About Frank Potter

Frank Potter, CMA, MBA; accomplished Professional Accountant with proven success in corporate budgeting/reporting, strategic planning, system implementations, process improvement and organizational change. Specialties:Budgeting, Strategic Planning, Process Design and Improvement

ARM 6 – Governance

The Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model has seven components; the sixth is Governance.

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Governance may be thought of as the first step in a process.  However, for Risk Management, it has the least immediate impact.  Nevertheless, Governance is a bridge between Long Term ARM Components and the Enduring Components such as Purpose.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management

Governance: Strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?

Governance has a wee bit of the People component because it includes leadership capacity.  Leadership is typically thought of as the C-Suite, the board or some other clutch of silver-back leaders.  Certainly these organizational elements are part of this ARM component but personal leadership, group self-direction, and good command and control elements are just as important.

ARM’s Length Definition

Does the organization have Governance and Leadership Capacity so as to develop, implement, monitor and validate initiatives which are in support of the over-arching organizational objectives?

Why Does this Matter

ARM stands for ‘Anti-fragile Risk Management’.  Anti-fragile was coined by Nicholas Taleb and if you have read any of his books you know that he takes a dim view of things like governance or strategy (for more on this see my 2016 article, Anti-fragile Strategic Planning).

Notwithstanding Taleb’s distaste and bias against suits, MBAs and strategy – these are the reality of any organization and Governance and Strategy will influence organizational risk and its mitigation.

Not-for-profit and government organizations share this risk and likely more so.  History is replete with examples of unsavory characters getting themselves elected (or grabbing power) and causing havoc for an organization or country.  At the same time, a good board and a good government can greatly reduce risks and capitalize on opportunities.

Returning the Taleb for one last time, in his first book ‘Fooled by Randomness‘ he discusses the role that chance (luck, probability) plays in our lives.  One of the reasons he has such a dim perspective of suits, MBAs, etc. is because it is easy to take credit for luck.  While this is true, his book also discusses the importance of ‘making your own luck’ (what I call Managed Serendipity) by establishing circumstances that are less prone to chance (the basic premise of Anti-fragile).  Having strong and capable leadership is one such element.

ISO 31000 Context

ISO 31000:2009 has a strategic focus and the importance of Governance is front and center through out the standard.  The following are a few references:

  • 2.11 internal context‘: internal environment in which the organization seeks to achieve its objectives.  NOTE Internal context can include:
    • governance, organizational structure, roles and accountabilities;
    • ⎯ policies, objectives, and the strategies that are in place to achieve them.
  • 3 Principles‘: a) Risk management creates and protects value.
    • Risk management contributes to the demonstrable achievement of … governance and reputation.
  • 4.3.1 Understanding of the organization and its context‘: Before starting the design and implementation of the framework for managing risk, it is important to evaluate and understand … the organization:
    • governance, organizational structure, roles and accountabilities;
    • capabilities, understood in terms of resources and knowledge.

ISO 31000 Risk Assessment Technique

Measuring the leadership capabilities of your organization can be a delicate matter. What happens if the CEO is a SOB, the CFO a crook or the Deputy Minister a political hack.  Documenting such limitations would be a career limiting move. Assessment techniques could include the following to provide some objective measurements:

  • Anonymous staff surveys.
  • 360 surveys of key leaders.
  • Decision cycle time.
  • Competency assessments for positions relative to the skills of the individuals in the role.

Examples of Risks

Risk Identification: The organization lacks the senior leadership capacity to operate and provide long-term direction for the organization.

Risk Identification: Turn over in the board has reduced capacity to establish organizational direction and planning.

ARM 5 – Planning

The Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model has seven components; the fifth is Planning.

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Planning may be a bit misplaced in the following diagram.  Certainly operational planning has an immediate (short-term impact) on risk.  Tactical planning has a longer time horizon.  Irrespective, good planning takes time to ramp up  and then implement the results.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management

Planning: Cliches, Babies and Bath Water

There are numerous maximums and clichés when it comes to planning:

  • Fail to plan, plan to fail.
  • An idea without a plan is a wish, a plan without execution is a good intention, a plan undebriefed is a future lesson to be re-learned.
  • Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.

Like any cliché, they all have an origin of truth behind them.  Planning is central to risk mitigation; after all someone has to implement changes to mitigate risks.

This ARM Component asks the question, is the organization any good at planning and is it getting better or worse?  The time horizon is purposely non-strategic meaning that the overall objectives or purpose of the organization are assumed to be relatively constant.  Wholesale baby and bath water planning is the next blog on Governance.

Planning to Define Planning Definitions

Sometimes people get in a bit of a muddle when it comes to terms like operations, tactical or strategic.  As a result I am using these definitions (adapted from ITIL) to define these terms (as well as providing a multi-colour visual aide!).

  • Task: takes less than a day or perhaps a few days to complete.
  • Operations: live, ongoing or extending into about a month’s time horizon.
  • Tactical: Medium term plans required to achieve specific objectives, typically over a period of weeks to months but generally a year or less.
  • Strategic: Strategic Activities include Objective setting and long-term Planning to achieve the overall Vision.  At least a year in length and longer.
  • Vision/Purpose: A description of what the Organisation intends to become in the future.

ITIL Based Planning Time Horizons

ARM’s Length Definition

After that little definition interlude – back to the main definition for this ARM component: What is the organization’s ability to identify, prioritize, initiate, monitor, close and learn from its planning activities through the operational and tactical time frames?

Why Does this Matter

The whole point of a risk management process is to ultimately mitigate risks to an organization.  Invariably the organization will need to make at least minor adjustments to its operations, implement new processes to sustain its products or react to an external event (e.g. change in legislation, market turmoil, social disorder, etc.)  The better, faster and more efficiently it can carry out these changes – and learn from its mistakes in the process – the sooner it can get back to normal (errr, assuming such a state exists).

ISO 31000 Context

ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines contains numerous references and entreaties to the organization not to separate the risk management and organizational planning functions.  The following one example:

  • 3 Principles
    • b) Risk management is an integral part of all organizational processes.
      Risk management is not a stand-alone activity that is separate from the main activities and processes of the organization. Risk management is part of the responsibilities of management and an integral part of all organizational processes, including strategic planning and all project and change management processes.
    • c) Risk management is part of decision making.Risk management helps decision makers make informed choices, prioritize actions and distinguish
      among alternative courses of action.

ISO 31000 Risk Assessment Technique

Assessing an organization’s planning capacity is difficult but it can be measured indirectly.  Unfortunately the methods discussed in ISO 31010 Risk Assessment Techniques are of limited use (although they augment the analysis from the methods discussed below).  As a results, methods to measure planning capacity could include:

  • Budget cycle: how long does it take for the annual budget process, bonus points for continuous budgeting.
  • Capital planning cycle: ditto to budget.
  • New Market Uptake: how quickly has your organization being able to extend, re-position or create a whole new market for its products.
  • Response to the last emergency: how well did the organization respond to the last unplanned thing (outage, break in, flood, fire, hack, etc.).  How much faster could the response have been.
  • Disaster Planning: ditto to the above but under a controlled scenario.
  • Initiative List: Does an organization know what is in the hopper for its operational and tactical activities, can it effectively prioritize them without forcing its people to engage in Guerrilla Management?
  • Approval Cycle Time: If the organization does have a list of innitiatives, how long is the cycle time to approve the activities?

Examples of Risk Tests and Mitigation

Risk Identification: A request for a sudden and one time increase in a product to meet the unexpected demand of a customer.

  • Evaluation/Analysis: W.E. Coyote Corp has requested a large order of widgets to meet an unexpected demand.  Can ACME corporation ramp up production to meet this one time need for widgets.
  • Stakeholders: ACME Corporation, W.E. Coyote, current customers, staff.
  • Measure: The ability to meet unexpected sales or alternatively lost sales due to lack of operational and planning capacity.

Risk Identification: A northern city in Widget-land is threatened by Wildfires.

  • Evaluation/Analysis: How quickly can the Government of Widget-land mount a response to a rapidly changing wildfire scenario (or other disaster) that threatens are large population.
  • Stakeholders: Government of Widget-land, affected residents, citizens.
  • Measure/Example: Time to respond, scope of the response, comparison of times and effort .

ARM 4 – Product

The Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model has seven components; the fourth is Product.

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Bringing a product or service to market can take seconds (if you are Amazon.com) to decades (if you are a drug company).

Anti-Fragile Risk Management Component Product impacts risks/opportunity in a medium term time frame.

Product: A product or service that the market/society wants?

On the one hand it may seem that this component is covered in prior ARM considerations such as Purpose, People or Process & Plant.  However, despite a good organization vision, fantastic staff and excellent processes – an organization’s product may still not sell.

The profit motive focuses the mind on which widget to sell or whether or not to exit a dying industry in a timely manner (with notable exceptions such Kodak).  Unfortunately for the volunteer and government sectors such signals may be less clear and as a result a decision to abandon a service, program or cause may be more difficult to make with vocal consumers of the service demanding its continuation at any price.  Governments in particular are at risk and may trudge on providing services rather than upset a  small but vocal minority.

ARM’s Length Definition

The ARM definition is simple to state but may be extremely complex and fickle to measure or plan for (ask your nearest Marketing professional how well they sleep the night before their next product launch): Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants and is this product the best way for the organization to use its resources to achieve its objectives?

Why Does this Matter

In a word, ‘cash-flow’.  Okay that is two words but it still is the biggest risk criteria.  If no one is buying your products – that risk trumps all.  If taxpayers are revolting because they do not see the value in the services being provided – that risk could be a change of government.  If donors have left in droves because you no longer speak to their social conscious – you got a big problem.

ISO 31000 Context

ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines references an organization’s products or services in with its overall risk management consideration.  In section ‘3 Principles‘, the principle that risk management exists to create and protect value is highlighted including contributing to organizational performance and product quality.  Section ‘2.10, external context‘ alludes to but does not overtly discuss the role of having viable products and services.

ISO 31000 Risk Assessment Technique

The methods discussed in ISO 31010 Risk Assessment Techniques can be used indirectly to estimate the viability of a product or service.  For the for-profit sector a good cost accounting system and an understanding of organizational brand or inter-relationship of one’s products in the market place is important.  For the volunteer or government sectors, detailed statistical analysis may give the reality or at least the illusion of evidence based decision making.  Ultimately, the final decision to provide, rescind or change a product is often political or socially driven – and thus the profound risk to these organizations.

Examples of Risk Tests and Mitigation

Risk Identification: The market for and profitability of widgets, ACME Corps primary product, is shrinking over the next five years.

  • Evaluation/Analysis: Relative unit profitability for each widget is declining and will continue to do so with foreign competitors entering the market and the ability to download for free widgets.
  • Stakeholders: Shareholders, ACME Corporation, current customers.
  • Measure: Direct and indirect unit cost as compared to price of the widgets, recent and anticipated sales volumes.
  • Example: A Delphi review was done in which future demand for widgets was estimated by leading industry experts.  This survey estimated a 50% decline in widget consumption over the next 5 years.

Risk Identification: The Widget subsidy program is now consuming 25% of all government revenues and is expected to climb to 300% in ten years.

  • Evaluation/Analysis: Due to an aging widget consuming population and generous allowance to purchase widgets, the Widget Subsidy Program is consuming an inordinate amount of current government revenues.  As the population ages, this proportion is expected to double each year over the next ten years.  Riots have already occurred in some cities of Widget-land in response to rumors of a reduction in Widget subsidies.
  • Stakeholders: Government of Widget-land, taxpayers, widget consuming seniors.
  • Measure/Example: Number of widgets consumed per capita, the widget subsidy as a proportion of all tax revenue.

ARM 3 – Process and Plant

The Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model has seven components; the third is Process & Plant.

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Changing process, buying machinery, installing software – these all take time which is why the ARM Component People & Plant has a medium term impact.  While your staff may be constantly on the look out for risk/opportunity it takes longer to give them systems, procedures or policies when things change.  This is demonstrated in the following diagram.

Changes to Process & Plant takes a little longer to take effective and support Anti-Fragile Risk Management.

Process: Knowledge to operate the systems?

The story so far is that an organization has discovered its Purpose, hired the right People and now needs to know what the heck these people are doing and are they doing it right!  The following are all examples of organizational plant and equipment. Each one requires knowledge of how to operate it through procedures, policy and of course organizational adeptness:

  • Machinery, buildings and land.
  • Computers, firewalls, networks.
  • Patents, rights, licenses and royalty agreements.

There are LOTS of books on not only risk relative to process but also on how to manage process.  Certainly one of the grand-daddies is the now classic ‘Balance Score Scorecard‘ by Kaplan and Nolan.  It introduces the concept of segregating (and measuring through key metrics) the business into four areas: finance, internal business, learning & growth and the customer.

No matter how your slice and dice your processes, this deductive process is the core of traditional risk management.  For Risk X, what process Y or asset Z is going to protect or mitigate the risk?

This ARM is Brought To You by Organizational Biology

Process & plant are all things you can drop on your foot or print off and drop on your foot.  Collectively all this foot dropping is called ‘Mass’ which brings us to our sponsor… ‘Organizational Biology‘ which describes how organizations work.  In a nutshell, organizations are composed of two parts, Mass and Adeptness:

Mass are the physical elements of an organization such as machinery, land, as well as intangibles such as patents and policies and procedures.  Adeptness is an ephemeral quality by which humans apply mass toward an organizational objective. For example, it can be the culture or gestalt that makes an organization attractive (or not) to work for and be associated with.

ARM’s Length Definition and Why Does this Matter?

The ARM definition for Process-Plant Component is: does the organizational have the tools to complete its objectives and do the people know how to properly use the tools?

This component strives to understand ‘How and What‘ processes an organization is engaged in and ‘Where‘ are the integration points between these processes.  A good first start is a listing of business functions that support an organization’s products and services (more on this in the next blog).  Quality processes will further define and articulate the business processes down to the point in which your staff are heartily sick and tired of being ISO-9001-compliant.

In other words, by spending time and effort on this ARM component, process and plant, the organization can better understand how its people are achieving the organizational purpose to deliver products and services.

ISO 31000 Context and Its Risk Assessment Techniques

ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines is full of managing process and plant including the following:

  • Section ‘2.11, internal context‘:
    • Policies, objectives, and the strategies that are in place to achieve them;
    • Information systems, information flows and decision-making processes (both formal and informal);
    • Standards, guidelines and models adopted by the organization; and
    • Form and extent of contractual relationships.
  • Section ‘3 Principles‘:
    • b) Risk management is an integral part of all organizational processes.
    • Risk management is not a stand-alone activity that is separate from the main activities and processes of the organization.
    • Risk management is part of the responsibilities of management and an integral part of all organizational processes, including strategic planning and all project and change management processes.
  • Section ‘4 Framework – 4.3.4 Integration into organizational processes’:
    • Risk management should be embedded in all the organization’s practices and processes in a way that it is relevant, effective and efficient.
    • The risk management process should become part of, and not separate from, those organizational processes.

Most of the ISO 31010 Risk Assessment Techniques can be used to estimate the impact of process and plan on risk.

Examples of Risk Tests and Mitigation

Risk Identification: Does the organization understand its internal business processes?

  • Evaluation/Analysis: It is not clear what functions staff are doing and how the contribute to the final product.  Staff claim to be very busy but the exact work tasks, the relative importance to organization objectives and authorization to complete them is unclear.
  • Stakeholders: Staff, contractors, management, the board.
  • Measure: Identify high level business functions, staff time reporting, production cycle time.
  • Example: Within the Ministry of Widgets, there is a constant request for more staff and contractors.  However the Deputy Minister is not quite sure what all his staff ‘do’.  Key services are identified and business functions are mapped to these services to determine which activities are of highest priority and which can be stopped, scaled back, outsourced or deferred.

ARM 2 – People

This blog dives into the second component of the Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model: People.  As a refresher, ARM has these risk mitigation components:

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Each of these components impact the organization on a continuous (short term) or periodic (medium to long term) basis.  The People component is considered short term. That is it is your staff, volunteers, contractors, etc. who are on the front line mitigating risks or capitalizing on opportunities.  Another reason to include the ARM risk component of People here is that things such as trust, loyalty or affiliation take years to grow and a very short period of time to destroy.

The ARM Component ‘People’ is on the front line of Anti-Fragile Risk Management and thus has a short term focus.

People:  Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?

Until the robot overlords force us all into the Matrix, People will be the second greatest risk/opportunity/uncertainty for organizations.  An example is the following classic cartoon that gets right to the heart of matter of cyber-security.  No matter how good the investments in technology human ineptness, malevolence or ignorance rules!

Cyber Security versus Dave (copyright and restrictions may apply)

This ARM is Brought To You by Organizational Biology

The name of this site is ‘Organizational Biology‘ which is my mental model to describe how organizations work.  In a nutshell, Organizations are composed of two parts, Mass and adeptness:

Mass are the physical elements of an organization such as machinery, land, as well as intangibles such as patents and policies and procedures.  Adeptness is an ephemeral quality by which humans apply mass toward an organizational objective. For example, it can be the culture or gestalt that makes an organization attractive (or not) to work for and be associated with.

Mass will be discussed more in the next blog when Process and Plant is considered. ‘People’ considers many different facets of organizational adeptness ranging from the board room to the shop floor and from the heart to the brains of the employee/volunteer.

Measuring Adeptness (NOT!)

Unfortunately adeptness cannot be directly measured because as soon as you can quantify adeptness it becomes mass.  Here is an example:

A master craftsman uses decades of experience to precisely machine a part.  He is adept in this task .

The moment the craftsman’s knowledge and experience is transferred to a computer program those same actions become mass (the computer, software, machinery, etc.). Beyond experience, adeptness includes innovation, creativity, informal communication, trust, loyalty, elan, esprit de corps and countless other adjectives that affiliation and organization pride.  Of course adeptness also includes the negatives of all of these attributes (e.g. stifled creativity, poor communication, hostility, disengagement, etc.).  Adeptness is not without its dark-side either as it can also lead to group think and conformity (read more on this in a healthcare context in my blog, the Healthcare Ethos).

Good, bad, light or dark – adeptness cannot be directly measured but it can be indirectly estimated through:

  • Organizational success (e.g. profitability).
  • Low staff, volunteer or contractor turn-over.
  • Social standing in a community.
  • Trust quotient or Metric.
  • Leadership and followership capacity/effectiveness.
  • Training and capabilities of staff, etc.
  • Organizational loyalty or affiliation.

ARM’s Length Definition

The ARM definition for the People-Risk Component is: does the organizational have the adeptness (people) capacity to carry out the objectives of the organization? 

Why Does this Matter and ISO 31000 Context

Organizational Objectives are completed by People (robot overlords notwithstanding) and risk often boils down to human error.  ISO 31000 alludes to adeptness.  For example the following extracts is from ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines:

  • Section ‘2.11, internal context‘:
    • The capabilities, understood in terms of resources and knowledge (e.g. capital, time, people, processes, systems and technologies);
    • Information systems, information flows and decision-making processes (both formal and informal); [editors note, emphasis added]
    • Relationships with, and perceptions and values of, internal stakeholders;
    • The organization’s culture
  • Section ‘3.h) Principles‘:
    • Risk management takes human and cultural factors into account.
    • Risk management recognizes the capabilities, perceptions and intentions of external and internal people that can facilitate or hinder achievement of the organization’s objectives.

ISO 31000 Risk Assessment Technique

Most of the ISO 31010 Risk Assessment Techniques can be used to estimate the impact of people on risk although Human Reliability Analysis certainly is much more focused on this one particular ARM.

Examples of Risk Tests and Mitigation

Risk Identification: The organization is unable to attract and retain quality employees (or contractors/volunteers).

  • Evaluation/Analysis: Despite a supply orientated labour market, the organization has trouble recruiting suitable candidates.  Once recruited, turn over is high and the organization is constantly re-training staff.  As well, staff are poorly motivated and require constantly motivation, supervision and direction.
  • Stakeholders: Executives, board (minister), customers (clients), management, staff (volunteers), regulator, etc.
  • Measure: staff retention, turn over analysis, employee satisfaction surveys.
  • Example: the industry average staff turn over for the qualified widget assemblers is 5-10% pa.  The organization’s turn over for assemblers is 50-75% pa.

Risk Identification: The organization lacks the management and leadership experience to enter into new markets.

  • Evaluation/Analysis: The experience and capabilities of management has focused on widget-exploration and there is little to no experience in widget refining – a key strategic objective of the organization.
  • Stakeholders: Executives, board (minister), regulator, etc..
  • Measure: Years of related experience in a particular expertise area on the part of all Directors and above.  Trust quotient on the part of staff in management.
  • Example: A survey or interview with the following question: ‘Describe your direct operational or management experience in the following business areas:’
    • Widget exploration: 1 – none… 5-ten or more years.
    • Widget transportation: 1 – none… 5-ten or more years.
    • Widget refining: 1 – none… 5-ten or more years.
    • Widget retailing: 1 – none… 5-ten or more years.

ARM 1 – Purpose

This blog dives into the first of the component of the Seven ARMed Organization: of the Anti-fragile Risk Management (ARM) Model: Purpose.  As a refresher, ARM has risk mitigation components:

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Each of these components impact the organization on a continuous (short term) or periodic (medium to long term) basis.  Purpose holds an unusual spot in that it is both enduring (very long term) and something that directly influences the next ARM risk component, People.  This is demonstrated in the following diagram.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management


Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?

Let’s face it, if an organization has not nailed this one – even a little – it has MUCH bigger problems.  This component is also directly linked to ISO 31000 in which risk is defined as:

  • effect of uncertainty on objectives‘.
  • Objectives can have different aspects (such as financial, health and safety, and environmental goals) and can apply at different levels (such as strategic, organization-wide, project, product and process)’. [1]

ARM’s Length Definition

At this point I am hearing a collective groan of having to sit through another Mission Statement and Visioning death march…. groannnnn.  Don’t worry, my ARM definition for this is simply this: is there a consistent and wide spread understanding of what the organization does?  Widespread is both top-down and inside-out.

Why Does this Matter

Numerous great thinkers have expressed this concept in different ways.  Stephen Covey discussed it as ‘begin with the end in mind (habit 2)’.  Jim C. Collins described it as getting people on the bus (next component) and figuring out where you want to go in his book Good to Great.  The key thing is that the objective builds affiliation and belonging.  It is easier to motivate, communicate, control, command and reward people if there is a clear end state.

Just as important, it is easier to change to a different purposes if you know what your current purpose is.  If not, you may discover that you never stop doing things and your purpose gets increasingly diluted in a grey-goo of good intentions.

A lack of purpose is the greatest threat (risk) to an organization and a clear and focused purpose is the greatest benefit (opportunity) to an organization.

ISO 31000 Risk Assessment Technique

ISO 31010 Risk Assessment Techniques lists methods from brain storming to sophisticated statistical analysis on how to evaluate and analyze risks.  Interestingly there is not a specific technique relating to answering the fundamental question, does the organization have the right objectives?  Certainly a number of the 31010 techniques can be pressed into service however, including good old brain storming.  Others noted below are Delphi, interviews and surveys.

Examples of Risk Tests and Mitigation

Risk Identification: The organization lacks a clear definition of its purpose in the [market place, government services, volunteer/social space].

  • Evaluation/Analysis: What do the following stakeholders think the organization’s purpose is and measure the relative deviation between them.
  • Stakeholders: Executives, board (minister), customers (clients), management, staff (volunteers), regulator, etc.
  • Measure: perhaps a sliding scale test on a number of measures.  Use statistical analysis (e.g. R Value) to measure relative differences between pairs or all-purpose statements.
  • Example: which of the following statements best exemplifies the role of the Minister of Widgets in the managing the affairs of Widgetland (1 = No Role and 5 = Central or core to the Ministry’s mandate):
    • Fund Widget Research and Development (1…5)
    • Regulate the use of Widgets in the home (1…5)
    • Provide education to children on safe widget use (1…5)

Risk Identification: The organization is engaged in activities or product lines it should shed.  For example it continues to run a data center despite the ability to purchase this service cheaply and reliably from the market place.  This risk builds on the above assessment but with a focus on what the organization should stop doing (as well, see my blog: Can We Stop and Define Stop).

  • Evaluation/Analysis: Using a Delphi’esque what business functions of the organization should it keep or divest.
  • Participants: Executives, board (minister), customers (clients), management, staff (volunteers), regulator, etc.
  • Measure: a listing of key business functions with a requirement rank them or identify whether the organization should Build, Hold, Evaluate, Divest.
  • Example: The Widget Corporation has identified 10 key product lines and support functions.  You have been asked to rank them according to the following measures: a) invest and expand; b) hold and monitor; c) carefully evaluate for potential hold/divestment; d) divest/buy in the market place; and e) I really do not know.  You must apply ‘a) – d)’ at twice to the following ten lines/functions and you can only apply ‘e)’ once.
    • Product Line A: Widget-exploration.
    • Product Line B: Widget-transportation
    • Product Line C: Widget-refinement and conversion to products
    • Product Line F: Widget Real Estate Holdings
    • Function: Information Technology to Support the Above
    • Function: Real Estate Management
    • Function: Human Resources
    • Function: Supply Chain Management

Seven ARM Components

This is an overview my thoughts on Risk Management.  Part I, “Guns, Telephone Books and Risk” discussed Risk Management as long lists of things that will never happen. Part II, “Anti-Fragile Risk Management” considered the concept of Anti-fragility in a risk management concept (ARM).  This included an overview of ISO 31000 – Risk Management.  The second blog also introduced the Seven ARMed Organization.  That is an organization that has mastered these risk mitigation components:

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

No Ordinary Ordinality

The Seven Components of ARM can be managed and worked on in parallel but there is a method in the selection of the order they are presented.  If an organization does not have number 1 (objectives) at least started or well in hand component 2 (people) and onward becomes much more difficult.

Number 6 (governance) may surprise some people with its placement.  From a Risk Management perspective, Governance has little impact on day to day risks.  This is not to dismiss or discount it – but to put it into context that it has longer term or enduring impact as opposed to being a short term influence on risk management.  This concept is demonstrated in the following diagram.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management

No Business Gurus Were Harmed in the Making of this Blog

The first six components have been fodder for a whole flotsam of business books.  My focus will be to provide a high level explanation of why I included the component and answer the question why this component is important from a Risk Management perspective.

A Dive into the Pits of the Seven ARMs

The next series of blogs will consider each of the Seven ARMs in a bit more detail.  At a minimum I would like to consider:

  • The definition of each of the ARMs.
  • Its linkage (if at all) to ISO 31000.
  • Why is the ARM important?
  • Example of Risks and Mitigation particular to this ARM Component.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management (ARM)

This is part two of my thoughts on Risk Management.  Part I, “Guns, Telephone Books and Risk” focused on the problem of creating long lists of things that will (may) never happen.

ISO 31000 to the Rescue!

Risk management (RM) has become standard fare for most organizations.  To support these efforts, in 2009 the International Standards Organization (ISO) issued ISO 31000 Risk management – Principles and guidelines.  A pretty good standard for the following reasons:

  1. Recognition that uncertainty (aka risk) has both positive and negative consequences.
  2. The impact of uncertainty is the inability to execute on organizational objectives.
  3. Risk is organization-centric based on its particular legal, societal, cultural, technical, ‘etc.-al‘ circumstances.
  4. RM is integral to an organization rather than an isolated activity.

ISO 31000 – The Same Problem

In ISO 31000 the steps are: 1) identifying risks, 2) Analyze the Risks, 3) Evaluate the Risks (these are all part of Risk Assessment, ISO step 5.4) and then finally 4) Treat the Risk (the right hand column of the following graphic).

ISO 31000 Framework Courtesy of the Victoria (Australia) State Government; SWER 2010.

Unfortunately this is where ISO 31000 fails; would it not be better to start with Risk Mitigation and then use the compendium of risks to test the organization’s ability to weather the uncertainties when they occur?  This ‘turned on its head‘ methodology is what I call ‘Anti-Fragile Risk Management‘ or ARM.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management (ARM)

In his book, ‘Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder‘, Nicholas Taleb introduces the concept which can be summarized as follows:

Anti-fragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. [Wikipedia]

Ecosystems and biological things (such as your bones or your heart) need continuous mild stress to stay healthy.  A sea wall is robust but ultimately each successive ocean wave incrementally destroys it; the wall is robust but ultimately fragile.  A tide pool colony needs each successive wave to bring in new nutrients, remove more feeble members and, yes, sometime even bring in destructive predators; it is anti-fragile.

In 2016 I introduced the idea of ‘Anti-fragile Strategic Planning‘ including suggesting that Taleb was a bit too absolute with his dismissal of art of planning.  ARM is effectively a continuation or an element of overall Anti-fragile Strategic Planning including having the following four attributes or maxims:

  1. Do No Harm: Makes the organization no worse off than as if no RM activities had occurred.
    1. This includes ensuring that the RM process has delivered value for money.
    2. Like insurance, this may be difficult to quantify other than convincing senior leadership of the value of piece of mind.
  2. Core Competencies: Ensures the organization is getting better at its core business(es).  Conversely, the organization is shedding businesses that they should no longer be involved in.
    1. This is well articulated initially in ISO 31000 but then quickly seems to get lost as the standard moves into designing a RM framework and process.
    2. Are we in the right business or do we continue to provide these services to our citizens given their costs are the ultimate RM questions.
  3. Creating a Sustainable Organization: Describes the known-known changes facing the organization and ensures it has the capacity to weather all but large-scale unpredictable and irregular (Black Swan) events.
    1. This places risk mitigation at the forefront.  The organization will need to manage risks it likely can not predicted.  Its robustness and resiliency allows it to absorb or exploit events.
    2. A risk list (telephone book’esque or otherwise) provides an excellent training/ testing tool to assist an organization to develop change-muscle-memory.
  4. Balanced Scorecard: Identifies long-term outcomes, implementation plans to achieve these outcomes and short-term milestones to monitor their execution – but only after the above maxims have been satisfied.
    1. One critical metric is the scorecard is the measured and perceived ‘robustness and resiliency’ of the organization.
    2. Scorecards and strategic plans inherently make the organization Anti-fragile. Nevertheless an organization needs some direction and operational/tactical planning.
    3. The previous 3 maxims will allow the organization to quickly shed and change scorecard entries as changes in fortune dictates.

ARM Overview

At this point you may be scratching your head wondering how you can treat a risk if you don’t know what it is?  The answer is that most risk an organization faces is already being treated without its explicit identification.  Your web presence is constantly being tested by hackers, your employees handling cash or cutting purchase orders always have an ever so slight temptation to line their pockets.  The launch of your next product line (or continuation of an existing service/product) is also fraught with unknowns.

Perhaps you hire white hats to test your web security, have good segregation of duties to manage fraud or you have completed a formal risk assessment before introducing a line of children lawn darts.  More than likely many of the risks are mitigated through trust worthy people, good training, systems, operational procedures, planning and good old fashion luck.  These and a myriad of other things are an organization’s response to risks and they make an organization more (or in their absence) less robust, resilient and risk proof.

ARM is that simple.  It is the listing of the implicit and explicit things an organization does to exploit/manage uncertainty (risk).  This robustness/resiliency is then periodically tested through a formal RM program.

An ARMed ISO 31000

ARM and ISO 31000 are entirely compatible even if ARM slightly adjusts the sequences of risk steps.  Section 4, Framework, in ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines includes component ‘4.3.4 Integration into organizational processes’ with the following attributes or advise for creating a risk management program in an organization:

  • Risk management should be embedded in all the organization’s practices and processes in a way that it is relevant, effective and efficient.
  • The risk management process should become part of, and not separate from,
    those organizational processes.
  • In particular, risk management should be embedded into the policy development, business and strategic planning and review, and change management processes.
  • There should be an organization-wide risk management plan to ensure that the risk management policy is implemented and that risk management is embedded in all of the organization’s practices and processes.
  • The risk management plan can be integrated into other organizational plans, such as a strategic plan.

Seven ARMed Organization and the Next Blog

The good news is that rather than running a RM program in isolation ARM is integral to the organization.  The bad news is that it takes work to integrate anti-fragile behaviour so as to be robust or resilient.  Integration involves the following seven steps:

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Each of the seven steps will be discussed in future blogs in greater detail.

2017 – EBTC Wrider Plan

I have a confession, I enjoy organizing riding events because I can’t subsequently talk myself out of the event if I need to run it.  In other words, it forces me to go on a bit of exercise without a handy excuse to back out at the last moment!

The following is my plan for the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club’s 2017 program.  It is here really as a reminder for myself and to help with the 2017 planning process and will involve the following events:

  1. Cranky’s Early Season Bike Event & Beginner Ride
  2. Wheeleasy Wriders
  3. Pigeon Lake Inner Loop
  4. Ad hoc Rides
  5. Old Home Target the Tour *NEW
  6. Call a Newbie *NEW
  7. Trip Leader Mentoring *NEW
  8. Grading the Grading (evaluating a proposed cycling grading system). *NEW
  9. MS Ride Marshall *NEW
  10. Some Links Worth Mentioning (and Clicking)

1. Cranky’s Early Season Bike Event & Beginner Ride

Event Title: Righty-Tighty, Lefty-ARRRGGGHHHHHH!

