Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thinking in New Boxes

It is a cliche to tell or be told "think outside the box"  The authors of this book, Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny take a different approach.  No matter how hard you try you think in boxes.  It is almost by definition impossible to truly think outside the box, as everyone of us in effect operates from a box of personal limitations.  BUT you can think in new boxes.   They suggest a formula that does force you to stretch your view of the world outside your normal limitations.  In the end their method is to gently force your mind to create new solutions which are really just re-arranging details already existing in our world. 

Their systems starts with doubt.  The most basic things need to be examined.  What seemed like science fiction yesterday may be reality tomorrow (or may be already). Stage two moves to determining possibilities and setting questions.  Stage three they call Divergence which just means developing new ideas or boxes.  The fourth sage is convergence where the new boxes are analyzed and decisions made.  Stage 5 is the relentless re-evaluation as authors acknowledge the new boxes you created will sooner or later need to be replaced.

Of course the procedures are only part of what is needed.  You also need the right people (which might include a facilitator) and the right atmosphere. Let no one bow to hierarchy.  Linus Pauling is quoted, "The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."   A few useful suggestions are made, while acknowledging that circumstances vary a lot.  Below is one example of a mind opener.

Paraphrasing an attention getting quiz to help get the ball rolling.  If you put 20 volumes of an encyclopedia  on a shelf, that each volume measures  2 " wide with a cover on both front and back of 1/4" each, what distance would a worm travel eating its way from page one of the first volume to the last page of the the 20th volume?  The simple calculation is 50" and some more sophisticated people figure they could eliminate the front cover of the first volume and the back  cover of the last volume to arrive at the figure of 49 1/2 inches.  However the correct number is 45 1/4 inches.  Page 1 of the first volume starts at the right hand side of the text and the last page of the final volume is on the left hand side.  You might have thought you were given a simple arithmetic test, but the authors want the participants to expand their thinking.

There are plenty of examples from the past and some more recent.  One of the keys is to analyze what business you are really in.  The Bic pen people at first thought they were in the pen business, but someone suggested they were really in the disposable business and they went on to add profits from disposable lighters and disposable razor blades.  Another example that caught my attention was about the Metropolitan Opera who thought they needed to expand their revenues at first by either raising prices or expanding the number of seats.  Instead they multiplied their audience exponentially by offering simulcasts of their live productions literally around the world.  Another example used is about the Fosbury flop where an athlete had reached his limit for high jumping, but looked for another way and discovered that jumping backwards could improve the results.  There are many examples of new box thinking readers may identify with or see for the first time.

To find out the latest thinking of the authors visit their website:  http://thinkinginnewboxes.com/

Monday, June 16, 2014

Frankly, his comments are gutless!

A few days ago Stephen Harper was filmed commenting that he is just being more "frank" than others in that he won't do anything to jeopardize jobs or curb economic growth because of climate change.

I haven't tapped his phones or overheard private conversations but it seems likely his thinking or his public outburst is tied to that of his corporate oil supporters.  I agree it may be awhile before alternatives are available on a mass scale at affordable prices, but the time to speed up the process is right NOW.  It is not at all certain that there would be immediate job losses as in fact most actions would require increased human efforts.  The oil workers and all those tied into it (which indirectly includes a huge number of people) will not immediately be let go just because more solar panel installers enter the work force.

A few economic realities should be recognized.  Actions get more expensive when they are delayed.  Oil by-products are very likely to get more expensive, and so will the cleanups.  We shouldn't overlook the costs associated with pollution which include major health problems.

I prefer to believe scientists more than oil executives and politicians funded by them when they say climate change is real.  Most are still reluctant to link specific current weather anomalies to climate change, but I think increasingly the general population is becoming suspicious and will hold politicians to account.  Insurance companies just raise rates in areas they deem to be at greater risk.  Military planners now take climate change into account.

