Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Alberta Budget–Revenue, Spending and …. Productivity?

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. - Paul J. Meyer

The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager. - Peter Drucker

The productivity of a work group seems to depend on how the group members see their own goals in relation to the goals of the organization. - Ken Blanchard

As the noise dies down from the Alberta budget, the experts have weighed in for and against and the coffee shops have been filled with opinions (with various degrees of intelligence behind them), there is something missing from the dialog that I think someone needs to have the courage to lay out in the open, expose to the light of analysis and address.

Some say the thing that is missing in the conversation is a lack of diversification of Alberta’s revenue streams and there is some merit to this.  Alberta’s revenue engine could stand for some improvement / diversification / isolation from the boom-and-bust budget cycles that are common with primary dependence on oil as a source of revenue.

Some say spending is out of control and needs to be reigned in or slashed mercilessly but running a government has never been known to be a cheap venture and random or across-the-board budget slashing has rarely been known to produce a positive result of any long-term value.

Meanwhile, public sector unions (whose members, by the way, account for 50% of Alberta’s government spending) say the real issue is not money but the fact that they are overworked and need more people to make government more efficient.

Yeah – right.

Blind hiring has never been known to fix anything in the public or private sector.

There is, however, a four-letter word that people either ignore or in the case of this budget, give lip service to but do little to address.

That four-letter word is productivity.

The mere mention of assessing productivity in the public sector draws a cacophony of protests from the public sector as they attempt to drown out the people who correctly point out that cost is not the issue – the real issue is the nature of the ROI (return on investment) on the money that is spent.

And as a long time observer of human productivity (I cofounded and IPOd a company that specialized in the capture, expression and prediction of human productivity mathematically), I have always been fascinated by the hot potato that is public sector productivity.

Now to be fair, there are a lot of public sector employees who provide exemplary performance and results.  It is that group of people who keep governments moving and who provide the services that citizens require.

However, this high level of dedication, performance and results are not the norm and as someone who has consulted at municipal, provincial / state and federal levels (in multiple countries), I wonder when Alberta’s government will have the gumption to tackle issues around enhancing the ROI of the public sector.

Here are a few examples from my own personal experience (the entire list is too long to include here):

  • Senior municipal IT workers who freely admit that they switched from the private sector to the public sector because the pressure to deliver is less, they can work less and they get a better pension.  They are building a complex infrastructure for which no customer has been identified as being interested in it but it looks good on their resume.
  • The lady with the Absorbine Jr. addiction (she drinks it) who walks around zonked out of her mind all day but cannot be touched for a variety of politically-loaded (read: union) reasons.
  • The lady who had spiders in her office and when facilities management showed up to remove them, blocked their entry to protect the spiders.  The standoff lasted a week, tying up a lot of resources almost full time, until the manager forced her to relent (much to the protest of the spiders, I’m sure).
  • The lady in a hospital blood testing center who played solitaire on her computer while two people waited for a blood test.  The phlebotomists wandered around inside waiting for someone to be admitted while she played for a high score.  After an hour, she called a colleague and indicated that she needed to be relieved because she was run off her feet.  The people waiting in the room looked at each other, shrugged and shook their heads.
  • An emergency room that shut down for hours and took no patients while staff waited for lab work to come back for a specific patient.  Timbits and the like were brought in as nurses and doctors laughed and cajoled in the back.  When I asked the receptionist if it was normal to take no one from the waiting room while waiting for lab work to return for a particular patient and when I noted that it was insulting for a room packed full of tired, sick people to listen to a party going on behind the door, I was informed that if I asked again, I would be escorted out of the emergency room by security.  The lab work took approximately 6 hours to complete.

While these are extreme examples (and I state again that there are many dedicated, professional, hard-working public sector employees), we have some room for improvement.

Whether we have a little room or a lot of room is matter of perspective, insight and analysis.

When it comes to such analysis, the perfunctory self-analysis often conducted by many groups is of little value as is many of their recommendations.  It is ironic that oftentimes, such analysis either produces extra processes and procedures that hinder people and diminish their productivity even more or it results in a recommendation that more people need to be hired “just because”.

Unfortunately, self analysis has rarely been shown to be effective in any public or private sector scenario.

And in fairness, there is a lot of abuse within the system, both by people who work in it and by the citizens that they serve, and this adversely impacts the productivity of the public sector workers (the good ones and the bad ones).

Are we getting ideal ROI from our public sector employees?

How will we know unless we have the courage to ask?

The Bottom Line

Voters get caught up in the game of analyzing the budget from a spending versus revenue perspective and politicians and unions can skilfully and artfully dodge the equally important (and expensive) issue – the issue of lost or diminished productivity.

The dilemma is that to ignore it is expensive from a financial perspective but to tackle it is expensive from a political / PR perspective.

But if we don’t have the courage to tackle the productivity side of government spending / investment, the fiscal scenario of government will continue to get worse with every budget since spending is guaranteed to increase over the years while revenue will constantly be an unpredictable beast of boom or bust.

Unfortunately, we have a situation where our leaders don’t have the courage to tackle the issue, they don’t have the interest to do so or it serves their one personal interests and purpose not to. 

If it was their money, the sense of urgency would be greater, I’m sure.

In addition, by not addressing productivity issues, we are also ignoring those public sector employees who give their all every day to provide the services that citizens need.

Citizens and private sector businesses cannot survive with infinite borrowing while productivity lags, either marginally or precipitously.

Neither can governments.

Does it matter to you?

Are you sure?