How is your bike looking?  Air long since left for a lower-pressure job?  Chain feeling a bit rusty?  Drive-train looks more like a Drive-Caboose?

If this describes your bike or if you are a ‘fix-a-phobic’ this 90 minutes is for you!

Andy Phelps from Crankys will cover the basic of bicycle repair.  During this session you will learn such basics as:

– How to quickly check your bike and realize that you REALLY should not go riding today.
– Why even more oil is a bad thing for a chain and how much is a good compromise.
– What are all those screws and gadgets on your circlely thing by the back wheel and when to turn them (and why you should leave well enough alone)

If at this point you are a MS Ride Repair Recluse, you can still come out and contribute.  We will pair the ‘terrified of all things mechanical’ with those who know the difference between a Robinson and a Philips screwdriver.

Send Frank an email at wriders@myorgbio.org (really a courtesy for the Crankys so they know how many donuts to buy).

If you do come out, be sure to also consider joining the “Where the H*** did I put my bike? – Early Ride” (see the calendar of events or the next EBTC email).

Event page on Bikeclub.ca:
April 1 Beginner Ride:
Crankys Website: http://crankys.ca/

Where the H*** did I put my bike? – Beginner Ride

I think I own a bike; ya, it is in the garage somewhere….

If you have a vague recollection that you once owned a bike and some fleeting memories that you even rode it last year, this ride is a way to shake out those cobwebs and start the 2016 season!

Or if you joined the bike club with things like the MS Bike Ride in your future, this is where you can meet EBTC’ers and start the journey to a saddle sores (I mean cycling joy!).  Registration not required, just show up and we will go.

Details are below.  Note that if you want to do a longer ride off of this trip (e.g. a loop to CFB Edmonton or a Villeneuve Ice Cream Run), reply all to this event and see if there is interest (and more importantly a trip leader to sign people up).

April 1: 0900-1030h – Crankys Bike Repair Refresher:
April 1 Beginner Ride:

2. Wheeleasy Wriders

This is a Tuesday night program run from 6-7pm from April 11 to June 27 weather dependent.  The program will generally and intermittently follow the content described in the blog, the Art of Riding Bikes.

Weekly Wheeleasy Wrides! Huh, what is a WWW? It is always three rides in one. A beginner ride for those just getting started; an intermediate ride by playing Beat Frank; and a fun learn-about-cycling experience.  The details are as follows:

  • Meet at the Victoria Park Oval at 6pm (note, watch bikeclub.ca, EBTC-FaceBook and EBTC-email for changes in venue)
  • Depending on the wind direction we will do: Victoria Park & Environs
    We will be Wheels Wrolling at about 6:05pm.
  • The ride will be about an hour or twenty’ish KM in the river valley‎

3. Pigeon Lake Inner Loop

2016-06-03 – Pigeon Lake Ride – Pigeons, Putzs and Pleasures‏‏
June 3, 2017 @ 10:00 – 17:00
The Pigeon Lake ride is a classic and there are two options!  The first is the outer loop run by Anne-Marie and the alternative is the inner loop lead by Frank Potter.  The following are the details.

Outer loop (Anne Marie)

About 60KM long on secondary highways and led by Anne-Marie Adachi aadachi@telus.net Pigeon Lake. Because of the remoteness and highway travel, this ride is rated as an intermediate ride; there is no cap for registration.  A road bike is ideal for this route.  Anne-Marie will provide a map and directions at the start of the ride.

Inner loop (Frank)

This is a GREAT RIDE  that takes you along cottage roads, provincial parks, a nasty highway and a few surprises.  We will be riding at a cruising pace which gives everyone a chance to chat, kibbutz and enjoy the promise of summer coming.  A hybrid bike is ideal, a road bike is okay and a mountain bike for the more fit can be used.  The route is ~60KM and about 40% is on hard packed gravel or trails.  There are not a lot of services en route.  We will stop in Ma-Me-O Beach but the shop there was closed last time.  As a result, please plan to pack sufficient fluids, a snack, etc. for the route.  By way of safety, please have a well maintained bike.  If you have a break down you could be waiting hours in a remote rural area for a rescue or a taxi from Wetaskwin.  There are few tricky corners so generally we ride as a group.  Those who want to add about 10 km are encouraged to play ‘beat-Frank’ on two designated sections.

Email Frank at wriders@myorgbio.org for more details and to claim your spot; please note that registration is caped at 15 riders.

Meet Up Details for Both Rides

We will meet at Mulhurst at 10am and will be wheels rolling by 1015h.  Mulhurst is on the east side of the lake an is accessible from Highway 2 and highway 616.  If you need an address for your GPS, use 5402 Lake Drive, Mulhurst Bay AB T0C 2C0 or see the attached map. *** CAUTION *** This address is NOT Correct in Google Maps.  We should return to Mulhurst between 2-4pm depending on the groups’ progress.    The inner loop’s return time is highly UNPREDICTABLE, please plan accordingly.Please park on the side streets, etc. but our actual departure point is the Cedar Crest Inn Restaurant & Lounge, 5402 Lake Drive, Mulhurst Bay AB T0C 2C0.  This is also were we will have a late lunch.  The food is pretty-good (bar food) and the terrace over looks the lake.  For more information, visit: www.cedarcrestinn.ca/home.htm.  Please note that they are generally expecting us but if you want to reserve a table as you are riding, be sure to call them at: (780) 389-2272.

4. Ad hoc Rides

Weather dependent, these will follow routes noted either on the Wriders Wride Wlog or perhaps some new adventures.

5. Old Home Target the Tour

NEW for 2017 – I will organize about 3-6 Target the Tour events but with a twist.  These will be in our old stomping grounds of Morinville and will follow the past Tour de l’Alberta routes.  The rides will be graded according to difficulty and the 50KM distances will be semi-supported (e.g. have a sweep, leader, maybe even Beat Frank!).

Note these will be supplemental to the traditional target the tour rides run by the club.

6. Call a Newbie

NEW for 2017 – I will commit to making about ~20-40 phone calls over the season to new members.  The calls will seek to accomplish the following:

  1. Welcome the member to the club and determine what are their personal goals and expectations for EBTC.  Direct the member to one or more rides applicable to their level.
  2. Follow up with some members (typically at the beginner level) after their first’ish ride to see if the club is meeting their expectations.
  3. Provide feedback, perhaps anonymously, to the executive from the above.  Use the above feedback to potentially change my program or influence EBTC’s programming

7. Trip Leader Mentoring

NEW for 2017 – Support new or perhaps unsure trip leaders in becoming more comfortable in their role.  This can be potentially through the following:

  • Attend the new trip leader training session.
  • Run early and mid trip leader check in rides.
  • Run one or two trip leader tune up and training rides.

8. Grading the Grading (evaluating a proposed cycling grading system)

NEW for 2017 – Evaluating a proposed cycling grading system and adapting it to EBTC as required.

9. MS Ride Marshall

New for 2017 – Not really a ride but something I want to keep track of.  I plan to be a ride marshal but I also plan to ride dead last sweep.  The reasons for taking on this role are as follows:

  • The emergency folks never know the last rider, when they see me – they will know the end of the course.
  • The end riders have a degree of comfort they are not been left behind.
  • There are fewer tires to change…. maybe.

10. Some key links are as follows:

On this Site:

External Sites

Guns, Telephone Books and Risk?

At work I have been given the task of implementing a risk management strategy for an IT department.  The problem is that I am not convinced that Risk Management adds much value to organizations.  To be clear, I am all for pondering and evaluating risks when making decisions.  After all, if you are currently an adult, you are likely an expert on Risk Management having survived your childhood or possibly that first year of college (just saying).

Gun Shy of Risk Management

My point is that I am not a huge fan of is the Risk Management process.  I have worked for a few organizations in which Risk Management became a bit of a fad and organizational resources were poured into a very comprehensive list of risks.  The list was a fascinating read and many could have been the basis for either a cheap thriller or space-cowboy science fiction book.  Generally though, these lists were a compendium of obvious things covered by a few good operational plans or a comprehensive list of things that in all likelihood would never come to pass.

Once these telephone book’esque lists of risks were compiled, they were dumped on some poor unsuspecting line manager.  Called the risk owner, this poor sod now had to develop a treatise on how he or she would react to a cornucopia of risks.   The smart manager would generally set the telephone-book of risks to one side and get on with their day job… hoping the Risk Management fad had passed before they were asked for their response.

Audit Fodder

Of course auditors love risk management.  If auditors can’t find something juicy in the operations of an organization they know they can always get an observation or recommendation from criticizing the risk management process.  This is because no list of risks is ever complete; there can always be one more entry added.  The auditor can also examine the events affecting an organization over the past year.  In all likelihood an untoward event that occurred was not precisely described in the telephone book.  At this point the auditor shouts with glee: ‘AH-HA, your risk management process is flawed, pour more resources into it so I can make more observations next year! BRUHAHAH.. Cough, sputter…

Why is Risk Management so Hard?

Okay, I am being a bit harsh on auditors (some of my best friends are recovering auditors). So why is risk management so hard and why does it add so little value?  I have a few thoughts on why Risk Lists is an enumeration things that will never occur:

  • Identification is Mitigation:
    • Simply identifying a risk can help to mitigated the risk.
    • In economics this is known as the efficient information model meaning the organization has internalized and corrected for the risk – good Risk Management in action!
    • Example: cash controls are deemed a risk and internal controls are beefed up such that theft or fraud are no longer likely risks.
  • Easter Egg Effect
    • This effect states that if you tell a person that there are ‘X’ number of things, they will stop looking once they find that number.
    • In the same way, an organization may look at an ever growing list of risks and at some point say ‘that is good enough’.
    • As a result, an organization may have a beefy telephone book of lists which have low likelihood or occurance or of poor predictive power .
  • Post-Diction Focus:
    • Nicholas Taleb [see further reading section below] introduced the concept of ‘post-diction’ which is a play on the concept of prediction.
    • The ability to predict the occurrence of a past event improves after the event has occurred.  Post-diction is the certainty an individual or organization did in fact PREDICT something in retrospect.
    • This gives the organization an impression that it has better predictive powers than it really does have.
  • The Past as a Guide to the Future:
    • While one does not want to be doomed to repeat past mistakes by not reading history, the reality is that the past has only limited predictive power.
    • Certainly there are themes from the past that are enduring and can be used in the future.
    • Examples:
      • Given opportunity, even the most honest person may be tempted to steal if they believe the chances of being caught is nominal.
      • Eventually your organization will be hacked, cyber-ransomed or be a victim of a denial of service act if you have an online presence.
  • Social Blindness:
    • Risk identification can be politically or social driven/influenced.
    • Thus a risk may be ignored because of organizational desire to align with social norms.
    • In early September 2001, an organization renting real estate in the New York Trade Center would be disinclined to consider listing a catastrophic attack by Islamic extremists as a potential risk so as to not be accused of being Islamophobes.
  • Black Swan Events
    • Returning to Taleb, the risks that will have the greatest impact on your organization are by definition unpredictable.
    • Called Black Swans, they have are a positive or negative significant event that creates enormous upheaval in an eco-system.  Think of a comet striking the earth or the 2008 financial melt down.
      • Events that are extreme, unknown and very improbable (according to our current knowledge)”; adapted from p.xxvii, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007.

Can Risk Management Be Value Added?

In general, can Risk Management add value?  Absolutely, evaluating risk is an inherent human trait; we are constantly calculating and estimating risk to our advantage. The fact that we are here shows its evolutionary success.

However, for organizations, I am proposing a strategy called ‘Anti-Fragile Risk Management‘ or ARM.  This concept builds on the ideas in my 2016 article, Anti-fragile Strategic Planning and builds on ISO 31000 – Risk Management.

Further Reading:

  1. Anti-fragile Strategic Planning, FMI Journal January 2016; Frank Potter.
  2. Managing Risks: A New Framework, HBR June 2012; Robert S. Kaplan, Anette Mikes.


String Theory on a Bus

People are central to Organizational Biology (orgbio) and orgbio is composed of two fundamental elements: Mass (machinery, intangibles such as patents and policies and procedures) and the ephemeral quality of Adeptness which is the human application of mass toward an organizational objective.

Adeptness typically means managing people.  And whether these people are staff, contractors or volunteers; this is not easy.  For one thing, people have a terrible habit of coming in all shapes and sizes.  For another, they have different opinions and perspectives.  Notwithstanding this, we also know that some staff/contractors/volunteers are golden and some are more silver, bronze or even made of up of post-masticated-nutrients.

Keep, Invest or Divest Decision

This blog is not about how to motivate staff, recruit top contractors for low costs or create a volunteer nirvana.  Instead it provides a model for placing people on a decision matrix to evaluate their contributions relative to the costs and investments made into them.  Like any asset or investment there are costs, returns and exit strategies to consider when managing people.

At this point you might be feeling a bit uncomfortable thinking about people having a return or there being a ‘total cost of employment’ compared to the ‘total benefit of employment’.  The reality is that employees and contractors have a clear economic relationship with their employer/client.  It is a bit more fuzzy with volunteers but even then one can discuss how best to pay your volunteers.  As well, we use economic language all of the time in these contexts.  Organizations ‘invest in their people’, they are the firm’s biggest ‘asset’ and organizations have human resource departments.

Just like any other asset, organizations need to evaluate whether to keep, invest or divest in the staff, contractors and volunteers they are engaged with.  To do this, the 2×2 Abilities model is described below – as well as its limitations and risks.

Technical versus Personal Abilities

The model is based on a 2×2 matrix of high and low technical and personal abilities. Technical abilities are the tangible skills to produce a product or service requiring education, ability and experience.  Computer development, machining parts, analyzing financial investments and flying airplanes are examples of technical skills.  As a test, these are generally the skills that are most readily automated or computerized.

Personal abilities are the social dimensions of individuals within an organization context.  They include leadership, followership, drive, social graces, charm, customer service or humour.  Personal abilities are difficult to automate although they can be mimiced by computers (e.g. you may have been speaking to call center robot and not even realized it).

Personal and Technical Abilities

Personal and Technical Abilities

People have different innate technical and personal abilities; which to a point, they can improve on.  As well, people both gain and lose their respective abilities over time.  A CIO may still be a killer COBOL programmer but her learned personal abilities around leadership and strategy are much more important now.

String Theory and Challenges

Plotting the gradient of personal and technical abilities on a 2×2 matrix yields the following with three resulting ‘strings’ and challenges:

Technical/Personal Ability Matrix

Strings and Challenges

  1. First String: most proficient individuals.  These individuals blend technical skills with personal attributes such as communications, leadership, interpersonal abilities and thought leadership. Super stars are found in this area.
  2. Second String: these individuals have less of one or more of the blend skills of the first string.  For example a technically proficient individual may have poor communication or interpersonal skills.  Or an individual has good but not exceptional technical or personal abilities.
  3. Third String: these individuals are often junior, have dated technical skills, completing work outside of their abilities (e.g. a business analyst asked to write computer code) or are simply not that good at what they do.
  4. Challenges: these individuals do not have or have lost their technical and/or personal abilities.

The Strings on the Bus Go… *

Jim Collins, in his book ‘Built to Last’ introduces the concept of the bus, specifically:

Good to great companies first got the right people on the bus–and the wrong people off the bus–and then figured out where to drive it.

In other words, the greatest organizations jettisoned individuals with the wrong personal or technical skills and then the wrong COMBINATION of these skills.  Of course removing people is easier to said then done.  For us in the public sector, removing a ‘challenge’ person is pretty much impossible.  In addition, removing a person who has had the wrong opportunities within an organization may be throwing away corporate knowledge and the ability to demonstrate to the remaining employees compassion and a willingness to set people up for success (a sure-fire way to build positive orgbio adeptness).

People will move across the strings throughout their career and perhaps even throughout the day.  I have known a few ‘first stringers’ who were challenges until their first cup of coffee.

(* for those who have not had the pleasure of hearing this Raffi masterpiece of music genius… well, perhaps count yourself lucky).

So What and What is Next

Although I have thought about the above concept for the past few years, it solidified during a discussion on what is the right balance between public sector staff and contractors in an IT department.

The challenge with that discussion was that the proponents of a staff only model would only acknowledge the upside of having staff while inflating the costs of contractors. This model helped to broaden the discussion by acknowledging that contractors should only be first and second string individuals.  Staff will cross all three of the strings (and there could even be a few immovable challenge-employees in a hypothetical public sector organization).

This model helped to remove some of the emotion and dogma from that conversation (to a greater or lesser degree of success).  Instead, the focus was on the organization’s business objectives and resources needed to accomplish these.

Hopefully the model can be used in your organization to have tough conversations about strings, challenges and buses.  Beyond the model, organizations need to apply compassion, empathy and integrity while dealing with their people – no matter what shape, size or dispositions they come with!

CPA – Public Sector Certificate Program Level I

I just finished the first part of the CPA’s public sector certificate program.  This blog is to put down some notes and thoughts on the course and also a suggestion for CPA Alberta/Canada about what next to do with this program.

Certificate of Completion

Kudos to FMI and CPA for a Focus on the Public Sector

Thank you to CPA Canada and their partner, the Financial Management Institute (FMI) for developing this program.  I can’t say that I have done an exhaustive search but I am pretty sure that this course is unique in Canada for discussing how the public sector differs from our private sector peers.  As well, a good portion of the course focuses on Canadian Public Sector Accounting Standards (PSAB – the B standards for Board).

To be honest, I have kind of missed out studying PSAB.  The standards were not part of my training twenty years ago (and they have come a long way during this time anyway). Being a ‘budget-guy’ I had a transient need to know the standards.  Thanks to this course, I have a better understanding of what they are and that they are actually pretty good.  By way of overall content, the course offered the following topics:

  • Module 1: Governance and decision-making processes (budgets, legislature, etc.)
  • Module 2: The public sector planning and budgeting process.
  • Module 3: Government operating and capital budgets.
  • Module 4: public sector accounting standards including dives into:
    • Concepts & Principles (1000 —1300)
    • Financial Reporting (2100 —2700)
    • Financial statement items (3030 —3510)
    • Not-For-Profit Organization Accounting (PS 42**)
    • PSAB Statement of Recommend Practice.
  • Module 5: Decision Support
  • Module 6: Auditing.

Modules 1-4 were pretty good, Module 5 very weak and Module 6 was a bit of strange. It seemed to be cobbled together or directly lifted from another program.  To support the above modules, the course referenced a number of real life examples and some pretty good reference material.  Unfortunately the material was a bit stale (generally 2+ years old or older) and as such could use a refresh.

A final kudo is the software that CPA Canada used for this course.  Called Brightspace, it is a learning management system from Desire to Learn (D2L) a Canadian company out of Kitchener Ontario.  Brightspace was clean, intuitive and easy to navigate.  I did my MBA online (through Athabasca) using the then state of the art Lotus Notes, D2L is definitely a step in the right direction.

Needs Work Though

Although I thought the course was a good use of my time, I personally think that it needs work.  The following are some suggestions for CPA for its next course re-write:

  1. What Learning Gap is Being Addressed: This is a post-designation course and as such I was expecting material aimed at someone working in the public sector. Instead, the course went down a few rabbit holes such as calculating current ratio. As a result, I think CPA needs to better analyze and think about the target audience and their educational needs of those taking this course.
  2. Hire an Editor.  I suspect that portions of this course were mashed together from a variety of sources.  In fact the last module (#6) did not even bother to change the original audience in the content.  This course is important enough to have hired an editor and is pricey enough ($1K CAD) to have expected one.
  3. Refresh the Content.  For a new course, it references a good number of circa 2012 era materials.  As well, the Value for Money section of Module 6 uses a now withdrawn document but does not even mention PS 5400 and 6410 assurance standards on Value for Money audits.  For a new program I would have expected at least circa 2015 material.
  4. Have some Interaction.  One of the reasons I signed up for this program was because it had some high-flying contributors.  I saw neither hide nor hair of them. I did notice later on (after I had abandoned the discussion board) that the a newly hired moderator was making an valiant effort to encourage group discussions.
  5. More than Traditional Accounting.  The course covered a variety of topics at a cursory level such as budgeting, costing and the audit function.  The course could easily expand into other common facets of the public sector experience.  For example, how to brief and interact with the political level; the challenges of systems in the public sector and how about a bit on the weird world of public sector procurement.

Worthy of a Core Module?

Notwithstanding some of the above tweaks and enhancements, I believe this course (or its improved successor) should be at least an elective if not potentially a core module in the PEP program.  For those unfamiliar with the training to become a CPA, individuals must complete electives and core modules in such traditional areas as financial reporting, tax, audit or management accounting as part of CPA’s Professional Education Program or PEP.

CPA Alberta Professional Education Program (PEP)

I would not recommend that the existing course be either as it really needs some work and lots more relevant content while jettisoning the audit and financial performance elements which are covered in other PEP modules.  In addition, I would expand the dive into PSAB and likely include something like a mentorship program with seasoned accountants who live and breath PSAB.

To this last point, the course could be delivered using interaction with local governments.  I know here in Edmonton, students taking this module could also meet with the provincial controller, municipal CFOs or senior financial managers from the federal level.

Next Steps

I plan to reach out to CPA Alberta to see if they would be interested in running a pilot elective with this course as the basis.  I have some thoughts on additional content I would add but there is definitely a good starting point.  Once again, kudos to CPA Canada for taking some initial steps in helping accountants who have chosen the public sector path.

At the end of the day, 40 good hours of professional development and I now have information and resources I did not have before starting this course… the sign of a worthwhile use of ones time!

Islamophobia – Defined

This may end up being a wrong turn at Albuquerque but I see that Mississauga-Erin Mills Liberal MP Iqra Khalid is proposing a private members bill M-103 to address ‘Islamophobia’.  I thought I would contribute to the democratic process by providing some definitions and examples of what Islamophobia should mean.

A Little Constitutional Reminder

The Canadian constitution reads as follows: 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  • (a) freedom of conscience and religion; 
  • (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  • (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • (d) freedom of association.

As a result, under the constitution, the following statements are equally protected:

  1. The Pope is God’s Vicar here on earth.
  2. Mohamed is God (Allah’s) last prophet.
  3. Joseph Smith received golden plates from God.
  4. Ones actions should be mindful of Karma.
  5. All the above is superstitious nonsense not worthy of a rational person.

Superstitious Nonsense & the Belief instinct

To number five above, the likes of Richard Dawkins would take this as their belief protected by the constitution.  Where atheists can fall down is not recognizing the enormous evolutionary advantage religion has given humanity in being a successful species, the importance of the ‘Belief Instinct‘.

Religion has allowed us to create larger organizational units by applying the mortar of group cohesion across individuals.  This has not been without its costs.  The Crusades, the oppression of women under Sharia Law or polygamy under early Mormonism are all examples where religion has gone wrong.  While it is easy to spin and wish to re-write the past, it is more important to recognize the following:

  1. Religion is a fundamental instinct of humanity and will manifest itself with or without a formal outlet.
  2. Religion, like other primal urges, needs to be directed to the betterment of society.
  3. Religion must evolve as societies do so, while there are some universal truths, such as though shall not kill, there is no universal or ‘right’ religion.
  4. Without religious evolution, humanity risks reaping the worst from the belief instinct while losing the benefits it can provide.
  5. Canada can be a guiding light of helping individuals, communities and religion evolve to accommodate new social and cultural norms.

A Suggested Addendum to the Private Member’s Bill

To help Ms. Khalid to navigate the tricky waters of religion, I would suggest the following revision to private member’s bill M-103 (written in non-legal speak):

Whereas the people of Canada:

  • hold core values, such as the freedom of religion, above all others,
  • recognize the role of faith and the belief instinct in personal matters and social cohesion,
  • recognize the value religion has conveyed and inflicted on humanity,
  • recognize the values of equality of all people and equality of all before a common law.

Whereas the people of Canada acknowledge the Arabic word Islam to mean ‘acceptance’ and therefore Islamophobia means an irrational fear of acceptance. We the people thus condemn Islamophobia which is defined as any religion or systematic or personal belief system that:

  1. Seeks to enrich individuals who hold position of religious-authority through corruption, personal gain of power or actions contrary to the law or Canadian norms;
  2. Has tenants and implicit/explicit actions that are contrary to the law and fabric of historical Canadian values including those of justice, freedom of religion, equality, personal responsibility and reasonable inclusion of people of all faiths and perspectives;
  3. Seeks to do harm to Canadian society through either direct or indirect action including encouraging actions contrary to the laws of good government;
  4. Seeks to forcibly convert or impose its views on individuals who chosen to have alternative views including a non (atheist) view of religion; and
  5. Fails to evolve with the changing nature of society, for example the changing role of personal beliefs in contrast with the original tenants of the religion.

To reduce Islamophobia, we ask all Canadians to not only look into their respective minds and souls but to also reach out to others who do not share their beliefs and state:

I don’t believe in your God or religious view-point, but first and foremost I will do everything in my power here on earth to protect your right to hold your beliefs as a Canadian‘.


In a small way hopefully the above can lead to Islamophilia or a love of acceptance.  Acceptance that religion is a human instinct to be managed, that religion must evolve to meet cultural changes.  Ultimately our time here on earth is short – let’s all make the best of it before we meet our respective maker.

Beyond the Big Honkin’ Binder

Have you ever had the unenviable task of creating a procedure for something?  Maybe a high level set of policies or a hands on ‘How-To’ guide.  Great – now picture the end result in your mind.  Got it pictured?  Okay, where is it now?

Documentation is a Waste of Time

I am willing to bet your picture is of dozens or hundreds of hours work which ended up in  a dusty binder.  The binder was already obsolete when produced, dangerously wrong in a few places and generally ignored.

There are a number of reasons for documentation to be a waste of time (see below for a blog which discusses this).  One of the reasons can be the medium; how information is used, stored and communicated to the end user.  Wood fiber (aka paper) and binders have certain merits and wikis have others.

Read on for the Non-Big Honkin’ Binder Solution

Wikis are a social media or collaboration tool and Microsoft SharePoint comes equipped out of the box with Wikis.  How to use this feature is the subject of the January 2017 Financial Management Institute article: “Big Honkin’ Binder“.

Why SharePoint?  Because most organizations already have it installed and with a little bit of patience and effort you can make it do some cool things. The following links systematically walks an organization through creating a Wiki based procedure guide.  As a bonus, there are two side bars on minimalism and questions to ask before creating procedures.

Table of Contents and Links to Article’s Director’s Cut

Writing as a Team Sport – Wikies and Helpers

I have been able to call upon friends and colleagues to help me craft articles:

In all of these cases, the contributors provided me with excellent advice and the resulting articles were much better as a result.  This article is no exception: SharePoint as a Documentation Tool; Life Beyond the “Big Honkin’ Binder”.

Thank you (AGAIN in some cases) for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.



Chad B. Government of Alberta
Eric S. Government of Alberta
Howard T. Government of Alberta
Mavin K. Government of Alberta
Mona E. Self Employed
Paul B. Government of Alberta
Terry E. Retired
Uday D. United Nations

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article (2017 – Life Beyond the “Big Honkin’ Binder” published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada January, 2017, FMI*IGF eJournal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours completed in early September, 2016. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to create-net-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. 

Managed Serendipity

Don’t you hate it, you think you have a brilliant original thought and that darn Google shows you that numerous people have thought it before you!  Such is the case of one of my Phrankisms, ‘Managed Serendipity‘.  In this case, it is okay because through fortunate happenstance I can potentially work on a better definition.

Definition of Managed Serendipity

The ability to respond to and take advantage of an opportunity in the future.  The catch is that you don’t know what attributes will be called on by that opportunity or even if such a chance will occur in the future.  

As the name implies, there are two parts to the concept. Managed is what you can actively do to either generate opportunities or capitalize on them as they appear.  Serendipity is entirely beyond your control, it is fate, fortune, chance or God’s will.  You can only react to serendipity not control it.  This is not a new concept by any stretch.  Here are three examples:

  • In the fields of observation chance favors the prepared mind. (translated from Louis Pasteur from: Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés); source: Wikiquote.
  • Optionality is the ability to switch from one course of action to another thus taking advantage of uncertainty and changing circumstances (adapted from ‘Antifragile
    Things That Gain From Disorder’, Nicholas Taleb).
  • Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  Attributed to John Lennon but based on a Readers Digest quote from 1957 (courtesy Quote Investigator).

Examples of Managed Serendipity

The best way to foster Managed Serendipity is education.  Graduating from High School, College or an apprenticeship gives you more options then dropping out in Grade 10.  Beyond formal education, life choices and personal investments are part of Managed Serendipity.  This includes having at your disposal a wide variety of skills and experiences that initially seem only relevant in one narrow circumstance.

By way of an example, I did the lay up and editing for the 7th edition of the Waskahegan Trail Guide.  That experience gave me a much better appreciation for desktop publishing, layout and production of complex documents – skills that have tipped job interviews in my favour or allowed me to do more complex volunteer activities – such as blogging on Managed Serendipity (yeah)!

Limitations to Managed Serendipity

To start, one’s own health.  Being free of self-inflicted health limitations (e.g. excessive weight, poor physical conditioning, mental well-being, etc.) better positions you to seize an opportunity.  Certainly family circumstances can impact Managed Serendipity.  For example, caring for your young children limits your work opportunities – but also provides you with infinite joy and a core reason for your existence, a very fair trade off.  At the same time, being the primary care giver for an aged parent or spouse, shrinks your world (but such are the burdens borne with love).

Notwithstanding family restrictions, people fail to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself.  To this, I have three maxims I use in my life so as to recognize Managed Serendipity:

  1. Always answer the door when opportunity knocks.
  2. Remember opportunity typically knocks when you are in the bathtub.
  3. Never negotiate on the other party’s behalf.
  4. Manage to the downside.

Answer When Opportunity knocks

Opportunity is constantly knocking.  It may be something as obvious as a head hunter or less straightforward as your daughter’s soccer coach asking if you can edit a newsletter – and therefore learn new software.  At least hear what opportunity has to sell before closing the door and …

Opportunity Knocks When You are in the Bath

Opportunity seldom knocks when it is convenient for you.  Sometimes Managed Serendipity means leaving a good paying government job on Friday and boarding a plan on Sunday to fly to and work in Munich German for 18 months (hey it happens, trust me).  After hearing opportunity out, remember that timing is never convenient or circumstances are easy.  Of course you need to balance this against other personal circumstances (young children, aged parents, etc.).

Never negotiate on the other party’s behalf.

The final consideration with Managed Serendipity is that you can typically negotiate.  It is amazing how often there are circumstances in which a person will discount or not propose an option in negotiations because they think the other party will reject it.  For example, you approach your employer and say, ‘hey, can I take a leave of absence and go work in Vienna for year?‘  Your problem ends in asking the question and starts upon hearing the response.  Their problem starts on hearing the question and ends formulating the response.  Don’t confuse your problems (asking) with their problems (responding).

You may have young children and a chance to work abroad appears.  DON’T forego this opportunity because traveling with a six year old is hard.  DO eliminate the opportunity if travelling with your precious child is unduly dangerous.

Life, Gravy Lumps and All

When presented with a situation, can you accept the worst case scenario?  Finding a new job, accepting rejection or perhaps receiving no answer?  If the answer is yes then you have manages to the downside. If you can live with worst case scenario then everything else is gravy. Sometimes the gravy is lumpy, perhaps separating … but heck, it is still GRAVY!

Ying, Yang and the Border

Managed Serendipity is like the Asian concept of Ying and Yang.  They are complementary, distinct and inter-related.  To me the most interesting thing about Ying and Yang is not the two tadpole’esque features – it is border or interface between them.  As in any border, there is danger between safety/adventure or risk/opportunity.  I wish I could say that seizing an opportunity is without risk but that is not the case.  An aging parent’s health may deteriorate with out your care, your young child may feel displaced between cultures and you may not have a job waiting for you upon your return – risks.  Of course you may also feel refreshed and a better care giver upon your return, your child is stronger working through cultural displacement and you landed an even better job – opportunities.

Ying-Yang courtesy of Wikipedia (used via creative commons).

As Stephen Covey talks about in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; Powerful Lessons in Personal Change’: Nobody ever laid on their death-bed and wished they had spent more time at the office.  In parallel, no one ever laid peacefully in the death-bed content they stayed in the bath tub despite incessant knocking.


Can We Monetizing Government Services?

On November 7, I attended a session put on by the Canadian Institute called “Government Connects“. All levels of government spoke about digital transformation of their services.  One of the speakers was the boss of all Alberta Public Servants, Marcia Nelson.  Marcia did a great job discussing what the Government of Alberta is doing in moving its services online.  Certainly Digital Government is the nirvana for most governments as they see cyberspace as being a cheaper, faster and more effective way to deliver more services to citizens.

The User as the Product

Marcia, and many of the speakers, talked about the expectations of citizens relative to their other digital experiences.  For example the ease to create a Facebook account, the functionality available via a GMail account or how a LinkedIn profile is now almost as important as a resume or a business card.  The question from Marcia, and others was ‘how can governments compete with these products?‘.

The other side of these services is a profit motive.  Facebook makes it easy to set up a profile so it can target you with advertisements. Gmail wants you as an email client so it can scan your email and target its advertisement.  LinkedIn wants you to buy a premium membership or at least get your eyeballs on its advertisements.  All of the above are examples of monetizing you as a user into becoming their product.  Assuming informed consent, there is nothing wrong with monetization.  It is an economic transaction in which a slice of your privacy is exchanged for some really good services (like watching cat videos on Facebook just saying).

