Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Newfoundland–Problem Solving and Accepting Basic Realities

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. - Soren Kierkegaard

Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she's unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures. - Seneca

When my grandfather was alive, he was once asked by a local merchant to build a chimney for him.  The local merchant had a reputation for ripping people off and many people warned my grandfather that if he built the chimney, the merchant would likely find a way to not pay him.

Undeterred, my grandfather built the chimney but when the merchant inspected the work, he created reasons why he wouldn’t pay for my grandfather’s efforts..

When the merchant lit his first fire in the fireplace, the smoke, instead of rising up the chimney, billowed back into the room.  A visual inspection of the chimney revealed nothing obvious that would cause this and the merchant called upon my grandfather to fix the defective chimney.

“Pay me first”, insisted my grandfather, “And I will fix it.”

The merchant reluctantly paid for the chimney, my grandfather climbed up onto the roof and dropped a large beach rock down the flue, breaking the pane of glass he had strategically placed across the chimney about half way down.

Some years later ….

One day when I was young, my uncle’s car battery had died and needed a boost.  My father and my uncle had a single piece of wire (not a set of boosting cables) but as his father before him, my father was not without a solution.

They connected the positive terminals of my uncle’s car and my father’s, pushed the bumpers of the two cars together (they were chrome in those days) and the dead battery was brought back to Life.

How did this work?  Because my father knew that the two vehicles were negatively grounded to the chassis (as they are now) and that pushing the two electricity-conducting chrome bumpers together would provide enough of a connection to accomplish the desired effect of boosting the dead battery.

Two hard-working, honest men, my father and my grandfather, who looked at the problem at-hand, accepted the realities of the situation and then solved the problem in classic, creative Newfoundlander style (Bell Islander style, to be precise).

I try to bring the same level of pragmatic, evidence-based, reality-accepting, problem-solving approach to everything I do.

And that’s why when I look at the current situation of my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I wonder whether any kind of hope is warranted.

The evidence at first blush says no.  Running massive deficits year-over-year is not a recipe for success and difficult decisions, always punishing one or more groups, are often “talked around” during election time since bad news doesn’t buy votes.

Providing schools to a sparse population spread around the coastline of the 11th largest island in the world seems impossible to do well.  With little money spread over a large area, it not only diminishes equal accessibility of education but potentially the quality of it as compared to other jurisdictions.

Maintaining infrastructure in an environment with so many harsh elements and long distances to cover seems as hope-filled as the dog who hopes to catch its tail.

With the Province at or near the top in nasty health statistics such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes rates, the healthcare system is also strained since, like education, it is difficult to offer high quality services to a few people spread across such a large area.

On top of that, layer on one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, diminished revenue from its primary source of revenue (oil) and have one of the smallest tax bases in the country demand the same level of services as found anywhere in the country and you have a problem.

And that’s just for starters.

Such things are exacerbated by the complexities that politicians and bureaucrats bring to the situation.

Politicians and bureaucrats, typical of any human being, bring a mix of intention and competence to their role.

They range from the intelligent to the idiot …

.... from the public-serving to the self-serving ….

.... from the servant leader to the purely selfish ….

.... from the informed to the misinformed to the uninformed ….

.... from the innocent to the conniving ….

.... from the strategic to the hapless dreamer ….

.... from the tactically astute to the random executor ….

.... from the evidenced-based to the “instinct is better than data” crowd.

And on top of all that, there is another grim reality.

Human beings (voters) are not inspired by reality and in fact, will often avoid anyone who reminds them of it.

Reality rarely buys votes unless it is good news and that is often hard to come by in economies of places such as Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, in such situations, votes can be generated by sharing unsubstantiated dreams of gold-paved streets or pegging bad news (real or perceived) on the other candidate.

We are inspired by hope of a better future, the promise of great things and the belief that all things can be overcome and we run from people who can’t give us this.

And based upon this, politicians sell hope and bright futures without having the foggiest idea of how they will accomplish anything or even if anything can be accomplished at all (and some have no intention of trying to accomplish anything, running for office for their own selfish needs).

