Sunday, May 18, 2014

Miracles–Praying For Them Or Being Them

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? - Henry David Thoreau

You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. - Paulo Coelho

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. - Proverbs 11:25

I was thumbing through my journals the other day and paused to reflect on several events that I had captured there.

One of them is described in detail in this blog post The Importance of Conversation where my “coincidental” appearance in a remote place at the right time prevented a young lady from taking her own Life.

Another is described in detail in this blog post The Power of Trusting Your Instinct … Again where I once again happened to be in the right place at the right time to save a stranger who had become overwhelmed by Life.

And a third event is something that I have never shared from my journal before but I share it here for the first time.

I was making a presentation on the west coast some years ago when I was informed by support staff that I had a very urgent call that could not wait.  When I took the call, it was a friend of mine who had decided that he couldn’t move forward in Life.  I could tell by the inflection in his voice that this was real and I walked out of the presentation, leaving a lot of people who had paid good money wondering who the heck this arrogant SOB was to leave them high and dry.

I flew across the country wondering if my friend would wait for me and thankfully he did.  When I knew he and his family were ok, I contacted the conference organizers, explained the situation, apologized profusely and told them that I would make it up to them in any way that I could.  With assurances that we would “figure out something”, I got on a plane and flew back across the country again.

Meanwhile, a new presentation slot was created on the schedule for me and so roughly 72 hours later than planned, I stepped out on the stage to make my presentation again, hoping that my audience would forgive my hasty act earlier in the week.  Unbeknownst to me, the audience had been informed of my actions and as I stepped out on the stage, I was greeted by a standing ovation.

We tough, ruthless Wall St. guys don’t begin many uber-techie, uber-geek, ultra-dry  IT architecture presentations with tears of gratitude. 

However, I did make an exception on that day.

“Life is difficult.”

M. Scott Peck opened his great book The Road Less Travelled with those words many years ago.

Many of us who have experienced difficulty or challenge in our lives have often been consoled with the idea that others will keep us in their thoughts and prayers.  It sounds comforting to us and we appreciate it.

However, how many of us have made the same offer to someone else in need and once we parted company, we went back to our own busy lives without performing the deed promised?  Some of us remember to actually keep the other person in our thoughts and prayers.  Oftentimes we forget.

For many, it seems that the perfunctory offer to keep someone in our thoughts and prayers has fulfilled our responsibility to them as a friend, a confidante, a business colleague or a Life partner.

It’s pretty easy, requires minimal effort on our part and in our eyes, we have already helped them through their difficulty.

Or have we?

The next time you see someone in trouble, don’t offer to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.  Don’t tell them you know how they feel.  Don’t give them a nice hug with a warm platitude like “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.

Pray for them if you wish.

But then go to them.

Take them by the hand.

Lift them.

Don’t pray for a miracle for them.

Be the miracle.

Create a great day for yourself and others. Pray for miracles for others but equally importantly, be the miracle.  Maybe when they prayed for a miracle, you were tagged as it and you didn’t realize it.

The world is waiting for your gifts.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,



I would like to dedicate this post to a person whom I feel blessed and humbled to know.  In a small town in the middle of rural Alberta, there lives a woman by the name of Veronica T. who is, I believe, a living angel. 

Her Life has not been easy.  She endured a difficult childhood.  She buried her Life partner.  Then she buried her only daughter.

She had every reason to grow up resentful, bitter or cynical.  She had every reason to lay down and say that Life had beaten the joy and reason for being out of her.

Yet she spends her time crisscrossing Alberta bringing laughter, light, love and tangible, measurable help to people who need it while dismissing her unselfish acts with an amazing sense of grace and humility.

I’ve told her she needs to go on tour to show people how a helping hand is oftentimes far more tangible and impactful than just lifting a prayer. 

Maybe someday she will understand the gift of light she brings to others.

And maybe, just maybe, others will learn how to do what she does.

I think the world would be a far better place if that happened.

When the wealthy or famous promote their Good Samaritan actions, many can’t identify with those people, especially if the famous Good Samaritans are financially free enough to follow their heart while other equally well-intentioned people struggle to live from day to day.

When those who lives are filled with as much frenzy as any other normal person finds the means to serve others, those are the real Good Samaritans.

Find the people you know who do this unselfishly for others and publicly recognize them. 

I think we need more examples of unlimited light and love in a world that too often promotes darkness and despair.

What do you think?