The Digital Government Disadvantage

So where does government fit into this?  Firstly there is the challenge of resources.  A quick scan of the September 2016 quarterly results of Facebook shows they have about $10.6USD Billion in physical and intangible assets*.  Included in this number is $5.1USD Billion of network and computer software assets (physical) in addition to $1.7USD Billion in technologies and patents (intangible).  In other words, Facebook has excellent technical infrastructure to offer a premium product for free to users.  And if they don’t have a good product now, their $30.3USD Billion in current assets (e.g. cash, securities, etc.) can be used to buy that good product.

* Note, for those accounting weenies out there, an interesting item they have on their balance sheet is ‘Acquired users’.  I could not readily find a definition for this term but it appears that the users are really the Product!

Pity someone like the Government of Alberta (GoA).  A $50 billion a year organization in which an estimated 2.5%, over $1 billion, is spent annually on Information Management and Technology (IMT) (adapted from: GoA IMT Plan, 2016 – 2021, p. 4). From the GoA’s most recent financial statements, they have $4.4CAD Billion (about $3USD Billion) of computer assets – hey not bad – of which 78% of is fully depreciated (e.g. over 5 years old) – YIKES! (adapted from GoA 2015-16 Financial Statements, p. 63).

Beyond relying on old technology, the GoA has to do a lot more than Facebook.  While Facebook can focus on social media, the GoA needs to run registry systems (e.g. vital statistics, land titles or drivers licenses), health systems (e.g. immunization, medical records), education (K-12, student finance, apprenticeship certificates), business (collect taxes/royalties/fines) and human social functions (tracking children in foster care, seniors or homelessness).

The above is not a new story but it is worth repeating every now and then that governments do things that no one else wants to with a tiny fraction of the resources of private industry.  Governments must also build and run systems that have almost no tolerance for failure.

Risk and Skin in the Game

To the last point, risk, this is where government is at a further disadvantage.  The original investors in FaceBook backed a winner.  Those who put money in to Myspace, Friendster or DIGG did not fare so well (huh, never heard of some of these, check out the grave yard of failed social media infographic from the Search Engine Journal January 25, 2013).  Nicholas Taleb calls investors (win or lose) people with ‘Skin in the Game‘ from his book Anti-Fragile.  In contrast, public servants never have skin in the game.  We are always spending other people’s money and our fantastically worst case for abject failure is forced retirement or perhaps being fired – maybe.

In other words, governments have both an advantage and disadvantage around risk. The individuals involved do not have personal risk (advantage) but the organizations also lack the mind focusing benefit of the ‘terror of failure’ (disadvantage).

The Monetization Continuum and How Can Governments ‘Compete’

The reality is that Governments can’t and shouldn’t compete with the Facebook’s of the world.  Creating a bleeding edge user experience would be an inexcusable use of public funds and without the terror of failure would not likely be successful anyway.

But because thought exercises can lead to innovation, I am proposing the ‘Monetization Continuum‘ for governments; a government simply needs to pick a point on a line.  At one end (generally status quo) is ‘Mind and Accept the Gap‘ at the other is ‘Full Monetization‘ with other options falling between these two.  Definitions are provided below as well as way points but generally if you are Singapore you may be more comfortable having McDonald’s ads on your obesity website.  If you are at the other extreme – well this is where Minding the Gap comes in.

Monetization Continuum

End Points Definition Examples
Mind and Accept the Gap Governments acknowledge that they will lag and explain why to their citizens. Periodically, governments leap-frog into a stronger position. Status Quo
Monetize Fund digital government through ad, premium memberships or sponsorship revenue.

Premium services could even be tax-deductible!

Faster border crossing via Nexus.

On the Subject of Not Likely

The reality is that governments will and should never monetize their services.  There is a slippery slope of what is reasonable and in good taste.  Governments have something that Facebook or Google does not have – the coercive powers of taxation and legislation. Perhaps governments does not need to build systems when they can force organizations operating in its jurisdictions to offer the services.  There is a long tradition of this in the telecommunications world, for example.  This would not be monetizing users as products, this would monetizing providers as servants for the public good.  Just a thought.

EBTC Volunteer of the Year

I found out this week that I was honoured with the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club‘s (EBTC) volunteer of the year for 2016. I would have found out eight weeks sooner had I read the email from the club president a bit more carefully.  Setting aside the dangerous of skimming emails, I thought I would take a moment to think about the bike club and how it has master the art of promoting its volunteers and also its mandate of hope.

A Club Sans Drama

It may be that I am blissfully shielded from such matters as a worker-bee-volunteer, but the EBTC is blessed with a lack of petty-drama.  That is small people making big deals out of inconsequential matters of little interest to anyone but themselves.  I have been in enough volunteer organizations to know how much of a blessing this is.  Nothing kills the volunteer spirit faster than inconsequential bickering.

Purpose, Affiliation and Experience – the Currencies of a Volunteer Experience

Next the club has nailed the three critical ways to pay volunteers: Purpose, Affiliation and Experience.  I described these in an earlier blog on volunteering – which funny enough was inspired by going to an EBTC brunch in 2013.

  • Purpose: This may seem easy but even for a club seemingly focused on one thing, cycling, it has its perils.  Does cycling mean racing, touring (supported or unsupported), the Tour de l’Alberta, training, mentoring, etc.  While never perfect, the club has reasonably been as many things to as many cyclists as possible without diluting or killing itself.
  • Affiliation: This is sense of belonging that starts with a purpose but requires people who fundamentally like each other enough to hang out.  Having a low-drama-quotient helps but implicit and explicit cultural rules are also is critical.  The club has managed to gently nudge would-be-drama-queens out the door while guiding others toward correct behaviour.
  • Experience: Finally the easiest one, experience.  hundreds of individual rides over a wide span of abilities is the foundation for the success of the club.  As important, members have opportunities to improve their riding skills through these events.

Hope – the Clubs Main Product

The merits described above are because of strong cultural traditions and an even stronger executive and a good ‘product‘:

The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC) is a recreational not-for-profit volunteer-run group dedicated to facilitate its members to cooperatively run bicycling trips during the spring, summer and fall, cross-country skiing trips in the winter, and social events all year round. 

However, these are all based on a more profound product which is also germane to most volunteer organizations: HOPE.  Hope is when a strong rider wants to maintain or improve their skills. It may be an out of shape rider hoping to find her activity or a family seeking an activity sans phones and distractions.

EBTC and Spreading Hope to a Larger Community

The club is doing a great job at its core functions and with its current members.  Nevertheless, the following is a list of possible challenges for EBTC to take on to become not only a better club but also contribute to a better member of the YEG-community.  The risk, of course, of taking these on is that the club may drift from its core mandate.  The benefit of considering these (or other ideas) is that the club improves the purpose, affiliation and/or experiences EBTC can provide to its members.

  1. Family Centric Riding: Currently the club focuses on adult ridership.  While this makes sense from a logistical, risk and legal perspective – it does mean that the club relies of chance to cultivate new memberships rather than a pipeline that promotes from within.  Children are dangerous creatures for volunteer organizations but this may be where partnership with existing organizations (learn to ride, Scouting, etc.) may be easier than building EBTC’s own program.
  2. Lower-income Riding: how can the club help families and solo riders who can ill forward groceries let alone a good bike?  One method would be to encourage low cost bike maintainance or facilitating the sale or loan of bikes from members.
  3. Sharing the Land Riding: how can the club attract members of the first nation communities?  Rolling across a quiet road has some parallels to what a person may have experienced in times past.

Good Intentions and Execution

The above are food for thought and the only good idea is the executed idea.  This is where the club volunteers come in and once again I was honoured to be selected by my peers.  Hopefully time, energy, circumstances and good fortune will continue to allow me to volunteer.

Accounting for Questions

On November 17, 2016, FMI Edmonton hosted: CPAs and the Public Service.  Now that CPA Alberta is almost a toddler (16+ months old at time of writing), it is time to ask the question: How Can CPA Alberta help the members who work in the public service?

The problem though is how do you get 118 attendees to agree on which questions are most important?  Traditionally you could open up the floor to questions but then the most brave and most opinionated tend to dominate.  You could ask the presenters to provide an overview, and this was done in the first part of the session, but this also eliminates the audience participation.  The (facilitation) answer: Questions a la Carte!

Got Questions?

The origin for Question a la Carte was the September 2016 Edmonton-FMI Conference on Innovation, where I experimented with ‘Innovation Bingo‘.  This facilitation activity promoted audience attention and participation.  With Questions a la carte, my intention was to take it to the next level.

How It Worked

The morning was reasonably interactive; the audience voted on and select the most pressing questions of interest to the conference attendees by following instructions provided in the Annex.  The questions were thematically broken into chronological categories, in this case a CPA’s life journey starting with their training, work, professional development and ending with life after a career (see the table below).

How: Question Solicitation

Additional questions, question removal or edits were solicited but other than the ones I dreamed up or were contributed by CPA Alberta (thanks Larry!), none were forthcoming. Notwithstanding these results, non-accountants were encouraged to contribute questions to challenge the CPAs at the conference with hard-hitting questions to make the attendees squirm a little bit (in a nice and respectful squirming sort of way of course).

How: Instructions and Reinforcement

The questions were distributed in the pre-conference notes as well as given to each attendees in hard copy along with six small dots.  Additional table dots were distributed for a table to decide together how to apply.

Instructions were provided to the audience on at least six different occasions (a 3 minute overview at the beginning of the conference, reinforced by the key-note speaker and then multiple times by the moderator and presenters).

How: Reinforcement and Reward

Encouraging attendees to vote was accomplished by having their hardcopy stamped after applying their dots.  A stamped page not only made the eligible for door prizes (material reinforcement) by also provided an at-table reinforcement of ‘did you get your page stamped?’ (social or group cohesion reinforcement).

How: Presenter Privilege

Presenters and panelist were given the privilege to identify questions of greatest interest to them.  A colour name tag essentially allowed them to jump the queue and get their question answered irrespective of the group interest in it.

How: Questions and Their Categorization

Question package provided to attendees: 2016-11-17-questions.

Section Description Comments/Notes
Starters Questions relating to how to become or train the next generation of CPAs.  Training CPAs is a larger area of interest post merger.
Salad (Days) Personal; The role an accounting designation has had and/or how the merger will change this. We did not explore these enough.
Entree Strategy and Governance; How can CPAs make better decisions to guide our organizations. This was a core area for the conference.
Entree Standards; Questions relating to how accounting standards guide, serve and constrain us as CPAs. Accounting standards is central to the accounting function
The Kitchen Systems and Process; How CPA Alberta and the CPA community can deliver public services faster and better. Limited number of questions were provided and an area of expansion in the future.
New Recipes Keeping Up; Professional Development (PD) and continuous learning as a CPA. PD is always an area of interest for CPAs.
Digestifs Life after the Public Service; Alumni related questions.  This may be due to retirement or departure from the public service organization. A subject area worth of additional exploration, see November 14, 2014 FMI Conference notes.
Dessert Just for Fun; Don’t waste your dots on these question, but see if you can answer them nevertheless.

What Worked and What to Work On?

What: Response Rate

Worked: Generally the Questions a la Carte worked very well.  Of the approximately 600 dots distributed (5 per person), 365 were applied (for a response rate of more than 50%). Most of the attendees understood what was requested as there were very few process questions on what to do or why we are doing it.

Analysis and Ranking of Voted Questions: 2016-11-17-questions_rank.

What: Questions Analysis

Of the 30 questions asked, the average number of votes for each was 12 with a median of 7 votes.   The top question three questions each received approximately 10% of the total votes and each were from distinct categories or themes.  In other words there was relatively wide-spread interest in most of the questions nor did the presenter-privilege seem to indicate a selection bias amongst the audience.

As a result, I would suggest with some improvements, the Question a la Carte method can be a statistically viable method of measuring small group opinion and preferences for a specific issue.

What: Just for Fun and Table Dots

The intent of the Just for Fun questions was to provide an ice breaker.  Because the conference did not focus on these questions this was a missed opportunity. Similar with the Table Dots, the conference did not sufficiently focus on the use of these dots and as a result missed an opportunity for to increase group participation and an improved sense of the ‘event’.

What: Change:

  1. Improved Statistical Analysis: I would record the participation rate more precisely, for example by providing a numbered mail label applied to the pages.  In addition, I would do a better job of estimating acknowledged non-responsive records (e.g. I did not vote nor did the key-note speaker).  Finally, I would place the posters in an area with more physical space as the back wall proved to be intimate but very crowded (and perhaps a bit of a safety concern).
  2. Virtual Dots: Rather than physical dots, digital dots or an online response could have been developed.  My inclination is not to do this as the tactile reinforcement outweighs the minor improvements in administrative processing.  However, if the group was two or three times the size (e.g. an audience of say 300+) then more automated data gathering would make sense
  3. Just for Fun: I will likely drop this element or else make it a stronger part of the key-note speakers ice breaker activities.
  4. Table Dots: I will highlight this more strongly next time including giving specific time to the tables to come to a consensus and have the moderator reinforce group behaviour.
  5. Physical Space: I will provide at least a 3 metre pathway around the sheets and perhaps also use larger dots to increase the visible impact.  This may include having the dots in the meal area and then making an ‘ceremony’ of carrying it in so as to increase the group ownership and affiliation with the voting process.

A Blog Annex – How to Play Questions a la carte

Going out to eat helps to build bridges and create a sense of community in a group.  In addition to a good breakfast, you are invited to participate in ‘CPA Questions a la Carte’. How does it work, simple – you get to pick the questions that our panel will consider.  To do this, you will have been given some personal dots. Simply place one or more dots next to a question you would like addressed.  Don’t see a question, no problem, order it online via Sli.do (see page 8 for instructions).  In addition to personal dots, each table will receive group dots.  Prior to the end of the mid-morning break, discuss at your table how best to divide these up amongst the questions.  For example, you could have one person stick all of the table-dots on their card or you could divide them up evenly at your table.

To make sure the kitchen (e.g. the panel) gets your order, go to the back of the conference room.  There a master menu will tally up the various dot-votes.  A CPA server will stamp your order, with this stamp you are now eligible for some great door prizes at the end of the session.


90 or 99 – That is the Strategic Question

Nicolas Taleb would have us believe that strategic planning is ‘superstitious babble’ (see Anti-fragile strategic planning).  In contrast, Kaplan and Norton make strategic planning a cornerstone of the Balanced Scorecard.  The reality is probably in the middle.

This blog however considers the question, how much time should an organization spend on planning?  Successful or not, when do you cut your losses for a year or when do you think that you are not doing enough?

How Much Is Enough?

On the one hand, strategic planning can become its own self-sustaining cottage industry.  Endless meetings are held and navels are closely examined with little to show for it.  On the other hand, the organization is so tied up in operations and ‘crisis du jour‘ that they wake up and discover the world (and even their organization) has completely changed around them.

What rule of thumb or heuristic can be used to know that you are doing enough without decorating cottages?  My proposed answer is somewhere between the 1.0% and 0.1%. Although a full order of magnitude separates these values, a range is important due to the volatility of an environment an organization finds itself in.  Governments are likely on the low-end (closer to 0.1%) and tech start-ups on the higher end (1.0%).

For more on the basis for these heuristics, take a read of ‘A Ruling on 80, 90 and 99‘ for my thoughts and a review of such things as Vilfredo Pareto’s legacy and internet lurkers. A recap from this blog is as follows:

  • Pareto: 20% of an organization’s actions account for 80% of its results.
  • 90 Rule: 1% of the operational decisions are enacted by 9% of the organization affecting the remaining 90%.
  • 99 Rule: 0.1% of the strategic decisions are enacted by 0.9% of the organization which impacts the remaining 99%.

Thus the 99 Rule provides a minimum amount of time for an organization to consider strategic questions while the 90 rule provides a maximum amount of time.

Who Does What and What to Do with Your Time?

Consider a fictional organization of 1,000 people.  This is a medium sized business, typical government Ministry or employees of a large town or a small city.  Assuming there is about 1,700 productive hours on average per year per employee (e.g. after vacation, training, sick time, etc. see below for my guesstimation on this) this means the organization in total has 1,700,000 hours to allocate.  How much of this precious resource should be spent doing strategic planning?

I am recommending no less than 1,700 hours and no more than 17,000 hours in total.  In total means involving all people in all aspects of the process.  Thus if there is a one hour planning meeting with 20 people in the room, that is 20 hours.  To prepare for this meeting, 3 people may have spent 2 full days each – another 3 x 2 x 8-hours or another 48 hours against the above budget.

Measuring what Matters

The point of completing these measurements is to answer four fundamental questions:

  1. Is the organization doing enough strategic planning relative to the environment?
  2. Is the organization doing too much planning?
  3. Are we getting value for the investment of resources?
  4. How do we get better at the activities to reduce this total?

Is the organization doing enough strategic planning relative to the environment?

What happens if you discover you are not doing enough?  For example your 1,000 person organization is only spending 100 hours per year doing planning.  You may be very good and efficient and if so bravo to you and your planning folks!  On the other hand, you may be missing opportunities, blind sided by challenges and mired in the current day’s crisis – in which case maybe a bit more effort is needed.

Is the organization doing too much planning?

The 1,000 person organization may also be in a Ground Hog Day’esque hell of constantly planning with not much to show for it.  Perhaps you have a full time planning unit of five people who host dozens of senior management sessions and the best they can is produce an anemic planning document that is quickly forgotten.  In this case, measuring the effort of consuming 10 to 20 thousand hours of efforts for nought can lead to better approaches to the effort.

Are we getting value for the investment of resources?

The above two examples demonstrate how a bit of measurement may help you decide that 100 hours is more than sufficient or 20,000 hours was money well spent.  The output of the planning process is… well a plan.  More importantly it is a culture of monitoring, planning and adapting to changing organizational and environmental circumstances.  Thus setting an input target of planning to measure the quality of the output and the impact of the outcomes can answer the question if the planning effort were resources well spent.

How do we get better at the activities to reduce this total?

The advantage of measuring, evaluating and reflecting on the planning efforts is to get better at.  Setting a target (be 1.0% or 0.1%) is the first step of this activity and measuring against this target is the next.

Good luck with your planning efforts and let me know how much time your organization spends on its planning initiatives.

* How much Time Do You Have?

How much time does an organization have per annum to do things?  The answer is … it depends.  Here are two typical organizations.  The first is a medium size enterprise that works an 8-hour day, offers 3-weeks vacation per year, in addition to sick days and training (e.g. for safety, regulatory compliance, etc.).  On the other hand is a Ministry that offers a 7.25-hour day, 5-weeks of vacation plus sick and training days.

Organization Medium Size Company Government Ministry
Hours/day (1) 8 hours 7.25 hours
Work days per year (2) 254  250
Work Hours per year 2,032 1,812.5
Avg Vacation days x work hours (3) 120
(3 weeks)
(5 weeks)
Avg Sick Days/year x work hours (4) 60
(7.5 days)
(7.5 days)
Avg Hours of Learning/year (5) 42 29
Total productive hours/employee 1,810 1,548.25
  1. Few professionals work an 8-hour day let alone a 7.25-hour one.  Nevertheless, everyone has non-productive time such as bathroom breaks, filling up on coffee, walking between buildings.  So I am leaving the actual average productive hours at 8 and 7.25 respectively.
  2. For a cool site in adding this calculation, see: www.workingdays.ca.  Note this includes 3 days of Christmas Closure.
  3. 10 days is the minimum number of vacation days required to be given to an employee.  The average is a surprisingly difficult number to find (at least to a casual searcher).  15 days is based on an Expedia 2015 survey.
  4. Reference Statistics Canada: Days lost per worker by reason, by provinces.
  5. Sources vary.  I have chosen the high value for the for-profit organization as they often have stringent regulatory requirements for health and safety training.  For government I have chosen a medium value.  Sources:

Other Thoughts on Strategic Planning

A Ruling on 80, 90 and 99

Heuristics or rules of thumb are of great benefit in formulating approximations and quick decisions.  They can just as easily lead one astray through over simplification.  In thinking about heuristics as they apply to organizations, I have been pondering three: the 80/20 Rule, the 90 Rule, and the 99 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule or Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is a heuristic that estimates cause and effect, it is defined as:

Also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity; states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (adapted from wikipedia).

While the Pareto Principle has reasonably good statistic evidence of its validity in estimating cause and effect, it does not do so well in predicting effort.  In other words, 20% of your future actions will yield 80% of the future value.  Which of the four out of five things will you do that will have no or limited impact on the 80%?

The 90 Rule

This rule is based on the observation of contributions to social media sites.

In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a rule of thumb pertaining to participation in an internet community, stating that only 1% of the users of a website actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk (adapted from Wikipedia). 

It may seem strange to invoke an internet rule but compare this to an organizational structure. What is the relative proportion of shop floor workers to middle to senior managers?  Typically there is about a 1:10 ratio of doers versus managers.

Consider an organization of 1,000 people; a reasonable sized government ministry or medium-sized enterprise.  Within such an organization, there would be about 10 senior leaders (Assistant/Deputy Ministers, CEOs, Vice Presidents), 90 middle level managers (Directors, Managers, Assistant Managers) and 900 shop floor staff and immediate supervisors (clerks, sales people, workers, supervisors, etc.).

In other words the 90 rule is a reasonable heuristic to predict the allocation of resources and effort.  1% or the allocated resources will have a disproportionate effect on the next 9% which in turns controls or influences the final 90% of an organization.

The 99/0.9/0.1 Rule

A more lean view of the 90 rule is that 99 rule.  The 90 rule is accurate in the allocation of operational resources but I believe underestimates the effect of more strategic or exceptional events.  The CEO’s decision to close an unprofitable factory is not made by 10 people in the above fictional organization, but instead by 1 person.  Certainly the other 9 people support and (hopefully) validate the decision but the impact is then disproportionate to the remaining 990 individuals in an organization.

The 99 rule is a better tool to estimate strategic decisions within an organization.

Recap of the Rules

  • Pareto: 20% of an organization’s actions account for 80% of its results.
  • 90 Rule: 1% of the operational decisions are enacted by 9% of the organization affecting the remaining 90%.
  • 99 Rule: 0.1% of the strategic decisions are enacted by 0.9% of the organization which impacts the remaining 99%.

What are your thoughts?  Are the above heuristics reasonable and  valuable tool when allocating organizational resources?  Is there too much variability and the rules are a meaningless average?  Do you have any anecdotal experience with any of the above rules in either their cause or effect?

Monetizing Being a Public Servant

Early season snow storms are dangerous things.  Not only for driving but also when you take a long walk and your brain slips into thought experiments.  For example, when you are walking along and your brain says – hey you could potentially retire in a few years and do something outside the public service where you currently work.

In other words the snow and my brain conspired to ponder the question, ‘How do you monetize your career as a public servant?’.

Monetizing the Problem

First a definition, what is monetization? There are a swack of definitions but they all generally boil down to trying to convert something to ready cash. The following extract from Wikipedia’s definition provides a good example:

… attempting to make money on goods or services that were previously unprofitable or had been considered to have the potential to earn profits.

So, what exactly are we monetizing in this context? How to have a career post public service that commands a similar level of pay, respect and respect. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but public servants have a (not)/justifiable reputation of being unemployable post government.

The Obvious Methods

So, after a career of say 25, 30 or more years, how do you convert that experience into a second career or even part-time income?  The obvious answers that came to me include:

  1. Maximize a Public Sector Pension and/or Semi-Retirement
  2. Gain Unique Experience of Value to Someone
  3. Retire from a Senior Position that has Cache and Contacts
  4. Keep Your Toe in the Real World

Maximize a Public Sector Pension and/or Semi-Retirement

This is the most obvious method is that you enjoy the government backed annuity otherwise known as a public sector pension.  Sure, maybe you will do some greeting at Wal-Mart or try to convert a hobby into a paying proposition – but generally you don’t monetize the experience.

There is of course a cliché here that public servants have gold-plated pensions and to certain extent it is true (to learn more about this subject, see the post-conference notes on public sector retirement by the FMI).  The other side of this cliché of course is the lack of stock options, bonus and other non-monetary factors related to be a public servant.  Nevertheless, a thirty-five year pension is a pretty sweet bit of monetization!

Gain Unique Experience of Value to Someone

The fellow who spent his career as a spot-mountain-frog-lip-taster-technician may discover that he has a very unique skill set.  Governments do things that business and organizations don’t so this is definitely a consideration for monetization – assuming there is a market for the specialization – and there is the rub.  No other organization may want to pay for (thus monetize) frog-lip-tasting.  However there are some less obvious examples of converting experience into post-retirement careers.

If you work in an administrative function, likely the experience can be monetized – to a point.  A human resource consultant, accounting clerk or procurement specialist can find (if they want) post-retirement employment.  Unfortunately, the more senior the public sector experience the less likely of making a lateral leap.  As an accountant, I have managed to avoid dealing with taxes, shareholder accounting and the like because I have focused on budgets, systems and governance.  As a result, most controller roles are closed to me because I lack this basic for-profit experience.  The same examples can be made for other administrative functions in human resources, procurement, etc.

Retire from a Senior Position that has Cache

Retiring as a Deputy Minister or City Manager may open up future opportunities.  Think of the senior politicians, for example, who have gone back into law firms or think tanks.  Alas often the value you can bring to an organization are the contacts and systems knowledge of the recently departed government.  This knowledge is perishable in the extreme, particularly if there is a subsequent change in government or significant re-organization.

Mandatory cooling off periods may further diminish the relative value of recent experience if one needs to wait six to twenty-four months before cashing in.  Nevertheless, if you got to be a senior civil servant, you probably have skills of value beyond a government context.

Keep Your Toe in the Real World

One method of ensuring the ability to work in the real world post public service is to not really ever leave it.  A toe in may range from owning real estate property, working part-time (e.g. doing taxes if you are an accountant) or teaching courses.  In this way you have non-government experience to point to.  A further upside is having additional income of doing some or all of these things.  A downside is working more than one job during your career.

Monetization May Mean More than Money

If you are willing to stretch the definition of monetization, there is more to life than a second (third, fourth or fifth) career.  You can also use your experience in a volunteer capacity helping our or other societies.  For example Canadian Executive Services Overseas takes retired executives and places them globally and here at home (e.g helping first nation communities).  Churches, non-profit boards and community leagues are other potential beneficiaries of a life time in the service of the public.

Not all of these will pay the bills if one’s pension is not fully maximized.  However if money is not a primary driver (hey, you did take a government job after all), then you may be paid in post-retirement experiences!

Thank you snow storm for helping me clear my thoughts whilst walking… now back to work because I am not quite at the point of being able to start monetizing….

Guts, Gory and the Organization

Giulia Enders has written a delightful book on our Guts.  If the title was not sufficient the sub-title describes it all: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Bodys Most Underrated Organ.

Gut is a good read for anyone who digests food (which pretty much covers everyone living) and is a potential lesson for organizations that there is more complexity in a system then we can ever imagine.

Have Some Guts, Read Gut

Gut is a pretty easy read.  Enders presents the physiology of the Gut in a very accessible manner and explains the key functions of the major organs (e.g. stomach, small/large intestines, liver, etc.).  Originally published in German, the English translation has great cheek and humour.  In fact, Gut would make an excellent text-book for junior or senior high school biology given its easy accessibility.

As a microbiologist, Enders delves into the other organ of our body, the microbiota of the gut.  Based on current research, Enders makes the case that the dividing line between where our cells start and bacteria and other germs end is not as clear cut as we may think. For example:

  • Children born via Caesarean section are not endowed with the bugs found within their mothers’ birth canal.  As a result they must source their bugs from the environment and these may not be the most beneficial.  These children take months or years to develop a healthy gut microbiota.  They are also at a risk of developing asthma or allergies.
  • Breast feeding has a similar impact on allergies and the like.  Mothers milk not only feeds the baby but also contains nutrients galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) to feed the child’s gut.
  • The gut’s bacteria helps to train our immune system to not only recognize threats but to also not over-react to them.  As a result, this reduces allergies, asthma and potentially juvenile diabetes.
  • We periodically wipe out all or portions of our microbiota through the use of antibiotics, poor diet and stress.  When the good bugs depart their spots can be replaced by the less than desirable who then can be difficult to displace.
  • The appendix is not a slacker who does not realize its time has passed.  Current research indicates that the appendix is a store house of good bacteria that can repopulate the gut if the intestines have been flushed due to diarrhea.

Organization’s Need Guts

Ender has not only written a very accessible book that discusses such delicate matters as what our poop should look like, she has reminded us that perceptions of systems are based on best available information at a point in time.  For the gut, bacteria are necessary to not only break down food but to also stress the immune system so it does not over or under react.  Structures such as appendices may appear useless but turn out to be vital to our long term health.

The gut can be used as an analog for organizations.  Poop jokes aside, a healthy organization is more complex and mysterious then it first appears.  While we may be inclined to oversimplify them, organizations have interactions and systems that may not be immediately apparent.

Elevators are Like Guts – They Mix and Separate

Here is one small example: riding elevators.  In my building a new system has replaced the traditional ‘up’ button with destination buttons.  Rather then jumping on the first elevator going up, you select your floor and proceed to that lift going exactly to that floor plus perhaps a few floors above and below yours.

This system has dramatically improved the speed by which people are carried to their floors – and it has cut the accidental and random interactions of people.  Previously who you got on with was chance.  As a result, there was an opportunity to interact with a variety of people who you may only see intermittently.  Now the elevator ride is much more homogenous – you ride with people from one floor above or below.

More efficient, yes – beneficial to the organization – not necessarily.  In as much as good bacteria trains our immune system and a diverse flora is better for us, random interactions and non-sterile organizational mixing is also of value.  Good organizations need slight agitation, a diverse culture and some randomness to be effective and healthy – just like a good gut.  In addition, organizations should recognize that individuals who may not seem to be part of a main structures may in fact have a disproportionate impact on the health of the culture.  Introducing the occasional disruptive employees/contractors, the mail room clerk who is a clearing house of information across many floors or a cafeteria that promotes chance encounters vertically and horizontally across the organization.

Embrace your Internal and Organizational Micro-biota

The gut is more complex than we ever imagined and has a stronger influence well beyond converting food to energy and nutrition.  In the same way, organizations are more complex then we can imagine and elements we may think of being without use can turn out to be instrumental to its health.  Enjoy Enders’ gut and good luck with your biotas – both the micro and organizational varieties.

Innovation Bingo

On September 21, 2016, the Edmonton FMI Chapter hosted the following session (detailed description found below in the ‘blog-annex’: Fostering Innovation in the Public Service When Money is Tight.  Part of the conference was a game entitled ‘Innovation Bingo’.  The objectives of the game were as follows:

  1. Help participants assimilate knowledge about innovation.
  2. Assist in networking with other participants, particularly those outside of ones normal circle of associates.
  3. Win some prizes.

How the Game was Played

  • As part of the pre-conference notes and as a physical hand out, each participant was given a bingo card (see the last two pages of the pre-conference notes: FMI-2016-09-21-Innovation-PreNotes or download Innovation Bingo.
  • Instructions were provided on the card, informally at each table by event leader and then en masse at the start of the session.
  • The card was alluded to a few times by the moderator and during the conference.
  • The card had two sides:
    • Personal Information: name, birth month, interests, and needs.
    • Bingo card proper.
  • At the end, prizes were distributed but only if the individual was willing to share the results of their card.

Assessment of the Game

The following conclusions were drawn from the results of the game:

  1. The game itself provided a reasonable ice breaker at table.
  2. Individuals did not actively use the card outside of their table and there was limited interaction or discussion with the card.
  3. The room itself however appeared to be well engaged and networked suggesting that the card and game provide some social license that eased initial conversations.

Conclusions and Future Use of Innovation Bingo

  • An en masse ice breaker game can work at the table level.
  • Room level coordination requires greater coordination which would detract from the program.
  • Conclusion: ‘Bingo’ games of varying forms can be used in other FMI events but should be downplayed and use for fun things such as prize distribution.

Blog Annex – FMI Event Description:

Fostering Innovation in the Public Service When Money is Tight. 

Public servants are expected to be innovative while working in a risk averse environment. This inherent conundrum is compounded during times of fiscal restraint when ideas are solicited but resources to execute few. This session will investigate innovation in the public services from a number of facets.

What is innovation, how do you get it, how do you keep it and when should you ignore it? Next, how to propose, implement and sustain an innovative idea or culture in an environment that is less than ideal. Finally, thoughts and strategies of making the case for innovation during times of fiscal restraint; after all, never let a good crisis go to waste. 

Six PoC Questions for Success

Proofs of Concept (PoC) are great.  They allow one to test a small component and then apply success (or failure) to future endeavours.  Certainly the all time champion of the PoC are the Myth busters.  Adam and Jamie would start each myth with a small-scale test before going big (and with the obligatory BIG explosion).

To Hack or to Formalize a PoC

PoCs come in many sizes.  At one end is the developer who experiments and comes up with a workaround or a more elegant way to achieve a result (aka a good ‘hack’).  On the other end is an organization that incrementally works toward a final objective.  For example sending a series of Apollo missions into space with each one adding on to the knowledge and experience of its successor.  This blog considers more than a midnight pizza fueled hack-a-thon but much less than sending humans into the unknown.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 - the beneficiary of a series of Proof of Concepts.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 – the beneficiary of a series of Proof of Concepts.