Would you vote for someone who told you that we faced gloom and doom with the possibility that our problems can’t be solved at all but if they can be solved, will require phenomenal sacrifice on our part?

Most would not. 

Would you vote for someone who indicates “I have no idea what needs to be fixed or how I would fix it but give me a chance”?


And so we accept the promises of politicians in blind faith and without evidence and get frustrated when the next round of politicians produces the same result as the last lot that we just threw out.

Meanwhile, politicians discover a few things (or knew them all along):

  1. Things like economies pretty much run themselves and cannot be turned on a dime as claimed during elections
  2. Economies are not easily turned in a positive direction because of human interaction or desire
  3. Economies can be easily turned in a negative direction because of human interaction
  4. Reality doesn’t care what you think, especially when evidence is intentionally ignored
  5. Things we don’t like have reasons for existing which we unfortunately discover once we are exposed to the history of them
  6. Regardless of the state left behind by a departing politician and regardless (mostly) of the competence or incompetence of departing politicians, most find lucrative careers that far exceed the career potential that existed before their political career was launched.

The final point reminds me of the old cartoon showing a doctor and patient having a serious conversation in the doctor’s office.

“I have good news and bad news”, says the doctor.

“What’s the bad news?”, asks the patient nervously.

“You have one month to live”, replies the doctor tersely.

Shocked, the patient exclaims, “If that’s the bad news, what is the good news?”

The doctor smiles.

“See that cute receptionist out front?”, the doctor asks, “I’m having sex with her twice a week.”

News, good and bad, is entirely perspective-based in its definition and impact.

The Bottom Line

I have not found in the last 20+ years, a single politician anywhere, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, who can use an evidence-based position that the Province’s current and future situations are things to be feel comfortable about (with the exception of those who use politics to substantively grow their personal interests).

I have also not found a single politician who even likes to be asked for such things.

Fortunately for politicians, there are very few of us who demand evidenced-based answers and so we can be easily ignored.

I hear lots of rhetoric and shouting about having the answers while becoming angry with people who ask for evidence.

I see lots of finger pointing at the previous administration or the opposite side of the Legislature as the real reason why things are not working well.

I watch politicians who point at those of us who demand data and decry our “negativity” as a means of deflecting questions that are difficult or impossible to answer.  That’s like a car driver suddenly exclaiming to a passenger in a car, “Hang on, the brakes just failed” and having the passenger respond with, “Why do you always have to be so dramatic?”

As my father and grandfather before me, I try to look at the situation at hand, the realities and complexities of the situation and the evidence that describes my reality before coming up with a solution.

If I don’t honestly acknowledge my reality, I have no way of creating a meaningful path to a solution or a better future.

I wish the electorate would do the same because if they did, we might actually start electing politicians who aren’t afraid to campaign on reality instead of fantasy.

Meanwhile, Seneca’s words come back from thousands of years ago in timeless poignancy and appropriateness:  Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she's unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures.

I wonder if any politician could refute what I just wrote using evidence and deliver such a refutation in a thoughtful, respectful, evidence-based, solution-focused way.

Because any politician who can do that is the type of politician we need in larger quantities before we reach the tipping point where it won’t matter who we elect.

I think such people are out there (and there are a small minority who have already been elected) but the dirty, muck-raking, being on-call 24/7, thankless world of politics keeps most good people away.

I think we must do more than merely fret and complain about our reality and our future.

I think we must accept realities and demand that politicians speak to us in the language of informed realities and the language of evidenced-based solutions.

I think we must demand that politicians serve us and not their own needs.

There are many things that I think about but what I am more interested in is this.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Monday, November 20, 2017

News Alerts and the Complexity of #FakeNews

When you're young, you look at television and think, there's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. - Steve Jobs

Incompetence is a better explanation than conspiracy in most human activity. - Peter Bergen

A lot of people who are quick to share opinions and slices of their genius have pointed out that the easy way to avoid fake news is to avoid websites like Alex Jones’ with his conspiracy rants, be careful of news feeds from Twitter and Facebook and do other similar “intelligent” things.

