Friday, October 31, 2014

The Importance of Owning Your Wife

You can change your world by changing your words. Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue. - Joel Osteen

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words. - Philip K. Dick

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

“I appreciate you stopping by today”, Jim said to his meeting companion as they stood to shake hands.

“No problem at all”, replied his companion, “Please send my best to your family.”  They shook hands and his companion departed.

Jim sat down again and began to put his papers away.  He cursed his cellphone when he noticed that its battery had run down again.  It never seemed to hold more than about 4 hours of charge.  He was just promising himself to look into it when a slight, non-descript man with a penetrating gaze stood before him.  “Excuse me”, the non-descript man said, “May I sit down?”

Jim looked at him uncertainly for a moment and then with a shrug, mumbled “Suit yourself”.

“Thank you”, the man said, sitting down.  Without hesitation, he looked Jim squarely in the eye and said bluntly, “I understand that you own your wife.  You must be quite pleased to have such a possession.”

Startled by such a blunt statement, Jim looked at the man and said “Excuse me?”

The man smiled before speaking.  “I overheard you tell your companion that you have a wife.  You must be quite proud.”

“Now look”, Jim said sharply, “I have no idea what you are getting at but …..”

The man held up a hand and interrupted him.

“You have a coffee.  You have a laptop.  You have a car.  Does this not suggest that having something means owning it or directing it without fear of a negative response from that which is owned?”

“Well of course”, agreed Jim, “But having a wife is different.”

“Possibly”, replied the man, “But think of this.  The primary definition of have is to hold or maintain possession, privilege or entitlement of something or to hold something in one’s use, service, regard or at one’s disposal.  While a secondary definition of have means to stand in a relationship with someone, the primary use of have that I explained is the one most common and the one our brain resonates with the most.”

“Um, ok”, said Jim uncertainly.  “What are you getting at?”

“Did you ever wonder that every time you make a reference to having your wife, that in fact you may be inadvertently programming your mind to believe that you in fact own her instead of being in a partnership with her.  Over the years, such programming may actually cause you to believe this on a subconscious level and you inadvertently begin treating her as property instead of someone you have partnered with.”

Jim remained silent as the man continued.

“Over time, your wife begins to feel your accidental assertion over her and she begins to resist your subconsciously driven efforts.  In some cases, because she has you as her husband, she may inadvertently begin to attempt to assert control over her property as well and pretty soon you are both lost in resisting each other and your marriage begins to flounder.  The insidious thing is that this accidental, subconscious assertion of dominance over the other is so subtle and takes place over so many years that neither of you see the real reason for the change in each other’s behavior.  All you realize is that this is no longer the person who you loved years ago and for some reason, each of you no longer puts the other person first the way you used to.  You have asserted your ownership for so many years in a subconscious way that you believe the lie you have repeatedly told yourself.”

“That’s preposterous”, expostulated Jim.

“Really?”, asked the man.  “Think of this.  Instead of saying I have a wife, imagine if you overheard your wife saying my husband has me which in essence is the same thing from a reverse context.  Wouldn’t that sound strange to you?  It would almost sound as if you are a jealous, possessive person which I suspect you are not.”

“Of course it would”, said Jim as he frowned.

“Then you understand the power of words”, said the man as he smiled at Jim.  “Think about them carefully!”

He looked down at Jim’s cellphone.  “Pesky devices”, he said, “they never stay charged when you need them.”  He reached over, pick up Jim’s cellphone, held it for a moment and then passed it to Jim.

“Remember”, the man said, “words matter.  Pay more attention to them before you use them.”  He smiled again, stood up, reached over and gently touched Jim on the shoulder and walked out the door without another word.

Jim sat for a moment and then jumped up to ask the man who he was.  Running into the street, he saw that the man was nowhere to be found.

As he returned to the table in the coffee shop, he was shaking his head.  “Silly old man”, he thought, “What does he know?”

Picking up his cellphone, he frowned.  He could have sworn the battery was almost exhausted and yet the battery meter read 100%.  He shrugged, packed his stuff away, grabbed his coat and walked out the door.

A week later, Jim found himself sitting at the same table and memories of the old man came to mind.  He had given a lot of thought to what the man had said on this very spot a week ago and wasn’t sure if he should give it credence or not.

But that wasn’t what dogged him the most.

His cellphone, which never gave him more than 4 hours of use before needing to be recharged, was still at 100%, having been that way since the old man had picked up his phone and handed it to him.  After using the phone heavily for the last 7 days, it simply did not need to be charged at all.

As he stared at the phone, an odd thought crossed his mind.

“Nahhhhh, couldn’t be”, he smiled to himself. 

Suddenly he stopped smiling and something dawned on him.

He pressed the speed dial button for his wife.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


Words matter.

How aware are you of the power behind your words in the potential for creating good or evil?

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 as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creating Allies Versus Antagonists–When Ego Makes the Choice

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. - Edmund Burke

Remember that when you meet your antagonist, to do everything in a mild agreeable manner. Let your courage be keen, but, at the same time, as polished as your sword. - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

As the dusts settles from the Alberta by-elections, a children’s story comes to mind regarding how certain parties executed during the election and the results that they produced.  The story goes like this.