The Scientific Process (sort of) to the Rescue

One of human’s greatest achievements was the development of the Scientific Method which involves (courtesy of dictionary.com):

noun; 1. a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.

The following Six PoC Questions for Success is loosely based on the above method.  The intent is to help an organization understand why a PoC is a good idea and the result.  At the same time, this is ‘just-enough’ formalization.  After all, it is important to let the brilliant folks develop ‘elegant-hacks‘ without too much paper work.

1. What was the Business problem being addressed?

Why was a PoC identified?  Generally this is to address a specific business problem.  Pure research is okay as an objective for a PoC.  That is developing technologies or techniques with no immediate application but future potential value for an organization.

2. How is the problem currently being solved?

The answer to this question is that it is often not solved, done through intuition or completed via a manual/semi-automated process. This question helps the organization understand what to do the with the results of a PoC.  If the manual process is only slightly more costly then a fully automated variety, why bother with the complexities of automation?

3. The Question

In effect this is the hypothesis portion of the scientific method.  Ideally this question should be a simple Yes/No.  If the nature of the question changes through the PoC process, that is okay – but the evolution of the question should be included as part of the final report.  Thus we may have started asking question X but we ended up answering question Y.  The reason is that X was too big/small/wrong and Y was answerable.

Defining the question is important so your PoC team does lose its way and they have a touchstone to come back to. A bit of formalization around how they can change, extend, shrink or otherwise amend the question is important.

4. What were the results at the end of the project?

This question should have two parts, a) and b).  Part a) is the predicted result.  By including a prediction, the PoC can stay focused on the intended result.  This is not to discount secondary benefits or chance discoveries but it does help to ensure that a PoC does not become its own self-sustaining cottage industry. Consider keeping part a) secret from the PoC team if you want the benefits of the double blind effect.

Part b) is what happened, what were the results?  This should support the response to the question answered above.  Ideally the result is Yes or No but it might be Maybe.  Of course everyone wants a momentous discovery every time.  However failure should be seen as a positive result – such a result may have saved an organizations considerable time, talent and treasure.

5. What are the next steps?

This should be a very practical listing of how to use these results.  Examples of next steps may include refining a subsequent PoC, engaging in a larger scale test or moving the resulting solution to production.

6. What is the Future Vision, What is Possible?

Question five focuses on the practical and immediate application of the PoC results.  Question six let’s the team blue sky a bit and extrapolate findings to larger contexts.  This is part of the fun and value of the PoC – the larger application of something new.

No Explosion – Using the Six Questions

Sorry, unlike the Mythbusters, there is no end of blog explosion.  Instead, these questions are a handy reminder of the things to consider when a PoC is being suggested.   Let me know your thoughts on the six questions.  Would you add a question or take away one or more of them?

Cash is King but Flow is the Empress

David Trahair writes on financial matters and provides a very welcome Canadian point of view on retirement and investment considerations.  In his 2012 book: Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots; The Simplest Personal Finance Strategy Ever he provides both financial advice and some self-help to boot!

The central theme running through this book is the importance of positive cash flow (Cash Cows) versus negative flow (Cash Pigs).  Trahair also goes into a few pleasant surprises such as lottery winning as a retirement strategy (Jackpots).

Pig Tied to a Stake; Frederick George Richard Roth; Metropolitan Museum of Art: #06.404

Keep your Cash Pigs under control. Pig Tied to a Stake; Frederick George Richard Roth; Metropolitan Museum of Art: #06.404

On the one hand, much of what is in this book you may have read elsewhere in similar financial and investement books.  On the other hand, he does a good job of combining a number of different threads together including why happiness should be a high on your list of wealth

Happiness as an Investment Strategy

Trahair references the science of happiness, for example, you have a happiness set point.  50% of your happiness is pre-determined by both your genetics and your early up bringing.  The other 50% is split 10/40 between external circumstances (e.g. job, new things; 10%) and intentional activities (e.g. things you choose to do such as physical activity, 40%).

Huh? What the heck does happiness have to do with my investment strategy?

The answer is, be careful that you are not trying to buy things that are free.  If you had an unhappy working career there is every chance you will have a miserable retirement. Figure out how you can be happy and then plan the money around it.  You may discover that you need less treasure then you originally thought!

Before leaving this theme, Trahair references a movie and a book that I will need to track down and read on the subject of happiness:

  •  ‘Happy‘; a documentary on happiness by Roko Belic; and
  • Happy for No Reason‘; a book on the same subject by Marci Shimoff.

Some Old (But Still Very Good) Advice

Trahair revisits advice given by other financial sages such as David Chilton, the Wealthy Barber including these timeless gems:

  • Record your expenses, doing so will help you understand where your money goes.
  • Avoid bad debt, e.g. debt to purchase non-enduring assets such as vacations, electronics or meals (Bad debt = Cash Pig).
  • Avoiding debt is easier by living within your means.
  • Living within your means includes owing less house than what the bank says you can afford.
  • Enter into home ownership only after considering the merits of renting.

To the last point, Trahair provides a good summary of the merits, terms and considerations of owning a home, renting and even buying a condo.  Once again this material is available in other sources but Trahair does a good job of making these technical details easy to read and understand.

This includes understanding what inflation is (how the Canadian Price Index is calculated) as well as the state of the Canada Pension Plan (pretty good by all accounts).  Pulling it altogether, Trahair provides an overview of how a Cash Pig at one point in your life (saving for retirement) can become a Cash Cow later on (cashing in RRSPs).

A Bit Too Much Excel but Still a Good Graduation Gift

One fault Trahair has is going into too much detail of his Excel tools (which you can download free from www.trahair.com).  I recognize that these are good mechanisms to demonstrate his point and the scenarios that he is painting – but they also bog down the narrative.  Hopefully in future editions he sticks to the key messages and moves Excel-Explanations into annexes.

Nevertheless, if you know someone who is graduating this year and are thinking about a present I would suggest a bundle of books.  Firstly all of Trahair’s editions (available from his website) and Chilton’s series on the Wealthy Barber.

Good luck with you cash pigs and cows – and may the FLOW be with you!

Cycling on a Grade – Part II of II

In a previous post, I introduced Cycling on a Grade, a method to estimate the relative difficulty of a ride.  The primary factors for this first portion were ride distance and relative speed.

This blog addresses the secondary factors that make a ride difficult, things like elevation gain, weather, road conditions, etc.  Another blog will introduce ‘suspect math’ that will support scoring for these factors.  This blog introduces the factors (mostly to make sure none are missed or any are not needed) and provides the base or an ‘allowable’ number for each of the secondary factors.  For example, for each of the ride levels introduced in the first blog, an elevation value is provided.  This amount is the number of metres of elevation gain needed before the impact of an additional metre is considered.  The base simplifies the calculation somewhat but also recognizes that a rider who is at the red level should have little difficulty absorbing 500M of cumulative elevation gain.  But what about the 501st metre; when do secondary factors turns an otherwise ‘blue’ ride ‘red’ or a ‘red’ ride ‘black’?  This is where these secondary factors and their impact come in.

Primary and Secondary Factors

As noted above, there are 2 primary factors: distance and speed.  There are also 13 secondary factors which either contribute an absolute amount or an amount based on distance.  The following table lists all 15 factors, provides a brief description and a range of impacts on a ride.  The Parent field provides a grouping of like determinants, namely:

  • Route: relating to the area being traveled.  For example, distance, elevation or trail head.
  • Weather: the climatic conditions when the route is attempted.  For example wind, rain or temperature.
  • Cyclist: The abilities of the individual relative to the route and the conditions.  For example comfort riding unsupported or the quality of the bike owned.
Factor Parent Factor Description Notes
Distance Route Primary Total distance traveled from the trail head and returning to the starting point. Distance in km of the route.
Average Speed Route Primary The ride speed measured in km/h. Generally the faster the ride the more difficult it is.  Speed is used to calculate total ride time. Excludes breaks
Elevation Gain Route Secondary Elevation straddles the primary and secondary factors and is the cumulative number of metres of elevation gained less the base allowed per each level. Descent is not factored to simplify calculations and that the benefit of descent is seldom equal to the effort of ascent. Total metres climbed less base.
High Grade Distance Route Secondary In addition to elevation gain, the number of metres of distance traveled over a grade greater than 12%.  This is included to recognize that significant climbs adds to the difficulty of a ride.  The distance of the maximum grade must be at least 250M.

If a precise calculation is not possible add 100 points to each significant climb (e.g. > 12%) longer than 250m.

Likely calculated in increments of 250M with the actual grade factored in.
Route Quality Route The quality of a route impacts its relative difficulty.  A smooth ride on relatively new asphalt is much less difficult then the same ride on loose gravel. Quality of road surface:
0=Smooth Ashphalt
1=up to 2″ Cracks, some gravel
2=50/50 Gravel asphalt
3=Hardpacked Gravel
4=Loose Gravel/Rock
This measure reflects the worst section at least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Traffic Route Traffic and road surface greatly increases the level of attention needed to ride and thus its fatigue.
0=Quiet trail, no traffic
1=Quiet City street or bike lane
2=Busy City street, no lane
4=Busy Highway, shoulder
6=Busy Highway, no shoulder
This measure reflects the worst section of least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Trail Head Route The distance needed to travel to the start of the ride contributes fatigue.  Thus driving for three hours and then riding two hours is more challenging that the same two-hour ride out of one’s own front door.  This factor is based on the distance from YEG city centre (or hub if on tour) expressed in hours driving less a base. Minutes of driving time less 100 minutes from the YEG city Centre.
Route Finding Route Route finding adds to the relative effort of a ride.  Notwithstanding backtracking and ‘long-way-rounds’, checking the map against landmarks requires effort and skill.   Route finding expectations:
0=No route finding needed, signed tour or group ride in familiar area.
1=Group ride in unfamiliar area with experience guide.
2=Map of roads
3=Map of trails, off-road
4=Ad hoc route finding in natural area
Applies to the portion of the distance for which the route finding is relevant.
Wind (steady) Weather  Air resistance has a greater impact on a rider than rolling resistance and thus wind is the bane of the cyclist.  A tail wind is welcome but does not come close to compensating for a steady cross or head wind.  As a result, one third of the wind velocity is taken as the contributing factor and added to score of a ride. Wind (W) in km/h, less base (Wb) amount X Ride hours (R) divided by 3
Precipitation Weather  Riding in the rain is disheartening.  Beyond the psychological drag, it also wrecks havoc with drive trains and can add weight to clothing and gear.  precipitation:
0=None or light showers
1= > 50% time light showers
2=Steady light rain
3=Steady rain / light snow
4=Heavy rain/snow
This is applied to the worst weather lasting for a duration of at least 25% of the ride.
Temperature The Goldilocks temperature differs for most people but is generally within an ideal riding range of 5-25C.  Colder than this can result in numb fingers and toes.  Warmer temperatures leads to excessive sweating, high fluid needs and exhaustion.  The ideal ride temperature for an EBTC ride is set at 15C.
Equipment Beyond a bike, having to take equipment on a ride adds weight, requires higher levels of skill on the part of the rider and imposes a psychological cost.
0= < 5km from start/transport
1= Local transportation is available (bus, train, taxi)
2= Sag wagon provided
3= Self supported, group ride
4= Self Support, solo ride with significant (>20km) distance from aide.
 Applies to both single day and multi/ overnight rides.
Repair Knowledge

Equipment must have a score > 2 before this is a factor.

Degree of expected technical knowledge in case of bike malfunction.
0. Ready access to transportation (e.g. bus, train, SAG wagon) in case of incident.
1. Riding with a group that has experience repairing most minor problems (e.g. flat, small adjustments, etc.).
2. Riding solo or with an inexperienced group.
Similar to food, this factor seldom has an impact because of the typical proximity of rescue means, available repair knowledge and the fact that most beginner riders are oblivious to the needs to conduct repairs.
Food Stuffing a few granola bars into a map pocket or buying a chocolate bar at one of a number of gas stations is one thing.  Carrying a day or more food is another matter.  Food:
0. Partial day ride and/or food is readily available en route for purchase.
1. Full day ride with limited or no purchase options.
3. Multi-day ride with limited or no purchase options.
 This factor seldom has influence except for rides in remote areas.

But What Are They Worth?

The next blog will discuss the algorithms for each of the above.  Prior to going down a rabbit hole of cartesian factors a more important consideration is whether the right secondary factors are being considered.  Drop me a note or a comment on the above factors.  Have I missed a big one, included some questionable ones or are the above really irrelevant when planning a ride for a club?

Audit Question Log

An idea that I have been kicking around for a few years is why organizations don’t maintain a list of audit questions they have been asked in an Auditor Question Log?  Such a log contains the questions, responses and the organization’s supporting policies or documentation.

The Dumb-Newbie-Question Problem

Asking the same question year over year (and comparing the answers) has its merits in the tricks and tips of auditing.  For an auditor, a deviation can indicate a poor process or internal control risk.  There are also the dumb-newbie-questions.  You know the ones if you have been part of an audit.  The newly minted auditor asks a question that they should have learned in Accounting 201.  Dumb newbie questions are a cheap way for accounting firms to train articling students.  Unfortunately for the client, it not only consumes time and is frustrating – it wastes the true value of an audit: challenging the organization.

Don't let you next audit drive you mad - consider using an audit log. (Image: Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855–1888); Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972.145.2).

Don’t let you next audit drive you mad – consider using an audit log. (Image: Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855–1888); Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972.145.2).

An Audit Question Log

The idea behind an audit question log is to record the questions and responses asked in an audit and to categorize them.  The categorization will include what the question relates to, who answered the question, when was it asked and how does it relate to an existing processes or control.  The following table lists a potential list of attributes for a question log.  As well, download the Microsoft Excel template.

Microsoft Excel Template of the Auditor-Question Log

Attribute Description and Comments
ID An unique identifier ideally a simple sequential number.
Fiscal Year To which fiscal year(s) does a question pertain to.
Asked? Who asked the question?  Keep a list of not only the person’s name but also the audit organization they worked for.
 Audit In which audit was the question asked?  For many organizations it is hard to keep track of which auditor belongs with which audit and when they are starting or stopping.  Take a few minutes to radio collar your auditor before they start work in your organization.
Answered Who answered the question from your organization?
General & Sub Area What is the area of interest the auditor is asking the question about?  The general area is a drop down and there should be no more than about dozen (e.g. Assets, Expenses, Controls, etc.).  The sub-area is free text and is used to hone the nature of the specific question.
Question What was the question?  Surprisingly this is often difficult to pin down.  Sometimes auditors mumble, sometimes they don’t know the area well enough to articulate a question and sometimes it is a subterfuge.  Be sure you understand the question before you answer it.
Response And what was the response?  Cut and paste from emails, notes from a verbal discussion are fine.
Comment Anything else you want to add that is not otherwise identified in another column?  Try to avoid comments like ‘not the most stupid audit question ever asked but a very strong contender’.
Company What is being audited?  Not needed for small companies or organizations.  A life saver when you are dealing with a complex organization.
Policy Do you have a policy and/or procedure to back up your response?  No is okay, it is being created is better and yes is preferred.
Link It is 10pm, do you know where your policies are?  Include a reference to the policy.

Costs of the Question Log

The cost of an Audit Log is nominal but real.  Your organization needs to create the log, write down the questions and the corresponding response to the question.  The largest portion of this cost, researching and responding to a question, you will pay for whether or not you have an audit log.  The organizational challenge is changing the way your organization thinks about audit questions.  You need to think about having a log well before the auditors troop in, you need to educate your staff to use it and record the questions/answers and then you need to review and debrief it after the audit.

These activities seem trivial in abstract and exorbitantly high during the pitch battle of year-end.

The Benefits and Use the Question Log

The log can benefit both the auditor and the organization however.  For the auditor it demonstrate that the organization takes things like internal controls serious enough to write them down.  It also provides an organizational perspective of what has been tested in the past.  If there are dozens of questions over many years relating to custody of the petty cash system and no questions on the custody of attractive assets – well maybe petty cash can be given less attention this year and the auditors should be asking where are pinch-able and costly assets being stored?

For the organization, the audit log helps in a number of ways.  Before an audit starts, answer the common questions that have been asked numerous times in the past.  Thus when the auditors arrive, have the twenty-something read and review the questions from prior years.  They can certainly perform tests on the controls relating to the questions but that is a better use of time then asking what ‘AP’ stands for and how do you spell it.

Next take a hard look at what the auditors have reviewed in the past and get ahead of them by reviewing what they have not asked about.  Returning to the above example, do you really know where your expensive attractive assets are – maybe a policy, procedure and process should be started now well before the panic of year-end.

Leveraging the Log

View the time and effort responding to audit questions as an asset rather than an expense of year-end.  Like any good asset, the responses should be protected and managed.  For example, use the audit log as a training tool for your staff so that they understand the value and purpose of your procedures beyond being a simple set of rules to follow.  An Accounts Payable supervisor should not only be able to answer an auditor’s question about segregation of duties (e.g. separate vendor setup from invoice entry from batch approval for payment) but also WHY this is important and HOW the organization has expressed the importance through a corporate policy or procedure.

Heck, at the post-year-end party, run a Jeapordy style game ask the auditor questions to different teams and see who wins.  If most of your staff can understand and answer most of the auditor’s questions – everyone wins – even the auditors.

Container versus Content

Most of the above discussion focused on the content of the audit log; the questions and responses stored within it.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the container the log is stored in as well.  Excel is fine but a SharePoint list might be better.  Ideally ensure the container has version and access control and that you can see who added/changed what when.  After all, someday you may want to audit your Audit Log!

Thoughts on the Audit Log?

Drop me a note if you think there is merit in setting up the log and the attributes you have created for your own list of questions.

Cycling on a Grade – Part I of II

One of the challenges of leading cycling trips or belonging to a club is describing how difficult a ride is.  Someone you have never met asks: “Do you think I can do this ride?”  A difficult question to answer given one would need to know the individual’s abilities, the condition of their bike as compared to the route planned.

There are rubrics that attempt to do this.  While I have not looked at them exhaustively (and some are listed below), in general they suffer from the same problem – they are written for cyclists who can already ride well.  In other words, for a middle-age out-of-shape newbie, knowing that another 500 Metres of elevation on a 160KM ride will add 2KM of distance is irrelevant.  What is relevant, is whether that person could survive a 40KM ride if they barely completed a 20KM ride.

Cycling on a Gradient

To attempt to address this, I am proposing a Cycling Grading chart.  It is composed of two parts.  Firstly, it has a colour coded series of rides inspired from skiing.  At the beginning is the baby-bunny – a ride suitable for a young child.  At the top is the Pro which includes a distance of two full centuries (320KM).  In between is the rest of us.

Steps of the Cycling Gradient

Steps of the Cycling Gradient

The level is the relative ranking (starting at the baby bunny and going from there).  The numeric values represent the primary factors under optimal conditions:

  • Distance: how many kilometres the ride is.
  • Score: the relative ranking at this point. Note that generally the light score is about 1/4 of the next colour band’s score (e.g. Green-Light is 80 or about 25% of Blue-Light).
  • Speed: the expected average velocity over the duration of the ride.
  • Hours: the number of hours in the saddle.  Generally Green and Blue rides are half days; Reds start into the full’ish days and then one gets into the full day Black rides.
  • Climb: the cumulative elevation gain in metres that is expected (and therefore not counted) within in a ride.
  • Notes: some general comments for those thinking of riding.

The second part, and the subject of the next blog – Part II, is a series of factors that determines where a particular ride will land.  The usual suspects will be there: distance, elevation and wind.  I have added a few more factors that affect the speed or mental well-being of a cyclist – particularly an inexperienced rider.  For example, a 20KM ride on a quiet trail is not nearly as exhausting as the same ride on a busy highway.

The Effort Curve

At the heart of this model is the effort curve shown below.  To the casual reader this would seem to be a data driven mathematical construct – it is not.  Instead it is my guess-tamation of how difficult a ride is relative to the starting point – the baby-bunny. From the table introduced above, the distances are under optimal conditions.  The reason the curve is not linear is that a person struggling to ride 20KM under ideal conditions does not struggle 50% more to ride 30KM; they struggle A LOT MORE.  The formulas for the curve is provided as part of the graphic and all that I ask is that you don’t laugh at my math.

Uses for the Cycling Gradient

This is not a precise tool (although I do believe that people smarter than me could make is ‘less unprecise’); instead this is a contextual tool.  If you are running a ride in a club and you want to describe how difficult it will be, it does that fairly well.  It should be noted that the scale works better going up then down.  For example, a rider may have to work hard going from Green to Blue rides.  However, a rider comfortable in the Red Zone may find both of them ridiculously easy.

Cycling Gradient Curve

Cycling Gradient Curve

In communicating my rides I plan to rate them on this scale.  I will use the algorithm to get an approximate sounding of the ride relative to the scale.  From there, I will use judgement as to whether the ride is easier (e.g. less blue – more greenish) or harder.  Hopefully in time and use, a consensus will form such that there is more or less generally agreement that this ride is a solid dark green – unless there is wind, rain, heavy traffic, etc.

Other Gradients Found

A non-exhaustive list of other gradients can be found below.  They have been selected as much by stumbling on them in Google then be any definitive analysis.  Feel free to comment and add your preferred measure that you have found useful.



Effect of hills on cycling effort


We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Gears

This week I ran a cycling program for my bike club called: “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Gears“.  I have talked about gears and cycling for a number of years but this is the first time I pulled together a program that dealt with the topic en masse.

Audience and Do we Need Another Post?

A quick Google search indicates more than 500,000 hits on this topic – so why another post?  Firstly as a reminder for me when I do this instruction in person.  Secondly because the audience for this post is the person who is keen to learn but is trailing behind in a 20KM ride and the thought of riding 50KM seems absolutely daunting.

As always, if you have improvements (e.g. Phrank has no idea what he is talking about, don’t listen to him), comment away!  As well, take a read of the 500,000 or so other resources on the internet; including some of the better ones I stumbled across, see the conclusion section below.

The Big Gear is Connected to the Little Gear

Bikes typically have two sets of gears: front and back.  The front one is called the crank or the chain rings and the rear one is the cassette.  The numbers of gears vary: 2-3 front rings 5-9 cassette rings are common.  Looked at on angle, both sets of gears look like a cone with the top loped off.  The front one has more lopping and a wider base and the rear one less so on both accounts.

The little gear on the crank is the first gear or number 1 with the reverse for the cassette.  From there the numbers ascend until you run out of gears to count (e.g. 3 on the crank and 9 on the cassette).  The chain connects the front and the back and transmits the power.

You Can Count on Your Gears

If you look at a bike, the first gear in the front, the small one, is closer to the bike.  From there the second and third are further away from the bike.  Just like in a car, a first gear is good for climbing hills.  Similarly, the first gear on the rear is also number 1 and it is also good for climbing hills.

Here is the tricky bit, watch carefully….

If you look at the rear cassette the cone is reversed or inverted from the front.  That is the big gear is close to the rim and the small (first) gear is furthest away from the bike.  This gives the bike its mechanical advantage.  For example, if you divide the number of teeth of the front gear by the number in the back you get a ratio of roughly how many fully pedal strokes it takes to turn the rear cassette once.  The following graphic does a better job of showing this ratio.  Assuming this configuration exists, for every turn of the front crank, the rear hub would turn somewhere between 0.8 and 4.0 times.

Mecahnical Advantage of a 3 ring crank X a 9 ring cassette.

mechanical Advantage of a 3 ring crank X a 9 ring cassette.  This gear configuration is for illustrative purposes only, your gear ratios will likely vary from the above.

The Missing Gears

The good news is that you paid extra for that 27 speed bike… the bad news, using all 27 is inadvisable.  Chains like to run in rings that are mostly parallel to each other.  They can handle a bit of an angle but not too much.  A cross geared bike will not only wear faster but is more susceptible for the chain jumping from one ring to another.  This is why it is important to get used to shifting through both the front and rear gears – so you can maximize the 27 gear POTENTIAL of your bike.

Proper and Cross Chain gearing. Image courtesy of REI.com.

Proper and Cross Chain gearing. Image courtesy of REI.com.

Cadence, Torque and a Little Downstroke will Do Ya

In an early blog, The Art of Riding Bikes, there is a discussion of the importance of cadence over torque.  Torque is the big strong guy grinding up the hill.  Cadence is the 90lbs lady passing him on the hill pedalling in a seemingly effortless manner.

You do need to apply torque to the pedal, some force is needed.  The analogy I use is: ‘apply as much force to the pedal as you would to a soccer ball being kicked to a two-year-old’.  Now, unless you like kicking balls hard at small children, this means a relatively light amount of effort.

Because the effort is less, something needs to compensate to provide power to the bike – this is where cadence and gears come in.  Try to keep your cycle strokes the same with a consistent force allowing the gears to compensate for the terrain or wind.  How many strokes?  Aim for anything between about 70-120 per minute with an ideal of about 90.  Your legs will tell you if you have too many revolutions per minute or if you can add a few more to the mix.

Put the Peddle to the … Little Metal Thing on your Cycling Shoe

The peddles are how we convert the up and down motion of your legs to the circular motion of the gears.  What is the best pedal to use, the answer is one you are comfortable with.  Before you stick to the tried and true flat pedal (available on kids bikes everywhere), to think about and consider adding toe clips, baskets or cycling cleats to your pedal ensemble.  They will help you transmit more energy with very little or no additional effort on your part.

At this point in the discussion I usually get dubious looks about attaching a bike to the bottom of one’s shoe.  To start, you will probably fall over due to unclipping at least once (ish) and it will take practice.  Some very good riders I know have forsaken the clip and they do fine.  A basket or cleat will take you further but you have to comfortable and trusting in the relationship.

A Shift in Cycling Style

Putting all of the above together takes practice.  Shifting needs to become simple muscle memory that you no longer think about.  To do this you need to get on the bike and start riding and shifting through the gears – both the front and the rear.  On a flat stretch, consciously practice working from the first gear front/back to the highest gears (e.g. 3/9) in the rear.

By becoming comfortable with shifting you can then better anticipate and be shifting up or down an instant or two before you need to.  By doing so, you can maintain that constant cadence and torque discussed above which in turns allows you to cycle for longer time periods and thus distances.

Alas you will run out of gears on some future hill that is a bit too steep.  At this point you have one of three choices.  Firstly get off and walk.  Due to a missed gear, a steep hill or other reasons (my dog ate my homework and so I had to walk my bike); sometimes the walk is the best answer.

Your second option is to traverse the hill.  Assuming the path way is wide enough, cut an angle back and forth across the hill rather than straight up it.  This will add some distance but cut down the angle of attack.

Send Your Nether-regions a Post

The final hill climbing technique is the post.  This is where you stand in the pedals and lift your tender bits off of the seat.  As an added bonus, the method also allows for blood to return to the pelvic floor thus reducing the discomfort of a allow a saddle to come in contact with your No-Sunshine Zones.  Posting is a short-term solution as you are switching from low-torque-high-cadence model to a high-torque-low-torque model.

Conclusion, Further Reading and Good Links

Once again, this post is meant to be used as a memory jog for me and a learning aid for the people I am standing in front of.  If you want to learn more, the internet has a plethora of material including posts that are a lot more technically accurate than the above (including strange algebraic symbols).

See you on the road!


I ripped off their graphic so the least I can do is point out an excellent article on their website: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bike-gears-and-shifting.html

Coach Levi

Very good article cover many of the same topics as in the blog:


When in doubt, what have the wiki’ites to say about the topic:

Still More Links!

Bike Gears: How Do They Work


Are you using your bike’s gears efficiently?

Gearing 101 Tutorial: A bit technical and much more detail then the above.  http://www.cyclingsite.com/lists_articles/gearing_101.htm


Don’t Shrink from Mental Illness

That reminds me of the time I spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital… … pause … … as the director of Finance.

I have used the above line and it is interesting watching people’s reaction as they anticipate the end of the sentence  For that millisecond they are evaluating me and potentially re-assessing me in their own mental model.  Of course it is also a reflection on me in that I belatedly made clear that I was not a patient.

In other words, mental illness is something that society is still trying to figure out.  While we applaud Celebrities who come out of the closet, we also cross the street to avoid the disheveled and pungent homeless man screaming at his own personal demons.

The Shrink

Jeffrey A. Lieberman, has written a good book about the history of mental illness (Shrinks: The Untold Story Of Psychiatry).  While not without its own flaws (more on this later), it does give a good overview of the evolution of the professions aligned to treat mental disorders.

As a past-President of the American Psychiatric Association and a physician practicing since the mid-1970’s, he is well placed to provide observations on the evolution of the practice.  Two common themes struck me in this book.  Firstly the quiet desperation for both those afflicted and those trying to help the mentally ill and secondly the earnest-quackery involved in those attempting to alleviate this desperation. A few examples of theories/quackery are worth pointing out:

  • Animal Magnetism: invisible energy coursing through thousands of magnetic channels in the body.
  • Orgone Theory: a hidden form of energy uniting all of nature’s elements.  Treatment include sitting in orgone accumulators.
  • Psychoanalytic theory: A therapeutic method, originated by Sigmund Freud, for treating mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the patient’s mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind, using techniques such as dream interpretation and free association.

The Greatest Quack

The last also had the greatest credibility for longest time.  Psychoanalysis is part of our understanding of the human mind (e.g. the concepts of unconsciousness or the ego).  It was also the first theory that provided some hope to alleviate the quiet desperation.  As a result, Lieberman spends a good portion of the book discussing the rise and eventual fall of psychiatric theory as the preeminent treatment modality in American psychiatry.  This includes the fight for and significant changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; DSM-5 being the most current version.

Much of the criticism for psychoanalysis was its disinterest in empirical evidence.  Because adherent saw Freud as a modern prophet and psychoanalysis as perfect gospel, testing or even questioning the precepts of the theory were vigorously fought against, at least in the United States.  In time, some brave souls (and an anti-psychiatry movement) dethroned psychoanalysis.  As an aside, like other treatments, psychoanalysis and talk therapy does have its place – for example in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The American Experience is Too Narrow

Unfortunately this is also where Lieberman could have made a ‘good book’ a great book had he spent less time on the American based politics of mental illness and more time on a global perspective.  While the DSMs were being created, other great psychiatric stories were being played out.  For example, the use of psychiatry in the former Soviet Union to muzzle dissidents, the role of mental illness in non-Anglo/euro cultures or even a larger history of mental illness and whether it is a relatively new phenomenon or not.

A more complete discussion on the alternatives to psychiatry would have been interesting as viewed from an insider’s point of view.  Although Lieberman spends sometime discussing the concerns of anti-psychiatry, in the end he primarily dismisses them in the context of current treatments.

The Hope for the Desperate

Despite these short comings, this is still a good book which sheds hope to the mentally ill because of treatments developed primarily (but not exclusively) over the past 40 years, including:

  • Pyrotherapy for advance syphilis.  Discovered by Julius Wagner-Jauregg.
  • Lobotomies which did not actually cure the mentally ill but did make them easier patients to house and manage.  Not currently used as a treatment.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy which applied a general electrical shock to the brain.  Still in use and effective for some conditions.
  • Psychopharmacology is the most common treatment currently with a myriad of drugs some developed for uses widely different from treating mental illness.
  • Talk Therapy.  Evolved out of Freudian psychotherapies, it has evolved from the therapist being an unemotional observer to the therapist being an empathetic partner in exploring issues.

The Mind versus the Brain and the Read

Psychiatry has centred around a dichotomy of the mind versus the brain as the source of mental illness.  Lieberman does a good job of merging these two extremes into current thinking that mental illness is both.  As well, Lieberman demonstrates great compassion about the plight of those afflicted and the social stigma it carries.

Overall Lieberman has done a good job of providing an American focused history of mental illness and its current state of affairs.  A book for those with interests in general and medical history as well as a general read about mental illness.

Can We Stop and Define Stop?

This week I will be going into an operational planning meeting.  Like most of the operational planning meetings I have attended, three questions are being asked:

  1. What do we want/need to start doing
  2. What do we need to continue to do or finish and
  3. What should we STOP doing?

The first two questions are relatively easy to answer and there is a plethora of information on How, Why, When, Where and What to plan.  In this blog, I want to focus on the Stop question, specifically:

What does “Stop” Mean in the Context of Operational Planning?

How Many Stops have been Really Stopped?

In my career, I have been in dozens of planning meetings and I cannot really recall something identified as ‘should be Stopped’ that was actually stopped.  At the same time, over my career, I have stopped doing many things that I used to do with out the ‘thing’ being part of a planning meeting.  Why is it so hard to identify a process to stop and then actually stop it?

Stopping to Define A Process

A quick stop for a definition and in this case the word ‘Process’ which is one of these wonderfully loaded terms.  Fortunately the good folks at the International Standards Organization can help: (source: www.iso.org, ISO 9000:2015; Terms and Definitions, 3.4.1, accessed 2016-04-02):

3.4.1 process: set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result (Note 1 to entry: Whether the “intended result” of a process is called output (3.7.5), product (3.7.6) or service (3.7.7) depends on the context of the reference.).