It’s simple, they say …. don’t go to the websites in question and you won’t be deluged with fake news.

So imagine my surprise this morning when my Android phone received an alert that the US Marine Corps had invaded CIA Headquarters with the intention of preventing the CIA from overthrowing President Trump.

I don’t hang out on conspiracy websites and I don’t give them the tiniest slice of my brain so my phone wasn’t offering me a snippet of data from some feed that I frequent or subscribe to.

But somewhere, a Google bot that gathers my news alerts was fooled by the disturbing rant of a seriously misguided individual and sent me a conspiracy-laden piece of trash as an important news alert.

Normal, balanced, healthy people will look at such an alert and either calmly disregard it or casually saunter over to CNN to see if it is really happening.

Unfortunately, we are not all like that.

There are many who struggle with mental illness, many who fill their head with conspiracist garbage, many who are filled with hatred because of various inadequacies in their own Life and many who live in more than one of these scenarios simultaneously.

A certain percentage of these people are on a hair-trigger, literally, and their first reaction is to reach for whatever is in their gun locker. 

React first, think later.

Some of those people would have Googled the headline and received a lot of hits, thus confirming some internal bias that this must be true, failing to recognize that it was a bunch of conspiracy websites all cross-posting the same article.

If some misguided individual this morning reacted to the alert, confirmed it with a quick Google search (or didn’t bother), grabbed his guns (or hers, but statistically more likely to be his) and went to his equivalent of DEFCON 1, the media would be having a field day analyzing the trigger that started the whole thing.

Of course, a conspiracist might tell me the story was planted by the CIA as a means of dulling our minds to the truth, that a constant “crying wolf” feed will eventually be used against us in some way that only they understand.

I guess we can make anything fit our circumstance, need and beliefs, can’t we?

And while I am not a fan of censorship and I recognize the slippery slope that comes when we censor the obviously wrong stuff (how that is defined is a slippery slope in itself), I wonder how we can do better to prevent such information from being passed off as an alert of legitimate concern.

The Bottom Line

While I don’t believe in censorship in general, I believe there are certain things that shouldn’t be published, including things that promote abuse of children, violence against women, intentional spread of hatred, etc.

Most fake news are opinions cast off as news with an intent to send our brains in specific directions.  Such information and intent to use information in devious ways has been around long before Facebook, Twitter and the like.  On a side note, can you imagine PT Barnum with a Twitter account?

In such cases, the onus is on us to make sure our brain receives and interprets such information and intention correctly. 

However, when emergency preparedness people tell us that we should have mobile phones handy as part of our emergency preparedness strategy and that same device alerts us to something that is potentially problematic (but which isn’t true), then we need better vetting of what our devices receive and push in our direction ….

…. before someone reacts poorly to garbage alerts and creates their own genuine alert or we all refuse to react to something important because we don’t believe it or because CNN hasn’t gotten around to analyzing it because they are too busy running for cover

In service and servanthood,


PS I have friends who work at CIA HQ.  They report that all is well there and that it’s just another day of “getting things done”.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but I will leave that with the conspiracy crowd to figure out.

The real irony here is that if an emergency were really occurring, the mobile phone network would be too overloaded to be used as a means of obtaining important information, as I noted in posts such as Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance, but alas I digress.

Friday, November 17, 2017

#MeToo–An Incomplete and Inauthentic Dialog

No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one. - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. - Adam Grant

Authenticity is a virtue. But just as you can have too little authenticity, you can also have too much. - Adam Grant

I’ve been struggling with the #MeToo dialog since the Weinstein explosion first erupted.

It’s not that the conversation is not important in the wake of revelations of predatorial actions by people with deviant beliefs or supersized egos fueled by their need for unnecessary exploitation of power.  Such miscreants must be revealed.

It’s more that I find the conversation to be lacking or out of balance in some ways, expressed inappropriately in others and to be completely hypocritical in others.

There are the obvious public sources of confusion for me.

For example, people have questioned the morals of President Trump with his “grab her by the p___y comment” and yet welcome former President Clinton as a desired speaker despite credible accusations of rape against him and a long history of using his position of authority to exert inappropriate influence over women.