Addendum – The Adventure of Life - May 20, 2014

As I was leaving my house this morning, one of the kids from down the street who was walking to school noticed my backpack and asked me why I was wearing it.

“I always have a backpack with me”, I replied and then he asked if I was going to school like he was.

When I indicated that I wasn’t, he looked at me with all the seriousness a 7-year-old could muster and asked, “Are you going on an adventure?”.

I laughed and replied “Every day is an adventure.  It’s what you choose to make it.”

For the rest of my walk to work, I reflected on this conversation – brief in duration, innocent in intention and deep in potential.

And then I thought of this quote by Dame Rose Macaulay:

It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.

It is important that we do our best to enjoy the adventure that Life is and that we do our best to squeeze everything we can out of it.

And for those who are unable to do this, regardless of the reason, it is equally important that we help them to the best of our respective abilities.

Serve others.

You will both be grateful for the experience and the result.

Related Posts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Problem Solving: Over Complicating Simplicity

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is the glory of expression. - Walt Whitman

In mulling over a challenging problem the other day, my mind replayed an event that I experienced a few years ago that made me realize that I had been exploring the problem incorrectly.

One beautiful mid-summer’s evening, I found myself on a wide, slow moving river, accompanied only by the evening song of birds and the whistle of my fly rod.  As I made my last cast for the evening, I was at one with nature when suddenly I felt a strike on my fishing fly.

It was big, perhaps the largest thing I had ever hooked and when I felt the weight of it bend my fly rod, I knew that if I didn’t play it carefully, I was bound to lose what was no doubt the greatest fish I had ever landed.

Well, I thought it was a fish but in the waning light of the evening, I suddenly realized that what was moving towards me on top of the water wasn’t the fish of my dreams but was in fact a muskrat entangled in my fishing line.

As it came ashore, I was perplexed with the conundrum in front of me.  Had I hurt the animal?  How could I get it free?  Was there a game warden handy or some other person with knowledge of how to deal with such situations?  How would I retrieve a fishing fly that I had used for years and which was one of my favourites?  Should I just cut the line and let it go (probably the worst idea because of the threat of line entanglement for the animal)?

As I stood there frantically wondering what I should do, two hikers came along and after one of them noted the obvious (that I appeared to have caught a muskrat on a fishing fly), we all stood there discussing a myriad of potential solutions.

Three representatives of the allegedly most advanced species on Earth stood on the riverbank thinking through the problem that grew with ever increasing complexity and urgency when I noticed that the muskrat had been working on its own solution.  It had been hooking at the fly with its paw and suddenly it released itself from my tackle.  Trotting to the water, it slid into the water quietly and swam off into the sunset.

The three of us looked at each other in silence before laughing that the small animal, once left to its own devices, had found its own solution despite our best efforts to complicate the situation.

We were so busy thinking through a complex solution that we had failed to recognize that simple solutions were within our reach … if we were willing to allow ourselves to see them or allow them to unfold.

As my thoughts returned to the problem at hand, I realized that we had taken a problem that had been made overly complex with too many theories and idea exchanges.  In fact, the solution at the core of the difficulty was simple and relatively painless if enacted quickly and with courage.

Those of us exploring the problem, being complex individuals, had happily pursued a different path, seeking a complex solution that to us was necessary for an obviously complex problem.

And once a lot of people saw complexity in the simplicity before us, we ended up moving towards the picture below instead of moving towards a solution.

A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.

With the realization that we had gone down the wrong path, a simpler solution was obtained and a lot of painful “spinning” was avoided.

The Bottom Line

It is true that there are many complex problems in the world that have complex solutions (if they have solutions at all).

Fortunately or unfortunately for us, many of the challenges that we deal with are in fact not as complex as we imagine and with that understanding, we need to be cognizant of these ideas expressed by two brilliant men:

Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don't have any problems, you don't get any seeds. - Norman Vincent Peale

The Five Minute Rule: Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell you the solution in the first five minutes. – Gerald Weinberg

Our personal and professional lives are filled with unlimited positive potential that is interspersed with difficulties and challenges.

When we are confronted with a challenge, we should not automatically assume that because it looks complex, it must therefore be complex.  In order to understand what is before us before we “dive in”, we should pause, breathe and then ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Why do we believe this to be a complex problem?
  2. How do we know?

You may be surprised what the answers tell you about what lays before you.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – Understanding Cause and Effect – May 22, 2014

Part of the difficulty with creating complexity from simplicity is that many people fail to apply the time, energy or money necessary to understand the difference between cause and effect.