Assuming that an organization wants to stop a process, the challenge of doing so is built into the definition – when you stop something, you must deal with the inputs, the outputs and the impact on the inter-relation between potentially numerous activities.

Starting to Use a Process Focused Way of Stopping

Fortunately the above definition also gives us a methodology to evaluate what processes we can stop, change or that we are stuck with.  The Process Focused Way of Stopping uses a 2 x 2 matrix which asks two simple questions: will Inputs or Outputs Cease or Continue?  Inside the resulting matrix is a gradient between the extremes of fully stopping or continuing to deploy inputs and outputs. The four themed quadrants can help an organization understand the challenges and execution of stopping a process and interrelated impacts on the organization of doing so.

Process View Model

The Four Quadrants of Stopping

Or how to manage the “Law of Unintended Consequences“.

  • Full Stop!:
    • Inputs Stop, Outputs Stop
    • Business Example: Nokia, formerly a pulp and paper company that evolved into an electronics/cell phone company.
    • Organizational thoughts: abandoning or decamping from a process.
    • Risks/challenges: if a downstream process requires the output, a new and not necessarily better process may spring up to fill the void
  • Automation:
    • Inputs Stop, Outputs Continue
    • Business Example: Automation of airline ticketing and reservation systems over the past 40 years.
    • Organizational thoughts: automation is central to productivity enhancements and cost savings.
    • Risks/challenges: over automation can backfire, for example, being able to talk to a human is now seen as premium support for a product instead of simply directing customers to a website or a phone response system.
  • Costs Without Benefits (Yikes!):
    • Inputs Continue, Outputs Stop
    • Business Example: A mining company paying for site remediation long after the mine has been closed.
    • Organizational thoughts: Generally this is the quadrant to avoid unless there is a plan to manage the risks and downside costs (e.g. a sinking fund).
    • Risks/challenges: Organizations may land here as a result of the Law of Unintended Consequences..
  • Status Quo:
    • Inputs Continue, Outputs Continue
    • Business Example: any company that stays the course in their product line; this includes companies that should have changed such as Kodak.
    • Organizational Thoughts: this is a typical reaction when asked to changed processes.  Lack of organizational capacity and willingness to change supports general inertia.
    • Risks/challenges: As Kodak discovered, a lack of willingness to internally cannibalize and prune an organization may lead to external forces doing it for you.

How to Start Using a Process Focused Way of Stopping?

‘So What?’, how can this model be used?  At a minimum I plan to bring it with me to the next planning session and when someone identifies an activity to ‘STOP’ I will point to the quadrant the thing falls into.  This is not to prevent good organizational design, new ideas or planning; but it is to focus on the practicalities of planning and execution.

Hopefully you can start using this Stopping Model the next time you begin a planning meeting!

ITM Triangular Conceptual Model

The following graphic has been kicking around in my head, in various incarnations for a few years. It considers the inter-relationship between Information, Technology and their Management or Governance.
ITM Triangle

ITM Triangle

Definitions: Information, Technology and Management (ITM)

Before looking at the whole model, what are its components?  How do you separate information from technology or from management?  One the one hand you do not; there is a continuum in which very few things are strictly one thing or another and lots of bulging between the triangle points where the business of an IT Department happens.  Nevertheless, there is nothing like a good definition and these are from COBIT.

Triangle Points

  • Information: An asset that, like other important business assets, is essential to an enterprise’s business. It can exist in many forms. It can be printed or written on paper, stored electronically, transmitted by post or by using electronic means, shown on films, or spoken in conversation.
  • (Information) Technology: The hardware, software, communication and other facilities used to input, store, process, transmit and output data in whatever form
  • Management:  Plans, builds, runs and monitors activities in alignment with the direction set by the governance body to achieve the enterprise objectives. and/or
  • Governance: Ensures that stakeholder needs, conditions and options are evaluated to determine balanced, agreed‐on enterprise objectives to be achieved; setting direction through prioritization and decision making; making; and monitoring performance and compliance against agreed‐on direction direction and objectives.

Central Core

There are a lot of things going on inside an IT department but generally they rely on people and the application of knowledge.

  • IT People: individuals either employed by, contracted to or otherwise contribute to the objectives of the organization and its IT goals (note, this is not a COBIT definition).  A central leadership roles found in IT departments is the CIO:
    • Chief Information Officer: The most senior official of the enterprise who is accountable for IT advocacy, aligning IT and business strategies, and planning, resourcing and managing the delivery of IT services, information and the deployment of associated human resources.  For brevity this also includes the potential differentiated functions of a Chief Technology Officer or a Chief Knowledge Officer.
  • Knowledge: The intangible awareness of how to do something (e.g. through user manuals, guides, etc.) or the application of ability and other intangible properties to a problem.  Knowledge is brought to an organization by the people who join it but there is also often a localized set of abilities unique or particular to a well run organization as well. According to Merriam Webster (no COBIT definition), knowledge includes:
    • a (1) : the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) : acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique
    • b (1) : the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) : the range of one’s information or understanding <answered to the best of my knowledge>
    • c : the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning : cognition
    • d : the fact or condition of having information or of being learned <a person of unusual knowledge>

Client/Environment Results

Outside of the triangle are the clients and consumers of service who tend to think about ITM in silos.  For example, my computer is not booting (technology), I need a report that will tell me… (information), why is IT so “@Q#!$%*” expensive (management/ governance).  The reality is more subtle and holistic and increasingly all three need to work together to provide quality service to the organization. To this end, how the client interacts with IT can be broken into one of the following four means:

  • Application: what most users think of when they think about IT.  COBIT defines these as: A computer program or set of programs that performs the processing of records for a specific function
  • Information System: what most users manipulate when they are using an application.  COBIT definition: The combination of strategic, managerial and operational activities involved in gathering, processing, storing, distributing and using information and its related technologies.
  • Governance/Management:  How you know how to allocate scarce resources to prioritize business problems.  The actual individuals and committees that perform the management/governance functions described in the above definitions.  For example a corporate IT steering, project or program steering or working committee.
  • Utilities: generally invisible to users, until something goes wrong.  Collectively, the software, hardware and other technologies that perform particular computerized functions and routines that are frequently required during normal processing (adapted from COBIT).

Triangle and Real Life

The benefit of using a triangular model is that each point interacts with the other two.  That is there are gradients rather than a set of discrete locations. Thus an application is an example of technology but generally it consumes, transforms or outputs information. Information in isolation is generally not usable without technology or governance (e.g. It needs a report to deliver it and standards to understand it).
The model can also help IT folks view their craft holistically. ‎ Working in one area or another may create blind spots for the other two. Thus someone working in the app development space may forget the information imperatives or lose sight of the business needs for the application. A business user may over-simplify the role of information management or the challenges of building technology to deliver quality and timely information. Finally, while things such as data science are gaining traction the need a suitable container to produce it and the oversight to apply or use it is not diminished.

The So-What Factor?

Nice triangle, but will it get me funding for a data center upgrade, a new ERP system or better business intelligence (BI) tools?  Yes, in a way.  The Triangle can be used to demystify why expenditures and efforts in all areas are necessary.  As well, the triangle may be used as the basis for things like a heat map of where to invest the next dollar. If past years have seen good efforts in BI tools, have the transactional systems kept pace in feeding these systems?  Is there good oversight on master data records or big data to know who owns what and what do you do with the data when you find it?
What are your thoughts on the ITM Triangle?  Does it cover sufficiently what your IT area does, are their gaps or is too high level?

A Roach Gut

In my ongoing effort to remember what I have read, an excellent read from one of my favorite authors, Mary Roach.  She has previously graced the pages of my blog with two books: Stiff and Packing for Mars.

Roach and the Perfected Non-Fiction Format

Roach has perfected the non-fiction story format.  She tackles a subject familiar to all of us and answers the questions we either are too timid to ask or would never have thought of.  Like most good non-fiction writers she provides additional details on the subject and is not afraid to take us down an interesting rabbit hole.  In this book, she does not disappoint as she explores the digestive system from top to bottom.

Meals start with sight, taste and smell. They end up with something you don't want to see, taste nor smell.

Meals start with sight, taste and smell. They end up with something you don’t want to see, taste nor smell.

Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal.

The book is the historical, pathological and physical aspects of the human gut from the mouth through to the other end.  Along the way, Roach pokes at and identifies taboos about the digestive system.  For example why I used the euphemism ‘other end’ rather than ‘anus’ – an enduring human taboo against feces and the need to defecate.

And that is the book in a nutshell, a tour from when food starts (primarily the nose), through where the bolus is prepared and the nutrition is extracted (stomach and intestines) and finally where the finished product is produced (colon, rectum, anus, plop!).  This structure is easily our oldest.  One could argue that the digestive system is the center of the body with other organs and functions there to serve it (brains to find the food, arms to reach it, legs to carry it, etc. with lots of intestinal bugs along for the ride and helping in the process) [p. 321]].

Human Digestive System

Human Digestive System: Courtesy of www.drawitneat.blogspot.com

The Far North: the Nose and Mouth

Roach starts the journey along the alimentary canal at the nose, the most important sensing device for taste.  She proceeds to the mouth where taste continues and the receptors can be fooled.  For example, experiments suggest that cheap wine can be as good as expensive wine  – unless you know which one is which will then bias this opinion p.30.  Or that palatants are used to coat food (human, pet and otherwise) to make otherwise bland or non-tasting food – well taste like something p.42.

A side trip into the eating preferences of our pets is made where we learned that cats are monguesic, meaning they like to stick to one food p. 43.  In contrast dogs will eat almost anything that smells good, wolfing it down in great gulps.  The wolfing part leads to the highest compliment a dog can pay for your cooking, to vomit it up after gulping excessively p.50.

Taste is the doorman to the digestive tract allowing our ancestors to evaluate and eat more of desirable foods or spit out those not meeting muster (and sometimes tasting like mustard)  p.46.  In turn, culture influences to a large extent what we eat and what we accept as substitutions.  Once a child is ten years old, they are relatively fixed in what they eat and it is difficult to change the preferences p.67.  Nevertheless there seems to be a global disinclination to consume organs of the reproductive tract (ovaries, penis, testicles, etc.) no matter the animal p. 72.

As for the claim that the human mouth is a cesspool of bugs, well that is true but the comparison may be off.  Saliva is also good for wound care as it contains various factors which encourage healing  p. 121.  It also contains enzymes which start the digestive process.  For example, the main digestive enzyme in stimulated saliva is amylase.  This enzyme breaks starches down into simple sugars prior to the food heading to the stomach p.110.

Stomach, Intestines and a Mint Wafer

The stomach has two functions, disinfection and storage.  The hydrochloric acid in the stomach kills most bacteria that we would pick up while scavenging on the savanna.  Because food was uncertain there, the stomach was also a handy storage device holding a meal for a few hours.

Don’t eat too much of a meal though as the typical human stomach will rupture with the addition of 3-7 litres of fill (water and otherwise).  Most of the time our stomachs do not rupture due to protective feed back mechanisms including up-chucking that last mint wafer.  For those with failed mechanisms the usual cause for a rupture is the ingestion of sodium bicarbonate after a large meal which can cause the stomach to swell and compress the diaphragm.  As a result, the ‘ruputurees’ were unable to burp or vomit away the building pressure p. 186-188.

Almost there, the Colon and Points South

A bi-product of digestion are the flammable gases such as methane or hydrogen. The gases produced are the result of anaerobic metabolism but they are particularly generated through the digestion of meat, lactose intolerance, legumes or simply the fact that as we get older, we get flabbier inside and out including the colon p. 235.  The existence of gas can lead to dutch ovening your bed partner or to lethal results.

When conducting a colonoscopy usually the gases are removed by protracted bowel-cleansing and the application of carbon dioxide.  Despite these precautions, one sixty-nine year old French man was killed by an exploding pocket of gas (the result of a laxative) while undergoing a colonoscopy.  The spark from the cauterizing loop in the scope ignited a pocket and killed not only the man but also expelled the scope out per Newton’s laws of momentum  p. 225.

In the early 1900’s autointoxication, self-poisoning from your own feces, was considered to be a health risk and lead to a surge in enemas and other methods to clean the bottom pipes.  The younger sister was the 1970’s focus on high fiber diet.  Now science is leaning toward the importance of a bit of transit time (normal duration through the digestive tract is about 30 hours. p.87).  For example, hydrogen sulfide in the bowel may actually thwart some forms of cancers and act as an antiinflammatory p. 262.

The colon primarily focuses on absorbing moisture from the food in transit.  Nevertheless, it is also the place where a number of vitamins and nutrients are created such as B and K.  Because of the poor absorption abilities in the colon, sometimes a return-trip is necessary.  This is the reason that dogs, rabbits and rodents eat their own feces, they are running a meal through the small intestine twice and absorb the nutrients they missed the first time p. 273.

Elvis and Close Encounters of a Fecal Kind

A diseased colon may lack the ability to move material through itself and will begin to swell and stretch.  One such example, a mega-colon of J.W. was 28 inches in diameter at its widest girth p. 289.  Without surgery, the colon that keeps on growing may either push into the other organs or potentially kill its owner through ‘defecation associated sudden death’.  This latter condition, may have killed Elvis.  He suffered from chronic constipation and died pushing in the act of defecation which potentially caused his heart attack.

For some surgery is not needed but a small donation is appreciated.  Fecal transplants moves the flora from a healthy gut to one in need.  Some individuals on potent antibiotics may lose their flora and as a result are at the mercy of whatever bugs happen to come along.  Through a donation and a retrofitted colonscope, a high percentage of patients find relief for a variety of digestive maladies p. ~320.

The People and Things You Will Meet in the Alimentary Canal!

The canal is full of interesting people (err, speaking metaphorically about the book).  A Harley driving sniffer who is effectively a human forensic gas chromatograph.  She can tell you why your wine/beer/olive oil is skunky [p. 24]

Horace Fletcher who promoted thorough chewing of food – to an excess, up to 700 times for a single bite p. ~70.

A convicted murder who ‘hoops’ in contra-band through a stretch rectum.  With practice, good hoopers can smuggle in smart phones, tobacco and even four metal blades, twelve inches long and two inches in diameter p. 203.

Alex St. Martin was a Canadian trapper who was accidentally shot in the side with the wound healing as an open fistulated passage.  Thus it was possible to examine the workings of his stomach in action.  The original surgeon who treated St. Martin and who (un)intentionally created the fistula was William Beaumont. p.89.  The two had a long-standing professional relationship of both master/servant (St. Martin working for Beaumont) and doctor/patient.  Roach discusses in details the suspected intimacy of these two individuals separated by culture and class but joined by a common fistula.  After all, how much better can you know a person after they have stuck their tongue in your fistula?  p. 96

Finally human hair can be found in the digestive tract either inadvertently, through eating or via your steamed rice at the local take out place.  Because hair is 14-percent L-cystein, an amino acid commonly used in meat flavorings, a Chinese food operation was caught using it instead of soy to make cheap soy sauce p. 73.

The After Taste

Although I enjoy Roach’s writing I was left feeling a bit peckish after this read.  I think that she could have explored the physiology in a bit more detail (e.g. some more details how the organs work and interact) and she could have done a deeper dive into common diseases.  For example, I was hoping to read more on irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance, burst appendices or diverticulosis.  Nevertheless, I left the book satisfied, not stomach bursting but satisfied



Smarter Than you Think

In my ongoing effort to remember what I have read, some notes on: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson. The Penguin Press, 2013.

By blogging about this book I am doing exactly what Thompson says we will do ever more of, extending human abilities through the use of technology. This is nothing new, the first killer app(lication) was the invention of writing.

Writing – The First Killer App

This six thousand-year old technology was created to aid in business and government administration and it had its detractors including Socrates. He feared that the written word would ‘kill off debate and dialectics’. Other detractors pointed to the loss of memory and enshrining errors. In the end Socrates was both right and wrong. While people lost the deep understanding of a few topics (often committing their few books to memory) they gained a more varied, complex and extensive knowledge of many topics. [pp. 116-120]

Singularity or Centaur?

More recent examples of technology besting humans has been in the realms of chess and Jeapordy. In, Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Big Blue in a tournament of six games. This is not entirely surprising, chess is a game that lends itself to brute force computing. While Kasparov was able to delay the inevitable by introducing some creative moves, in the end the weight of Big Blue crushed him.

But that is not the end of the story, Kasparov and amateurs came back and defeated other computers and chess masters – by working in concert with the machine. This blended the brute force of the machine (e.g. looking ahead a dozen moves) and the imagination of the human. Thompson calls this machine-man combination a centaur (a mythological creature. Its head, arms, and chest are those of a human and the rest of its body, including four legs, hindquarters, and a tail is like that of a horse, deer or dog).

In Thompson’s view we are all becoming centaurs. Every time we fact check something on our smart phone while watching TV or in conversation, we are blending technology with the human. Even ten years ago this was either not possible or not very convenient (at least without leaving the dinner table to run up to the computer and Google that fact in dispute.  In the 1970’s my family kept a dictionary and encyclopedia at arm’s length to fact check dinner conversation).

To Thompson’s credit, he does not mention or go down the rabbit hole of the singularity. That is the point when humans and machines blend and we leave our corporeal existence for that of a machine. This is a good thing as I suspect that the singularity discussion is a red herring fraught with technological, practical and metaphysical challenges (would it be heaven or an eternal hell for your consciousness).

Ambient Awareness

Perhaps the one area where we are becoming singularity’esque is the awareness for family, friends and colleagues through social media.  Ambient awareness is defined as “awareness created through regular and constant reception, and/ or exchange of information fragments through social media”.  Thus we have a sense of what someone is doing because of changes to their social media postings. For example, a break from posting breakfast updates may indicate they are unwell or a change in tone that their new relationship is doing well.

Although considered a new idea in the context of social media, I would argue that it is a re-packaging of perhaps one of the oldest attributes of the humans, tribal awareness. Although technology no longer requires us to be in the same village or hunting party, the ambient awareness is an extension of living and relying on those in close proximity to you.

Building on the tribal theme, Thompson identifies one risk of Ambient Awareness, homophilia, or seeking out those with the same opinions and points of view as your own. Social media makes homophilia worse because tools such as Facebook analyzes the contacts you pay attention to and highlights them. There is a self-reinforcing loop in which those who share your views are brought to the fore and those that don’t are dropped. [pp.230-231]

Remembering to Remember

Thompson does a great job describing how human memory works and does not work. A relevant point to this book is the importance of having memory jogs to help the brain recall information.This is because memory is constantly regenerating itself. We start with a gist of a recollection and then fill in the rest The filling in part may be factually accurate or we may change a detail that is then stored as part of the memory.  Diaries, photographs Facebook postings and blogs (such as this one) are all part of the externalization of memory. We are moving from a time in which most of our lives were forgotten to when we must activity delete/forget a recording that we don’t want to keep.  [pp. 26-28]

Thompson describes another class of individuals who purposely record every minute of their existence, lifeloggers. Wearing body cams, audio recorders – every minute of their life is recorded. The biggest challenge these individuals have is not in the recording (although there is some resistance to this) or storage, it is in retrieving on demand from the store. The solution seems to be another centaur. That is letting the machine record the details and then have it play back snippets which keep the grey matter in shape through retrieval.

Surveillance, SousVeillance and the Three C’s

One of the impacts of all of this recording is that governments have better tabs on what you are doing and you can keep tabs on what governments are doing. Police states are nothing new but they got a boost with the invention of the microphone and tape recorder.  As political candidates have learned, drunken photos from a college party ten years ago may come back and haunt a candidacy for political office (or even job interview).

The opposite side of Surveillance is Sousveillance or watching from below. A CCTV may be used to record a riot but a hundreds of phone cameras can be used to record police excess. Beyond photos, Twitter, blogs and other tools have allowed for the tracking of human need and to organize protest and responses.

What has happened is a drastic cut to the cost of Coordination and  Communication so as to exercise Control.  Where as before a top down command and control model was needed, now a website and an integration to texts can do much of the same (for example https://www.ushahidi.com).

The Future Including New Literacy

While most of Thompson book is uplifting and reduces the worry about the impact of technology, he does have some cautions – in particularly when it comes to digital literacy. For example, the importance of teaching children critical thinking when it comes to digital information. This literacy is not only understanding information provided but also understanding how the tools are best used.

Smart-phones and externalization of knowledge will not make us dolts – but it is also not without risks.  Thus, just like writing, the printing press and photography, we will need to figure the best ways to use the technologies. Thompson has written an excellent book that can prepare us for this future.  Now 3 years old, hopefully it is a book he plans to update periodically so as to keep current with the technologies of the day.

All quotes are from: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson. The Penguin Press, 2013.

EBTC – 2016-03-01: 6:00pm – Just for the Hill of It!

This is the third snowshoe event which has had a bit of a spotty record what with the warm weather.  The weather forecast is great -2C with light  winds.

The Objective

  • Practice ascending and descending slopes with snowshoes and poles.  Links and references:
  • Practice will include
    • Assessing the fall line of a hill.
    • Side stepping
    • V-Step/herringbone climb
    • Slope Traverse
    • Toe-Kick
    • Descent with and without poles

Where are We Going and How to Get Back

Government House Park - parking lot. NW Corner of Grout and River.

Government House Park – parking lot. NW Corner of Grout and River.

  • Meet at Government House Park parking lot.  This park is in the NW Corner of Grout Road and the North Saskatchewan River.  Exit off the western terminus of River Valley Road.
  • We will shoe west along MacKinnon Ravine taking advantage of the small slopes and valleys.
  • As time permits, we will try to get as far west as 142nd Street.
  • Advanced snowshoers can optionally attempt to summit 149th Street and return to the parking lot prior to the main group finishing its route.

What to Take

  • Snowshoes (duh!) and poles (optional).
  • Clothing appropriate to the weather.  Noting that I tend to run hot, I am plan to wear/bring:
    • Hiking boots
    • Lightly insulated shell pants
    • Long sleeve cycling jersey and a cycling shell (shell is shelved fairly quickly)
    • Fleece neck warmer
    • Cycling beanie and/or a baseball cap
    • Full fingered cycling gloves
  • Headlamp (generally these will be off but just in case we need them).
  • Backpack to carry/stow clothing
  • 0.5 – 1.0 litre of water

Books, Where to Buy and Other Resources:

Budgeting 2×2

There are two inherent tensions when it comes to budgeting: compliance versus cooperation and people versus technology.

Tension 1: Compliance versus Cooperation

The first tension is whether the budget folks are there to help the budget holder/client/poor sod or to help the organization do things like constrain spending.  The best budget team does both with elegance.  The budget team says, you can’t do THAT but why not try to do THIS.  They see budget holders as clients even if sometimes they have to deliver bad news.

Tension 2: People versus Technology

Like most finance disciples, good budgeting needs technology.  Unlike accounting, budget information is messier because it includes both numeric information (typically structured) and narrative information (often unstructured).  When someone buys a widget there is an audit trail within the accounting system (e.g. purchase orders, invoices, receiving documents, journals).  When someone ASKS to buy a widget, the paper and approval trail often exists across multiple system (e.g. emails, memos, briefing notes, business cases, meeting minutes, etc.).

Just as importantly, a good budgeting system must have an extraordinary memory.  The system describes when a budget event was created and who/when/why it was updated, (not) approved and compares different versions of that approval.  Making this even more complicated is that this creation, updating and approving varies widely between organizations.  Thus an accounts payable system is pretty much one size fits all.  A budget system is typically a custom or bespoke build for each organization.

Budget teams must avoid the siren song of the system-silver-bullet.  No matter how good the technology, people are always waiting at the other end.  And we are back to our budget clients: organizational executives, board members, politicians, managers and the garden variety budget holder.

Putting it Together, a 2×2 Matrix

Combining these two dimensions leads to the following 2×2 matrix.

2x2 Budgeting

2×2 Budgeting

2×2 Tour – Porridge is Optional

The following are generalizations about the four quadrants including a Goldilocks assessment of ‘too little’, ‘too much’ and ‘just right’ of each corner.

Q1: Automation

  • Description: Technical and compliance focused quadrant.  Many of the monitoring functions are automated.
  • Too Much: There is little re-work of numbers and limited professional judgement on client budget/business problems.  Often found in government organizations.
  • Too Little: Compliance is done manually via spreadsheets or a sophisticated technical system is not understood by its users and as a result work arounds erode compliance.
  • Just Right: technology serves the business.  Very little re-work of budget information is needed and training and change management makes the system well-adopted and part of the furniture.  Large government organizations may benefit from this focus assuming that business and organizational needs are met through other means.

Q2: Training/Mentoring

  • Description: Compliance rules are well documented and explained to budget holders.  However there is limited automation of the budget processes.
  • Too Much: The business loses sight of budgeting as an aid to the organization rather than its raison d’être.  As a result, there are endless budget meetings, a well-trained staff but limited technological leverage of the results.
  • Too Little: Rules abound but with little context or explanation for their existence.  Alternatively rules are often ignored by the budget team.
  • Just Right: for smaller organizations, this maybe a Just-Right location.  Otherwise, there is good documentation about the budget system and excellent training on the reasons and importance of compliance.

Q3: Re-Engineering

  • Description: Technology is changing how the business is managing its planning process.  Through cooperation, it is being integrated and expanded to support business and organizational objectives.
  • Too Much: Controls within the processes and systems of the budget system are lost.  This is because cooperation has set aside the compliance functions or the technologies are not designed to support compliance.
  • Too Little: A loss of system support results in a highly cooperative manual process.  Alternatively, a budget system is implemented that does not meet the needs of the organization.
  • Just Right: for rapidly growing and dynamic organization, particularly those in the for-profit realm, this may be the ideal quadrant.

Q4: Art of Budgeting

  • Description: The budget team works with the organization to identify solutions to business and organizational objectives.  Alternatively, this is the ‘horse trading’ element of budgeting in which give and take result in a consensus driven budget.
  • Too Much: Ideas and possibilities fly with little assessment of their feasibility, costs, documentation or version history.  As a result, the organization quickly loses track on its promises and plans.
  • Too Little: The budget is presented in a rigid manner with little opportunity for discussion or negotiation.
  • Just Right: Every budget will go through this phase as it is presented to a board, legislature or executive team.  The Art of Budgeting is best served layered on the other .

How to Be Sure your Budget Team is Not Cornered

So which quadrant is optimal and which should be avoided?  The answer is two-part: What Type of Budget Shop Do you Have/Need and What Type of Problem is Being Addressed?  The ideal budget team/process is one that straddles all four quadrants with a modest focus where it makes sense.

In addition, different problems require different aspects of the matrix.  Collecting bottom up budget information is primarily a Q1: Automation problem.  Presenting to the board and negotiating trade offs between programs is a Q4: Art of Budgeting opportunity.

Hopefully the model can help you evaluate areas of strength or weakness with your current budget team and also decide where your focus should be within your organizational context.



SCRUBBED!  – For Safety Reasons, this session has been cancelled

This is the third of about twelve snowshoe events I will be running for EBTC.  The weather forecast is VERY WARM, -1C with light winds.

The Objective

  • Snowshoeing on a variety of terrains including through the trees.
  • How did the snowshoer crossed the road? (Answer, carefully).
  • Enjoy the legislature lights before they are taken down; bring your camera!

Where are We Going and How to Get Back

  • Meet at the skate shack at the SOUTH end of the legislature grounds (look for an ATCO trailer topped by a giant snowman); if you need an address try: 9515 – 107th Street Edmonton.
  • We will remain on the south lawns of the legislature grounds, don’t worry though – lots of adventure awaits!
South Legislature Grounds

South Legislature Grounds

What to Take

  • Snowshoes (duh!) and poles (optional).
  • Clothing appropriate to the weather.  Noting that I tend to run hot, I am plan to wear/bring:
    • Hiking boots
    • Lightly insulated shell pants
    • Long sleeve cycling jersey and a cycling shell (shell is shelved fairly quickly)
    • Fleece neck warmer
    • Cycling beanie and/or a baseball cap
    • Full fingered cycling gloves
  • Headlamp (generally these will be off but just in case we need them).
  • Backpack to carry/stow clothing
  • 0.5 – 1.0 litre of water

Books, Where to Buy and Other Resources:

Write as a Team Sport: Antifragile Strategic Planning

I have been able to call upon friends and colleagues twice to help me craft articles.  In both cases IAEA Property, Plant and Equipment Framework and LATE the group provided me with excellent advice.

A huge note of thanks (and a libation or coffee on me next time I see you) to the following individuals who provided ‘friendly-peer-review’.  As in the last go round, the result was a much better article.  The article itself can be accessed through my “Antifragile Strategic Planning: director’s cut” or directly from the FMI website: January 2016.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.



Anne-Marie A. Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute 
Pam Q. Athabasca University
Stacey D. Government of Alberta
Shakeeb S. Government of Alberta
Peter N. Retired

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours completed in early December, 2015. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to create-net-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. 

The above activity meets the definition of Charter Professional Accountant – Alberta’s verifiable continuous professional development.  Evidence for this include this web page attesting to the involvement as well as the emails and responses provided to myself.  I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

EBTC – 2016-01-19 – Counter Revolutionary Snow Shoeing

This is the second of about twelve snowshoe events I will be running for EBTC.  The weather forecast is great -11C with light winds.

The Objective

  • Fumble and stumble through setting up potentially new equipment for the first time.
  • For absolute newbies, get used to the experience of walking on big aluminium boots.
  • Evaluate how much/little clothing is needed relative to the weather and physical exertion.
  • Practice basic hill skills including traversing a slope.

Where are We Going and How to Get Back

  • Victoria Park, meet in the parking lot for a 6:15pm start.
  • We will be walking on the skate part of the groomed cross-country ski trails in addition to going off trail a bit.

What to Take

  • Snowshoes (duh!) and poles (optional).
  • Clothing appropriate to the weather.  Noting that I tend to run hot, I am plan to wear/bring:
    • Hiking boots
    • Lightly insulated shell pants
    • Long sleeve cycling jersey and a cycling shell (shell is shelved fairly quickly)
    • Fleece neck warmer
    • Cycling beanie and/or a baseball cap
    • Full fingered cycling gloves
  • Headlamp (generally these will be off but just in case we need them).
  • Backpack to carry/stow clothing
  • 0.5 – 1.0 litre of water

Books, Where to Buy and Other Resources:

EBTC – January 12 Snowshoe – Golfing with Big Feet

This is the first of about twelve snowshoe events I will be running for EBTC.  Being the first, this one will ease the group (and more importantly me!) in the evening program. The weather forecast is great -3C with moderate WSW winds.

Off the snow track

Off the snow track – St. Albert, December, 2012

The Objective

Where are We Going and How to Get Back

  • Meet at the Victoria Park Oval parking lot (off River Valley Road, first right west of the Glenora Club) and be ready to go by 6:15pm on January 12, 2016.
  • Plan is to head west of the Skate Shack and pick up the X-Ski trails.  From there we will loop through Victoria Park Golf Course on the skate portion of the trail.  Go east as far as the Glenora club and then take the North trail back.  Based on the time, retrace our steps or short cut back to the skate shack.

What to Take

  • Snowshoes (duh!) and fixed length poles
  • Clothing appropriate to the weather.  Noting that I tend to run hot, I am plan to wear/bring:
    • Hiking boots
    • Lightly insulated shell pants
    • Long sleeve cycling jersey and a cycling shell (shell is shelved fairly quickly)
    • Fleece neck warmer
    • Cycling beanie and/or a baseball cap
    • Full fingered cycling gloves
  • Headlamp (generally these will be off but just in case we need them).
  • Backpack to carry/stow clothing
  • 600ml’ish of water

The Result Was…

  • Completed after the event for future learnings.

Staff Development – Tracking via SharePoint

In my ongoing effort to both remember what the heck I have done and to share good ‘pracademic’ ideas, I present a method to track staff training.  Hopefully you can use/adapt what you find here and hopefully I can remember how I built it in case I need to do it again in the future!

Microsoft SharePoint Based Training Tracking System

  • Employees are our most valuable asset…
  • We are a learning organization….
  • We train our staff for their next job…

Clichés, corporate mantras, good business or all of the above?  The answer is probably all of the above.  Training is a critical part of any organization.  It can also be expensive and often organizations use a shotgun approach to achieve its result.  For courses that are part of a compliance function (e.g. those required for new employees or periodic courses such as information security) having a good record of who took which course when can be the difference between breezing through a compliance audit and scrambling for records at the last-minute.

The following SharePoint based system helps to address the above by integrating the training functions into the budget setting and performance management functions.  Because it is reconciled to the general ledger, it also has a strong degree of credibility.  It can be built in about a day by a knowledgeable SharePoint user.

Three different flavours are presented depending upon the size, complexity or SharePoint knowledge available:

  1. Simple, a single SharePoint list:  This is more or less equivalent to creating the same thing in a spreadsheet.  Skills, experience and/or access needed include:
    1. Access: Administrator permissions to a SharePoint site (ideally 2013 but 2010 will do).
    2. Know-How to create: a custom list, choice column types, views, permission groups.
  2. Normalized, a multi-list SharePoint system: This method normalizes the data for better reporting and accuracy. Access & Know-How from above is required plus:
    1. Access: site administrator access is ideal.
    2. Know-How to create: look up of a list as a list column.
  3. Reporting+: Building on the normalized model, reporting functions are added.  Access & Know-How from above is required plus:
    1. Know-How to create: an enduring SharePoint list in Excel and a Word Mail Merge.
    2. For those more sophisticated, consider accessing the list via Microsoft’s Power Query tool.