Clinton is, after all, much more affable than Trump – you’d be surprised how much this influences people’s perspectives about someone.

Senator Al Franken, who once expressed his concern over President Trump’s comment, now finds that he needs to defend himself against serious allegations that may be worse than a “mere phrase” (if you can call it that).  I wonder how many other Trump haters are lying in the wings, petrified of their own behavior being revealed.

I am also concerned about the potential of some accusers destroying the careers of others before allegations are proven true or relevant.  It seems that merely saying something can destroy a career without due process.

But as I examine my own career and experiences, greater sources of confusion arise for me regarding how long such issues have been incubating “in silence”.

Dave, a male client of mine at a Wall St. bank years ago, was notorious for belittling women and gay men and women.  One time he, a Senior Vice President of the Bank, called a female VP into a meeting.  When she arrived, he held out a sheet of paper and said “Here – I need 5 copies of this.”  After she complied, he told her she was excused.

Stop being hyper-sensitive, some might say – it’s just photocopying.


One day, Dave looked down the boardroom table and seeing Gary, a gay man with a ponytail sitting at the other end of the table, said, “I didn’t know we invited f*ing faggots to this meeting.”

We were stunned.

Am I still being hyper-sensitive?

When people reported Dave to HR, they discovered that he was more powerful than HR and that HR lived in fear that he might fire them.

He and his abusive, untouchable ways continued at the Bank for years until his retirement.

Meanwhile at another Wall St. client a couple of years later, I was consistently sexually harassed by my client, an alcoholic lush who seemed to need to sleep with every man in her presence.  I was to learn that there was a method to her madness.

When I got tired of it, I reported it to HR.  They first dismissed my concern, indicating that most men would feel flattered that a woman of such power and influence would want to sleep with them (a double standard for men facing harassment?).  When I persisted, they indicated that a review process could only be initiated if her manager agreed to bring disciplinary action against her.

Requesting such an action would have been tricky – she had had an extramarital affair with every manager she ever had at the Bank, including her current one, and so there would be no action taken against her for fear of personal retribution (the method to her madness is revealed).

She had slept her way to the top or as one fellow VP told me, she had “sucked her way to the top”.  Who was being more disrespectful, her or the VP with such an observation?

One time she brought in chocolate chip cookies on a Friday afternoon and distributed them to specific team members.  I fortunately declined.  I say fortunately because one of my colleagues called me from Washington DC the next day, totally freaked out and with no recollection of how he had gotten there.

It turned out that the cookies had been laced with hash and “other stuff” but it was “just in fun”.

Discipline against this woman was impossible.

She held sexual leverage over the only man authorized to do anything in the Bank and the police would do nothing without evidence.

Meanwhile …

I knew a bitter, man-hating member of NOW (the National Organization of Women) years ago who claimed that equality would only be achieved when women were in charge of everything.  She based this assertion on the general level of disrespect that apparently all men dished out to all women.

Then one day, as a group of us were walking down the street and passed a man walking towards us in track pants, she turned to a colleague and said “Wow – did you see the one-eyed trouser snake on that guy?  Look how he hangs in those pants – who wouldn’t want a piece of that?”

I called her on her inconsistency, that she demanded respect from the opposite gender while making remarks like that, and an argument ensued.

We never spoke again (by her choice).

Meanwhile in the media world ….

I’ve noticed over the last few years, a growing number of commercials that poke at the failure of men.

Examples include such things as handyman commercials promoting services to women to repair the incompetent work of husbands (or to do what their lazy husbands won’t do), alarm system companies describing wives complaining about the totally worthless system their incompetent husband insisted on installing, etc.

While some people may find such commercials amusing, as a man, I find them insulting.

How would women’s groups react if we ran commercials from the other side, describing lazy, stupid women who kept letting men down?

What would happen if we introduced racial or gender slurs into such commercials?

A windshield company in my area runs a commercial on the radio that ends with the catchy line “come in and show us your crack”, an obvious, intentional double-entendre.