There was once a hen and a pig who were thinking about starting a breakfast restaurant together.  “Let’s call it Ham and Eggs”, said the hen excitedly.  “That’s no good”, replied the pig sadly.  “Why not?”, asked the hen.  “Well”, sighed the pig, “You are only participating in it while I am fully committed.”

The story came to mind as I reflected on how people who are fully committed to an endeavour tend to make smarter choices about whether they create antagonists or allies in their day-to-day execution because they have much more to lose if they choose poorly.

In the case of the by-elections, I had had interactions with the Alberta Party in the past and believed them to be a genuine voice of change, representing a non-hyped, data-focused leader of change that the Province (and other jurisdictions for that matter) needed.

In the public debate that occurred, I mused about how Greg Clark, the leader of the Alberta Party, appeared to win the debate.  I tweeted such during the debate and wrote about it later here - Greg Clark–A Refreshing Change Or Just Another Politician?

However, in subsequent interactions with Stephen Carter (his lead strategy person for the campaign) and before I made a decision regarding the Alberta Party one way or the other, Mr. Carter, without caring who he was speaking to, decided that I served better as an antagonist rather than an ally (or at least leaving me neutral at best).

With taunts regarding how much I did for others (or not) without any knowledge of my service to others and in providing flippant answers to serious questions (which I wrote about in Greg Clark–Politicians and the Importance of Optics), it appears that his ego and his belief that a win was “in the bag” invited him to discard myself and others as potential allies and in doing so, invited us to become potential antagonists instead.

Observing the traffic in social media, it appears that the Alberta Party’s selection of Mr. Carter’s raw online style backfired, drawing the desired attention but also creating a large pool of antagonists who may not have cared otherwise about the Party had it not been for how he interacted with people. I realized when people were actively campaigning against the Alberta Party because they believed it to be the Arrogant Stephen Carter Party that something had gone amiss with the Party’s strategy.  In certain groups, such as in schools, the actions of some of the Party’s faithful would have been considered bullying – hardly the role model for young people.

How large an issue this was in regards to the final result of no wins for the Alberta Party will largely depend on who you ask.  Whether the Party will be honest in its post mortems will also be a large matter of conjecture.

However, it causes me to stop and reflect upon how we choose our antagonists, enemies and allies, not only in politics but in Life.

Sometimes we may not be able to secure a person, people or organization(s) as an ally but we would do best not to awaken them as our antagonists also.

Because while the Burke quote at the beginning of this blog post may generally be true, the strengthening of our nerves and skill that is produced by antagonists is only apparent when the ego is such that it allows such learning lessons to be acknowledged and absorbed.

Otherwise, people just end up creating scenarios of themselves versus the world and in such cases, it is always better to bet on the world.  In other cases, they just end up bitter as illustrated here in this delightful quote from

Despair.Com - Bitterness: Never be afraid to share your dreams with the world, because there's nothing the world loves more than the taste of really sweet dreams.

The Bottom Line

Life has enough complexities as it is and there are many times when we wished that there were more powerful people in our corner.

In such situations, I think we are better off choosing our allies carefully, lest our thoughts, words and actions produce the exact opposite effect, creating antagonists or enemies when we least need them.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


PS In the blog post Answering The Cry For Help, I referred to the true story of a predator who was assaulting and in some cases, extorting things from women once they had been put in compromising situations.

The warning of choosing enemies wisely extends in these situations also.  People who exist to hurt others shouldn’t forget that they will eventually run into someone more powerful than they are and that their actions are creating very powerful enemies that will eventually produce justice.

It’s only matter of time.

Our thoughts, words and actions produce a steady stream of allies, antagonists or people who are neutral to us.

We must choose wisely in order to maximize the nature of the people we create around us.  They will, after all, often decide the result that we produce in our Life.

We should choose as if our Life, personal or professional, depends on it.

Because it does.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Terror: Vulnerability Through Decent Acts

We try to be real nice and friendly to people, but sometimes they take advantage of that. - Layne Staley

Sometimes you try to help people, and it backfires on you, and then they try to take advantage of you. - Bill Cosby

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

It had been a long day and Jim stood wearily in the TSA security line at Newark International Airport, a bag slung over his shoulder and a large, framed Ansel Adams photo in his right hand.  When his turn arrived for his security check, he dutifully slung his bag, the photo, his shoes and his belt on the conveyor belt, flashed his boarding pass and proceeded to walk through the magnetometer.

As he stood on the exit side of the x-ray machine, a TSA agent approached him with his Ansel Adams photo.  “The photo is too large to pass through the x-ray machine”, she said, “May I inspect it by hand?”

“Of course”, Jim replied and with that permission, the TSA agent carefully slit the package open.  As she inspected the photo, Jim’s heart sank.  He realized that a large photo with a metal frame (that could be broken apart and used as knives), glass on the front instead of plastic (which could also be broken apart) and the picture wire (which could be used as a garrotte) were all present.  His prized photo was sure to be rejected as acceptable for carry on and would thus be condemned to a certain death as checked luggage.