Simple, a single SharePoint list

If you have a small organization, are unfamiliar with the administrative functions in SharePoint or simply need to get something up and running fast – this is way to go.  Built to look and feel more or less like a spreadsheet, this SharePoint list has the added features of version history and a single source of truth.  Combine it with some of the reporting features discussed below.  See the next section for a list of columns to include.  Key elements of the list include:


Element Content Comment
List Course Register Other names include ‘staff development’ or ‘learning list’.
Description The Course Register List tracks, proposed, approved and taken courses for financial, staff development and compliance purposes. Adjust as required (e.g. drop contractor reference).
Navigation Select Yes if you want the list to show up on the navigation bar. Depending upon your site, likely select ‘Yes’ for ease of access for your staff.

Normalized, a multi-list SharePoint system

The specific columns you need may vary from the list presented below.  For example, the following list includes columns for both estimates and actuals.  If you are not concerned about comparing an estimated cost against the actuals, these columns could be combined.  In the same way, separate columns for travel, subsistence (meals), etc. may not be needed in your organization.  The attached Microsoft Excel file includes a full data dictionary for a normalized Course Registration system.

SharePoint list topology for a training tracking system.

SharePoint list topology for a training tracking system.

The following Microsoft Excel File contains the data dictionary for the above lists as well as a sample reporting tool: SharePoint-CourseMgtSystem-DataDictionary

Reporting+, Normalized plus Reporting functions

Reporting from a SharePoint list is surprisingly easy.  The following are 5 different methods of getting information out of a SharePoint list starting with the easiest and ending with the more technically challenging.  The focus of this blog is on the first few methods which most users can bang together fairly quickly.

  1. SharePoint View: The easiest method is to simply create a view based on the key data fields you need.  Such views can be user specific and have a fair degree of sophistication.  The four views I normally put into a production list such as this ones include the following:
    1. Current?:
    2. All Items:
    3. Population:
    4. XLS_Export:
  2. Simple XLS List Export: for quick and dirty analysis, nothing beats exporting one of the above views to an Excel file.  Be aware which view you use however because you may have hidden some critical fields from a view to make it more user friendly.  This is why I like to have a Standard View called XLS_Export which includes all of the key fields.
  3. Formula Derived XLS List Export: An under used aspect of SharePoint is that it can create an enduring link to an Excel file and reports can be built on top of the file.  The attached sample file includes a sanitised version of the XLS_Export view linked to a ‘Staging Tab’.  In turn, contents from this tab are used in pivot table or other types of reports.  A surprisingly complex set of reporting can be created with a Excel Knowledge and ingenuity.  SharePoint-CourseMgtSystem-DataDictionary
  4. Power Query: If your IT Department supports this Excel add in, you may be able to create more complex queries of the SharePoint lists using this tool.  First step, talk to your IT folks because this is WAAAYYY beyond this blog.
  5. Reporting Engine (e.g. Microsoft Access): Microsoft Access, SharePoint and Excel can be used in a surprisingly productive and sometimes flaky manner.  This is a teaser as this discussion is worthy of a blog in of its own right.

Conclusion – a Teaser and Good Luck!

The above is a teaser and a How-To manual on constructing a Training Tracking System.  Hopefully it has given you the tools to either apply it in this regards or to create another purposes built SharePoint list based system.  Drop me a comment if you have been successful.

Packing for Mars – Bring a Strong Stomach

Are you looking for that perfect Christmas present for someone who likes a combination of history, technology, science and is not too squeamish?  If that case, can I recommend that you give him or her some space… err, history?

Mercury Capsule cross section courtesy of nasa.gov.

Mercury Capsule cross section courtesy of nasa.gov.

I love Roach’s style and ‘Packing For Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In The Void’ fills the vacuum left by other science writers.  In it, Roach discusses the most daunting aspects of manned space travel.  These are not escape velocity, not heat shielding or hostile aliens.  The most difficult aspects are things like what do you eat, how do you shit, carnal needs and keep morale up in an environment of bland food, fecal bags, abstinence.

Junior High Questions Answered by Government Researchers

While such challenges may evoke junior high’esque guffaws these are also real problems particularly as space travel increases in duration and may eventually lead to colonization if not more permanent moon or mars bases.  Roach focuses how astronauts are selected (including a discussion on whether the smaller and less hungry all female crew might make more sense then their larger male counterparts), the fragile nature of humans trying to attain earth’s escape velocity and can you jump out of a crashing space station.

Roach spends a considerable portion of the book dealing with basic human needs such as hygiene, eating, defecating and making babies.  Some key take away messages from this section includes space food tastes horrible and was designed by military veterinarians and had the taste and texture to prove it.  The space toilet was worth every penny as it not only beat shitting in a fecal bag but it also likely saved the astronauts from developing nasty e-coli infections from escaped post-digested-veterinarian chow.  Also, it is good to plan to periodically pee in space as the bladder’s fullness sensors generally don’t work in zero gravity.  Pee collects on the side of bladder due to surface cohesion as opposed sitting on the bladder floor creating the urge to void… ahh, in the void of space.

Sex, Babies and the Colonization of Space

Making babies in space and having babies has its challenges.  The first is how to do it in a gravity free environment with Newton and his pesky third law hanging around.  Assuming enough duct tape and foot straps can be found, the second problem is the developing fetus.  Evidence is scanty but what there is suggests that the baby would not make it to full term.  If the baby did make full term, the ambient radiation exposure may create serious problems outside of the womb.

Like Stiff: the curious lives of Human Cadavers, Roach has written a very approachable book.  Somewhat graphic in parts with lots of interesting notes and asides.

War! What is it (maybe) Good For?

It is a maxim that war is bad and peace is good; everyone know this.  In his book “War! What Is It Good For’: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots” dares to ask the question, is War good for something?  The surprising answer is yes with two HUGE qualifications.

What can War Possibly be Good For?

The answer is that by allowing for the destruction of moribund civilizations, new civilizations, societal structures and technologies emerged.  Because of this, when the smoke clears, the resultant societies are better organized, beneficiaries of technological innovations and wealthier than their antecedents.  In other words, Morris’ thesis is that ‘… over the long run, it (war) has made humanity safer and richer.  War is hell, but – again, over the long run – the alternatives would have been worse.’ (page 7) [1]

Fort Henry Guard reenact a training exercise.  Author's collection.

Fort Henry Guard reenact a training exercise. Author’s collection.

This is the first qualification, war is good for something but only over very long time scales with lots of suffering and misery in the middle bits.  To explain this, Morris has four parts to his thesis:

1. War as an Organizing Force

Perhaps unsurprisingly the first part is that war has given humans cause to organize.  There is nothing that focuses the mind or the organizational needs of the group than a marauding band from two tribes over.  This in turn likely influenced such things as our evolution to communicate and our underlying social nature.  As well, as society increased in its organizational complexity, there was an inverse use of force.  Thus “If you were lucky enough to be born in the industrialized twentieth century, you were on average ten times less likely to die violently… than if you were born in a Stone Age society. (page 8).

Essentially as rulers of one tribe took over another, they tended to incorporate the losers into larger units of organization.  As well, the rulers imposed a monopoly on the use of force – restricting its use to the elite and the government.  This is why you are much safer in the twentieth century notwithstanding world wars, genocides and other nastiness.

2. War the Best We have Come Up with … So Far

Morris’ second point is that war has been successful because, well, everything else has failed or faltered in the face of war.  Morris recognizes that this is a depressing state of affairs but ‘People hardly ever give up their freedom… unless forced to do so, and virtually the only force strong enough to bring this about has been defeat in war or fear that defeat is imminent (page 9).

3. War is Good for Business and Personal Wealth

Larger societies created by war have in turn become wealthier – over the long run.  After the smoke clear, the societies created with bureaucrats to collect taxes, impose laws, enforce contractual relationships, etc.

4. War is Out of Business

War is putting itself out of business it has been so successful.  ‘… in our own age humanity has gotten so good at fighting … that war is beginning to make further war of this kind impossible.’ (page 9).  Historically, war was always an option with a likelihood of success that could be estimated and calculated.  In 1914, the Germans and their allies made this calculation and bet heavily that they would win.  Four years and millions of lives later, the bet was lost.  One hundred years prior to this Napoleon made a similar bet and lost at a Belgium town now immortalized as his Waterloo.

Who Comes Up with this Stuff?

As it turns out archaeologists and anthropologists.  Certainly there is always room for interpretation but Morris’s thesis rests and the general consensus of these sciences and fields of study.

Morris does an excellent job inter-twining the current research with a very deep dive into history.  This includes are nearest living non-human relatives the great apes.  In particular he compares us with the social and morphology of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.  As it turns out, chimpanzees are nearest to our temperament and bonobos are perhaps what we can aspire to “Unlike what goes on among chimps, however, bonobo sperm competitions (note, this section dealt with strategies for passing procreation) are almost entirely nonviolent. … Male bonobos win the sperm competition not by fighting each other but by making themselves agreeable to females.” (p. 305).

Great Work, Up to a Point

The second qualification is how do we get out of the ebb and flow of building up societies and then have them torn down by war?  While Morris does a great job and seems to have an excellent grasp of the history, biology and connections to make his case.  Where he falls down, in my opinion, is the human end game.  What he suggests is our way out of war is the singularity.  In case you have not heard of this, it is when humans and machines merge and we transfer our consciousness into an uber-computer living out our existence in peace.

Well that is the plan anyway.  More than likely, I suspect that once we get there, we will discover that our human instincts for competition will kick in but without the physical outlet. Soon we will have the same challenges but without the benefit of an untimely death –  a perpetual cyber hell existence.

Religion – A Missing Ingredient

Beyond not quite believing the end-game Morris has proposed, another criticism I have of his book is his lack of focus on religion as part of the supporting cast for war.  History is full of examples of religion providing the social construct that allows humans to do terrible things to each other.  I can understand that Morris may have been a bit squeamish getting into this debate (with real personal risks depending upon which religion you pick on – ask the editorial staff of the French Magazine, Charlie Hebdo), nevertheless he misses an important driver of not only war but also peace as well.

Despite the Conclusion, Well Worth the Read

Because of the historic breadth of the subject matter, Morris has done an excellent job providing context of not only war but our current geo-political system in context.  This includes the concept of the European ‘Five Hundred Year War’ against the rest of the globe.  From 1415 to 1914, Morris explains how European ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ not to mention organizational skills and missionary zeal, allowed Europe to colonize or dominate most of the rest of the globe.  This domination only came to an end when Europe tore itself up in the mud of Flanders and the First World War.

In the end, while I may disagree with this end argument, getting there is well worth the read.  As well, this is not a book that glorifies war.  Morris takes extreme pains in this book not to minimize the impact war has on the people involved.  As well we recognizes that while the spoils go to the victors (the Romans, the Barbarians invading Rome, the invading Muslims, the crusades trying to displace the invading Muslims, indigenous people displaced through colonization, and on and on…) – this should not minimize the suffering of the losers.


[1] All page references are from the Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2014 edition.


Antifragility – What Does not Bankrupt Us Makes Us Stronger

Nicholas Taleb is back with a new book, ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder‘.  Okay the book has been on the market for a few years but I am behind in my reading.

Think of Taleb as that brilliant curmudgeon neighbour/uncle/airplane seat mate who holds views that both connect with you and which make you uncomfortable.  He challenges most of our preconceived notions but also provides an underlying (albeit difficult to implement) life philosophy.

A Table of Taleb Tenants

Taleb is a bit of an enigma.  He made gazillions [1] off of the fiscal crisis of 2008 and is a strong capitalist.  At the same time he has little time for corporate suits and less time for those who would game their way to wealth.  Thus in the very simple Facebook’esque Right versus Left, here are some of his positions and why he is a contradiction – and why this makes him much more of a real person.

Taleb Tenant Score (Left/Right)
Entrepreneurs should be accorded near hero status in our society.  “… Modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers…” (p. 79) Right: Yeah, capitalists finally get their due!
Governments (as well as individuals and corporations) must avoid debt at all costs.  “I have an obsessive stance against government indebtedness… people lend the most to those who need it the least” (p. 53) Right: fiscal conservatism rocks!
The best form of government is small and local.  Nation states and Big Government creates fragile political systems.  As well, the benefits (in addition to the friction, petty fights and local compromises) are not scalable… “(or what is called invariant under scale transformation)… The difference is qualitative: the increase in the number of persons in a given community alters the quality of the relationships between the parties” (p. 88). Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark are all examples of governments with most of the power and decision making local levels. Right: This is consistent with the Libertarian philosophy of avoiding large governments.
The Iraq War was perpetrated by individuals such as Thomas Friedman or George W. Bush who had only upside and no downside to the decision.  “I got nauseous in Davos making eye contact with the fragilista journalist Thomas Friedman who … help cause the Iraq War.  He paid no price for the mistake. … He promoted the “earth is flat” idea of globalization without realizing that globalization brings fragilities, causes more extreme events as a side effect, and requires a great deal of redundancies to operate properly”. (p. 384). Left: the Iraq War was instigated by War Criminals and ultra-conservative lackeys.
Large corporations are in the business of making us either sick (e.g. tobacco, soft drinks)  or are in the business of making us well as result of getting sick (e.g. pharmaceutical companies).  “… small companies and artisans tend to sell us healthy products  … larger ones … are likely to be in the business of producing wholesale iatrogenics [editor’s note, treatment in which the harm exceeds to benefits]” (p. 402).

Bail outs of corporations reward corporate mismanagement and transfer wealth from the taxpayer to a privileged few who were likely directly or indirectly authors of their own misfortune. Taleb’s suggestion to prevent gaming a bailout of a corporation at risk of needing a bailout is to pay everyone according to a civil servant’s salary scale (p. 391).

Left: all large corporations are evil and are out to get our money and ruin our health.

Left: corporate bailouts are part of a conspiracy of the 1%’ers.

Mother nature is our best expert and absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.  Thus before a new drug, process or product is introduced – the manufacturer must demonstrate that it will not harm the planet.  “So when the (present) inhabitants of Mother Earth want to do something counter to nature, they are the ones that need to produce the evidence, if they can” (p. 349). Left: Eat vegan, wear raw wool, live in an unheated cave and drink unpasteurized beverages.

Anti-Fragility Defined (with Examples from your Grandmothers China Collection)

The above slightly tongue in cheek Taleb-tenant-table demonstrates that he does not conform to standard left-right narratives (actually he hates that word, narratives).  This makes him considerably more interesting as an author or potential influencer than one who does neatly fit into such categories.  His underlying philosophy can be described as such: ‘arrange your personal, family, community and national activities to be at least robust if not anti-fragile’.  Anti-fragile means that whatever we are talking about (our personal lives, economic systems, organizations, etc.) likes and improves because of small changes or stressors.

Two examples from his book are instructive.  A porcelain tea-cup is a highly fragile entity.  It does very well for the environment it was created to exist in: your grandmother’s china cabinet.  However, it does not weather change particularly well beyond these narrow environmental parameters.  For example it does not survive the four-year grandchildren visiting or even a minor earthquake (both of which can be considered stressors and perhaps even a black swan event – depending on the upbringing of the four year old).

Teacup and saucer (Detail) Designer: Designed by Karl L. H. Müller (ca. 1820–1887). Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 69.194.9, .10

Teacup and saucer (Detail) Designer: Designed by Karl L. H. Müller (ca. 1820–1887). Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 69.194.9, .10

Compare this with a living entity.  Small changes and stressors benefit living entities.  This is the reason we go to the gym to work out – so as to stress muscles so they respond to change and new ones are created.  Small financial systems work in a similar way.  The middle-eastern souk can more readily absorb small changes in the economy than large corporations.  A souk is closer to a living entity than Wall or Bay Street.  Taleb provides the example of Switzerland in which there is a very limited national government and much of the governing work goes on at the municipal level.  While this makes for many petty squabbles it also makes for an inherently stable form of government in which small disputes are resolved locally and are not allowed to fester or escalate to the national level.

Lessons Learned and Becoming More Taleb

Anti-fragility is an intellectual workout.  Taleb takes us down the roads of classic history (complete with a character called Fat Tony besting Socrates in an intellectual brawl), modern medicine, economics (the charlatan art) and modern science.  Although Taleb asks the reader to consider the book as a complete work he also is a strong proponent of the use of heuristics (rules of thumb) as the basis for knowledge.  So here are the key tenets from anti-fragility that I already/plan-to follow:

  • To a Point: the following are all limited by both external factors and common sense.  Thus none of the following can be taken to an extreme – they can only be taken to the commons-sense grey zone of ‘to a point’.
  • Optionality: in making a decision, attempt to provide yourself with the greatest number of choices possible so that no matter the outcome of an event, you can be a beneficiary (or at least not a loser).
  • Bar-Bell Options: a bar bell option (technically, a bi-modal strategy, p. 161) avoids middle-of-the-road options and hedges the potential downside of one option with the upside of another option.  A currency exchange hedge is one example in which a company may hedge a change in exchange rates.
  • Procrastinate: the longer you not make a decision the greater your optionality – to a point.
  • Avoid Debt: owing money to others reduces your options and gives them to those who have lent you the money.  Freedom from debt (financial and other varieties) gives you the greatest optionality.
  • Tinker and Fail Fast: make your makes mistakes small, early and with the least possible costs.
  • Seek Redundancy: develop fail safes and redundancies so when a minor stressor or a Black Swan event occurs, there are multiple levels you can fall back on.
  • If it is Not Broken – Break It! [2]: Okay, Taleb did not actually use these words (in fact he probably would scorn any business book with such a catchy title) but effectively he subscribes to this concept.  Small stressors make the living entity stronger so it can survive larger unpredictable future stressors.
  • Organic or fractal Survives the Best: Humans tend to build in straight lines whereas nature tends to be fractal or messy.  Thus neat rows and columns that look appeasing to the human eye are also the less robust, resilient or anti-fragile than say the intertwined seeming mess of an ant hill or bird’s nest.  This is an important consideration when designing such mundane things as office layout, organizational structure or dinner party seating arrangements.  Once again, to a point rules the day as the applicability to architecture or bridges may require an engineering degree to fully apply and appreciate.

The Limitations of the Tales of Taleb

There are many things that I agree with Taleb on.  The underlying conservatism (small c variety) and the recognition that nature probably has already figured out the best way of doing things (heck that is the basis of the website that you are reading this blog on).  Nevertheless, there are some holes that the reader should be aware of before adopting Taleb as your current patron Saint or prophet:

What About the Rest of Us?  A number of times, Taleb mentions the benefits of being independently wealthy primarily because of one or two inspired and optionality-based opportunities.  A few million is the minimum and seven to eight digits is preferred.  While we would all like to be men and women of leisure, only 1% of the 1%’ers fall into Taleb’s suggested lifestyle.  This is not particularly useful advice for us poor working stiffs.

Cartoonish Characterizations.  Soccer moms ruin our society by over planning their children’s lives (creating school attuned nerds who cannot survive in the real world, p. 242).  Every corporate employee is an empty suit not even worthy of his scorn and every government bureaucrat pines for private sector exploitation of their experience in the civil service (so much for optionality I guess).  Most of the rich he meets at conferences are globetrotting plastic shells of people – and worse, not even as rich as he.  Okay, perhaps some slight exaggeration both in my portrayals of his portrayals and his need to exaggerate to make his point.  Nevertheless, his caustic contempt is a bit tiresome and sometimes (not always) misplaced.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Now.  Taleb returns again and again to the past for inspiration.  The Greeks, Romans and other pre-modern Mediterranean cultures.  His reason is that they have survived the greatest number of stressors and thus can provide us with antifragile lessons.  Certainly his take on lessons from classical Greco-Roman history is interesting but I am not sure he should be wanting to go back to fast.  To start, these periods were brutal and violent.  Many of the civilizing things that perhaps make us somewhat fragile also have reduced the likelihood we will die a horrible and early death.  Next, these civilizations never developed many of the mental models that Taleb himself admires, such as the scientific process.  Finally, we have an incomplete reading on these cultures because of the massive destruction of writings and knowledge.  His faith may be misplaced on too few surviving artefacts.

Stop Develop… of any Sort… Now! Taleb correctly points out the impact of the law of unintended consequences.  Antibiotics create super bugs when they are over used.  Thalidomide caused birth defects and burning fossil fuels is creating global anthropogenic changes in our climate.  These examples are valid ones and our hurtling towards genetic engineering, nanotechnologies and transferring our consciousness into computers (the singularity) may have their own (greater?) unintended consequences.  The reality is though that a certain amount of risk taking is necessary to if we want to improve our lot.  To take an example to an extreme scenario (well beyond, ‘to a point’), had our ancestors listened to Taleb, we would still be debating the merits of the use of fire or invention of the wheel and their impact on the planet (both good and bad as it turns out).

A Little too Enamoured with the Mafia. Taleb often references the mafia as role models for behaviour and organizational design.  Typically this is because of their loyalty to the organization and personal honour ‘It was said that “a handshake from the famous mobster Meyer Lansky was worth more than the strongest contracts that a battery of lawyers could put together.”‘

While the honour of the Mafia maybe laudable I suspect Taleb’s understanding of it is a bit rose-tinted and ignores the violence and depravity criminal organizations inflict on communities.

Little Regard for Theories or Education. Although Taleb holds an advance degree, he has very little respect for academics in general and finance/economics in particular.  While I would agree with him that there is a lot of fluff in today’s post-secondary curriculum, a point that Taleb misses is the apprenticeship of teaching how to think in post-secondary institutions.  He might see this as weakness but the academic model relies (in theory) on evidence and peer review rather than perpetuating oral traditions and old-wives tales.

The use of theories is similarly held in contempt by Taleb.  For him, the practical day-to-day knowledge and actions are more important than a theoretical framework as to why something works.  While I am a fan of pracademics, I think Taleb is missing the greater value of a theory – providing a mental model that allows the mind to be prepared to incorporate future knowledge.  This is what Louis Pasteur called, ‘chance favours the prepared mind’.

Economies of Scale are Both Fragile and Leviathans

A key theme in this book that size, complexity, growth, etc. create inherently anti-fragile results.  His go to example is the current financial system which had to be rescued with the debt of taxpayers across many different economies.  He is of course correct, over the long-term, size and complexity become increasingly likely to fail.  The flotsam of failed empires, corporations or other human endeavours are all examples.

However these systems worked until they failed.  They provided homes, jobs and other human benefits.  As well, larger complex systems are highly effective and accomplish amazing results.  The relative wealth we have now is a result of fragile systems.  An example closer to Taleb home is his home of Northern Levant, a region roughly corresponding to northern part of Syria and Lebanon (p 94).  This area included a large Christian en clave and has been ruled by various empires (Roman, Byzantine & Ottoman) as well as the French and then the nation of Syria.

The local municipalities of this area largely flourished under each of these rulers – if left alone (assuming taxes were paid).  The point being though is that the area was subject to the economies of scale of larger empires and did not have the ability to dictate their own destiny.  Thus the city states of Levant proved to be anti-fragile but the region as a whole was subject to invasion (and taxation) by larger, albeit fragile, empires that benefit from large economies of scale.

The other side of this localization is of course balkanization of a region in which the inward looking small municipal view trumps larger human concerns.  History in general and the recent history in the Balkans in particular suggests that an anti-fragile provincial view can create enormous human tragedy.

Take Away Taleb To-Dos

Nicholas Taleb has the personal and intellectual horse power to pull off this book.  I believe that he is spot on with the concept of fragile/antifragile systems.  I also think that ultimately, he is only half right.  By dismissing the fragile systems that have contributed to the betterment of the human condition, he is missing the value fragile systems contribute.  In effect, he is downplaying or dismissing the role of Yin while suggesting that Yang is paramount.

Nevertheless, Taleb has described his view of Yang extremely well and as a result, it is possible to apply the concepts to Yin like structures – such as corporations, governments or even – God forbid! – economists.


All page references are from the 2014 Random House Paperback Edition.

  • [1] Gazillions is a bit imprecise but likely his net worth is more than one hundred million and less than a billion dollars based on various (dubious) internet sources.
  • [2] If It Ain’t Broke…break It!: And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World; Robert J. Kriegel, Louis Palter, Grand Central Publishing, March 1, 1992.






The CIA and You!

Okay, not THAT CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government).  Instead an acronym/heuristic for things that Control-Influence-Affect you.  In a nut shell, to be happier, more productive or at least less dysfunctional remember that there are things that:

  • Control: You can directly control, make the most of these opportunities.
  • Influence: You can influence these but you do not control them.  Be care how much you influence, the more you influence you exert – the less control you often end up with.
  • Affect: You are affected but you can neither control nor influence this things.

Child Rearing According to the CIA

Sometimes called ‘strategic apathy’ or know what not to care about, children provide a great example of the CIA concept:

  • Control: for about the first six years of a child’s life you pretty much have control.  Or at least you think you do until the two-year old has a melt down in Walmart.
  • Influence: starting about age six your control wanes and instead your influence predominates.  Influence falls to a new low around age fourteen and then starts to pick up again after age seventeen.  With grown children, the degree to which you influence is slight but not unimportant.
  • Affect: at some point your children will take control of your life.  Hopefully it is deciding to pull the plug after a great life and a snowboarding accident occurring on your 99th birthday.  If you are not so lucky, they will choose your nursing home.  Consider this carefully when your two-year old is having her melt down in Walmart.

Not a New Idea

This is not an original idea, the ‘Serenity Prayer‘, adopted by Alcoholics anonymous, has been around for nearly a century and has a similar theme.

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of www.sobrietygroup.com

Serenity Prayer, courtesy of www.sobrietygroup.com

What is different is the evaluation criteria and what to do about CIA.  Here are some questions that for each part of the heuristic.

  • Control
    • All the questions from Influence, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have control of this?  How does your control align with the principles of legitimacy?
    • What is the worse that can happen if you do nothing?
    • If you do something, can you reasonably predict the impact of the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’?
    • Can you loan/give/share control with others without losing your accountability or responsibility?  Would this make the solution better, worse or about the same?
    • In exerting control, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Influence
    • All the questions from Affect, plus…
    • Why and how did you come to have influence over this?  Do you want this influence and what is worst/best thing that could happen as a result to you?
    • How much influence do you have as compared to others?  How do their intentions align with yours?
    • By influencing this, will it diminish or augment your influence or control over other things?
    • How little influence can you exert to achieve your objectives?
    • In exerting influence, are your objectives and intentions noble?
  • Affect
    • Why and how did you come to be affected by this?
    • Who has control and if no one, should someone have control and should it be you?
    • Who has influence and how do their intentions align with your priorities?
    • With effort, can you be in control or influence this thing?  Would you want to you and is it worth the effort to do so?
    • If this came to pass, could you live with it, will it harm you, your family or your community?  If yes to the first and no to the second, why are you thinking about it?
    • Is there a precedent here that you need to worry about?
    • Can you turn this to your advantage?  Can you at least hedge against any untoward impacts?

The CIA So-What?

This Phrankism has been useful in deciding upon a course of action.  It is amazing how often we spend considerable effort trying to change things that we do not control or even influence.  Sort of the adage ‘everyone talks about the weather but never does anything about it’.  The CIA heuristic is a handy way to stop, think and then act in a manner that expends the least amount of energy for the greatest benefit.

Principles of Legitimacy

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, ‘David and Goliath’, he refers to the ‘principle of legitimacy’.  These principles are the basis (or lack thereof) for why one group will allow themselves to be subject to another. The principles stress that it is the behaviour of the leaders that determines whether or not the followers will follow (or at least whether the followers see the leaders as being legitimate; see note [1] below).

The three principles of legitimacy

  1. those being ruled need to feel that they have a voice in the arrangement (e.g. no taxation without representation)
  2. the rules must be predictable and consistent (e.g. rule of law and due process)
  3. the rules must be consistently applied and appear to be fair to all being asked to follow the rules (e.g. equality before the law)

Kindergartens, Northern Ireland and the Jim Crow Laws

The writing brilliance of Gladwell is that he introduces this concept first in a kindergarten and then applies it to broader contexts such as Northern Ireland or the segregation laws of American South pre-1960.  In these examples, Gladwell extends the theme of his book in which an advantage may in fact be a disadvantage.  For example, the British Army in Northern Ireland had the men and material to temporarily impose control over the local population but not to sustain it because they failed to establish legitimacy amongst both the protestant and catholic populations.  As a result, strong armed tactics doomed the British Army to decades of occupation and directly or indirectly resulted in the death of hundreds if not thousands of combatants and civilians.  The principles of legitimacy are not without their consequences.

Too much or too little legitimacy?

An interesting speculation that Gladwell does not discuss is how much or how little of each are needed based on varying circumstances. After all there are circumstances where one of the three is reduced to nearly zero (for example, try asking for a voice in the arrangement during the first week of army boot camp or from the prison warden).  Alternatively, is there such a thing as too much of these principles?  Do they break down when taken to the extreme?  Have you ever been ‘surveyed’ to death by an employer asking about your degree of motivation or engagement with the company?  Or how about rules being applied too consistently such that the application actually erodes the legitimacy of the organization (think of a ten-year child old being expelled from schools for making imaginary guns out of their fingers; a zero tolerance policy gone horribly wrong; see note [2] for one example).

The take away from this aspect of Gladwell’s book is that these three principles of legitimacy are just that – principles.  They are not hard and fast rules and leadership is in their application rather than their memorization.  Here are some of my thoughts on considerations before over-applying one of the three principles of legitimacy:

  1. A voice in the arrangement:
    1. Ultimate accountability cannot be delegated away however.  For trekkies, Captain Picard solicited his crew’s opinion but he still made the decision.  Alternatively, calling for a vote and a study group when the pilot orders everyone into the airplane’s life rafts is ill-advised.
    2. Coercion can compensate for a voice in the arrangement, but only within short time periods or overwhelming force.  Thus the soldier in the boot camp knows that his time is short and the ultimate value outweighs the immediate discomfort.  Conversely, segregation worked not only because of the power of the whites in the South but also a lack of an united front amongst the blacks (see note 2 below for a bit of a back story behind a famous civil rights photo).
    3. A voice does not equal gaming the system.  Thus wheel the squeaky wheel gets the grease but it also violates the other two rules of fairness and consistency.
  2. Predictable and consistent and 3. Consistently applied and appear to be fair to all being asked to follow the rules
    1. To be predictable and consistent, a system needs to quickly and fairly establish two things: 1) how to change the rules and 2) how to allow for exceptions while disallowing unfair advantage.
    2. Principles 1 and these two are inter-twined as having a voice in the exceptions is critical. Think about a handicap parking spot.  We allow society (the leaders) to dictate that we give up the best parking spot because as a society we have had a voice (directly or indirectly) that this is a legitimate use of power.  At the same time though if choice spots were given out based on political affiliation or personal relations, the majority of the voices would be against the privilege.
    3. The sense of fairness is culturally biased.  For example, in traditional Islamic families, the opinion of the father or grandfather is nearly law.  Thus it may seen fair to deny a girl a right to an education or marry a non-muslim in this context.  In the secular West, these would seem patently unfair and sexist.

Lessons for the business reader

For business leaders, is there anything new here?  Yes and No.  Societies with the greatest longevity have tended to adhere to these principles.  At the same time though, these principles are also the hallmark of good leadership and good governance.  The take away is this, if you want to build an enduring organization that will outlast you remember that those being led:

  1. Seek both a voice in the decision but also expect leadership when leadership is needed.
  2. Expect rules to be fair, predictable and consistent but not at the expense of common sense.
  3. Know that part of leadership is in recognizing and explaining the exceptions without the system falling victim to being gamed or exploited.

In other words, leadership is still hard.  Nevertheless, authors such as Malcom Gladwell help us to challenge our assumptions and become better, and more legitimate, leaders.

Notes and some addition comments


[1]. p. 207: “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.

[2]. Milford 5th-grader suspended for pointing imaginary gun, as reported Nov 19, 2014,

[3]. Gladwell devotes nearly a full chapter to the back story behind the following picture which was a turning point for the American Civil Rights movement in 1963.  However, there more in the photo than meets the eye: p. 192: “The boy in Bill Hudson’s famous photograph is Walter Gadsden.  He was a sophomore at Parker High in Birmingham, six foot tall and fifteen years old.  He wasn’t a marcher.  He was a spectator.  He came from a conservative black family that owned tow newspapers in Birmingham and Atlanta that had been sharply critical of (Martin Luther) King.”

Walter Gadsden, 17, was attacked by police dogs on May 3, 1963, during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Hudson/Associated Press) , courtesy of www.boston.com

Walter Gadsden, 17, was attacked by police dogs on May 3, 1963, during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Hudson/Associated Press) , courtesy of www.boston.com

The Missing Link of User Interface

I have resisted getting an eReader but last spring I splurged and bought a Kobo.  The result, I found it a little bit clunky to get it work but generally I like it.  In particular I like the ability to change font size given that I am now on the wrong side of fifty years old.

Prior to mid-July of this year, I had read about a half dozen books on the Kobo most from my local library.  Getting a book from the library to the Kobo has become somewhat routine and I had it down to about a 3 minute effort.