I admit I have mixed feelings about the Keystone Pipeline and the Northern Gateway Pipeline.  Banning them would be a strong symbol of serious anti fossil fuel political future.  I admit I own stock in both TransCanada Pipeline and Suncor and am reluctant to sell as I anticipate the prices will go up and the money will help my retirement. My anticipation of political and corporate resistance leads me to believe no matter what I or anyone says there will be a long transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  One factor of course is when the price of fossil fuels rises beyond the average household's ability to absorb, there will a greater push for renewables.  But blocking the pipelines by itself will do little to slow down use of fossil fuels.  At present, at significant risk rail cars ship much of the Oil Sands fuel.  China will make all sorts of efforts to make sure they get the necessary energy to keep their economy going.  If the powers that be insist on persisting with fossil fuels I hope I can weather the future with what resources I can command, but I would rather have normal weather with less pollution.

Ironically China is preparing itself for energy alternatives.  They are aware that pollution is choking their major cities.  They have undercut Americans on solar panels.  Can we afford to let them make a smoother transition than we will?

What Stephen Harper and other "leaders" need to do is analyze the reality of climate change and I believe they will realize it is THE challenge of a lifetime.  It doesn't take much courage to look at the immediate future, but frankly it does take loads of guts to think long term.  If Mr Harper were to have a conversion on his climate change views the corporate oil managers would probably switch to those  whose political platforms they support.  Eventually they will be not only numerically and morally in the minority, but even power wise.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A few thoughts on the recent Ontario election

I don't want to dwell on party policies which obviously had some impact on the June 12th election, but as a poll clerk I had a unique perspective.

On my two previous occasions  only one voter declined to vote.  That is a process that allows someone to specifically reject all available candidates.  I actually suggested it as an option to an elderly woman who was upset that she didn't like any of the candidates and felt they mostly lied anyway.  This recent election saw 8 declined to vote ballots at my one poll.  They were all quite adamant that they didn't like the candidate choices they had been offered.  Declined votes actually beat one of the candidates and tied another.  There was a low turnout that probably favored the winners.  It is possible that if a few of the decliners held their nose to vote for the lesser evil that the outcome might have been different.  I would like to make two points in two paragraphs.

Declining the vote is wasteful of an opportunity.  The local paper didn't like the choices either and didn't really endorse anyone, but suggested their readers should vote anyway picking the least offensive of their choices.  To me that would at least indicate to the politicians that a set of strategies and behaviors could attract votes.  Declining to vote indicates a dis-satisfaction, but also offers no direction.  Frankly some parties benefited from this decision and not necessarily the least offensive to the decliners.

The second point is that the procedure to express this discontent is unfair.  Like many poll workers I could guess who voted for whom (some people do give clues), but we really don't know.  Except for the decliners.  Their declaration is more public than anyone else who lined up to vote and part of the procedure requires the poll staff to record their name and the fact that they declined.  Some of them would be quite happy to announce their feelings, but really they should be entitled to as much privacy as any other voter.  As I already said I think declining to vote is wasteful, but I do respect voters who think that is their best choice and feel it should send a message.  Perhaps the option could be offered on the official ballot.

The three main parties carried difficult burdens.  The incumbents had committed a series of scandals that truly were offensive (the one where they legislated against horse racing tracks in favor of casinos was personally upsetting), but had changed the leader and had an attractive set of policies, at least for many voters.  The leader who actually triggered the election (and was a candidate in my riding) had been offered a lot of what she wanted and many supporters felt she blew her big chance to bring about desired policy changes.  Her platform was a little out of character for her supporters.  Many voters remembered the last time her party was in charge and didn't want a repeat.  The third opposition leader had always been gunning for another election  and used some attack ads.  His conservative policies scared many voters who remembered when his party was in charge with horror.  Other parties were considered very minor.  That was the choice that many found difficult.

As many readers might remember I dislike this first past the post system and as usual feel this election like almost all others demonstrates why.  The winners got only about 38% of the votes, yet now have the necessary 50%+1 of seats to rule.  All the other parties got disproportionately fewer seats than their votes would have justified under a proportional system.  One party that gained 4% of the votes failed to get a seat that would have given them a platform.

The numbers are bad enough, but it is worse.  All politicians know that the way to win is to concentrate on strategies to win over enough voters to be first past the post.  In a proportional system if they wanted to have broad based power they would have to appeal to a broad base. 