Because if people don’t demand these conversations from politicians, then maybe the people don’t care enough either and would rather merely vent in coffee shops.

If that’s the case, the people get the government they deserve and are as much responsible for difficult times as the people in power that they criticize.

And then the demand for better is merely a wish:

Wishes: If wishes were horses then dreamers would ride. But they're much more like cattle, so best grab a shovel.

Wishes: If wishes were horses then dreamers would ride. But they're much more like cattle, so best grab a shovel.

What do you think of that?

In service and servanthood,


Related Posts

Addendum – Addressing Some Comments – March 29, 2015

I have received a lot of email from public sector employees who asked me to address specific issues.  Rather than answer them individually, I will respond to all of them in this addendum.

1. Why don’t you address issues in the private sector?

This post was intended to identify concerns in the public sector – concerns that are front and center given the discussions around the Alberta budget.  For those who claimed that this post praised the private sector as being perfect, if they read the post carefully, they will see that it does nothing of the sort.  I have noted concerns in the private sector in other blog posts.  The private sector gets many things wrong as well.  However, in the private sector, when an organization executes its productivity poorly, its reward is diminished profits, diminished market share, a diminished stock price and if it continues for too long, the company ceases to exist.  The public sector has no such worries or concerns – it has a safety net that the private sector does not have (with some exceptions).  The private sector is thus, for the most part and with some exceptions, self-correcting – the public sector is not and has no motivation to be so.  What is important to note is that just in the private sector, it is important to find what works well and find ways to emulate that in areas that need improvement.

2. Don’t forget the management of the public sector workers

A solution for assessing productivity strengths and weaknesses includes all levels, from the lowest level right up to politicians and bureaucrats (and even how citizens consume services).  Everyone contributes to strong or poor productivity and thus no one is exempt from analysis of productivity.

3. You can’t measure ROI for government entities because they don’t earn money

The return on investment is not only measured in dollars returned as is commonly expressed in the formula ROI = (gain – cost) / cost.  While this is a simplified measure for investment or capital spending, a return on investment can also be expressed in other forms, such as quality of service provided, the number of services provided versus what can / should be provided, the number of people providing a service versus how many are needed, the time required to initiate a service request response, the turn-around time required in providing services, etc.  There are a number of ways to measure and express this mathematically (non subjectively).

4. Assessing productivity is not as easy to do as you claim it to be

I never said assessing productivity is easy.  I said it was important.  There is a big difference.

5. Why don’t you offer solutions in your post – that would be more useful?

I don’t offer solutions here for three reasons.

  1. The solution for each area may have unique aspects to it.  There is no “one size fits all” solution that can be blindly applied to everyone in ignorance of data / analysis that must be derived first.
  2. Any solutions that could be provided would likely be lengthy and too academic for a simple post.
  3. The analysis and solution would likely be complex and require considerable time and resources.  Do you work for free?

I appreciate people who send me comments in a constructive or interactive tone. Rants or insults from people that such a blog is meant to disparage public sector employees come from people who resist change and thus resist the opportunity for positive growth.

The former serve the people of Alberta well.

The latter exist to delay change or to serve their own purposes – whatever they are.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

PTSD in Emergency Preparedness Planners–Why It Matters

When we feel weak, we drop our heads on the shoulders of others. Don't get mad when someone does that. Be honored. For that person trusted you enough to, even if subtly, ask you for help. - Lori Goodwin

It is as though some old part of yourself wakes up in you, terrified, useless in the life you have, its skills and habits destructive but intact, and what is left of the present you, the person you have become, wilts and shrivels in sadness or despair: the person you have become is only a thin shell over this other, more electric and endangered self. The strongest, the least digested parts of your experience can rise up and put you back where you were when they occurred; all the rest of you stands back and weeps. - Peter Straub – “The Throat”

In my role as a long-time strategy advisor, one of the exercises I have participated in on a significant level is emergency readiness / preparedness on corporate, city, province / state, national and international levels.

Over the 25+ years of my involvement in this arena, I have always been struck by the high levels of passion, knowledge, skills and intelligence that exist amongst the men and women who work around the clock, either in emergency preparedness planning or in the execution of a plan during times of disaster.

Now I am starting to notice something else in these same great people – exhaustion and the symptoms of a PTSD-like illness that is starting to spread through their ranks.

Imagine if this were your job description:

Emergency Response Planner

  • You will be responsible for figuring out how to save millions of lives in the event of a disaster.  The scenario may be one event or a combination of any number of events, either unrelated or triggered in a cascade-like series of events.
  • You will not be provided with enough resources to prepare people adequately for one event let alone for a number of events.
  • You will not be told which event is most likely to occur so you will spend much of your time assigning inadequate resources across so many scenarios that your solutions are likely to have little if any value for any scenario. 
  • You will learn that making things up after a disaster occurs is cheaper and easier than trying to solve all problems in advance.  It has always worked in the past as demonstrated by PR people and politicians who have successfully spun “we can overcome anything” messages after the event has passed.  Such messages make people confident of our solutions and cause them to overlook the reality that it was our lack of oversight that contributed to the issue or put them at risk in the first place, proving that this strategy is an effective one in emergency preparedness.
  • You will be rewarded for creating plans that are unproven and untested but look great in presentations.
  • You will be sheltered from people who poke so many holes in your plans that it will become clear that the plans are inadequate or totally worthless.
  • You will not be permitted to speak to family and friends about your work for fear of making them afraid.
  • If asked by the press, a politician, etc., to describe your work, you will explain how your plans and procedures are robust and effective but they cannot be explained for reasons of tipping your hand to a terrorist.
  • Your role will have some covert elements to it, appealing to the excitement of working on something that is “secret from the masses” while helping you feel that you are making a difference.
  • In the event of an emergency, you may be safe within our Emergency Operations Center.  There will be insufficient time to get your family onsite but you will be able to function as if they are not suffering so don’t worry about it.
  • You will be consumed by challenges night and day and will find it difficult to get them out of your mind during times when you should be focused on more mundane tasks such as relaxing with your family.
  • When you go home at night, you will pretend that Life is normal.
  • An optimistic outlook is critical for applicants.