If I went to that establishment, walked up to the woman behind the counter and said to her, “I came here to show you my crack”, she might call the police, depending on how I delivered the message.  It’s fun to say it but not so much fun to receive it.

Watching a national network TV program the other night, four women were having a discussion about the post-Weinstein world and agreed that it was time for all men to feel the sting and shame of disrespect.

Do they really believe that an eye for an eye will solve anything or that punishing all men for the disrespectful behavior of a minority of men is fair?

They concluded by saying that we need laws in place to prevent problems in the future.

We do which leads me to my next concern.

I remember a few years ago as salacious stories leaked out of the Alberta Legislature of highly inappropriate behavior by elected officials that included affairs between elected officials, elected officials and staff and elected officials and outsiders. I was shocked as the details made Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Dr. Seuss book.  Interesting romps around the world on the taxpayer dime, oral sex in men’s rooms performed by elected officials at official functions while their spouses waited outside and the like were astonishing and disturbing.

When I spoke to my elected representative about my concerns regarding how people could be compromised into doing the wrong things against the best interest of the people if these secrets were used as leverage, he replied that he understood where I was coming from but that sometimes values and ethics needed to be put aside for the greater good of the Party.

Not to be outdone, rumors of everything salacious under the sun occurring in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature are common knowledge, with the same mix of affairs between elected officials, elected officials and staff and elected officials and outsiders (including lobbyists).

It’s such common knowledge that no one cares.  In discussing it up with one elected official, I was told that you need to look past that and see the good in the person.  I argued that I wasn’t seeing the bad in the person but I was concerned about the impact on innocent families and the potential for a secret to be used against an official in some form of extortion.  My argument was rejected. 

Another elected official complained to me (why me, I can’t do anything about it) incessantly about elected officials sleeping with each other, sleeping with lobbyists and even using sex in exchange for legislative support but when I pointed out that they could do something to put an end to it, the response was that this could compromise their position in the Party or impact future election possibilities and so it wasn't a realistic option.

A third elected official told me that the elected individual having an affair with a staff member was really the victim and that outing the individual would hurt their family unnecessarily and unfairly.

I’m sorry – that person has already hurt their family unnecessarily and unfairly.

The family just don’t know …. yet.

Two of the three elected officials I mentioned are women.

Recourse is difficult.

Bring such news out in the light of day and you face SLAPP lawsuits, libel suits, etc.

Bring it to the press or some oversight group and you have to hope that they haven’t been compromised or you face the other possibility that the news is so common, that it’s a yawner of no interest to them.  One reporter to whom such stories were reported to did nothing because he was having an affair with communications personnel working for the person facing some of the allegations.  In another situation, an individual in an oversight group that protects women is best friends with many of the people being accused so justice won’t come from that corner either.

Meanwhile, the people on the inside who aren’t participating turn a blind eye towards such behavior, often for personal, selfish interests or perhaps they face the reality that someone has something on them also.

I wonder what those people would think if they were on the receiving end, if their husband or wife participated in such things (or were extorted as a result) or if their mother, wife, daughter or sister got caught up with someone of influence exerting unnecessary power with their influence.

I wonder what the legal system would think if a private corporation had such things going on and where such activity was encouraged or ignored.

And so the conversation is not as easy or one-sided as #MeToo would imply.

My point with all of this is that this is not just a “women being disrespected by men” issue.

We have some serious underlying societal issues that, while surfacing because of Weinstein, go much deeper and broader than one gender being disrespected by another.

We have been overrun by a lack of respect for ourselves and for each other, regardless of which gender we represent, and a need to exploit others for personal or professional gain.

And until we get back to respect for each other, regardless of gender, race, religion, financial status, skin color, etc., events like the Weinstein moment, while media worthy, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Bottom Line

The sad part of all of this is that as people observe the #MeToo conversation explode, many can relate to stories much worse.

It’s easy for Hollywood types or other public figures to come out and admit they’ve been assaulted, they have considered suicide, they have faced gender bias, they suffer from depression, etc.  They are worshipped and admired for their strength and courage.

The average citizen, unfairly and unfortunately, faces a much more difficult personal and professional battle making the same assertions.