“It’s all fine”, the TSA agent said, smiling. “Let me tape this back up for you.”  Taking a role of tape with a TSA holographic logo on it, she slipped a couple of wraps of tape around the photo, handed it to Jim and with a smile, wished him a safe flight.

Jim thanked her and 30 minutes later, was sound asleep on a flight bound for Toronto.

Two hours later after an uneventful flight and an equally uneventful stop at Canada Customs, he found himself once again in a security line for his connecting flight in Canada.  He was surprised that once one went through border inspection, one was outside of the secure zone and had to go through security again for connecting flights.

When it was his turn, he offered his Ansel Adams photo to security and made an observation that it was likely to be too large for x-ray as noted in Newark and would therefore need to be inspected by hand.

“No need”, the security individual replied.  “It has the TSA tape on it and therefore doesn’t need to be inspected by us.”.  With that, he passed the photo around security to waiting personnel at the end of the security zone.

Jim frowned but said nothing as he proceeded to go through the magnetometer.  He waited for his bag to come through x-ray for a while and noticed the equipment operator frown as his bag was repeatedly backed up on the conveyor belt and x-rayed again.

“Is there a problem?”, asked Jim.

“Possibly”, sad the operator, “We have mostly emptied your bag and something is still showing up on the x-ray that we can’t find.”  With that, the operator invited Jim around to view the screen and he politely explained what the different colors meant from a security standpoint.

“I don’t think you should be telling me this”, Jim said to the operator, who replied that it was quite ok.

Jim recognized the shape of the object in question as his spare laptop battery and pointed out that it was located inside a zippered compartment deep in the bag to prevent it from short circuiting.

With the security matter addressed, Jim left the security area and sat down to put his shoes on.

He was feeling disturbed now as he realized that he had carried a potential weapon on an aircraft and that going through security in Toronto, his package had not even been inspected because it was wrapped up by “magical TSA tape”.  He shuddered at the thought of what someone might accomplish if they got their hands on a roll of it.

At that moment, he looked up and noticed a member of the security detail waving a cleaning woman and her cart around security.  She quietly pushed the large cart to a bathroom entrance and went inside the bathroom, leaving the cart by the door unattended.

Jim frowned and thought “If the cart is passed through uninspected, all someone needs to do is place something on the cart before it enters security and have someone else take it off the cart after it has been waved through security.  In fact, the many acts of decency I have witnessed today may have put others at risk.”

Disturbed by this thought, he pulled out his laptop to send an email to authorities when he noticed an obviously nervous individual, sweating profusely and walking quickly down the corridor with a large box under his arm.

They locked eyes for a moment and Jim could see the animal look of fear and anger in the eyes of the person who stared back at him.

They both shivered.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background / Food For Thought:

All of the events actually happened to me and when I reported them to authorities, I was told to mind my own business because “I wasn’t an aviation security expert”.  I was surprised by this response because we as citizens are always advised to be alert and diligent when we see something wrong.

The final event … well …. that’s just fiction, isn’t it?

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 as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Greg Clark–Politicians and the Importance of Optics

There is an optical illusion about every person we meet. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective. Election and power are. - Cal Thomas

I was speaking to someone the other day about politics in the 21st century and we were reminiscing fondly of a time when politicians steered clear of obvious conflicts of interest, perceived biases and the like.  While we often believed they were dirty or up to no good, we gave them the benefit of the doubt until someone marched forward with proof to the contrary and the politician faded into obscurity.

In the 21st century, politicians seem to take a different tact, not only not caring about how they are perceived but almost daring the electorate to say anything about specific thorny issues or in some cases, actively shouting down those who dare raise the spectre that something might be amiss. Examples such as Hillary Clinton’s involvement with Benghazi come to mind.

A little over a week ago, I mused about Greg Clark, head of the Alberta Party, where I wondered if his message of being different than other candidates was authentic or just old spin from a new politician.  That post can be found here - Greg Clark–A Refreshing Change Or Just Another Politician?

In that post, I explained how I was intrigued and disappointed in how his words and his actions did not appear to be in congruence and I couldn’t figure out whether he represented a refreshing change that is desperately needed in the political arena everywhere or if he was just another politician telling us what we wanted to hear so he could get elected.

Like many politicians, I found myself sitting on the fence, wondering if I could classify Mr. Clark as an authentic, refreshing change or more of the same and then I noticed this poll.

Alberta Party poll

The poll shows Mr. Clark in a dead heat with the PC and Wildrose candidates, something I was intrigued by.

And then I noticed this little piece of information.

The poll was conducted by a small company in Calgary called BBOLD Public Relations.  That fact in itself doesn’t mean much until one examines things a little more closely and realizes that that organization once had an employee in common with the Greg Clark campaign.

That person is Stephen Carter, now a senior member of the Clark campaign and former President of BBOLD as noted on his LinkedIn profile.

Stephen Carter LinkedIn

When I tweeted about how intriguing and disappointing the optics of this presented, especially in absence of a truly independent, unbiased poll, some members of his campaign team responded asking me if I was making a judgement on his character.