Would you want such a job?

Would you be able to deal with the stress of such a job?

I doubt it.

What is the world of emergency planning really like?

I once led a meeting in New York where we were listening to actuaries and other experts project acceptable losses for different scenarios.  It was one of those meetings where one goes for a long walk afterwards and then calls a lot of people just to tell them that you love them.  They ask if you are ok and you reply yes but you are not really sure.

During the ensuing arguments over how accurate the numbers were, I noticed one actuary, Chris K., rapidly calculating something.  I interrupted the meeting and asked Chris why he wasn’t participating and he indicated that he had become fascinated with predicting the likelihood that our series of meetings was going to cause a heart attack, stroke or suicide in one of the participants.

We paused for a moment before resuming our argument.

At a leadership conference that I presented at a few years back, I had the opportunity and honor to meet a man who is a leader in this field and serves as an advisor to Presidents, Prime Ministers and such.  As someone who had been in the field much longer than I have, I felt that he would have some great advice for how to deal with the difficult information that flows across one’s desk and so I asked him how he keeps his sanity.

His answer was revealing.

“I try not to say sober”, was his reply.

Another time, a colleague of mine and long time participant in emergency preparedness planning in NY had to be repeatedly talked out of committing suicide because he couldn’t deal with the information that he saw.

The last time he reached out for help, none of us got to him in time.

Meanwhile the rewards, the compensation and the accolades are significant for those who rise to the top of the emergency planning pyramid and that keeps many people participating despite their concerns about what they are working on, the effectiveness of what they are creating and whether they are making a real difference at all.

And for some, ignorance is bliss.

Now it’s not like that for everyone

Some people see emergency preparedness planning as entertaining and challenging, like a three dimensional chess game.  They get excited when they breathlessly describe this process or that process, confident that they have created something amazing and useful as they amaze themselves with some cool algorithm, a pretty presentation or the like.

When people like me ask them difficult questions like “Why?” and “How do you know?” regarding specific elements, they get angry and comment that pointing out such things is not “part of the game”.

After that, people like me become their enemy because our “obvious pessimism” gets in the way of the solutions they believe they are creating.

They forget that pessimists are people who see no hope.

People like me are optimistic realists (or realistic optimists) – people who believe that an amazing future can only be created when we acknowledge the realities of our present, when we communicate those realities and when we invite everyone affected by those realities to co-create solutions together.

The difficulty in co-creating solutions is that politicians believe that most people couldn’t deal with the truth and so it is better to treat them like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and shovelling you-know-what in their direction). 

Most politicians are in the PR game and not the leadership game anyway and so this suits their inability to lead people to a better world in any measurable form.

Sorry … I have always called it the way I see it.

Meanwhile, a lot of very smart, very passionate, very well-intentioned people slowly melt as they create ineffective solutions within the unrealistic constraints defined for them and they deal with issues that the average human brain could not wrap itself around.

The Bottom Line

Those of us in emergency preparedness sometimes get overwhelmed with frustration when we are hamstrung by inadequate resources to tackle the issues before us while at the same time, we overhear stuff like someone complaining about things that don’t matter, like finding a pair of $200 thongs to match the bra they bought.

Despite our frustration, we do what we do because we passionately believe in the potential of the human race.

We do it because, as we watch our kids play in earnest or as they sleep after a busy day, we know that there has to be a way to create a better world for them – that it is our responsibly and obligation to do so.

We do what we do so that you can do what you do without worry of the future.

While many of us have heard adages such as “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” or “history teaches us that history teaches us nothing”, disaster doesn’t have to be our reality moving forward.

But in order for disaster to not be our reality in the future, we have to do something that humans are not traditionally or historically known for.

We need to be realistic optimists, acknowledging what needs to be done (or overcome) in order to create the potential we are capable of producing.  Maybe if more of us chose to participate in such creation, we could force those who deny such participation to acquiesce and allow / encourage such participation.

Maybe then, the great people working in this arena would finally receive the support they need to actually produce solutions that will make a difference.

If you would prefer to ignore what is happening in the world, I would refer you to more feel-good, mushy posts such as:

I hope they make you feel better.

In the meantime, a lot of people you will never meet will continue to work tirelessly and selflessly to ensure (or at least try to ensure) a safe, bright, optimistic future for you and your loved ones.

These people need our support, our cooperation and our collaboration in order for their efforts to be successful otherwise our future has the potential for some very grim realities.

This is not conspiracy – this is reality but it doesn’t have to be our reality.

Can we do better for them and for us?

Why or why not?

What happens if we don’t do better?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Public Relations–The Only Investment in Aviation Security That Works

The history of PR is… a history of a battle for what is reality and how people will see and understand reality. - Stuart Ewen

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. - Nikos Kazantzakis

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

In a meeting room at FAA Headquarters on Independence Avenue in Washington, DC, representatives of the commercial aviation industry sat around a large boardroom table.  They had been summoned to address concerns over aviation security and the rumors that such security was still a non-existent fantasy.