Many people have observed such evil acts themselves and done nothing, either because they felt it wasn’t their business, someone had dirt on them, they didn’t want to compromise some potential gain for themselves or they were afraid of the repercussions of being vocal against ignorance.  Many of those who reach out to me with observations or complaints, having the power to fix it and doing nothing with that power, get little time or respect from me.

The more painful stories for me are from the people who have been hurt by the evil or indifference of others and could not find a way to bring justice and peace into their lives.

Many have reached out to me in recent months and shared their stories.

They are staggering stories of abuse, mistreatment and abuse of power by people who should be in jail.

However, they are helpless, either for fear of their job, for fear of their Life or because, as in my HR stories, the people in authority could or would not take action.

We don’t need revenge and anger in these conversations – this doesn’t solve much and will likely make problems worse.

We don’t need apathy and indifference, either because we are lazy or because standing up doesn’t serve our own personal interests.

We shouldn’t accept that people need to hide in fear while others use or abuse them.

We don’t need more legislation to prevent abuse – we have plenty of it already.

We do need an environment where victims, men and women, can feel safe reporting their pain, regardless of the nature of their concern. 

We need an environment where people are not forced into waiting for someone else to come forward first, creating a détente that produces silence.

We need an environment where observers can safely report pain when they observe it and where no one else within the environment will do anything about it (including the victim).

We need an environment where an individual’s power and authority, in business or government, doesn’t become a hammer under which people cower and refuse to stand up to them.

We need to acknowledge that not all men are to blame for all women’s problems, contrary to the point that one woman tried to make to me.  When she told me this and I countered with all of the work I have done with battered women’s shelters and the like for years, she said that denial was proof that I was more to blame than I realized or that I did so because of a private guilt I was struggling with.

Hatred has no logic or reasoning and must be approached with caution since ulterior or misguided motives may be in play.

I know of many situations where women have contributed to women’s issues, either being the protagonist in a situation or doing nothing when another woman was in trouble.  While this is the exception and not the rule, it happens more than we want to admit and must also be part of the dialog.

We need men and women of strong character, morals and values to stand together and out all poor behavior, whether it is perpetrated by their gender or the opposite side.

We need to listen more and be more aware of the plight of others around us.

We need to stop being hypocrites, accepting the hurt of others but only becoming angry if such activity ends up in our own world and affects us directly.  Whether we realize it or not, all abuse affects all of us directly … always.

We need to respect ourselves and stand by our values more often and with unwavering courage, because if our foundational values are poor or we are afraid to defend them, then we won’t see the problems developing around us (or our contribution to those problems).

We need to recognize that seeing the good in people is not the same as turning a blind eye to the bad or evil in them.

And until we have these things, Weinstein will just be the tip of iceberg.  Many will continue to suffer in silence while miscreants practice their twisted arts, relying on this silence to exploit others.

Meanwhile, others will take advantage of the noise and anger that has erupted for their own misguided reasons that have nothing to do with defending victims.

There are a lot of voices that are silent that shouldn't be and a lot of hypocrite voices that should put up or shut up.

Otherwise, we need to stop acting surprised, disappointed or angry when this stuff explodes or when we are directly impacted by it.

Because we will have been be part of the problem all along and not part of the solution.

Are you a part of the problem or part of the solution?

Are you sure?

Can you prove it?

In service and servanthood,


PS:  Readers who are quick to respond in anger regarding the notion that the majority of abuse is perpetrated by men against women are missing the point, should recognize that statistics aren't the point and that people who are in a statistical minority while experiencing abuse don't care that they are a minority.  The point is that we need a healthier world for everyone.

If we can't get to an agreement on that fundamental fact, then we will never solve the problems facing us because someone will always be facing oppression or abuse.

On a side note, I have a personal belief that we are karmically responsible for actions that we take and actions that we don't take that were within our reach.  For this reason, I believe that people who choose not to take action in the defense of others karmically owns the result.