For example, I was reading a report this morning about a number of organizations that are struggling to understand how to reduce the level of employee absenteeism.  They were tackling the problem by tightening up the process of needing a doctor’s note, changing how much time people get for “sick time”, changing how people get paid for short and long term absenteeism, etc.

However, in all of the discussions around these types of things, I noticed that the report authors never asked a simple question:

Why are the employees absent in the first place?

In a different example, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador have struggled for years with outmigration, the notion that many families are leaving the province in droves.  The Government has spent millions of dollars tackling the “problem” of outmigration by running advertising campaigns to encourage people to stay when they fail to recognize that outmigration is a symptom of a larger problem, that being a lack of good paying jobs, a strong education system and a robust healthcare system.

I wonder if it comes down a “feel good” thing, being able to show people that something is being done when the lack of time, energy, money, knowledge or competence actually prevents a real solution from being created.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Newfoundland Government, Thoroughness and the Little Things

It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. - John Wooden

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. - Vince Lombardi

As a strong Type A personality who is far harder on myself than I am on others, I constantly strive to do the best job that I can, especially since a bad first impression may become my last opportunity to make any impression at all.  While many people focus on the big things, I often find that the little things matter more (often in subtle ways) and so when I see the small things being done well, I make sure I point them out.

As Ken Blanchard says:

Catch people doing things right and reward them for it.

Organizations that believe in getting the small things right are often the same organizations who get the big things right as well and their results show as they strive to become:

  1. The provider / partner of choice
  2. The employer of choice
  3. The investment of choice

However, when little things are done poorly and the error stands out, it makes me wonder about the work ethic of an organization.

So when I was reading the Newfoundland and Labrador Government’s Style Guide for Government Communications today and saw this on page 1 (the table of contents) ……

Style Guide for Government Communications

……. I stopped reading the document immediately.

It caused me to wonder about the staff that produced such a document of communication guidelines:

  • Are they competent?
  • Are they thorough?
  • Do they care?

The difficulty for me is that when doubt about such things is introduced into a relationship, whether that relationship be formal or informal, explicit or implicit, then opportunity is created to wound or destroy the trust in the participants of the relationship.

When trust is lost, the relationship is lost.

And when relationships are lost …. well … you know.

The Bottom Line

While we tend to focus on big results, it is often the little things that make the big things possible with the big things being an aggregate of the small things. While this is not a reason or justification to get caught up in the minutiae of “petty stuff”, getting the little things right instills a mindset that attention to detail matters.

This mindset sends a strong message to those who interact with us … the message that quality matters and does not look like this.


Do you and / or your organization pay attention to details?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

What would others say?

In service and servanthood,


PS Yes, I know I am being fussy.  I could have noted that the document has many examples of text written in the passive voice when the document clearly states that one must always write in the active voice and never in the passive voice.  The document also contains some painful violations of punctuation and capitalization rules.

I’m not saying I’m perfect but here’s the rub.

If one writes a document citing mathematics, economics and such, then I expect the math to be accurate.

If one writes about history, then I expect the recounting to be accurate.

And if one is going to lecture others about spelling, the passive voice and such, be careful lest the message be immediately discredited when “the expert” violates the same rules. Smile

Especially rules such as this one:

Proofing errors

We often get only one chance to leave a positive first impression!

Make it count.

On a side note, I wonder how much the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador paid for the document. Smile 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Game of Emergency Preparedness–Studying the Wrong Rules

There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst. - Stephen King, "Different Seasons"

Our top focus - protecting our Nation - must go beyond homeland preparedness; America will only be secure if we deal with threats before they happen, not just after they happen. - Bill Frist

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

Buried within the bowels of an opulent building in Washington, D.C., men and women in a softly lit boardroom studied the latest test results that had been placed before them.

“As you will note”, the well-dressed presenter at the head of the table noted, “Our code coverage is at an almost unprecedented 99.9% with a near 0% of errors or coding violations having been noted.  We are ready to deploy the newest version of the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program Monitoring System.”

“The key with the new version”, he continued, “is that by tying into our live missile silos instead of using simulation data, we get a much more accurate simulation than using the models that we have used in the past.  Concerns over security have been effectively addressed as noted in past meetings, with the point of this meeting being to obtain final signoff of the simulation software.”

He paused as his audience thumbed through the presentation before them.