With only a 51% turnout it is obvious that many people didn't feel voting was worth the effort.  Many who did vote in fact voted "strategically" meaning realizing their preferred candidate was unlikely to win chose instead to vote against their feared candidate.

It is true that if my preference had gained power I would be less upset about the system, but in truth I have seen all parties disadvantaged by this system and at this time am reasonably satisfied with results as I could easily imagine a much worse outcome.  Ontario has its first elected female premier and Canada has its first elected openly gay premier and neither fact was a big deal in the election.

Scandal mongering

Republicans have an economic agenda that when examined has little appeal to the average person, but they sure can manufacture scandals.  With the moderate success of Obamacare despite the best roadblocks the Republicans could impose they are revisiting Benghazi.  I agree with Hilary, "What Difference does it make. " It has been examined to minimize a repetition and is on a much lesser scale than Republican mistakes in the same field.  Whenever news comes up it seems the Republicans scan through it looking for some edge and if they think they found it they start spouting off without needing study in more depth.

Not sure I am up to date, but two recent scandals have gotten my attention.   The Veterans Affairs and now the prisoner exchange.

The Veterans Affairs "scandal" is literally manufactured.  Not only have Afghanistan and Iraq generated serious injuries that were not predicted by those who engineered the Iraq invasion, but now Vietnam vets are aging and requiring greater  care.  Remedies have been proposed for this increased demand, but shot down by Republicans who are more anxious to reduce taxes and privatize.  It appears obvious that a certain amount of corruption was involved, but the financial stress is obviously a key factor.  It is grossly unfair that Shenseki had to be the fall guy.

Prisoner exchanges will always be awkward if you value the life of one of your own.  There is always a trade-off; if you aren't willing to give up something of value there is little reason to negotiate.  One of the legal realities is that after the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan they will be required to release prisoners of war.  Trying those in Guantanamo has proven to be difficult for a variety of reasons, including the use of torture and political pressures.  The White House saw an opportunity to get some value out of the prisoners.  They also have been maneuvering to develop political relations with the Taliban, with the hope that conflict could be resolved without violence. Aside from all that they need to be taken seriously that no one is left behind.

At this stage the general public does not know all the facts, but some are jumping to the conclusion that the exchange was all bad because the Guantanamo prisoners will come back to haunt the Americans and it was all done for a deserter.  I suspect there are a lot of nuances being overlooked and that some critics are rationalizing their outrage which in many cases was expressed in the opposite cause recently.

Bowe Bergdahl has been painted as a traitor.  Perhaps he didn't see things the way some of those back home see them.  Maybe he is "weak" or maybe he is conscientious.  From what little I have read he seemed very uncomfortable with how the war was treating ordinary Afghans.  Doesn't matter as his government put him in harm's way and has a responsibility to bring him home.  His father is painted as a weirdo with Muslim sympathies.  Not fair as most of us have never been confronted with his helplessness in wanting to protect a loved one under the control of kidnappers.

Snap harsh judgments are often wrong and show little real understanding.  Or a desire to understand.

If the Republicans put as much energy into improving jobs, education, infrastructure, health care, inequality they would earn the right to complain when it is called for.  As it is they are really trying to distract the voter with righteous indignation.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The importance of importance. How important are you?

Someone once criticized me because I was too busy, always trying to drum up business.  I was told that I must feel so important.  I don't see it that way--important people are asked for their advice, because it is respected as is their time.  Most of us are striving to become important so that at some point people will seek our advice (and to some degree pay for it). The truth is everyone has some importance, but all too often it is not recognized.

Real importance comes from the value you can give other people.  We all have potential and we all have talents and knowledge unknown to others.  Your opinion is sought by those who realize you are a consumer, maybe a voter.

Other people are important.  They have their own agenda and you should not assume you know what it might or should be.  If appropriate ask. They might be grateful or they might be annoyed.  Proceed accordingly

You respect that importance, not by trying to sell them the hottest new item, (or convince them you are right about some issue) but by listening to their concerns and determining their needs and offering them the best package you have if it is appropriate.  You develop personal relationships by understanding and respecting the thinking and feelings of other people.

These are things I have learned as a salesman, a parent, an employee.   I have not mastered the art of helping other people nor do I expect to, but I will keep learning and trying.