Addendum - The Overreaction / Inappropriate Reaction Camp - November 20, 2017

In Sweden, women are reacting to the assaults committed recently by primarily immigrant males by announcing concerts where only women, trans-people and non-binary people only will be allowed.  This will allow them (so they claim) to guarantee that no sexual assaults will take place during the concerts.  I guess this also implies that gay men may be on the radar to assault women since they are also excluded from the concerts.

Such over-reaction would be akin to having a male-only concert where we would exclude women so that the "sluts and whores" present would not tempt us or a concert that excludes all immigrant males because we "just know they are all inherently evil".  The outcry would be significant (and warranted).

It goes to show that hastily embraced labels and generalizations that originate from overreaction or poor data create more divisiveness and problems than solutions.

But when has that stopped some people in the past?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Pitfalls of Poor Choice Selection

Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. - William Jennings Bryan

We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals. - Stephen Covey

Choices are the hinges of destiny. - Edwin Markham

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Abigail sighed as she climbed into bed and slid under the inviting bed comforter.  She had been straining for years to make some choices about her future and never quite seemed to make them.  Her Life was sliding away and she knew it and yet she still didn’t make the choices that she knew her Life depended on.

She reached over to her nightstand, turned the light off and buried her head under the sheets.

“What’s wrong with me?”, she thought, anticipating another long, sleepless night and yet, despite the restlessness of her mind, sleep came quickly.

Or so she thought, waking with a start.

“Trouble sleeping?”, a voice to her left asked her.

She turned towards the voice and a man was smiling at her, his eyes twinkling.

“My apologies”, he said, offering a hand, “That was rude.  My name is Gabriel.”

She shook his hand and replied, “My name is …..”

“Abigail”, Gabriel said with a smile, “Yes.  I know.”

Abigail frowned and started to ask him how he knew who she was when she was interrupted by the sound of children.

She turned to her right and realized she and the stranger were standing in a parking lot in front of a candy store.

A group of kids were running out of the store, chatting back and forth as the store owner locked the door, turned off the “open” sign and disappeared inside the store.

“Ahhhhhh, kids”, Gabriel said, chuckling.

“They are always a great source of wisdom, don’t you think?”, he asked.

She turned towards him and noticed that he was staring at her, still with a big smile on his face.

“I don’t know”, she replied, “I’ve never really thought about it before.”

Gabriel pointed to the kids.

“Take a look at these kids”, he continued, “What do you think you can learn from them?”

Abigail shrugged as she looked at the children in front of her.

Gabriel pointed at the first one.  “Take Tommy, for example”, he said, “He went into the candy store and not realizing he could choose anything he wanted, limited himself to something he didn’t like because he thought it was the only choice available to him.  He suffers from choice by limitation.”

“Or”, he said, pointing to the little girl beside Tommy, “Jenny, who got so caught up in the process of evaluating her choices became a victim of choice by indirectness and ended up being left with choosing something from what little was left after all the other kids had already made their choices.”

“Then there’s young Gerald over there”, Gabriel continued as he pointed, “who was so focused on choice by elimination, weeding out each choice by criteria that only he understands, was left with something he doesn’t like because he had accidentally rejected the better options with his excessive and unnecessary criteria.”

“I don’t understand”, Abigail said quietly as she watched the children.

“Sure you do”, replied Gabriel, “You’re choosing not to understand.  Observe.”

“Young Joel over there”, Gabriel continued, pointing to the smallest child, “didn’t make a choice at all and ended up with the last candy in the store even though he doesn’t like it, something I call the choice by default.”

“Little Vicky standing beside him had so many preconditions on what her choice should look like, something we call excessive conditional choice, that she ended up with a candy that she would gladly trade away for almost anything.  The only problem is that she has too many conditions on any trade and so she won’t find anyone who would want to trade with her.”

“Meanwhile”, continued Gabriel, “Bobby embraces choice by reaction, where he worked so hard not to choose something that someone else wanted or that would upset someone, that he chose a candy that he hated but at least he took comfort in the fact that he didn’t upset anyone.  Susan, on the other hand, using choice by consensus, asked everyone else which candy was best and ended up with a recommendation that she hated, fearing to act on her own needs and interests.”

“All of this from candy?”, Abigail, asked, “I don’t understand ….”