One by one, they answered questions from bureaucrats seated around the table.  The questions were direct and to-the-point and the bureaucrats asking the questions did not challenge any of the responses from the aviation representatives.

The Secretary of Transportation said nothing as he watched his team interrogate the aviation officials.  When the last of the questions had been asked and answered, silence pervaded the boardroom as he clasped his fingers together, frowned and pursed his lips.

After a brief pause, he leaned forward in his chair.

Clearing his throat, he addressed the boardroom.  “So after hearing all of the evidence presented by the industry today, the fears of myself and my team have been confirmed.  Despite spending billions on aviation security over the decades, we are no closer to preventing an explosive device from being planted on an aircraft nor are we any closer to preventing cockpit compromises similar to those that occurred on 9/11.  Am I correct in my understanding or have I missed something in your presentations?”

The aviation officials said nothing, some of them squirming nervously in their chairs while others stared at the boardroom table to avoid the gaze of the Secretary.

”So what you are saying”, he continued, “Is that while it is unlikely that a specific individual could be killed in a terrorist act in an aircraft, the likelihood that someone will be killed by a terrorist act is very high.  Is that what you are telling me?”

“That would be correct, Mr. Secretary”, said a voice at the other end of the table.

The Secretary nodded for a moment before responding.  “Do you realize that knowledge of such an inconvenient truth could derail your industry and cripple the economy of the entire nation?”

His question was again met by silence.

“Hmmmmmph”, grunted the Secretary, “That’s what I thought.  Well, if we can’t secure the aviation industry or any place where the public congregates for that matter, then we will have to promote things such that the people believe they are secure anyway.  In anticipation of this, I have invited some guests to make a presentation to those of us assembled here today.”

He nodded to the aide sitting at his side and the aide promptly stood up and left the room.

The aide returned a few minutes later with three individuals.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, began the Secretary, “The Secretary of Homeland Security needs no introduction.  I would, however, like you to meet two of the most brilliant public relations people in the nation.”

In a small street-side cafe in a city in the Middle East, two men argued passionately over their coffees.  One argued for quicker action against the infidel in the west while the other argued for a more patient, methodical approach.

Finally, the younger of the two men couldn’t contain his anger any longer.  “I don’t understand you”, he exploded, “What in the name of Allah is the value in training some of our best people in public relations?  We need fighters and not talkers.”

“Patience, my friend”, his companion replied.

“Patience”, he said again, his voice trailing off as his mind travelled westward and he wondered how his companions were doing.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Addendum – Humans – The Weakest Link – March 26, 2015

News about the Germanwings crash this week indicating that the co-pilot may have deliberately crashed the aircraft puts this aircraft on a shortlist of planes known to have been deliberately crashed by crew members.

In a strange twist of irony, the processes implemented after 9/11 that were designed to keep hijackers out of an aircraft cockpit may have kept the pilot out of the cockpit in this instance, thus preventing him from saving the aircraft from doom.

There have been other stories over the years of crew members suddenly needing to be restrained by fellow crew members and passengers after exhibiting behavior that endangered an aircraft.

It goes to show that when one needs to rely on the weakest link, humanity, that there are never any guarantees of safety.


Two themes are present here.

The first is that the aviation industry (or any public place for that matter) can never be secured as long as there is a human element present in managing that security.  We are always our own weakest link, whether it is in preventing explosives from being planted on aircraft, weapons being carried onto an aircraft or in preventing the wrong people from gaining access to the cockpit.  All are still realistic possibilities today.

The second theme is that if someone could be convinced by an insider to diminish action in favor of merely promoting positive spin as the government is doing now, then the risks to the aviation industry could be increased even further.

Meetings as described in this post have been taking place in the commercial aviation industry for years.

No results of merit in relation to true security have ever been produced and the aviation industry has resigned itself to acceptable losses of passengers and assets.  The use of statistics in promoting the likelihood that you will not die at the hands of a terrorist are accurate.  However, the darker side of statistics, that someone will die, are also accurate but are not promoted.

This is not something to be upset about since the reality is that the aviation industry cannot be totally secured.

But it would be interesting if the government and aviation industry admitted this instead of spending billions for security procedures and equipment that complicate the average passenger’s Life while leaving the trained, patient terrorist with plenty of time and opportunity to plot what they intend to accomplish anyway. 

The difficulty is that the truth is often so inconvenient for government intentions and agendas that many people are better off without it.  Most people couldn’t deal with the truth anyway so what difference does it make for them whether we know the truth or not?  Ignorance is truly bliss in today’s world.

Meanwhile, we continue to be lucky in the aviation industry.

I wonder how long our luck will last.

I had close friends who were killed by terrorists on 9/11, both on the ground and in the air.

They weren’t so lucky.

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.

The Critical Nature of Preparedness

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious. - Marcus Aurelius

Occasionally, I offer posts for a specific audience using this medium.  Unfortunately, if you cannot read this post, you are not a member of that specific audience although if you manage to decode the post anyway, please drop me an email – you have a skill of value and in demand.

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In service and servanthood,


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The 9 Principles of Giving (and Receiving) Advice Effectively

Wise men don't need advice. Fools won't take it. - Benjamin Franklin

For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counsellors there is victory. – Proverbs 24:6 (ESV)

Those of us who have been around for a bit can attest to the reality that we are often asked to provide advice on Life, work, relationships and the like whether we feel (or actually are) qualified to answer such questions.  Most of us who have been taught by Life (either at our request or against our will) eventually discover that we are often asked more questions than we ask of others when it comes to such guidance.