I didn’t say it.

They did.

Mr. Carter himself responded with this tweet:

Stephen Carter tweet - .@HarryTucker @GregClark4AB Not sure what you are implying? Or why?

The response is disturbing because with it, I can’t tell if he isn’t smart enough to know the difference that proper optics makes or if he believes that I’m not smart enough to see through the lousy optics that this presents.

As we all know, statistics can be bent to anyone’s will.  They are often most (or only) believable when produced by people who have nothing to gain by what the data suggests or implies.  As a long time math guy on Wall St., I know only too well how to use data to manipulate public opinion.

And given this, it suggests to me that once again, politicians would rather brazen their way through lousy optics than avoid them in the first place.

The Bottom Line

When I made an observation about the optics of this poll, I wasn’t suggesting or implying anything about the character, morals or ethics of Mr. Clark as some people in his campaign suggested I might be.

However, when you don’t know someone personally, the only way you can attempt to understand who they are and what they represent is by the optics that they present to you as they attempt to define the interpretation of themselves that they would like you to have.

This should therefore serve as a warning that we need to be careful about the company that we keep.  Sometimes while we may be of strong character, the character we project is actually that of those who project it on our behalf.

And I think his campaign has a ways to go if his campaign dares to suggest that he represents a new wave of truth, honesty and transparency because from where I sit, he is starting to look a lot like the rest of the field – something we don’t need.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood.


PS Someone on Twitter shared this with me.

Twitter response - Consider these optics: 1.BBold is a PR firm, not pollster. 2. BBold founded by Carter. 3. He has often push polled in past

It raises many questions.

I leave it to you to find the answers.

Addendum – Alberta Party Comes Up Empty – October 29, 2014

The Alberta Party came up empty in all 4 by-elections in Alberta.  Oftentimes bravado is better directed towards more strategically positive thoughts, words and actions.

I wonder how honest the Alberta Party will be in its post mortems or if it will get distracted by the “second place is a win” mantra that many people embrace.

Unfortunately, in politics, there is only first place.  Discussion of trends, changing momentum and such is often irrational, unjustified, wishful thinking on the part of those who didn’t finish first.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola–Terrorist Weapon of Choice

Action cures fear, inaction creates terror. - Douglas Horton

Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

In a softly lit boardroom somewhere in the bowels of a non-descript building in Washington, DC, a group of people sat in silence as they listened to the presenter describe the latest data on the spread of the Ebola virus.

After he discussed the last data slide, he took a seat at the boardroom table in silence and allowed his presentation to sink in.

No one spoke for several minutes as the weight of the data pressed upon their minds.  News that they only had proper quarantine facilities for 9 Ebola patients at any given time was especially disturbing.

Finally, one of the Joint Chiefs leaned forward, cleared his throat and said “All of the data makes perfect sense to me except for one thing.  Why would there be a sharp increase in travel to the most heavily affected areas in Africa.  Wouldn’t most normal people prefer to stay away from such a disaster?”

The presenter stood up again and with the touch of a button, flashed a new slide on the screen.

“Allow me to answer your question this way, General.  What you are looking at, ladies and gentleman, are the flight itineraries of a number of Canadian, American and European citizens preparing to return home after trips abroad”, he said. 

He paused for a moment before saying, “There is only one slight problem.”

“And what is that?”, replied the General

“They all made extended stays in the Middle East, the Philippines and Somalia before proceeding to the heavily affected areas where we know Ebola infections are most wide-spread”, said the presenter quietly.

“Yes. So?”, demanded the General.

“What do you get when you combine a disease that is so contagious and has such a high mortality rate with a group of people who believe that dying in the name of their God gets them an automatic ticket to heaven?”, asked the presenter.

Deafening silence filled the room.

“My God”, someone whispered.

Suddenly the room exploded in multiple conversations as the General yelled “Get me the President now” into his cell phone.


Aaban woke to the sound of his alarm clock, rubbed his eyes blearily and attempted to roll out of bed.  The weakness had come upon him more quickly than he was told it would and he knew he didn’t have much time left.

He struggled out of bed, stumbled weakly to the window and pulled the curtains of his hotel room open.  Washington DC lay before him in all its splendor.

His cell phone rang as he gazed upon the buildings in front of him and looking towards the night table, he saw the caller id of his brother Aahil who was staying in New York.  He had wondered if Aahil, or James as he was once known, would have the courage to do what they were planning but they both knew that there was no turning back now.

He turned and stumbled back to bed.

There was no hurry.  He didn’t need to be at the White House until 2:00 pm.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background / Food For Thought:

As someone who has spent a lot of years in emergency preparedness and business continuity for various Fortune 25 and government agencies, I can’t help but be struck by the reality that no matter how much time, energy and money we spend and no matter how much assurance we provide that we are prepared, every emergency takes us by surprise and we end up creating a solution on the fly – almost as if we thought of every scenario possible except for just about any real-life one.

The number of beds that we can support for true Ebola-level quarantine does in fact stand at a meager 9 at the time I wrote this for a nation of 330 million people.