Gabriel silenced her by raising his hand.

“Patience”, he said, “I’m almost done.”

“Let’s see”, he said, scanning the crowd, “Who is left?”

“Ah yes”, he said with satisfaction, “Young William over there believes that orange gumdrops have magic powers and so he chose a large orange one using a process we call choice by adverse possession.  Data, while important, is ignored and thus he consistently produces poor results based on choices that don’t even make sense.”

He paused for a moment before continuing.

“And then we have one child left”, Gabriel observed quietly.

Abigail looked over the crowd of children and saw a young girl sitting on the step, sobbing with her head in her hands.

“Why is she crying?”, Abigail asked.

“She suffers from choice by excessive permutation”, Gabriel said quietly, “Otherwise known as choice by over-processing.  She is learning that when we spend too much time looking over every option incessantly or because we fear making the wrong choice, we often end up having all of our options removed from us for different reasons. In her case, she waited so long to make a choice that the store closed before she could make one and all of her options were suddenly removed.  Many times in these situations, we end up having choices made for us or as in Abigail’s case, we end up with nothing at all.”

Abigail gasped, startled by the mention of her name and as she looked more closely at the child, she gasped again.

She was looking at herself as a child.

She started to speak when she suddenly realized that Gabriel was walking towards the little girl.

He knelt down beside her, hugged her and then opened his hand to reveal a bright red gumball.

The little girl looked at him hesitatingly and he smiled back at her, nodding his head approvingly.

She took the gumball from his palm quickly, expressed a quick “thank you, mister” and ran off to join her friends.

Gabriel stood up and watched the kids run off with their candy.

Abigail walked over to Gabriel and as she reached his side, he looked at her, the smile never leaving his face.

“Not everyone gets a second chance when they make the wrong choices or in this case, no choice at all”, he said, his dark glittering eyes staring into hers.

“Do you understand what I’m telling you?”, Gabriel asked her.

“I think so”, began Abigail but she was interrupted by Gabriel’s raised hand.

“You’re thinking too much”, he said, “I can tell by the look in your eye that you’re about to embark on a deep analysis when the answer offered here is closer to the surface than you realize.  Act on it.”

Gabriel paused for a moment.

“Act on it”, he repeated, “No choice is a choice.  Delayed choices often end up becoming no choice.  No choice or an improper way of making choices will not produce the results you seek or deserve.”

Abigail said nothing for a moment, started to speak and then was interrupted by an unusual sound from behind her.

She turned towards the sound ….

…. and awoke with a start when she realized it was her alarm, beckoning her to return from the world of dreams.

She rubbed her eyes blearily, confused by her dream, and she reached over to turn off the alarm.

And then she saw it.

A shiny, bright, red gumball lay on the night table beside her cell phone.

To be continued.

© 2017 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


This post came to mind after a series of meetings this morning and listening to explanations from different team members as to why they were doing what they were doing.

It is also a long-distance dedication to V. and others who hesitate to make the choices they are called to make to maximize their potential.

Many of us avoid making the choices that really matter through one or more of the following processes (borrowed from The Path of Least Resistance and expanded upon):

  1. Choice by limitation - choosing only what seems possible or reasonable
  2. Choice by indirectness – focusing on the process instead of the result
  3. Choice by elimination - eliminating possibilities until only one one exists
  4. Choice by default - choosing to not make a choice, forcing a choice to occur by default
  5. Conditional choice - imposing preconditions on choices
  6. Choice by reaction – making choices designed to overcome / prevent conflict
  7. Choice by consensus - following the result of an informal poll that determines what everyone else wants or recommends
  8. Choice by adverse possession – choices based on a hazy metaphysical notion about the nature of the Universe
  9. No choice by excessive permutation – choices limited by sensory overload, causing no choice or a choice by default
  10. No choice by over-processing - taking too long to choose, devolving into choice by default (or none) – similar to no choice by excessive permutation.

Few people are direct and purposeful with their choices, whether it be in selection, execution and follow-through.

Are you one of them?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) 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 and is part of the Abigail / Gabriel series noted here.