After a couple of very deep conversations this week, I got to wondering about the process of giving and receiving advice, the best ways to accomplish it and the  reasons for doing it.  In addition to my own conversations, as someone who spends more time than I should in coffee shops where free advice flows copiously and as an ardent observer of the human experience, I am fascinated by how advice is offered and accepted.

As I reflected today on the conversations I participate in or observe and I thought about the exchanges that went well versus the ones that failed miserably, I got to thinking that maybe a checklist of how to make the exchange more helpful might come in handy.

Here’s how my checklist would look for giving and receiving advice effectively.

For those who offer advice

  • Listen

You have been asked to offer advice.  What does the other person really need?  Why are you the person who has been solicited?  Are you  qualified or have you agreed because you like to hear your own voice?  Were you asked for advice or are you offering it without solicitation?  If not solicited, your opinion may not be relevant or welcome.  Listen carefully – solutions are often revealed early in the conversation by the person seeking advice.  And remember, even free advice is never free – do you (and they) understand the cost of offering your advice and whether your advice is accepted or rejected?  Time itself is of immeasurable value regardless of the advice offered and received.

  • Give counsel to the doubtful

Many people who seek advice actually know the answer to the questions they are asking but a level of self-doubt or hesitation has set in.  Don’t presume that just because you are being asked for help that the other person doesn’t know what they are doing or what they need.  It is possible they just need an affirmation of self-worth or value.

  • Instruct the ignorant

Ignorance comes in multiple forms and may exist as lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, lack of Life experience or plain old stupidity that needs to be corrected.  Understanding the difference is tremendously important when it comes to understanding the type of advice being offered and how it is being delivered.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.  Don’t send someone spinning in the wrong direction because your voice of authority and Life experience doesn’t have the humility to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t help you”.

  • Admonish sinners

When people screw up, you have to be direct and tell them so when asked (and sometimes, even if not asked).  Candy coating answers is likely to send a message that their mistake was minor enough that repeating it is acceptable when doing so may be fatal.

  • Comfort the afflicted

The strongest of people need support whether they admit it or not.  Words of support that lift rather than tear down are important.  Even those whom you believe have everything going perfectly in their lives need to hear and feel “the love” more than you realize.  However, don’t insist on comforting the ignorant who don’t accept advice well (or at all) while they keep coming back to your well of knowledge.

  • Forgive offenses

People make mistakes, especially the people offering advice.  It is because those who offer advice have made mistakes that their advice is so valuable.  Lecturing from a belief in self-perfection does not work and is not helpful.  That being said, repeat offenders requesting advice and offending anyway should be approached cautiously, lest they manifest as the person who claims to want help but is merely a time-waster, a dreamer not grounded in reality or an emotion / energy vampire.

  • Bear patiently, the troublesome

Nobody’s perfect, being a product of their Life experiences and genetics.  If you had their Life experiences and genetics, you would be exactly like them in behavior and potentially in result.  That being said, don’t let that be a reason to become a whipping post for someone who would rather drag you down with them than follow your advice or those who insist on asking for advice while repeatedly telling you that you are wrong.

  • Pray for them

However you do it, whether it is actual prayer, positive thinking about them or their situation, or some other way, thinking about how you feel about them will impact the quality and intention of the advice you offer.  Negative thoughts will produce negative results for both of you.

  • Listen

The conversation is over.  Did you offer the right advice, the right way for the right reason?  Was it received well?  Was it acted upon or rejected?  Was it appreciated?  How do you know?

For those who receive advice

  • Listen

You have asked to receive advice from someone. Have you asked the right person?  Do they seem to care about you or do they just want to hear themselves talk?  For those whose opinion you respect, are you really listening or are you disrespecting them and their time by dismissing or rejecting the advice they are offering because you already know you are right and wanted them to say so?  Did you ask for this advice?  If not, does it still have value and if so, do you have the humility to accept it?  Even free advice is never free – do you (and they) understand the cost of accepting or rejecting their advice?  Time itself is of immeasurable value regardless of the advice offered and received.

  • Give counsel to the doubtful

Does the person offering you advice understand that maybe you just need some moral support or encouragement or do they talk over that need with the belief that you need to be told what to do and why to do it?  Do you point this out if it happens?  How do they respond?

  • Instruct the ignorant

As someone who has asked for help, you may need guidance because you have lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, a lack of Life experience or that you made a major mistake that needs to be corrected.  Do you have the courage to admit the difference and to know which one applies to you?  Does the person helping you know which one applies?  How do both of you know?

  • Admonish sinners

If you screwed up, you need to admit it.  Pretending you haven’t or being upset with someone who cares enough about you to tell you that you have screwed up is not going to help you get back on course and may discourage them from offering help in the future.  That being said, do not accept unnecessary criticism, unfair criticism or criticism meant to diminish as opposed to correct.

  • Comfort the afflicted

One of the greatest issues with pride is that we can’t ask for help when we need it.  We need to learn that asking for help requires more strength and courage than traveling a difficult path alone but produces a much greater harvest.

  • Forgive offenses

If you have made a mistake, it will likely be pointed out and you must accept responsibility for it.  As human beings, we need to be more gentle and forgiving with ourselves as well and accept that we make mistakes.  If we are repeat offenders, however, we deserve to be punished for it (whatever punishment means) and need to understand the reasons behind such punishment.