Watching the hysteria developing over events such as the passenger on a flight from Nigeria to JFK who died on the flight after a fit of vomiting, the lady who started vomiting at the Pentagon and then claimed she had recently been to West Africa and Frontier Airlines warning 800 passengers who were on the same aircraft (separate flights) as an Ebola-infected nurse made me wonder “what if”.

Even if an infection could not be spread for nefarious reasons, the panic created by a media engine that serves no purpose other than to entertain or frighten would be worth the effort for some people.

I am not suggesting for a moment that Ebola was created by terrorists.  However, any sharp strategy person takes advantage of opportunities when presented to them.  There is also something to be said about what other nations may do on the global scene if they see us become consumed internally with such matters.

The government needs to be more transparent in outlining our levels of preparedness and readiness. 

And we the people need to spend more time demanding better of our government and ourselves in terms of preparedness.

It doesn’t start with them – it starts with us.

After all, we are all in this together and for that reason, maybe, just maybe, we should spend more time working together.

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 as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Backcasting–Avoiding Disaster in Government and Business

Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it. - Hunter S. Thompson

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success. - Pablo Picasso

This blog is not a typical blog post but is in fact a paper that I wrote that some asked to see.  It is dry and academic - if you don’t like such things, please come back later. Smile

We live in a world that stands on the pinnacle of science and knowledge and yet despite our deep understanding of things such as human behavior, many things in the world, especially in the areas of business and government, continue to struggle with often-unpredictable results. Governments rise and fall despite their best intentions and businesses, despite their access to knowledge in the areas of business forecasting, customer behavior analysis and such, continue to surprise or disappoint people. Examples include the unexpected success of a small college-centric social media start-up that became Facebook and the quick demise of Blackberry, the company that essentially defined the smart phone market.

Why does humanity, with its access to knowledge, idea frameworks, best practices and technology, still appear to be executing randomly, with poor execution still as likely as strong execution? I submit that John Kingdon’s organized anarchy theory (also known as garbage can theory) explains this supposed randomness perfectly. I also submit that in understanding this apparent randomness that perhaps some of the randomness can be strategically removed to produce a better result.

In his book, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies[i], Kingdon suggests that one can recognize an organized anarchy as having the following characteristics:

  • Ill-defined goals, problematic preferences and inconsistent identities
  • Unclear technology
  • Fluid participation
  • Independent streams of solutions, problems, participants, and choice arenas

The difficulty with such characteristics is not so much the existence of them but rather who defines them.

For example, if a business or government leader has specific goals, someone who has conflicting goals or intentions might characterize the others as having ill defined or problematic goals. The technology within the problem domain may be clear to someone with expertise in that domain but may be unclear to others who have experience with different (not necessarily superior or inferior) domains.

When one thinks about the independent streams that Kingdon describes, it almost appears totally random as demonstrated in the attached diagram (click on the image for a higher resolution image).

Kingdon Theory

The diagram demonstrates the “Holy Grail” that comes into existence when all of the streams come together – the opportunity to create public policy or make decisions by governments or businesses respectively. Unfortunately, the diagram also suggests a significant amount of randomness present that makes such a Holy Grail elusive.

Some might suggest that one can simply observe progress along the different streams and prepare to execute as they coalesce, thus removing randomness from the process. Unfortunately, the streams themselves are quite fluid, shifting constantly and so predicting a coalescing of the streams is not easily performed given that the intersection point itself is not static along each of the streams.

In addition, I would like to add an additional stream to the mix, the stream being one of feelings, agendas or motives, both on the part of those whose execution will produce a result (represented as intention) and on the part of those impacted by execution (represented as expectation).

Given that all of these streams coalesce into somewhat of a random collection of events, intentions, problems and solutions, I believe the multiple streams are more accurately represented as a true garbage can as shown in the attached diagram (click on the image for a higher resolution image).

Garbage Can Theory

What are the possible ramifications of such random execution?

In a study conducted by Kathleen Tierney of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware[ii], Ms. Tierney posited that:

“Of the four key disaster phases or management tasks (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery), mitigation has been studied the least (Drabek 1986a) and is probably the least well understood.”

She went on to say that hazards to government and business that could be avoided but which are not are as the result of:

“Being at the ebb and flow of public and elite interest, and many alternate strategies, including various mitigation approaches, are available to deal with them”.[iii]

This suggests that disaster avoidance within government and business is almost totally random at best unless an equally random opportunity to address the problem arises.

Alesch and Petak, in their study “The Politics and Economics of Earthquake Hazard Mitigation” [iv], noted the following:

“Windows of opportunity are essential for hazard mitigation policy to be enacted. Windows can be pried open with enormous continuing effort but they open automatically in the event of a low probability / high consequence event that demands community attention.”

In other words, the best time to come up with policy decisions within an organized anarchy seems to arrive after a similar disaster has already occurred. This is cold comfort to those who have lived through the previous disaster. It is also complicated by the fact that even when the perfect window has arrived, it must be executed within constraints that exist at the moment in the areas of time, energy and money before the political will fades or the opportunity is diverted to some other perfect coalescing of the streams as described by Kingdon.