Recently though, something went wrong.  I suspect that I updated something or made some seemingly innoculous change that cost me about 15 hours of my life.  I won’t go into all of the details but after loading a book from library a dozen different times in a half dozen different ways, there would either be no book transferred or the book would open with the message that I did not have the correct digital authorization.  In the end I reset the Kobo to factory settings, re-installed Adobe Digital Editions, flipped a number of switches and presto, I am back to reading on the Kobo!

What was most frustrating about the experience was that each of the three parties in the transaction indicated that, from their perspective, everything was A-O-KAY.  That is, the book download perfectly from the library.  It opened perfectly in Adobe Digital Editions and transferred successfully to the Kobo.  The Kobo gave no indication of trouble -until the moment I tried to actually open the book – when the digital rights error message would come up.  I get that digital rights are important and I am a law abiding citizen who followed the letter and spirit of the law completely.  I also was less angst as it was a ‘free’ loan from a library, but still – not being able to use something I had legitimate access to was galling.

In the end, I would suggest that the engineers who designed the Kobo and Adobe Digital Editions failed to fully consider the user experience.  Generally both work okay but the above technical problem could have been avoided and my fifeteen hours of effort saved in there was a simply little protocol like this:

  • Adobe Digital Editions (ADE): ADE transferring a file to Kobo, transfer started
  • ADE: Transfer Finished
  • Kobo: Transfer received, hold on a moment though, let me try to open the file…
  • Kobo: Oops, looks like the file cannot open, I don’t have the digital rights to the file
  • ADE: Let me tell the user about the problem and suggest actions to correct.
  • Kobo: Sounds good, in the meantime I will check from my end to see if the digital rights version I have is the same as the one you are transferring to me
  • ADE: Hey user, looks like you need to update some stuff, do you want me and the Kobo to go ahead and do it?
  • User: [presses OK]
  • Kobo: that did it, I can open the file
  • ADE: great, I will the user know he can start reading.

ADE’s job is to not transfer a file, it is to transfer a file that can be READ with the correction permissions.  Kobo’s job is not to receive a file, it is to receive a file that can be READ.

So, dear Kobo and Adobe, if you are listening, can you please implement the above bit of pseudo code in your next update?  I really want to get on reading the next book on my ereader, not trouble shooting for 15 hours!

Making Organizing Your Next Event a Non-Event

Most people have had to organize at least one large event in their lives.  For example, are you married and how did that go?  If children have come along you may find yourself organizing hockey tournaments, soccer awards nights or scout camps.  Even if kids are not in the picture, at work you may be tagged to run the company picnic or a United Way fund-raiser.

William Gropper (American, New York 1897–1977 Manhasset, New York) The Conductor, ca. 1920 Ink and graphite on paper; H. 11, W. 8-1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm.)  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982 (1984.433.178) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/483321

Are you Conducting or Orchestrating an Event in the near future? William Gropper (American, New York 1897–1977 Manhasset, New York) The Conductor (detail), ca. 1920
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982 (1984.433.178)




Psst Buddy, Want a Free Idea?

The point is that we find ourselves organizing one-time events quite often in our lives. Over the past three years, I have been organizing events as a volunteer board member of the Edmonton chapter of the Financial Management Institute or FMI.  We organize conferences 4-6 times a year in which 60 to 250 guests come and hear between one and a dozen speakers.

This blog is to point you in the direction of a best practice document the Edmonton FMI uses to manage two different challenges: idea generation and event management.

FMI Program Methodology 

Idea generation means keeping every idea in an idea locker.  As an idea matures and becomes more real, the Edmonton FMI chapter has a step-by-step methodology to take an idea from a murky-concept to a conference with hundreds of attendees.  The idea locker is for those who run professional associations, particularly if the association focus on accounting, business, economics or government.  Feel free to take a look in locker and use whatever you like.  All that we ask is that you give us back a bit of love by acknowledging the original source (FMI) and contribute your great ideas (past and future) to the idea locker.

Access the FMI Idea Locker

Hockey Dads and Soccer Moms of the World UNITE!

The event methodology is more for the hockey dad, soccer mom or company picnic-planner.  It lists a planning methodology and provides a series of tools to assist in delivering an event.  The event methodology builds from the idea locker and central to the methodology is an excel based planning tool.  This tool comes complete with a detailed program agenda, volunteer roles, an income statement and a project plan.  Beyond this tool, the methodology describes how conference calls can help reduce the planning burden, the value of a virtual (conference call) dress rehearsal with your speakers and time cards to keep the event ticking along.

Access the Resource Locker for Planning Events

I invite you to poke around the two lockers.  You will need to adapt them to suit your specific circumstances but you are free to use the ideas and methodologies to make organizing your next event a non-event …. at least when it it comes to stress and worry!

Strategic Planning: How Not to Waste Your Time 

Over a good portion of  my career, I have been responsible for strategic planning and for the most part it has been a waste of time and effort.  My experience is that organizations ask good people to spend a considerable effort in gazing into the future and describe all the great new things the organization will be doing.  The plan is released to great fanfare and then people get on with their lives managing operational activities or dealing with the crisis du jour.  Before the organization knows it, it is time to expend more effort to update a hopelessly out of date plan.  If anyone takes the time to compare the actual implementation with the good intentions of the previous plan, achievements are those which had few alternatives or were achieved with via dumb luck.

Okay, I am being a bit dramatic for effect and to get you ready to think about how strategic planning can be worth it’s time and effort through three principles.

Three Starting Point Principles

  1. The Process is the Plan.
  2. Execute… Something.
  3. Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

The Process is the Plan.

Given that very few plans are ever read after their completion, does this not mean that the value is in the drafting of the plan rather than the final document? When organizations stop, think, and decide what to do next – they are better prepared for tomorrow’s crisis du jours.  Given that the value is in the process, does it not make it sense to institutionalize strategic planning within the organization’s management and governance functions rather than an annual exercise?  When this happens, the organization’s command, control and communication muscles are toned and ready to react quickly to opportunities and challenges.  Unfortunately the dark side of focusing on the process is analysis-paralysis or perpetual-planning that never results in a result.  In other words, planning is fun but only execution counts.

Execute… Something.

Strategic Plans are highly perishable.  Before too long they go from the plan of the moment, to something somewhat relevant to eventually becoming shelf-ware and at worst a walking zombie-plan (think of the communist regime’s five year plan in year 4).  Rapid implementation is critical and metrics even more so against the plan.  Ideally if the process is finely honed, then it stays current through multiple mini-revisions and then a major revision to thwart the Zombie plan-apocalypse.

This is done by executing against the plan, anything!  As well, measure the results of this execution: what was done, by whom and when.  This will validate the time and effort spent developing the plan, will tone and flex those organizational muscles and keep the plan in the organization’s consciousness.

Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

There is an inverse relationship between the length of a plan and its value.  Less is more and I believe the best length is four (or fewer) pages.  What is on these four pages will be a function of the audience and their knowledge of the organization.  In general though, page one describes the organization’s environment, planning assumptions and the key mandates of the organization.  Page two is graphic that succinctly describes the organization of the future as a result of the plan.  Pages three to four describes the organization actions, each with a clear title and a clearer 1-2 sentence description of the action.  The four page restriction forces the organization to think strategically and not fall into either tactical or operational verbiage within the document.  It also prints nicely on two pages and can be scanned by even the most harried executive.

If there are more projects and initiatives, then they should be rolled up thematically.  At least one quarter of these actions should focus on what the organization intends to keep on doing/improve rather than the shiny new stuff.
For more complex organizations, there is an overarching four page plan with each logical subordinate sub-organization having its own four page document.  The organization should define at what level and what organizational units will need to produce their own four page strategic plans.

The devil is always in the details but angels are found in a summarizing graphic which helps narrate the overarching themes.  To flesh out the little devilish details, the process (principle #1 above) allows for subordinate plans to map to a larger organizational plan.  Ideally this is done in real time and continuously rather than on an annual/ad hoc basis.  The four page limit is to help an organization focus its strategic planning efforts but this rule can be bent based on its specific needs or circumstances.

Waste Not – Want Not (for a Strategic Plan)

Is there anything new or earth shattering in the above three principles?  Nope, not a darn thing.  Do organizations use the above principles very well – based on my experience?  Nope, not really.  This is not for lack for trying but it is for a lack of focus (or distractions).  That is why many strategic plans are written by consultants who have the time and capacity to interview executives and formulate nice reports.  Unfortunately in my experience, nice looking strategic planning reports are generally a waste of time and effort by the organization.

And now for the hard part, I plan to use these three principles in my strategic planning activities both in my work and professional life.  As I am successful (or crash in burning flames), I will use this blog to track the successes and tweaks to how to not waste your time in strategic planning.

Other Thoughts on Strategic Planning


A (Step-By-)Step Father How To Guide

Now that another Fathers’ Day has come and gone, I got a nudge from myself to blog about being a step parent.  I have been a step father to two great sons for almost 30 years.  This blog is not to say being a step parent was easy or to provide a twelve-step program to success (pun sort of intended).  Instead, this is a father’s day pause to reflect on the challenges and joys of step-parenthood.  Also, in case I fall into a time vortex, what I would do the same or differently.

Great-Grand-Father's Tale of the Revolution—A Portrait of Reverend Zachariah Greene.  Metropolitant Museum of Art (detail), Accession Number: 1984.192

Great-Grand-Father’s Tale of the Revolution—A Portrait of Reverend Zachariah Greene. Metropolitant Museum of Art (detail), Accession Number: 1984.192

On that note, yup, I would do it all over again.  The things that I would change are all about me being a better role model and parent to the boys and not about them. They are/were good kids and they did not choose to go from having a just a single mom to having a step dad.  This point leads me to my first lesson as a step father, you married the kids mom – you did not marry the kids; they were just part of the package.

However, they are still children.  When in doubt about your responsibility as a parent, remember this simple rule: adults are responsible for giving children the right sort of memories.  Some of those memories will involve having enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in.  It goes without saying that those memories do not include abuse or neglect (the likes of Hansel and Gretel notwithstanding).  As for the operative word, the ‘right’ memories; they don’t all have to be happy memories.  Some of the most important memories will involve a ‘bad choice well explained’ after the fact.  Ideally though, your step children’s good memories will outweigh the bad from the moment you enter their lives.

In this case the operative word is ‘enter’.  Your spouse and their children had a life before you came along.  It may have been brief or you may find yourself with grown step children.  No matter the point of entry, remember this: “you will never be part of that portion of their life”.  Don’t begrudge, belittle or betray it.  Instead, listen, smile and honour it.  One of my reflections is that in my desire to establish my own family I had forgotten that these people had one before I showed up.  Until you establish your own traditions and stories, for a long time you may be seen as an interloper to their family.  Guess what, you are an interloper; get over it and start to build those good memories.

Despite years of effort, credit for your contributions to the newly formed family may not be forthcoming.  Your response should be, ‘so what’.  Biological parenthood can take as little as a brief moment of passion.  Step parenthood, like good parenthood,  takes a life time of ongoing choice and commitment.  Stick with it, you may be surprised with a thank you that seemingly comes out of the blue (even if it was itself years in the making).  Beside, even if you don’t get a thank you, eventually the kids will graduate school and move out… and then life starts to get really weird!

Hypothetically speaking, someday you may find your self at a step-grandchild’s birthday party with your wife, stepson and step-daughter-in-law.  Also at the party is your wife’s ex-husband and perhaps maybe a few other subsequent-ex-wives.  Throw in a mixed family on your side and you may need to graph some of the relationships of child having the birthday.  As for the kids themselves, they are cool with it.  More presents and people to love them is what a mixed on mixed on mixed world means.  And that means you need to be cool with it because it is not about you, it is about modeling the behaviour of an adult who loves and supports unconditionally.  These will be memories that you can give your step-grand children (and to your own children, and their half brothers and your step daughter-in-law and…. etc.).

FMI – eJournal Next Steps and Its Evolution

(Comments requested by May 17th either directly to this blog or to Cheryl(AT)FMI(dot)CA.

Do you subscribe to an academic, scientific, literary or business journal?  If you are a professional, it is likely your association sends you a monthly journal – do you have time to read it?  How about self-subscribed content?  My junk folder is filled with LinkedIn groups that seem like a good idea at the time, accounting firms newsletters, Canadian CPA webinars – and the list goes on.  The point is that there is lots of content that I am largely ignoring because there are only so many hours in the day and gas in the tank to do things.

Given this context, I was asked to join the editorial board of the Financial Management Institute’s (FMI) electronic journal (eJournal).  The journal has been struggling a bit with both its medium (now electronic, formerly paper) and content.  Nevertheless, there is a market opportunity for journal with the following target audiences (in order of importance):

  1. Financial managers within the public service.
  2. Public servants.
  3. Financial professionals in general and interested academics.

The last audience is of particular interest because of the consolidation of the three legacy accounting journals into the current CPA Magazine.  A well-written journal, it nevertheless has a strong general-business and private-practice focus.  Articles of a more technical or industry focus have a hard time finding the space or the word count within the CPA Magazine.

Given the market opportunity, what is the problem?  Alas, creating a journal of value takes dedicated volunteers, paid staff and a good value proposition to make the journal a paying proposition.  To this end, I am outlying two very different futures for the eJournal: an ‘Underpinning Resource‘ versus a ‘Nice Newsletter‘ through this blog. Based on feedback received, the FMI will decide what its eJournal should/can be. Although presented as an either/or proposition, these two futures represent two extremes on a range of possibilities.

FMI eJournal – a Nice Newsletter


On a bi-monthly basis, the FMI will send out an e-newsletter to its registered members. The focus will be on National activities (e.g. educational courses and events), and future/past chapter activities.  The typical FMI reader will skim the content primarily for activities of interest to him or her.  Original articles will be accepted but the eNewsletter will typically re-publish articles from other organizations.


Costs are minimal, as the bulk of the content, Chapter News, will be written by volunteers.  A small editorial board will scan other publications and arrange for pro bono re-publication of the content.  The same editorial board will review submitted articles for their merits and consideration for the journal.

Enduring Value or Future

The eNewsletter is designed to have a very short life and will typically be scanned and then deleted by most readers.  Past editions will be posted on the FMI.ca website.

FMI eJournal – an Underpinning Resource


The eJournal will be an extension of the educational efforts of the FMI and will seek to produce original content supporting public servants in general and financial managers in particular. An editorial board and a full-time managing editorial (who may also have responsibilities for FMI educational activities) seeks out original content according to an editorial calendar. As a rule of thumb, over a rolling 100 article average, the journal should will have the following groups:

  • Pracademic Group: About 70 articles that help the public servant deliver value through pragmatic examples, tools and discussions they can readily use in their work place.  Included in this count are the articles dealing specifically with financial management in a public sector context as well as articles supporting FMI Chapters.  Submissions from this category will be mostly from FMI members, notes from Chapter events and a guest authors such as from CPA-Canada or major accounting firms.
  • Industry Group: About 15 articles will deal with our cho­­sen industry, the public service.  This includes perspectives from elected officials (current and former) at all levels of government, senior administrators, researches, etc.  These articles will generally describe the challenges and solutions of the ‘government-industry’ and provide context to those working for the public service in best matching their efforts to the challenges.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors, for example, former politicians, academics, senior government officials and the like; nevertheless, FMI members contributed articles will be preferred.
  • Macro Group: About 10 articles will deal with larger macro-economic/social /political/technical issues that affect public servants and the elected officials.  These articles will provide the environmental scan and may be in both from a Canadian, Commonwealth or other jurisdiction’s perspective.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors and may be paid for by FMI.
  • Other Group: The final five articles or so are a free-for-all.  They are articles of opportunity, humor, fun or don’t quite fit anywhere else.  This may include editorials, book reviews or re-publications of blogs and other articles (with permission).  These articles will come from a variety of sources.


To attract and assure good quality, a paid managing editor is required who will coordinate a volunteer editorial board.  It will be advantageous to coordinate the managing editing functions with FMI educational activities so they are complimentary.

Enduring Value or Future

The eJournal will generate original thought leadership within the financial and public service communities.  Beyond posting the FMI.ca website, the mark of enduring value is that 5-10% of the articles published in the journal are referenced in other journals or are republished via LinkedIN or other social media.

Two Futures – What Say You?

The above identifies at a summary level two very different futures.  How realistic or beneficial is one future over the other?  Are there value opportunities I have not identified or a third future worthy of consideration? Leave a comment before May 17th with your thoughts!

FMI – 2015-16 Program Thoughts

As the Director of Programming for the Edmonton chapter of the Financial Management Institute, I get the chance to bring great topics to our members.  Our Chapter’s focus is on programming of interest for our members who are public servants in the greater metro-Edmonton area.  On March 12, the board is conducting its planning session for the 2015-16 program year.  This is your chance to contribute to the planning process without having to attend a board meeting (although if you want to volunteer…).

Leave a comment on this page with your idea.  A title is welcome but if you have a paragraph or two to add even better.  The items below list the potential topics of interest.  The sequence of events will be as follows:

  1. Identify great programming ideas.  An idea is composed of a title, a short description (e.g. a paragraph) and any other details such as potential partners.
  2. Identify programming venues.  Currently we focus on breakfast meetings but that is practice rather than the rule.
  3. Hold the March 12 meeting planning meeting.
  4. Update the future events page on the fmi.ca website.
  5. Execute!  This includes identifying an event project manager and start the planning process.

Our current ideas are as follows and are listed in no particular order, tentative sessions are just that, tentative.

Fraud awareness in the Public Sector (September 23, 2015), Scheduled

Internal controls are central to the fiduciary responsibilities of financial professionals and financial managers in the public service.  How good are your controls, is passing an audit enough and can you have too much control?  These are the questions that a panel of experts will discuss including examples from the real world of auditing.

Status of Capital Projects in Alberta and in Particular the metro-Edmonton Area, Votes: 16 – Scheduled for November 2015.

(Suggested by George W) What are the major capital projects being built in Alberta and what is the role of either by either public or private interests in their development?  This session will look at a state of the projects and how public servants can assist and support capita project based economic growth.  Also discussed will be the challenges of maintenance after completion, what are the options for keeping the lights on after the ribbon has been cut.

The Art of Influencing Others, Votes 16 – Schedule for January 2016

(Suggested by Neil P) In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.  80 years later, the nature of business may have changed dramatically, and continues to change… yet the basic principles of human interaction and workplace communication have, in essence, remained the same. Given the changes in today’s world and business environment, the humanity of his teachings are more crucial now than ever before, and the ability to win friends and influence people in business is an increasingly important skill.  This seminar will teach you how to manage people and give you the crucial foundational skills to shift from being an individual contributor to a well-respected manager who can achieve team success.

Foster Innovation in the Public Service When Money is Tight, Votes: 15  – Scheduled for May 2016

(Suggested by Sue K) Public servants are expected to be innovative while working in a risk averse environment.  This inherent conundrum is compounded during times of fiscal restraint when ideas are solicited but resources to execute few.  This session will investigate innovation in the public services from a number of facets.  Firstly, what is innovation, how do you get it, how do you keep it and when should you ignore it?  Next, how to propose, implement and sustain an innovative idea or culture in an environment that is less than ideal.  Finally, thoughts and strategies of making the case during times of fiscal restraint, after all, never let a good crisis go to waste!

How to Run Effective Meeting, Votes:13

(Suggested by Neil P) Public servants and financial managers spend a good portion of their working day in meetings.  But what is the result from this time spent?  This session will help you be more effective through both other standing the psychology and practical skills.  Including in this section is how ‘Roberts Rules of Order’ can help you be more productive in a meeting without sacrificing innovation or open communication.

Public Service and Its Unions, Votes 10

One pervasive constant in the public service is the existence of unions across all levels of government.  This session will consider the benefits to the members, citizens and taxpayers unions play and what are the corresponding costs or inefficiencies they introduce.

Surviving the Dreaded Re-Organization, Votes:10

(Suggested and contributed by Rene M and Darci S) Ministry re-organizations and municipal re-engineering have been with public servants since the initial governments.  Why do re-organizations occur in the first place from the political level, who has mastered the art of surviving and what can a public servant take away from or contribute to the re-organization?  Beyond the structural changes, what are the specific challenges in changes in leadership and the loss of corporate knowledge at the executive level.  What are the impacts to managers, non-managers with a specific focus on the role of the finance person in the reorganization.

Healthcare, Finance and Your Tax Dollars, Votes: 9

An exploration of the healthcare expenditures made within the province and nationally.  How can this expenditure can be maintained, what is the impact on government revenues (at all levels) and how will it be affected by the aging of the Baby-Boomers.  A panel discussion will occur.

How Government Works, a Ground Up Review, Votes: 7

Canada has 3 levels of government, federal, provincial/territorial and municipal/aboriginal.  How do these government levels work, what are the similarities, differences and nuances for each?  What should a financial manager or public servant know about these similarities or differences?  This event will include presentations from past and present sitting politicians and a tour of the Alberta Legislature.

Public Sector Budget, Part II: Do Results/Performance Based Budgets really perform (or deliver results), Votes: 6

(Contributed to by Nobey) Known by many names and methodologies (Results Based, Zero Based, etc.), a performance based budget strives to link inputs (financial and other resources) with the outputs and intended outcomes.

In theory, a perfect model for allocating the scarce resources available to a public service.  In practice though, what have been their successes and challenges?

These are the perspectives and challenges FMI will explore in this engaging panel discussion and presentation formatted conference.  Of interest to all who hold, manage or rely on public-budgets.

Governments, Disaster Response and the 2013 Floods – Two Years Later, Votes:6

In June 2013, the first ever province wide state of emergency was declared.  One of the most destructive natural disasters occurred in which large portions of Southern Alberta was under water.  Looking back two years, what are the lessons learned for all levels of government in emergency response.  How can the Public Service be both agile and maintain the fiduciary responsibilities expected of it.  In addition to the 2013 Southern Alberta Floods, lessons from the SARS epidemic, Slave Lake Fire and Forest Fires will be considered.  This session will be of interest to any public servant interested in planning for the unexpected.

Procurement, Who Is Doing Better?, Votes: 5

(Suggested and contributed to by BTH and Bageshri V) In February 2015 the FMI asked the question, Procurement who does it well?  At this session we will return to procurement but with a larger supply chain focus and ask who is doing procurement even better?  Included in this session will be a return to the Government of Alberta’s Contract Review Committees – xx years after their inception.

SharePoint More Than File Storage, Votes: 3

(Suggested by Dianne L) The Microsoft collaboration tool SharePoint has become the new standard in offices.  Unfortunately for many organizations, it quickly becomes simply another network drive – and not a particularly good one at that.  In this session you will learn 5 things that you may not have known SharePoint could do: 1. Be your go-to Desk Reference/Procedure resource; 2. De-clutter the infamous network drive; 3) Become a budget system – without (almost) using Excel; 4) Store emails and declutter your inbox; 5) Used as a ministry/department priority tracking system.

Time Management, Votes: 3

Time and attention has become the new precious commodity for busy professionals. Email, smart phones and pervasive technologies nibble away at the twenty-four hours allocated each day to deal with business, family and personal priorities.   What are the philosophies, techniques and methods to make the best use of those twenty-four hours?

Public Sector Budget, Part I: Who Loves their Budget System, Votes: 3

Budgets are central to a public service organization.  In many ways they are as important or perhaps more important than even the financial statements.  This is particularly so in organizations using the Westminster model of budget approval (e.g. the provincial or federal governments).

Given their importance, who does budgeting well?  Who has clients that love the system and who can produce reliable and forecasts quickly?  This session will explore these questions and opportunities from four lens, the system, municipal, provincial and federal perspectives.

Operational, Strategic, Business, Risk and Other Planning, Votes: 3

(Suggested by John K) Public servants and in particular financial managers are asked to lead, contribute to, evaluate and then manage to a variety of plans.  But what exactly does the organization when they want a strategic/operational/business or risk plan?  What are the common elements in these documents?  More importantly, how can public servants prepare credible, useful and enduring plans from that ever so-edge of the side of their desk?  This session will provide definitions, tips, tricks, guidance and most important, clues how to plans that spend as little time on the shelf as possible.

Who Loves their ERP and ERM?, Votes: 3

(Suggested and contributed to: Chris M and Darwin B) It is a truism that systems are the new bricks and mortars for organizations.  Unfortunately with this importance comes the risk when they are not well designed, implemented, run, managed or governed.  This session will look at the last two challenges in the context of two systems – how best to manage and govern an organization’s Enterprise Resource/Risk Management systems?  This will include topics such as – what should be the vision for these systems, who should be the governors, the managers, the users with the voice and to integrated the disenfranchised users?  As well, best practices/examples will be discussed from both local metro-Edmonton and from further afield.

Have Designation – Will Travel, Vote: 2

PSAB, IFRS and IPSAS means that accountants are increasingly less tied to specific industry, employer or even country.  What are the risks, rewards and opportunities for a professional accountant to take a secondment or leave to parts unknown?  What is the value proposition to the home and receiving organization?  How should family, career and community factor into this decision?  

Public Service Renewal – Three Years Later, Votes: 2

On November 1, 2012, IPAC-Edmonton and FMI held a joint conference to hear about initiatives to renew the public sector from its senior leaders. The panelists included Simon Farbrother (City Manager, City of Edmonton), Peter Watson (Deputy Minister of Executive Council, Government of Alberta), and Jim Saunderson (Chief Financial Officer – Western Economic Diversification, Government of Canada).

Three years on, what has changed and is renewal still a priority for governments?  What are the specific risks for the provision of financial, accounting or economic services?  This conference will revisit 2012 and look forward another three years in the context of public sector renewal.

Standards, Standards and More Standards, Votes: 0

(Suggest by John K) for accountants working in non-traditional finance areas, it is easy to get rusty on the standards that underpin our work. This refresher will provide a whirlwind tour for the financial manager on the accounting standards in force and that influence the public service.  This will include the legacy Canadian CICA, International Accounting Standards (IAS), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Canadian Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB), International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).

The 360 Review and Benefits of Self-Knowledge, Votes: 0

(Suggested by John K) Many organizations employ 360 reviews to help employees better understand themselves through how others perceive them.  During this session, the 360 review will be explained (including its strengths, shortcomings, costs, etc.) and how you can collect feedback informally about yourself through less formal means.

Policies, Procedures, Legislation, Regulations and Directives, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Carey M) Accountability and oversight comes in many forms.  What organizations have mastered the subtle art of enough control that does not destroy innovation in its ranks.  This session will look at that delicate balance including special focuses on the federal and provincial treasury boards and municipal equivalents.

One Town – Many Governments, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Ron M) Edmonton is a government town. What may surprise you though is exactly how much government is going on in our area code.  Within a hundred kilometres of the legislature dome there are xx independent government levels and organizations.  This includes the federal, provincial, municipal, first nations, crown organizations (agencies, boards and commissions) – and don’t forget the universities, schools, Alberta Health Services and other full and partially arms length entities.  How well does these entities cooperate with each other at a political, executive, financial management (yeah FMI!) and professional level.  What can be done to improve this cooperation and is there a dark side to knowing your neighbours a bit too well?

Critical Thinking and the Financial Professional, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Lucia S) How well do you perform when it comes to critical thinking and analysis and how well do you communicate the results?  This session will explore the dark arts of critical thinking and combine it with how to present and communicate such analysis in a simple and effective manner to executives and to the political level.

Mission Possible: Building Better Teams?, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Sandra V) Teams or at least work units are the basis for most organizational structures.  How can financial managers build better teams and how can financial professionals and public servants be better followers and contributors to a team?  More importantly, how to balance the success of the team with individual performance management and promotion.  This session will explore these issues and concepts.

Accounting for and Managing Assets in Government, Votes: 0

How well does your organization manage the asset life cycle?  How is that asset verification thing working out for you?  Are your organization policies, procedures and technology current or are they getting a bit stale?  Finally, do you understand the accounting standards relative to tangible, intangible, component-ization or work in progress accounting?  This session will examine the asset life cycle, who is doing it well, the standards and what could be done better.

Building Teams When Times are Tough, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Xin N) Individuals are appraised by teams produced!  However, how do you build effective teams, resolve conflict and create a healthy work place when the demands on the individual public servant have become greater than ever?  This session will provided you with practical skills in team building and work relationships so as to keep your individual sanity and your team effectiveness.

The Art of Performance Measurement, Management and Avoiding Unintended Consequences, Votes: 0

An old saw goes, ‘What gets measured gets done’.  However in dueling quotes, Albert Einstein said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted’.  Thus the challenge of performance measurement in the public service.  What are the acknowledged performance measurements for government organizations, how can the costs to collect these measures be reduced while improving their accuracy, finally, what is the role of the financial professional to managing measurements (both financial and non-financials).

Transfer Pricing and Internal Costing of Goods and Services, Votes: 0

Full costing of government is a challenge.  Central services (finance, human resources, IT, etc.) are often seen as a ‘free-good’.  Nevertheless, stakeholders (taxpayers, citizens, politicians) want to know the cost of delivering a project, program or service.  Twenty years ago, activity based costing, budgeting and management was one method to accomplish transfer pricing – since then the accounting world has become largely silent for these techniques.  This session will discuss the value and purpose transfer pricing, the existing accounting standards and success (and not so success) stories.

Information Management and Government Decision Making, Votes: 0

A central role of financial managers and public servants is to ‘speak truth to power’; however truth needs to be based on good information and evidence.  What are the sources of information that can be used to make good decisions?  How do public servants manage information that is growing faster than the ability to assimilate let alone understand it.  This session will allow the public servants to understand what is information, how can it be managed, how it can be used for decision-making and how is this a good career tool.

Cost Accounting in the Public Service, Votes: 0

Activity Based Costing (ABC) and Budgeting (ABB) have seen their fortunes rise and fall over the past few decades.  The Alberta Government has passed the Results Based Budgeting (RBB) Act which seeks to systematically review all government programs and services from an output and outcome perspective.  This session will discuss the role cost accounting/budgeting plays in this new world at all levels of government.  What are the human, system and cultural changes needed to make RBB, ABC, ABB or any other similar resource allocation process successful?

SharePoint Wikis as a Desk Reference Tool – How-To Pages

This is the second in a good intentioned series of blogs detailing my experiences and uses of the tool.  The first blog, SharePoint 101, provided some context and a ‘fictional use-case’ which the following blog is based on.

To date, I have used the wiki function of SharePoint in 4 different organizations.  I would rate only the last one as being successful and being able to deliver the communication value that I seek.  I will dispense with defining what a wiki is, how to edit them and other entry-level knowledge needs.  This knowledge is very important but is beyond this blog just as defining good documentation is beyond the scope of this blog.

Unfortunately documentation is a waste of time… until the moment you need it and so determined how you will need the documentation and work backwards.  Part of working backwards is to recognize that terms like wikis scare most people away.  As a result, I prefer the term Desk Reference.  It is a hardy and old fashion term that conjures up images of a trusty 3″ binder full of policies and procedures.  So, we can now tell the “don’t change nothing!” co-worker that this is a Desk Reference, not one of those fancy-dancy wikis, by Jove!

Key Terms and Structures

A SharePoint wiki library is composed of webpages.  But what to name the pages?  To start, do not use spaces but use “-” or “_” instead; SharePoint will strip out the spaces and sometimes they give you the dreaded “%20%” error – so better to avoid spaces from the start.  Next, set up a naming convention for the types of pages you be using.

Because I have screwed up enough Desk References, I have come up with what I think is a really good standard set of conventions for Desk Reference pages.  Generally these pages are broken into the following:

  • HOW-TO pages (the subject of this blog)
  • DESK-REFERENCE Standards
  • INFRA pages (the next blog)
  • WISDOM, template and other page types (a future blog)

There are more to a good desk reference than just the pages, but that is still more future blogs (I may be writing for a while).

HOW-TO Pages – Overview

Based on the fictional budget management site, the clients using this site will need to know how to do specific activities.  As an aside, Desk Reference pages should be part of a multi-channel strategy to communicate with one’s clients.  Myself, I use the ‘HOW-TO’ pages as a reference in emails, as an audio-visual aid in conference calls and meetings and then linked within the actual tools.  The format of a ‘HOW-TO’ page is as follows:

  • “How-To”-[SUBJECT NAME]: Used to describe how to perform a business process.  These pages described to my clients how to do things for specific budget activity.
  • For example, let’s say that the budget activity involved:
    • Set up a unique activity code
    • Providing a narrative for that code
    • Providing costs associated with the code
    • Allocating the costs across the organization and
    • Running a reporting on all of the above
  • The possible HOW-To Names could include:
    • HOW-TO_BUDGET-CONTEXT: a context page detailing why the budget activity is needed, the authority and any rules of engagement.
    • HOW-TO_NEW-CODE: an instruction page of how to create a new code.
    • HOW-TO_NARRATIVE, HOW-TO_COST, HOW-TO_ALLOCATE, and HOW-TO_REPORT pages detail specific steps for each of these functions.