  • Bear patiently, the troublesome

When we ask for advice, we walk a fine balance between not wanting to be too much trouble for someone while at the same time, not presuming that a request for help is a bother to others.  Do you show that you are learning from those who offer advice and do you put those lessons into practice or do you insist on wasting their time for a variety of reasons known only to you?  How do you know?  How do you demonstrate to the person offering advice that you value it and are putting it into practice?

  • Pray for them

However you do it, whether it is actual prayer, positive thinking about yourself or your situation, or some other technique. think about how you ask for advice, how you receive it, how you weigh what is appropriate, how you put good advice into practice, etc..  How you feel about yourself and the people you ask for help will impact the quality and intention of the advice you receive and how it is offered.

  • Listen

The conversation is over.  Did you  receive the right advice, the right way, for the right reason and from the right person?  How did you react to it?  Will you act upon it or reject it?  Did you show appreciation and gratitude for it?

Whenever you ask a question, whether it be offering advice or listening to it, make sure that it stands up to the scrutiny of “Why?” (why am I saying this, why am I asking this, why am I doing this, etc.) and “How do I know?”.

Because if both parties cannot answer these two questions honestly and adequately, then the advice exchange will not produce the desired result.

The Bottom Line

We must always remember that it is easier to offer advice rather than to receive it and it is always easier to solve someone else’s problems (or so we think).  We must also pay attention to the exchange when solicited for advice because we may discover that we learn more than the person who asked for the advice in the first place.

We must also remember that advice comes in many forms and sometimes the greatest advice we will ever receive doesn’t come because it was solicited or from the sources we would have expected.

Sometimes we are qualified to offer advice.

Sometimes we are not.

It is important to know the difference.

We must remember that it is always ok to ask for advice as long as we appreciate and honor those whom we ask advice from.

And finally, offering or receiving advice must be grounded in true listening and true humility.  It cannot be offered or accepted properly without both in play at all times.

When I am asked for advice, people are often surprised by my directness, that I get right to the core of a matter quickly, specifically and in its raw form and during the exchange I call things the way I see them.

Such directness is not a licence to offend, to be rude or to be insensitive although those who are used to more passive conversations or who merely seek affirmation that they were right all along tend to react with surprise (or anger) when on the receiving end of such directness.

However, when they realize what my motivation is for getting to the matter so quickly and they recognize that a heart of humility accompanies my direct, inquisitive mind, they acknowledge that my approach is refreshing and was something they needed.

Do you have a specific approach to offering or accepting advice?

Does it work?

Is it right?

How do you know?

Someone in your world needs help or advice today.

Maybe it’s you.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS Outside of the principle of listening, the remaining 7 principles are from the The Spiritual Works of Mercy as listed in the Roman Catholic Daily Missal (1962 edition).

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Brad Gushue – Leadership (Or Not) By Example

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. - Ray Kroc

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself. - Henry Ward Beecher

As a proud Newfoundlander who suddenly realized that he was in the same city as the Tim Horton’s Brier (the premier Canadian men’s curling tournament) this year and as a big fan of curling (thanks, Dad!), I had to go down and cheer on Brad Gushue and the team representing Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the draw against Alberta, I watched him make what he later said was the greatest shot in his career, a practically impossible shot that left us shouting until we were hoarse.

And I watched him come back to the Newfoundland and Labrador cheering section in the arena, wave and smile to us and joke with a fan as he snatched her phone from her in fun and took a selfie as she cuddled up beside him.

As I watched this, I thought, “This guy is alright.  He showed incredible coolness under pressure and then came back and honored those who cheered him on.”

But after he went on to lose in the playoffs, including the bronze medal game, my opinion of him changed.

It wasn’t because he lost and failed to bring home a medal.

It was the way he explained his loss.

In comments carried by the Calgary Herald (Gushue loses, then trashes Brier bronze-medal game), the CBC (Brier bronze game ‘dumbest’ in curling, says Brad Gushue) and VOCM (Gushue doesn’t regret remarks), he revealed a different side of himself.

In those articles, he makes reference to not really wanting to play the bronze medal game at all, explaining that he didn’t care about finishing it but he would have been fined had he not and that the game is merely a cash grab for Curling Canada.  The night before he played the game he said “We’ll play hard. I don’t know how hungover we’ll be. But we’ll play hard.’’

Had those comments and others been made in the heat of the moment and then subsequently recanted, it would have been one thing.  But after a couple of days of reflection, he stood by them and in doing so, sent a message to his team, his fans, his sponsors, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and most importantly, to the young people that Curling Canada is trying to attract as they strive to bring in fresh blood.  The message is this:

When things go your way, it’s all good.  When things don’t go your way or if you can’t finish first then whining or quitting outright is an option.

And this makes me wonder if he is the kind of leader Curling Canada or the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should be standing behind.

The definition of leadership

The definitions of leadership that have been written about since ancient times are broad, varied and plentiful but they usually center around themes of perseverance under adversity, saying the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons, at the right time, etc.

For those of us considered leaders in our respective spaces, we carry a burden of responsibility to make sure that we are cognizant of the impact of our words and actions on others.  Even when we see the need for change (and leaders always do), there is a way to bring that change into effect.

Telling young people that “if you don’t like what you see, then getting drunk the night before and putting in a lackluster effort is ok” is not the way that change is brought about.

It’s not the way we inspire and create the next generation of leaders either.