If we zoom in on governments for a moment, this problem is exacerbated with the knowledge that the problem or opportunity participants form three distinctive camps with three different sets of problems, solutions and expectations:

The electorate – wanting good schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure and wanting it immediately. Electorate needs are often immediate and of short-term duration, with voters tending not to look at the long-term picture.

The politician – wanting to serve their constituents as well as possible (hopefully true but not always) with their primary focus still being on getting re-elected in 4 years (or whatever the term of office is). Their focus on getting re-elected makes their horizon medium term in duration, acknowledging their electorate’s needs while recognizing that a single term in office may not be sufficient to answer to those needs (or their own needs in some cases).

The bureaucrat – wanting to execute their long-term strategic intentions without interference (and sometimes knowledge) of the electorate or the politician. This reflects a long-term need, often seeing strategy in 20-year windows or longer.

The difficulty of such a partnership is shown in the attached diagram (click on the image for a higher resolution image).

Coalition Theory

So the question becomes this:

If the results of our governments and businesses are in fact truly the random coalescing of all of these streams, representing the dark complexity of organized anarchy, what can we do to avoid an inadvertent total disaster that must be statistically inevitable if our execution is reduced to luck?

I posit that we need a more strategic approach to nullify the randomness that is so well-described in Kingdon’s organized anarchy theory. This strategic approach would have an almost “return-from-the-future” type effect that provides the strategy practitioner with an opportunity to understand the streams as they played out in the future and to work backwards from the end of the streams to identify where the coalescing actually took place.

While a “return-from-the-future” effect exists primarily in the realms of H.G. Wells or Hollywood, I believe there is a way to be accurate in predicting the outcome from random participants, problems, events and the like.

It is through the use of a process called backcasting.

Backcasting is defined as:

“Defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect the future to the present. The fundamental question of backcasting asks: "if we want to attain a certain goal, what actions must be taken to get there?" Forecasting is the process of predicting the future based on current trend analysis. Backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction.”[v]

The attached diagram illustrates a high-level mind map of backcasting (click on the image for a higher resolution image).


In the process of executing a backcasting process, one attempts to define a future state as having already occurred and then stepping backward, asking one’s self what has to have happened before the current step in order for the current step to occur. With the previous step defined, one then asks what has to have happened prior to that step in order for the previous step to have occurred and so on until one reaches one’s current state with its collection of participants, problems, solutions and other entities as defined by Kingdon.

The process of backcasting allows the strategic observer to remove the mystery from a future event by forcing the understanding of all the resources in play; knowledge, money, interdependencies and the most seemingly random resource of all, people. It forces the strategic observer to understand the motivators, intentions, intelligence, knowledge and other elements of the participants and in doing so, takes much of the randomness out of the equation.

How effective is such a process?

In March of 2008, the author of this paper, as a long time Wall St. strategy advisor, wrote a blog warning of the coming financial collapse in September of 2008. The blog, entitled “Financial Crisis[vi], publicly identified when the collapse would occur and named the two financial institutions, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, that would disappear as a result of the event. Financial institutions who foresaw the crash and who read blogs such as this one protected their assets while many people and organizations lost everything.

Meanwhile, in the months leading up to the crash, groups such as the US Federal Government and other organizations were predicting that the nation was on the cusp of greatness.

For example, on February 28, 2008, MSN’s real estate column wrote that “now” was the perfect time to buy into real estate[vii] , encouraging young people and renters with this line:

“Sliding prices and desperate sellers may seem to make this the perfect time for young renters to buy their first home.”

The Insurance Journal released a study on July 23, 2008 entitled “US Entrepreneurs More Optimistic on Taking Risks”[viii], where they noted the following outlook on entrepreneurs and business:

“Overall, their outlook is very optimistic,” added Donnelly. “People are choosing a new path of self-direction and welcoming what lies ahead.”

Less than two months later, most of these businessmen were wiped out.

And finally, the New York Times on January 23, 2008, quoted[ix] then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she described the US and global economy this way:

“Its long-term economic fundamentals are healthy,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the United States in a speech Wednesday at the World Economic Forum. She declared that President Bush had provided an “outline of a meaningful fiscal stimulus policy.”

The author of the New York Time article closed the article with this prophetic quote:

“As I write this, her speech is continuing, uninterrupted by applause.”

Months later, we experienced the worst economic collapse in world history with its remnants still affecting us today.

Having sat in many Wall St. and government meetings in the months and years leading up to the events of September 2008, Kingdon’s organized anarchy theory was prevalent everywhere. We were plagued by agenda-less meetings that invited people for no other reason than to make it look like they were contributing to “something”, even though without an agenda, why many people were present was a mystery to all of us and without a problem being defined (the pending crash), their contribution was unknown anyway. We executed meetings daily in blind denial of the events that were unfolding.

In the end, some of us recognized that garbage can theory in its purest definition was alive and well, but unfortunately, critical deadlines were approaching that the participants in the garbage can seemed unaware of or uncaring about as they focused on personal agendas that were meaningless and trite (and would mean nothing once the economic collapse arrived).