A military officer sitting close to the presenter cleared his throat as he gently tossed the report onto the table in front of him.  “I am impressed”, he noted, “I recommend that we proceed with the rollout immediately.”

The remainder of the room nodded in assent as they continued to examine the analysis before them.

A couple of hours later, the same well-dressed presenter chatted on his cell phone as he walked through a park.  “It all went well”, he said into his phone, “They adopted the project as planned.  It goes into production within 30 days.”

He paused, occasionally nodding as the person on the other end of the phone spoke.

“I don’t think you have any concerns there”, he interrupted confidently, “It was much easier to override the missile launch safety systems than we originally anticipated when we starting tying the simulation software into the missile control system.  But then again, that’s why we spent the last 30 years providing outsourced IT development to the US Government.  This wouldn’t have been possible any other way.  30 years went by a lot faster than we thought it would, didn’t it?

He paused again as his colleague spoke.

“Understood completely”, he said at last, “I will let you know when we are in production.”

He paused again as his conversation companion spoke excitedly and then laughed as he said “We are blessed indeed.  We will meet soon, my friend, but not on this planet.”

As he hung up, he surveyed the landscape of the park, smiling with the knowledge that it would soon come to an end.

In Calgary, Alberta, families gathered for their annual Disaster Alley, an event where exhibitors, utilities and various emergency preparedness groups gathered to discuss ways that families could be better prepared for disaster.

“The key thing”, the mayor said in a presentation at the center of the exhibit, “is that you have a family emergency plan and food, water and medical supplies for 72 hours.”

As he continued to speak, two men observed the exhibition from a distance.

After a few moments, the younger of the two spoke.  “Why do they prepare for such mundane emergencies when much larger concerns exist?”, he asked.

His colleague, 30 years his senior, replied without looking away from the exhibit.  “It’s because they are not aware of the larger concerns.  The more significant events, although likely in the near future, are classified for reasons of not tipping our hand to the other side”, he replied.

“Why is that?”, his younger colleague asked.  “Isn’t it better that they know how to survive a real disaster and not just this little stuff that so many people are peddling?  Can you imagine the pandemonium of over a million people running around in a panic should a real disaster occur?”

His older companion turned towards him and replied.  “Which would you rather?”, he asked gruffly, “Outside of tipping our preparedness hand to the other side, if we inform the public, then we will not only set off a large panic but we will have a helluva lot of questions to answer.  And besides, on the likelihood that it doesn’t happen on our watch, I’d rather we left it to someone else to handle and let them explain everything in the aftermath.”

He paused before continuing.  “And besides. Not only do we not have the budget to deal with appropriate measures of preparedness, if something hits the fan tomorrow, Darwin will be proven right and we will get rid of a lot of people that are just weighing down society.  It’s cheaper this way, more efficient and we can always claim to be saving the day later.  Telling the people now about our lack of preparedness makes us look like idiots.  Saving the day later makes us look like heroes.  Which scenario do you like better?”

He turned and faced the exhibitors again, lost in his own thoughts.

His younger colleagues shuffled nervously as his brow furrowed but he said nothing.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


The Advanced Simulation and Computing Program is an actual program under ownership of the National Nuclear Security Administration and is designed to “analyze and predict the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons and to certify their functionality.”  My musing is a hypothetical one but is based on some observations of various projects over the years.

Disaster Alley is an actual event that occurs in Calgary, Alberta every year and is designed to help families prepare for actual disaster scenarios.  It offers a plethora of useful information for preparedness for many types of disasters.  However, preparation for the largest types of disasters (especially man-made ones) are not discussed for reasons of security nor is any information available from the government regarding these for fear of either:

  • Panicking the public or overloading them with information
  • Tipping one’s preparedness hand to “the other side”, thus providing them with insight into the best way to circumvent security measures
  • Creating an atmosphere where the people might dare to demand public accountability from their public servants, especially considering that the choices made by some of those people may doom the populace at large while those making the decisions will be safe within their bunkers.

Consider this simple scenario:

An event occurs and you are in one part of the city while your family is in another.  Do they know what to do?. Do you have a rendezvous point where your family knows where to meet for different types of events and where communications and / or transportation may be hindered or impossible.  How do you know they are safe?  How do they know you are safe?

Preparedness matters, whether it’s for a significant natural or man-made disaster.

History has taught us that disaster in both categories is unavoidable.

Preparedness (not to be confused with paranoia) doesn’t have to be.

Are you ready?

How do you know?

Series Origin:

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 a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.