The Bottom Line

Gushue had this to say about his comments:

I don't mind people criticizing me for being outspoken. I think I have a pretty good stature in the game now that sometimes when I say stuff, people listen, and whether it's good or bad, or whether my opinions are right or wrong, they are my opinions.

I would posit the exact opposite, that his good stature in the game is the very reason he needs to deliver his concerns in a more effective way, to bring about change if necessary and to establish a role model for young people when it comes to effecting change.

And for all of the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians standing by his comments and his attitude of defeatism (that if I’m not going to win first prize then I don’t want to win anything), maybe they will appreciate the diminishing effect that this support is having on the leaders of tomorrow – their own children.  Stop defending the actions of someone who doesn’t set a good example – it doesn’t reflect well on you.

Too many people would rather complain about anything rather than call upon one of their own, as talented as he is, to be a better representative of the great province that he represents and to be a better role model for future generations from that province.

Otherwise, if Newfoundland and Labrador should win their bid for the 2017 Brier and should Gushue find himself in the bronze medal game again, we can send another defeatist message to young people by soliciting his thoughts from some establishment on George Street the night before.

A strong leader constantly asks themselves questions such as these when faced with adversity and the need to effect change:

    • What should I do?
    • Where should I go?
    • What should I say?
    • To whom should I say it?

How these questions are asked and answered speaks volumes to everyone else, especially the leaders of tomorrow.

How do you answer these questions when times are difficult or when things don’t go your way?

Why does it matter?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


PS I saw a quote on VOCM where a lady said that her child noted that winning a bronze was better than winning a silver.  When she asked him what he meant by this, he said “You have to lose to win a silver but you have win to win a bronze”.  Remarkable insight from a young person.  Perhaps Brad Gushue could learn a lesson from this young person.

Examples of leadership such as demonstrated by Brad Gushue bring to mind concerns I have over the political leadership in the Province.  Ahhhhh … that’s a subject for another day. Smile

In the meantime, if your response to me is merely to whine against my opinion, don’t bother writing me.  You can use your energy to support Gushue’s whining instead. Smile

Addendum – A Study In Contrasts - April 5, 2015

The winner of the tournament mentioned in this blog post went on to the World Curling Championships as Team Canada and finished third today.  A member of Team Canada said this about their finish:

"We wanted to be playing (for gold) this afternoon so it still stings from last night. But you don't want to go home empty-handed. Last year, we stood out there at the closing ceremonies while everybody else walked up on the podium. That's the biggest kick in the head there is.  We found a way and we medalled and we can be proud of that."

This is a real leader, gracious in victory and defeat.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Reality of Statistical Improbability

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

Nothing is worth more than this day. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Robert sipped his coffee in the small coffee shop not far from his home as his eyes scanned the newspaper in front of him. “So much confusing news”, he thought, “How does one make sense of the world?”

He looked away for a moment to reflect upon the news when his eyes met the gaze of another man staring intently at him.  “A lot of bad news out there?”, asked the stranger.

“Seems to be”, replied Robert, returning his gaze back to the newspaper.

Moments later, the stranger sat in the chair across the table from him.  Robert looked up at the uninvited guest and asked “May I help you?”

The stranger ignored the question.

“All of this strange news kind of makes you wonder what the world is about, doesn’t it?”, asked the stranger.

Robert nodded, still unhappy that someone had chosen to enter his personal space uninvited.

“Picture this”, the stranger said as he smiled.  “Remember the day you and your wife met at the coffee shop?”

“I do”, Robert replied, now surprised, “How did you know that my wife and I ….”

The stranger held up his hand, interrupting Robert.  “Not important at the moment”, he replied as his glittering eyes stared into Robert’s.  “Imagine that at the moment you and your wife were about to meet for the first time, your cell phone had rung and in the process of answering it, your wife-to-be had left.  You would never have met if that had happened.”

“Interesting thought”, replied Robert.

“Indeed”, replied the stranger.  “Now imagine that just before your phone rang, someone had called the friend calling you, thus preventing him from calling you.  You would not have been called and therefore you could have spoken to your wife-to-be as you did and things would remain as they are today.”

Robert’s eyes lit up.  “I see where you are headed”, he said.  “Now if I take your thought one step further, if the person who called my friend was suddenly killed in a car accident at the moment he was about to call my friend and therefore didn’t call him, my friend would have been free to call me, I would have answered the phone and my wife would have left without me ever having met her.”

“Precisely”, replied the stranger, his smile growing.

“In fact”, continued Robert, “If I take that one step further, each of us are in fact a collection of infinite possibilities, with the potential for an infinite number of experiences at any given moment.  There is an infinite number of what-ifs that I could invent to either ensure that I meet my wife or that I don’t.”

“Yes”, said the stranger, leaning over the table towards Robert without breaking his gaze, “Please continue.”

“Well”, said Robert, “If that’s the case, then every event that I influence impacts everyone and everything that I can reach, which in turn impacts everyone and everything they can reach, etc.  The six degrees of separation in the world therefore suggests that everything that I impact eventually changes the entire world and that I in turn am impacted by everything.  In the closed system that makes up our planet, this would mean that we are constantly influencing each other and constantly creating new realities for everyone from a set of infinite reality possibilities.”

The stranger’s smile grew broader but he didn’t interrupt.

“But”, Robert said, pausing uncertainly, “That would mean that my wife and I got together despite the odds of an infinite number of infinite permutations.  If that is true, my wife and I are statistically more likely to have never gotten together than to be together.”

“Possibly”, the stranger said quietly, “What does this tell you?”

Robert paused and reflected on where his logic had taken him.