It was because many of us recognized that garbage can theory was in fact leading us blindly to the abyss that we switched to backcasting theory to predict the time, scope and scale of the pending event, factoring in the same elements as Kingdon describes but doing so in such as way as to remove as much of the randomness as possible.

In other words, garbage can theory will eventually produce a result but sometimes one has to take the randomness out of it using other theories when critical deadlines appear on the horizon.

By taking the key elements of garbage can theory, namely,

  • Ill-defined goals
  • Unclear technology
  • Fluid participation
  • Independent streams of solutions, problems, participants, and choice arenas

and my optional additional element of feelings, agendas and motives and evaluating them strategically using a process like backcasting instead of leaving them to the randomness of the garbage can, one has a better opportunity to make policy or business decisions that are more appropriate, more timely and more effective to the people they serve.

More organizations are recognizing the importance of finding time-sensitive solutions and are embracing the less random, more accountable results from backcasting, including but not limited to[x]:

  • fms - The Division for Environmental Strategies Research, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
  • Global Scenario Group
  • Institute for Sustainable Futures
  • The London Perret Roche Group LLC
  • Pacific Institute
  • POLIS Project on Ecological Governance
  • POLIS Water Sustainability Project
  • Tellus Institute - environmental research group that uses backcasting to develop strategies for sustainability
  • The Natural Step
  • Sustainability department at the Blekinge University of Technology
  • Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford, UK

Unfortunately, finding solutions to the challenges from garbage can theory increase public accountability and responsibility, something that often contradicts with the public intentions of businessmen and politicians. I wonder if this is why we still prefer the randomness of garbage can theory when more effective practices exist.

Only the writers of our history books will know for sure.

References (some links may be stale)

[i] Kingdon, J. W., Agendas, alternatives, and public policies, second edition, Pearson, 1995, Print

[ii] Tierney, Kathleen J., Improving Theory and Research on Hazard Mitigation: Political Economy and Organizational Perspectives (pp 367), International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, November 1989, Vol 7, No. 3, Print

[iii] Tierney , Kathleen J., Improving Theory and Research on Hazard Mitigation: Political Economy and Organizational Perspectives (pp 385), International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, November 1989, Vol 7, No. 3, Print

[iv] Alesch, Daniel J. and Petak, William J., The Politics and Economics of Earthquake Hazard Mitigation: Unreinforced Masonry Buildings in Southern California, University of Colorado – Institute for Behavioral Science – Program on Environment and Behavior Monograph #43, Print, 1986

[v] Widipedia, Retrieved from URL on November 8, 2013

[vi] Tucker, Harry, Financial Crisis, Harry Tucker – Observations and Musings, Retrieved from URL on November 8, 2013

[vii] Editor, February 28, 2008, MSN Real Estate, Retrieved from URL on November 10, 2013

[viii] Editor, July 23, 2008, The Insurance Journal, Retrieved from URL on November 10, 2013

[ix] Editor, January 23, 2008, The New York Times, Retrieved from URL on November 9, 2013

[x] Wikipedia, Retrieved from URL on November 8, 2013

Friday, October 10, 2014

Greg Clark–A Refreshing Change Or Just Another Politician?

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective. Election and power are. - Cal Thomas

Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant. - Charles de Gaulle

On Wednesday night past, I took a moment to pop over to the candidates debate in the riding of Calgary Elbow for the upcoming Alberta by-election. Whether I am a sucker for punishment or I still seek hope that caring, competent, public-serving politicians can still be found remains to be determined but there was something that intrigued me in what I witnessed.

Susan Wright, representing the Liberal Party was well spoken and served her Party well at the event.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she does very well in the upcoming by-election.

Stephanie McLean, representing the NDP, trotted out the typical agenda-less bashing (some of it personal), referring to the government as “corrupt” and a “regime” (with clear use of the word in the derogatory sense) and even going as far as suggesting that her PC Party opponent had entered politics for personal gain.

Gordon Dirks of the PC Party left me shaking my head as to how he could claim that “yes, the PC Party has screwed up many times in the past but now that Jim Prentice and I are in town, we are going to fix everything pronto”.  Miracles happen but when one has much of the same team … well …. you know.

John Fletcher of the Wildrose Party left me wondering how one could stumble through a supposed strategy that suggested that he would slash budgets wildly while investing more than any other party.  Mr. Dirk’s description of this as a “fiscal fairyland” made me laugh.

Yup …. three of the four candidates offered much of the same old garbage that is always trotted out in debates.

And then there was Greg Clark of the Alberta Party.  He answered questions without political rhetoric, techno-jargon, clichés and the like.  When it came to answering the question about where the money would come from for future projects, he was the only one who actually stated where it would come from instead of using the typical voodoo, magic, mass hypnosis or rips in the space-time continuum that are often trotted out in such debates.

I gasped when he was so open and honest about what was needed (and he was right).  Could it be that there was actually someone in the political arena who was willing to say what might be unpopular but which was actually needed in the Province of Alberta and could do so intelligently, strategically, competently and eloquently?

