ford

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day. - Jim Rohn

It appears as if the tumultuous political life of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is about to come to a spectacular end.

It seems to bring glee to many because he is a man in power and a brash, outspoken, audacious  individual – oftentimes so much so that he exceeds what we tolerate as acceptable in our so-called civilized world.  If he were just another guy on the street no one would care or would care much less.

In fact, if he were just another guy on the street, we might actually pity him. 

On the flip side, if we were him we would have lots of reasons to explain our behavior – perfectly valid reasons that we consider to be excuses when heard in someone else’s explanation.

There is, however, an important element of his downfall that we need to understand lest we succumb to a similar fate.

The events of recent months in his Life cannot be attributed to a single, catastrophic choice.

They are the culmination of many small choices over his entire Lifetime.  Most of the small choices probably seemed pretty innocent at the time but as they collect together like the many snowflakes in an avalanche, eventually they gain enough momentum that a cataclysmic end is inevitable.

No raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood.

As I view Rob Ford’s story, it reminds me that we are all a collection of our Life experiences and our choices.

Because of his Life experiences and choices, he has placed himself and his family at risk on a number of levels.

Are we such masters of our own Universe that we have skilfully evaded every bad influence and result in our own Life or should we consider ourselves equally as lucky as intelligent?

Do we choose to lambast him because he has more power than many of us and it’s a chance to strike at “the powerful”?

Do we choose to fry him for reasons of subconscious subterfuge about some piece of our own history buried in our closet, providing us with an opportunity to establish superiority over our own mistakes?

Are we able to answer these questions honestly?

Mr. Ford deserves to be punished if found guilty.  We cannot absolve crime or wrongdoing simply because “it wasn’t my fault – it was the fault of my Life experiences”.

But before we choose to throw too many stones, let us wait for the person without sin, error or mistake in their own Life to step up to throw the first one.

Are you that person?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum – The Media

As I notice representatives of the CBC, The Star, The Sun and other media organizations reading this blog this morning and I watch the bloodthirsty media delight in having something scandalous to report, I wonder if the media would tone down their bloodthirsty nature if we played a little game of “expose the dirt on specific media individuals”.

Maybe then we  could rebuild the media after the mutually assured destruction of the less worthy media elements has vaporized those who discover that to live by the media sword is to die by the media sword.

And maybe then we can return to a sense of civility in reporting.

Maybe … but highly unlikely since the media feeds our insatiable need for “blood” going back to and probably preceding the era of the Roman gladiators.  We would simply have more people whose fall from grace gives us something to gloat over.