“I’m not sure”, he stammered, no longer angry with the stranger for having sat in front of him.

“If all this is true, how can this instant exist at all?”, he asked himself quietly.

“In fact”, he said a little louder, “How can any of this be real?  My relationship with my wife, my interaction with you right now, anything at all.”  His mind reeled at the possibilities …. or the impossibilities.

“Well”, replied the stranger, “The fact that we are here means that our reality has to be possible in some way, doesn’t it?  However, it does suggest that if you are more likely to be elsewhere than here, it sure makes you appreciate the rarity and uniqueness of this moment, doesn’t it?”

Robert nodded quietly.

He frowned, started to speak, paused for a moment, frowned again and then spoke to the stranger, “But if we are far more likely to not be here at this moment than to be here, it begs a question.”

He paused again.

“Yes”, said the stranger, anticipating where Robert was going, “Please continue.”

“Are you telling me that this moment in time is a complete collection of random events through time or that in order for my current reality to have happened, that someone had to have orchestrated it?  In fact, the latter seems to be the only way possible.”

“Not necessarily”, replied the stranger, “Just because we are here now, it is easy to assume that your reality was orchestrated because the current reality seems to be the only one possible.  I would suggest that the current reality is mathematically impossible and mathematically guaranteed at the same time, regardless of whether orchestrated or not.

The stranger paused for a moment before continuing.  “Now assume”, he said, choosing his words carefully, “That someone could tell you the future and based on this knowledge, you changed your thoughts, words and deeds in an effort to avoid bad things or to create a better world for yourself or others.”

“By doing so”, Robert said, seeing where the stranger’s thought process was going, “and in following our six degrees of separation theme, I could immediately change everyone else’s future without realizing it.  There would be tremendous power contained within that idea to make a better world.”

“Slow down”, said the stranger, raising his hand, “Let’s keep the scenario simple.  Instead of creating a better world for yourself and your wife, you might inadvertently change someone else’s Life, who in turn would change someone else’s until, much further down the chain, someone unknown to you causes your Life or your wife’s to be changed for the worse instead of for the better.”

“What do you mean?”, Robert asked.

“Assume that someone can tell you that you will be killed in an accident tomorrow, breaking your wife’s heart”, the stranger replied.  “You avoid the location of the accident in order to prevent it from taking place and in doing so, you have a conversation with someone you wouldn’t have met had you been killed in the accident.  That person has a phone conversation with someone else based on the exchange with you and so on.  The final person in the conversation chain is having the conversation on a cell phone while driving and being distracted as they drive, they accidentally kill your child as she crosses a pedestrian crosswalk.  In an effort to make your personal world better, you destroy it and in fact, destroy or enable other people’s lives at the same time.”

Robert said nothing, unable to speak as the enormity of what he was hearing struck him.

“Now widen that scenario so that anyone might be affected as a result of your knowledge of the future”, the stranger said quietly.

The stranger observed Robert with some amusement.  “In fact”, he continued, “such knowledge could paralyze you into choosing to never take action again, to play Life safe, when in doing so, the choice of doing nothing is in fact an action that changes the world anyway, for better or for worse.

Paralysis is often as evil as recklessness”, the stranger continued as he leaned back in his chair.

Robert turned his head and looked out the window, thinking about everything they were talking about as he reflected upon a better understanding of his own reality.

“By the way”, the stranger said, “You will be killed in a car accident on your home from here tonight.  Maybe you should stay here.”

Robert awoke from his stupor as he heard the warning, turned to face the stranger and was stunned to find … that he was gone.

Magog frowned and rubbed his head painfully.  The AI simulation known as Terra had suddenly stopped functioning, with many of its modules freezing for no apparent reason.

An image of Gog appeared in his mind as his research colleague reached out to him telepathically.  “I think the Terran simulation has an issue in it”, Gog said to Magog in his mind.

“I know”, Magog replied.  “This is the furthest we have ever gotten to simulating a global culture but something has gone wrong.  In fact, I think I have tracked it down to a piece of rogue code that for some reason started interacting with millions of modules simultaneously.”

“Virus?”, asked Gog.

“Either that or a lazy programmer”, replied Magog, “Either way, the entire simulation is contaminated or ruined by now.  I recommend that we start all over.”

“Good idea”, Gog said, agreeing with his younger colleague, “Go ahead and restart the simulation.”

“I’ll do it immediately”, said Magog before saying goodbye to his colleague.

Turning his attention to the AI simulation, he shook his head sadly as he thought about how far the Terran simulation had come.

“Such potential”, he thought as he used the neural interface to bring up the simulation menu in order to select the simulation reset option.

“Yes indeed”, he thought, “Such potential.”

His eyes fell on the simulation reset option.

And with a final thought, Earth as known to 7.5 billion modules winked out of existence.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


A lot of themes (some contradictory) are woven together here in a complex theme that includes but is not limited to:

  • the idea that Life may be a collection of random events
  • the idea that our lives may be controlled or predestined in some way
  • that the uniqueness and near-impossibility of our current situation makes our situation a rare treasure to be embraced
  • that knowledge of our future is not necessarily a positive gift
  • that six degrees of separation highlights how easily we can impact the world or be impacted by complete strangers
  • that our Life is a juxtaposition of that which is impossible versus that which is guaranteed
  • that choosing to take no action is in fact an action taken
  • that our existence may merely be as an artificial intelligence simulation being run by a more advanced species
  • that Gog and Magog destroy our world as documented in some theological texts.

Pick and choose as you please. Smile

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.