Could this be the refreshing change that is needed in Alberta politics (and politics in general), presenting a strong blend of public focus and business acumen to lead the Province moving forward?

Just as I thought that Clark did not (refreshingly) represent politics as usual, I saw this on his Facebook feed.

Greg Clark post

In a single statement, he shifted from promoting a strong agenda to resorting to the land of personal bashing that is so typical of candidates who have nothing else to leverage, promote or fall back on.

Could it be that in the land of democracy, a political candidate was attempting to tell another what he should do and that that person should be considered less of a person just because he didn’t want to do that which was being demanded by another?

If this happened in a school yard, we would call this bullying.

So much for role models.

As someone who has many gay friends whom I love, support and respect, I also wouldn’t appreciate it if someone said “wear this in support of them otherwise you don’t like them”.  I have a right to choose who or what I publicly support when I wish to.  If I don’t wear such a pin or sticker, it does not mean I don’t support or like them. 

In fact, I’m not aware of a direct correlation between not wanting to wear something in support of a cause and proof that I do not support or I am actively against such a cause.  To suggest otherwise is a weak-minded supposition on someone’s part …. or is politically useful.

And besides, this is a democracy after all.

So on the one side, Clark seems to represent a refreshing change that is needed while on the other, he falls back to the same old divisive, negative politics that has been part of the US landscape for years and which is now becoming more and more common in the Canadian political arena.

Could it be that Clark is being strongly influenced by the juvenile, self-serving thoughts and musings of Stephen Carter, his campaign strategist?

I hope not.  When someone of immense potential taints their offering with the same old negative campaign stuff that others without hope fall back on, it reminds me of splitting an atom.

Do it well and one can produce positive energy forever.

Do it poorly and one produces this:

Nuclear bomb

Unfortunately, explosions this large tend to take out the innocent as well as the guilty, the ignorant and the stupid.

Mr. Clark’s sharp, intelligent responses the other night offer hope that politicians can still be of the people and for the people and to be able to do so intelligently and strategically.

Meanwhile his Facebook post suggests that he has an alter-ego that does not serve all the people so eloquently or intelligently.

I wonder which side, the refreshing side or the same-old same-old side, will come to bear should he get elected.

The Bottom Line

It is not easy to offer one’s self for public service and I commend anyone who has the courage to step up and do so.

However, that being said, once one has stepped forward, the kudos and attaboys should quickly fall second to the important questions of “what needs to be done”, “why are we doing it”, “how are we going to get it done” and “how do we know”.

Because if we can’t do this proactively, strategically and intelligently, then we end up with more of the same old same old, with more valuable time passing by without solutions being offered, with potentially more problems being created and with the electorate becoming more disenfranchised with the political arena.

Many politicians throw many things at the side of the barn to see what will stick and to see if what sticks will resonate with the electorate.

Hopefully what Mr. Clark offers is a refreshing change in the political arena and he is not in fact throwing something else commonly found on the farm.

I think we need the type of refreshing change that Mr. Clark has the potential to represent.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


This musing continues here …. Greg Clark–Politicians and the Importance of Optics.

PS This blog is not an endorsement of any candidate present at the debate.  However, it is important that we apply an appropriate level of discernment to what political candidates offer otherwise we end up with a variant of this:

Propaganda - What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies right to our faces.

If we don’t apply an appropriate level of discernment in candidate selection, we can’t blame them for the results they produce because just as our finger of accusation points at them, our other three fingers are actually pointing back at ourselves.

Addendum – Stephen Carter responds – October 11, 2014

In fairness to people named in my blog, I always share responses that they make.

Stephen Carter shared this:

Stephen Carter response

Personally, if I were responding to this blog post, I would have taken the moment to say something like “we believe that the attributes that you noted about Greg will propel him to victory in the upcoming by-election”.  Such a response would have been strategically and politically astute.

However, such a flippant response deserved a flippant reply and therefore I couldn’t resist this little note. Smile

Harry Tucker response

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  During a discussion on Twitter a couple of weeks ago regarding the number of student spaces available in Alberta, I asked a serious question regarding how the Alberta Party would pay for their promises regarding education.

My question produced this exchange with Stephen Carter:

Stephen Carter - Funding Promises

Two points come to mind here:

  1. We should always seize every opportunity to promote or advance our agendas when provided with said opportunity and not cripple our efforts or the efforts of others.
  2. For Greg Clark – we are the company that we keep.  For a politician, making a poor choice can be very expensive, even if the resource detracting from his efforts is “free” as Mr. Carter claims to be.

Addendum – Alberta Party Comes Up Empty – October 29, 2014

The Alberta Party came up empty in all 4 by-elections in Alberta.  Oftentimes bravado is better directed towards more strategically positive thoughts, words and actions.

I wonder how honest the Alberta Party will be in its post mortems or if it will get distracted by the “second place is a win” mantra that many people embrace.

Unfortunately, in politics, there is only first place.  Discussion of trends, changing momentum and such is often irrational, unjustified, wishful thinking on the part of those who didn’t finish first.