HOW-TO Page Standard Format

Consistency is key in writing procedure manuals.  The user has to be able to expect a format and then not to be surprised afterwards.  To this end, I strive to use the following conventions:

Bread Crumbs

At the top of the wiki page, I like to provide a set of links or bread crumbs such as the following example from fictional budget management site.  Some standards used include:

  • Home – takes the user to the main desk reference page
  • Planning Cycle Overview – Returns the user to the theme area, in this case an overview of the budget planning cycle
  • Go to Tool – A bold/italic leap to the relative tool, in this case, a SharePoint list
  • <<< Back or Forward >>> – The previous (<<<) or next step (>>>)
  • Note the eye-catching graphic and context for the desk-reference-fatigued user
HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

Just the Facts

The body of the HOW-TO page includes a very abbreviated overview of what needs to be done.  Ideally this is so an experienced user can get a quick refresher without having to read the full-page.

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps


Suitably detailed instructions are provided to walk the user through the task at hand.  More detailed than the Just the Facts section but less detailed than what is found in some of the pages in the Quick Links section

Quick Links

The last section provides additional reading links for those need more information or research.  In the following example, links are provided for definition of the fields used in the business case narrative SharePoint list, the ‘INFRA-‘ definition of the header list (see next blog) as well as how to request a new code and the data dictionary entries (a future blog).

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

SharePoint – 101

I like SharePoint, it is not a love-level relationship but it has matured definitely to the like stage.  Through this and future good-intention blogs, I want to put down what I think are some pretty cool ways to use SharePoint and just as important, some good ways to use the tool.

SharePoint, huh?

If you are reading this and have never used or heard of SharePoint, go onto some of my other postings on this website.  Unfortunately SharePoint is kinda hard to explain and so therefore I will assume that you know about the following things:

  • Its general architecture (e.g. there are farms, sites, sub-sites, lists and items)
  • Its typical structures (lists, libraries, workflows, webparts, pages, search, etc.)
  • Who uses and how access is managed (e.g. super-administrators; site-administrators; users with contributor, read and other access)

If any of the above is makes you go huh?, sorry I can’t help you but I can point you in the right direction:

  1. Wikipedia has a good over-view description.
  2. Read the Microsoft Sales Stuff.
  3. Take a course, there are lots out there including those from Microsoft.
  4. By a book, Chapters or Amazon sells lots, and
  5. Most importantly – start using it!

How Not to Use SharePoint

… but before you start using SharePoint, here is something to recognize about how not to use SharePoint.  Don’t use SharePoint as a glorified Network File System.  It can do so much more, so why do so many people do so little with it?  Hopefully the next few blogs will give you just some examples.

How to Use SharePoint

In my ongoing effort to remember what the heck I have done, I have the good intention of writing a series of blogs about some cool uses of SharePoint (and associated technologies).  Check back to read about cool stuff or to see a post of shame of good intentions gone bad.

  • SharePoint Wikis as a Desk Reference Tool
  • Data Dictionary (of SharePoint and other stuff)
  • Looking up a Look Up of a Look Up
  • Managing Sites, Structures and People (a poor man’s content management strategy)
  • Using SharePoint as a Budgeting Tool

Business Case Example

I have used SharePoint for a variety of uses including:

  • An internal facing team-site with a handful of users having access
  • A highly restricted decision making site with very sensitive information
  • A status reporting system for dozens of project teams who in turn need to consolidate their work into a few sentences for an executive office
  • A ministry briefing binder in which hundreds of documents were managed that had varying degrees of sensitivity and right of access
  • Widely available budget site in which budget clients uploaded their working papers for consolidation
  • A project site composed of numerous teams working on a complex system transition

For the purposes of this and other blogs, I will use a fictional example of a budget site in which internal clients need to submit content and documents.  This example will centre around a government organization and specifically one that primarily manages projects but also manages contractors, contracts and staff.

Procurement Questions

On February 26, 2015, the FMI-Edmonton Chapter is hosting a professional development session, ‘Procurement-Who Does it Well?’.  The pre-event program notes are available (including speaker biographies) for those wanting a bit more detail or context.

Louis Moeller,

Louis Moeller,

The purpose of this session is to explore:

Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal and agencies) collectively procure  billions of dollars each year. Efficient and effective procurement is critical to the proper functioning of government operations and central to a modern economy.  This professional training session will consider the public sector procurement challenges from many perspectives including procurement professionals, public servants who need to purchase goods/services, the financial manager, system providers and of course the taxpayer who ultimately pays for the purchase.  This is a joint presentation by FMI and PwC Canada – a global leader in supply chain and procurement.

 With any good session, a set of questions helps to explore the issues.  Available to speak to (if not answer the questions) are experts from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as well as Federal/Provincial/Municipal government finance and procurement professionals.  In addition, we will also use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ for this session in which individuals attending can text/email in responses to questions which they think better answer or contribute to the question.

Questions fall into one of the following themes:

1. The Future of Procurement

(Questions relating to changes in People, Process and the Products of the procurement process?  This includes the use of technologies, legislation, training, etc.).

  • Alberta has recently introduced legislative and Treasury Board directive changes increasing the difficulty of conducting sole-source contracts, the use of contract review committees, changes to conflict of interest and other amendments.  Where do these changes place Alberta relative to the rest of Canada for transparency and over-sight of the procurement process?  Should any of the changes be adopted by other levels of government, if not already; in particular, by municipalities?
  • How well do government organizations in Alberta coordinate their procurement activities? Do other jurisdictions to a better job and if so, what will Alberta need to do to match this performance?
  • How procurement-literate is the average public servant?  What is the minimum they should know and where is the best place to learn this?

2. The Current Practicalities of Procurement

(Questions relating to how to ensure compliance with existing organizational and legislative rules and procedures.  This includes reducing the burden compliance while selecting the best vendor during a procurement event).

  • How much is public-sector procurement a technology problem, a political problem, a people problem, a process problem – or is there a problem?
  • How do private sector vendors perceive the government procurement processes in Alberta?  How and how much should their perceptions, needs and circumstances be taken into consideration when designing a procurement process or running a procurement activity?
  • Are inefficiencies in the public-sector procurement process used to discourage expenditures and thus they are a form of cost avoidance or containment on the part of a government?

3. From the Procurement Professional’s Perspective

(Questions related to how a procurement professional can support public servants in selecting vendors of goods and services).

  • How does an organization know that it has a good procurement process?  What metrics should an organization track against to make this assessment and are benchmarks available in general or in particular to public-sector procurement?
  • Who is the ‘pin-up organization’ that every procurement manager wishes their organization could emulate?  Who is the best of the best when it comes to public-sector procurement?
  • A common compliant amongst public servants are the Byzantine procurement rules, seemingly arbitrary changes to the procurement process and endless legal reviews.  How much is this perception real and how can procurement professionals streamline and the process without losing accountability for a fair, open and transparent bidding process?
  • When should a procurement professional be the person to negotiate price with a vendor?  What other procurement attributes (e.g. delivery, quality, terms, conditions, etc.) should be the responsibility of the public servant making the purchase versus the procurement professional?

4. From the Financial Manager’s Perspective

(Questions related to what a financial manager must consider when supporting public servants or procurement professionals).

  • Canadians were perhaps shocked with the revelations of corruption in Quebec.  Over all, how does Canada or Alberta fair on its public-sector procurement being free of corruption?  What are the pro-active and retro-active activities to maintain a corruption free status (or to de-corrupt it, as applicable).
  • What is the one way a financial professional can assist a public servant or a procurement professional in the context of procurement?

5. Alberta’s Contract Review Committees

(Questions specific to operating a contract review committee within a public sector organization with a specific focus on the province of Alberta’s implementation of a review committee).

Alberta Context: A Government of Alberta Treasury Board directive requires that all departments have in place a contract review committee ‘to support the procurement accountability framework’. This framework in turn will: ‘support consistent goods and services procurement practices, including those in respect of Construction, across all departments, that reflect best practices and foster accountability, fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency ‘.

  • Some Alberta Ministries already have contract review committees, how much is this experience being considered when setting up new contract review committees?
  • Are the experiences of other governments also being considered, for example ad hoc committees used in selection of federal or municipal committees.
  • Should the vendor experience or perspective be considered as part of the deliberations of a contract review committee?
  • Some ministries had review committees while others have yet to establish a committee before the April 1, 2015 deadline.  How much should and will the committees differ across the ministries?  What are the FOIPP and public disclosure consideration for these committees?

Dead Men Make Good Reads

Dr. William Maples passed away nearly 30 years ago (February 1997) at the young age of 59.  Never heard of him you say?  How about these names: Quincy, CSI (Vegas, New York, Portage la Prairie) or Bones – have you heard of them?

Maples was the inspiration or at least haunts these popular television shows.  In his book, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, he provides a glimpse into the life of what was then a unique animal – a forensic anthropologist.

Working in Florida, he pioneered or studied under the first scientist who combined these disciplines.  I recall seeing this book when it first came out in the early 1990’s and wanted to read it – now 30 years later I can check it off the list.  Its age is both a detraction and an appeal for reading the book now.  On the detraction side, Maples is describing state of the art that has long since been made obsolete.  On the appeal side, he shines a light into his science just before it went mainstream with television shows such as CSI or Bones.

This book is more than a historical curiosity though, it is also a good read.  Maples had the opportunity to examine some world-famous bones include the elephant man, Spanish conquistadors, US president Taylor and the remains of the family of the last Russian Czar.  He tells of these exploits in a direct and slightly casual way, sort of how you would imagine him delivering a lecture on the subject to interested laymen.

The book includes photos and some descriptions that I passed over in places.  Nevertheless, if you like CSI, science or history – keep a look out for Dead Men Who Still Tell Good Tales.

Leo Tolstoy Grave - 1910.  Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2010.423.5 (detail) metmuseum.org

Leo Tolstoy Grave – 1910. Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2010.423.5 (detail) metmuseum.org


The Secret to a Secret Life

Pssst, wanna hear a secret?  Dr. Gail Saltz writes about people who have kept secrets from spouses, family members, friends and themselves.  That is not all though, she is an okay writer and the book was a solid read but it left me ever so wanting for a few more secrets.  Pass it on!

Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2005.100.198 (detail) metmuseum.org

Scherzo di Follia; Accession Number: 2005.100.198 (detail) metmuseum.org

By way of a full disclosure, I have written about secret lives before in my blog: How to Disappear – When you Really Need to Go!  That read was more of a how to book to disappear when you don’t want others to find you (e.g. after winning the lottery and avoiding your dead-beat relatives).  Saltz’s book provides an alternative perspective of living a secret life, the psychological impact.  Her biography lists her accomplishments as “Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, columnist, bestselling author“.  This book is based on her experiences with the first two: Dr. Saltz, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

From these experiences she provides a series of pseudo-case histories from her own practice including a matronly shop lifter, a happy married sex-addict and an upper-middle class tax cheat.  She also introduces some of the famous people who have lived secret lives such as:

  • T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia; military hero and sexual pervert.
  • Charles Lindbergh: american hero and polygamist.
  • An assortment of rogues-galley such as Ted Bundy.

Not every secret of course is as pathological, immoral or criminal.  In fact secrets are part of childhood.  According to Saltz, keeping secrets establishes an identity outside that of your parent’s.  The secrets start with playing peek-a-boo, evolves to secrets about possessions (including secret friends) in mid-childhood and then secrets of shame in adolescents.  Secrets are part of an adult world ranging from passwords, PIN numbers, sexual tastes of your spouse, non-disclosure agreements or even your own self-talk about whether or not to kill your SOB-boss.

These secrets, through our life-journey, are necessary or largely harmless.  There is a tipping point when a secret goes from a protected password to gnawing at one’s psychological health.  Saltz lists the cost of keeping these types of secrets both in the book and in two appendices (there are two Cosmopolitan Magazine like check lists for determining if someone you know has a secret or whether you have one); symptoms include:

  • Moody, nervous, temper, beleaguered, preoccupied
  • Acts suspicious such as unaccounted for time away from friends, family or work
  • Missing money or unexplained bills
  • Depression, physical ailments or exhaustion

In other words, it may be the flu, a bad weekend in Las Vegas, over spending for a surprise birthday party or there may be a dark secret.  This is hardly a convincing list and this is where I find Saltz’s book a bit disappointing.  Saltz’s remedy for most secrets in the book is to go and see a shrink for absolution.  As well, although she introduces some historical secret keepers, she missed some real whoppers.  Folks like high-ranking Nazi officials living in Argentina, Alan Turing living with both a war and a homosexual secret life or even ex-CIA or secret agents living with the actions demanded of them by their country.

In other words, Saltz’s book is good, but not great.  The psychology she introduces seems a bit to pop-psychology like and a little too good to be true.  I would have liked a bit more meat to go with the secret-sauce Saltz was serving up in the book, ‘Anatomy of a Secret Life’.




Mathematics can be used and presented in a manner that distorts the underlying truth or at least the underlying likelihood of a truth.

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

YAWWWNNNNN, who cares – Charles Seife does and tells us why you should care too in this book, “Proofiness: How You’re Being Fooled By The Numbers“.

Seife’s position is that bad math is more than being hoodwinked into buying oatmeal (see Quaker Oatmeal cholesterol numbers); bad numbers disenfranchise voters and erodes the democratic rights of Americans.

A Bad Math Field Guide

Be warned, this is a heavily American-focused book in which about half is dedicated to the challenges of the US voting systems.  If you can get past this bias, some interesting terminology and underhanded methods are exposed.  Here are a few:

  • Truthful numbers: come from good measurement that is reproducible and objective
  • Potemkin* numbers: derived from nonsensical or a non-genuine measurement
  • Disestimation: taking a number too literally without considering the uncertainties in its measurement
  • Fruit packing: Presentation of accurate numbers in a manner that deceives through the wrong context.  Techniques include cherry-picking, apples to oranges and apple polishing.
  • Cherry picking: Selection of data that supports an argument while underplaying or ignoring data that does not.
  • Comparing apples to oranges: ensuring the underlying unit of measurement is consistent when comparing two or more populations.
  • Apple-polishing: data is touched up so they appear more favourable (this was the Quaker Oatmeal trick).
  • Randumbness: because humans are exceptional at discerning patterns we also suffer from randumbness, insisting there is order where there is only chaos.
  • Prosecutors Fallacy**: Presenting a probability incompletely and leading to a false data assumption.

* Named for Prince Potemkin who convinced the empress of Russia that the Crimea was populated by constructing villages that were only convincing when viewed from a distance – such as a passing royal carriage.  An example of a Potemkin number was Joe McCarthy’s famous claim of 205 communists in the State Department.

** This one is worth a blog on its own so for more, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecutor’s_fallacy.

Take Your Field Guide With You to Work

These are important concepts for not only a citizen to consider when looking at dubious polling information but in the business or public policy world as well.  If there is a shortcoming in Seife’s book, this is it.  In my opinion he over focuses on the bad use of numbers in the public arena without touching on how CEO’s, CFOs, Boards and government-Ministers may also be hoodwinked.

Individuals being asked to make decisions based on numbers need to be able to cut through the packaging techniques discussed above.  This is becoming more important as our society moves to a 144 character Twitter attention span and public policy needs to be distilled down to a simple infographic.  As well, while developing a dashboard for a business is valuable, be sure that it is not filled with polished, cherry picked, Potemkin numbers based on a disestimation

Disenfranchising a few Million

Returning to the book, Seife has some advise for the US when it comes to the United States census.  Written into the constitution, once-every-decade process of counting all American citizens costs about $6.5 Billion dollars.  For this expenditure, it is estimate that the census misses about 2% of the United States population and double counts about 1%.  While these numbers would in theory cancel each other out (more or less), the impact is that there about 10 million US voters not accounted for in the census.

This error rate can be mitigated through techniques known as statistical sampling which will smooth out the distortions.  The result would be generally more people counted in poorer, racial minority areas who don’t like to fill in census forms or talk to government officials.  The ‘result of the result’ would be these people would then have more politicians to vote for (larger representation) and to send to Washington.

So far sounds good except that poor, non-white folks tend to vote for the Democrats which is why there is another perspective: only a count – counts. This being America, the counting challenge has generated a lot of legal attention and two population numbers.  One used by everyone who needs precise data to estimate everyday population trends and another used to reapportion the House of Representative seats.  After numerous legal battles, millions of Americans are disenfranchised because only a more error prone enumeration technique is permitted (see pages 185-198 for a more thorough explanation and also some very impressive legal gymnastics by the Supreme Court).

A Math Journey with a Curmudgeon

Seife sees himself as unbiased journalist although his leftiness tends to negate this somewhat.  He distrusts political polls, NASA, fluffy articles in scientific journals and the social sciences.  In other words, reading Proofiness is like visiting with a self-indulgent, opinionated curmudgeon – who is also brilliant and often right.  If you use numbers to make decisions in your day to day life, I would encourage you to take your ‘Proofiness-Field Guide’ with you.

Triumph of the City

How can you not love a book that combines economics, civil engineering and history!  Edward Glaeser combines these elements into a generally good read that traces the impact of the city from its earliest times to its modern incarnations.  His thesis is that building-up is good and environmentally responsible; sprawl is understandable but not sustainable.

Origin of a City

Cities started and thrive on technology.  The invention of agriculture and the domestication of beasts of burdens was the genesis for our urban journey.  As a result, cities became gateways along trade routes for the spread of culture, innovation and disease.  Since these earliest times, ongoing technological changes have allowed cities to flourish.  The creation of a better transportation (the wheel, canals, steam, street car, automobile, etc.) have allowed for cities to take advantage of the exchange of goods and services.

More recently (e.g. the last 150 or so years) social changes and technologies have allowed cities to move from places of pestilence to locations where you are more likely to be healthier, happier and live longer than your rural cousins.  These technologies are of course the lowly toilet, sewer system, asphalt (to reduce dust), internal combustion engine (to reduce things like horse dung) and clean water.  Parallel political structures needed to be created to provide these externalities* such as effective police forces, water works, street maintenance and an (ideally) non-corrupt overall administration to manage these services.

The Conquest of Pestilence in New York City; Stirling Behavioural Science Blog

The Conquest of Pestilence in New York City; Stirling Behavioural Science Blog

Slums as a Success Story

At this point, many people would point to the slums of Mumbai or Rio and suggest that the conditions there make cities a failure.  While Glaeser does not minimize the human suffering that does occur in quasi-legal no man’s land of slums, he also suggests that those living there are (on average) better off than their rural kin who they left behind.  Cities encourage innovation, reward hard work and there is a better chance to have access to medical care, clean water and schools for your children in a slum than in a rural province.

Once again, it is important to differentiate anecdotal, statistical and absolutes at this point.  For the young man who left a rural village in Brazil and died the next day in gang warfare in a Rio slum – cities would seem to be a bad deal.  But his tragedy has to be matched against the many others who became middle class through hard work, innovation or access to education.

Political Impact on Cities

Cities and political processes go hand in hand.  For example, the more democratic a country is, the more distributed its cities are likely to be; conversely, the more autocratic, the more likely that a single city will lord over other cities (the largest cities in dictatorships, … contain, on average 35 percent of the countries’ urban population versus 23 percent in stable democracies, p. 235).  Over the past 100+ years perhaps the greatest political influence on a city was the favouring of the automobile through the creation of highways and mortgage deductions for private ownership.

In the United States, the creation of the inter-state highway system (which was partially completed to support improved military transportation) has allowed for the creation of suburbs compounded by three other factors: road economics, tax policy and school funding.  The fundamental law of road congestion states that as roads are built, they are filled at nearly the same rate as their construction.  Thus more roads mean more traffic with only congestion pricing (a political hot potato if there ever was one) mitigating this effect.  Returning to the United States, a generous mortgage interest deduction further encouraged the purchase of the best available home a family could afford.  The localization of school boards and their funding meant that parents would also select a home where the good schools were.  The impact since the end of the WWII was the creation of a suburban sprawl and the gutting of inner-city communities.

The urban riots the United States has experienced can be partially traced to the flight of educated and leadership enabled citizens (white and black) away from the urban centers.  This was more than a lack of policing or social policy, this was as much the destruction of the social fabrics of the communities.  Akin this effect in the United States, Glaeser comments on how much safer the Mumbai slums are than the Rio equivalents despite the former being poorer.  Mumbai slums are better functioning social spaces and thus they provide their own safety nets and controls that are less likely to be found in the more transient Rio slums.

Creating Great Cities

Glaeser offers some direction on how to keep cities healthy, happy, lower environmental footprint and safe.  Firstly, allow cities to grow up.  This increases the density per square metre meaning that the same public-service is being optimized.  Green spaces are important to allow parents to raise their families and community safety must occur concurrently.  Community-based and adequate policing is part of the safety equation in addition to creating functioning social-spaces and communities.  Further to this, a community needs to have a say in the make-up of its local environment (bars, night clubs, daycares, etc.) but must not have a complete veto otherwise cities become balkanized into enclaves of Not in My BackYard.

Glaeser also strongly supports the consumption pricing of public goods.  Thus those driving in from the suburbs should be paying for this right or the developer constructing a high-rise tower should pay a sufficiently high enough fee to compensate the local community for this vertical-intrusion.  These are excellent economic principles that often falter in harsh light of political reality.  Nevertheless, at least they should be part of the discourse on what type of city we want to live in and have available to us.

Triumph of the City is a good read for anyone interested in the practical application economics and civil engineering to the messy realities of human communities.  The book is strongly skewed toward the United States context but Glaeser should be commended in bringing in numerous global examples to balance this bias out.  There are lots of juicy footnotes for those who want a deeper dive into the details.  Triumph of the City is a good book for any History/Economics/Civil Engineering-wonks out there.

(*) In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit [WIKIPEDIA].

Ribbon Cutting and Fire Rescues

Would you run for political office?  If you are like most people, it is hard enough to get out and vote let alone run for an elected position.  Once you have been elected, the vast majority of your time, energy, commitment and effort has to be spent on what the British/commonwealth tradition calls ‘good government’.  Failure to deliver good government will defeat you at polls but it will never win an election, particularly in era of 144 character twitter-attention spans.  What will win an election are actions that fall into one of two categories: ribbon cutting and fire rescues.

A ribbon cutting is the delivery of a net new service or good to the community.  While it may be a new hospital or highway, it may also be a targeted tax policy or change in legislation.  A rescue is where a public official shows his or her mettle by dealing with a crisis, preferably natural and not the fault of the ruling party.

In this context, we can also understand the encroachment of the Nanny State in people’s lives.  After all, a government can only build so many hospitals or highways.  However, more restrictions on tobacco, lower blood alcohol levels for impaired driving targets or legislation to mandate gay-straight alliances in schools are examples of a government doing something (cutting a ribbon) while paying little in direct costs.  This is not to pass comment on the relative merits (or lack thereof) on these and other social engineering efforts.  Nevertheless, each of these efforts incrementally expand the role of government in people’s lives.  The challenge with this expansion is that we are creating increasingly complex societal-systems.  With complexity come instability and the potential for a system failure.  With failure comes the need for a rescue and more complexity means more rescues.

A rescue maybe a temporary measure which partially or fully replaces a process.  Temporary measures have the habit of becoming permanent ones which in turn creates more exceptions and greater complexities.  Worse still is a rescue which resolves one crisis by impairing or destroying a largely functioning process (call this the baby and bathwater rescue).

Some elected officials face greater challenges (rescues) then others.  President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand (right), and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton, left), Chief of the Secret Service of the United States, at Secret Service Department, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, Maryland.  Detail of a photo by Alexander Gardner.  Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Accession Number: 2005.100.1220.

Some elected officials face greater challenges (rescues) then others. President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand (right), and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton, left), Chief of the Secret Service of the United States, at Secret Service Department, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, Maryland. Detail of a photo by Alexander Gardner. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Accession Number: 2005.100.1220.

At this point, if you are tut-tuting the silliness of the public officials cutting ribbons or performing rescues, recognize that you may also be contributing to this behavior.  When was the last time your called up your public official and said, ‘great job on peace, order and good government; keep it up’.  If you did call, perhaps it was to get a street snow plowed, legislation passed or money spent on an issue important to you.

Successful public officials need to balance election-winning ribbons and rescues while simultaneously providing good-government.  Elected officials who focus on ribbons and rescues but lose sight of the ‘peace, order and good government’ can destroy a functioning civil service.  In this situation, it takes an effective senior civil servant (e.g. a Deputy Minister or General Manager) to deliver the ribbons and rescues while protecting and improving the organization’s infrastructure and processes.

Thus, if you do plan to run for elected office, thank you.  We need good people who are willing to take themselves and their families into the fish bowl.  Once you are there, remember the importance of balancing the contradictions of good-government with ribbons-rescues.  If you are a senior civil servant, remember it is your role to mitigate the short-term rescues-ribbons with the longer-term sustainment of an effective and efficient government.    Neither of these roles (politician or senior civil servant) are easy but both are critical for an effective democracy.

Organizations in Four Part Harmony

What exactly makes up an organization and how is work done within them?  This is a subject of a handy mental model I use when I am trying to understand an organization; an organization in four part harmony.

1.    Harmony 1, Infrastructure: the furniture, furnaces, machinery and head offices of the organization.  Note that in many organizations infrastructure is often a non-tangible.  For example a computerized airline reservation system or perhaps a finance system.

Steamfitter, by Lewis Hine (American, 1874–1940) .  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Accession Number: 54.549.56

Steamfitter, by Lewis Hine (American, 1874–1940) . Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Accession Number: 54.549.56

2.    Harmony 2, Operations: these are the day-in-day-out processes, tasks and procedures which we typically hire people to do.  Accounts payable clerks, widgets assembler or process engineers are hired because payables need to be clerked, widgets assembled and processes engineered.

3.    Harmony 3, Ad hoc activities: if you have a reserved parking spot close to the head office of an organization, I bet this is what you do all day.  Sure, you were hired to do operations (Chief Executive/Finance/Information Officer) and sometimes operational work sneaks in when you are not looking.  More than likely though, you have crossed into the grey and smudgy no-man’s land that separates operations from the world of the ad hoc.

4.    Harmony 4, Strategic thinking/planning: Periodically, the leaders of an organization will set aside their many ad hoc and fewer operational activities to complete strategic plans.  Strategic plans hopefully answer questions like, do we have the right infrastructure, efficient operations and why are there so many ad hoc activities.

Four Perfect Harmonies

If you dig out your old college text books, organizations are described as functioning something like this.  Wise executives poke their heads up from the fray and gain strategic knowledge.  In turn, this knowledge is used to tweak infrastructure and adjust operations.  Ad hoc opportunities are few and nearly always involve entering into new markets, maximizing shareholder wealth or stakeholder well-being.

Dilbert and The Four Harmonies

In a Dilbert’esque world, the four harmonies work in isolation.  Most of the management focus is on performing ad hoc work that usually involves fixing or infrastructure or operations.  This is because infrastructure suffers from a lack of investment while operations are conducted by poorly trained leading the newly hired.  The only time either of these harmonies get any attention is when they fail and then they are hastily repaired, usually in an ad hoc manner.

Beyond the Harmonies

Most organizations fall in between these two extremes.  Ideally infrastructure is like a well-run furnace on a cold winter’s day – well-functioning, appreciated and invisible.  Time invested in operations saves management effort solving future ad hoc problems (an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure).   Ad hoc efforts need to be the exception and not the standard modus operandi of an organization.  Unfortunately management through heroics and drive by management can make it difficult to operationalize a corporate culture used to the adrenalin rush of the last moment.

Finally strategic planning should be an ongoing rather than intermittent activity, ad hoc activity.  Ideally, an orchestra-conductor makes small corrections to the harmony rather than having to stop the tune and start again from the top.

Organizations are much too complex to fit into four neat buckets, but it is surprising how this simple model has help me channel my thinking about complex and abstract structures, such as organizations.  So, how well does your organization manage the four harmonies and what are your thoughts on the mental model?  As always drop me your thoughts, ideally via a singing telegram in four part harmony.

Needed: 1 Good Intern

Do you know someone who has just graduated from an accounting, business or finance program and is considering pursuing the new Canadian-CPA designation?

Within the ministry of Advanced Education I am recruiting my first ‘pre-CPA’ intern. I am looking for that one person (young, new-Canadian, new career) who can shine and make the program widely successful within the Government of Alberta.

I am keen to have the right person because:

  1. I love working with bright, motivated people who push my envelope and who I can mentor to future success
  2. The first often influences the rest – I want that one person who helps others to understand what a successful intern program looks like; success to creates success
  3. As the ministry of Advanced Education, I want/need to demonstrate that we walk the talk in fields of learning and leveraging Albertan and international post-secondary graduates

Below are two key links, one an overview of the recruitment the second my philosophy on running intern programs.  As time and interest permits, I will post future blogs on the value of things like:

  • Running pre-recruitment conference calls
  • The value, costs and benefits of testing before selecting the short list
  • Onboarding the first intern, how hard can it be?
  • The pre-CPA-Training program: does it work and its value

Key Links


S(p)in City – Cycling Vegas: Wetlands & Lake Las Vegas

Day 3 was the chance to really enjoy Vegas as a metro area that actively supports cycling.  We drove only a little ways from our hotel (mostly to be closer to the bike shop for when it closes) and then rode the street and dedicated bike lanes through Henderson and into Lake Las Vegas.

Blogs and Key Links

Our destination was recommended newly created trail called the wet lands.  A name one does not normally associate with Vegas.  As it turns out, this was a water-course that collects much of the rain water from metro-Vegas, channeling it into Lake Las Vegas and then into Lake Mead.

2014-11-02 - Las Vegas Watershed

2014-11-02 – Las Vegas Watershed

Cycling Lanes in Vegas

Many of the streets in Las Vegas either have a separate cycling lane or a dedicated on-street cycling path.  Generally drivers seem to respect cyclists and for the short time I was in the city, did not notice much in the way of conflict between the two.

2014-11-02 - Las Vegas Cycling Lane

2014-11-02 – Las Vegas Cycling Lane

Wetlands Trail

Following the man-made and natural contours of the desert, the Wetlands trail is an undulating route that starts at the river level, quickly climbs and then desends again back to river level.  Being closer to the metro areas, we saw more walkers and bikers en route including numerous families.

2014-11-02 - Descending to the River After Climbing out of the Valley

2014-11-02 – Descending to the river after Immediately after climbing out of the valley

The trail itself was well-marked with sign posts along the way.

2014-11-02 - Signage en route of the Wetlands Trail

2014-11-02 – Signage en route of the Wetlands Trail

After a juice and snack in Lake Las Vegas (and a decision not to climb the hill to see if Celion Dion was home in her palatial abode), we returned to Henderson.  A side trip to McGhie’s Bike Shop allowed me to pick up a souvenir bike jersey.  Afterwards, we returned the bikes and had a final supper at the Las Vegas Hofbrau Haus (see trip advisor review below).

This was the third and final day of nearly 200km and 8,000 ft of excellent cycling.  I will likely be back to complete some routes and challenges missed in this go-round, but until then –  a great trip in the surprising cycling nirvana of Las Vegas!

2014-11-02 - Day 3 Ride

2014-11-02 – Day 3 Ride

An American Treat, A Bayern Disappointment”

Having lived in Munich for nearly two years, I was used to taking visitors to the HfBH. Ten years on, I thought it would be fun to visit the replica in Las Vegas.

The conclusion, a good illusion, ok food and tasty beer. The LV location was authentic in that the serving staff were a bit indifferent and seemingly bored with the whole schtick.

The food was dry and obviously prepared well in advance so that guest could eat and turn over the table fast for the next set of tourists.  Overall, an OK replica but visit the real thing when you can – even better spend a few days enjoying the German life in a beer garden with real Munchners.

S(p)in City – Cycling Vegas: Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon is visible to the west of Las Vegas on most days.  A band of red rock and small’ish mountains/hills provide a physical border towards the setting sun.  Beyond a border, the area has a history of being a place of year-round water, a way-station for ranchers and Spaniards, a place of homesteading dreams and a playground for the wealthy (including Howard Hughes).  Today, these different threads are combined into a National Forest with stunning vistas and about 20+ km of great riding.

Blogs and Key Links

An Early Start and Traversed Ascent

Given that about half of the trail is ascent with the other descent, overall there is on average a 4% grade both up and down.  The trouble with averages is that they don’t help your exploding lungs as you climb steep pitches.  Given that the road was one way and quiet when we started, my solution was a traversed ascent for the steeper bits.  A slow zig-zag across the road took the 8-10% grades closer the to the 4% average.

The day itself was considerably cooler than the prior day with a strong wind later in the afternoon.  While G. remained firmly bundled up for the entire ride (he was also not feel 100% due to some dehydration from the previous day), I welcomed the 10C weather.

Twelve Miles of Awesome

Perhaps the greatest challenge with this ride is selecting the photos for inclusion.  The following is a collage of the 12 mile posts found along the way, each suggesting a slightly different character found along this short ride.

2014-11-01 - Mile Post Collage

2014-11-01 – Mile Post Collage

 Wild Life Sighting

I was hoping to see more wildlife and some of the desert critters.  Alas, the following was the only desert dweller we came across on our rides (and fortunately not in our hotel room).

2014-LasVegas-Day2-Desert Critter

2014-LasVegas-Day2-Desert Critter

Trip Summary

G and I were planning on riding further on Day 2.  Unfortunately strong winds, cool temperature and G not feeling great cut our trip short.  While G took a nap, I poked around Las Vegas and enjoyed an afternoon of playing car-based tourist.  The rest was probably a good idea given the distance and elevation on day 3.

2014-11-01 - Day 2 Overview

2014-11-01 – Day 2 Overview

S(p)in City – Cycling Vegas: Hoover Dam and the Loop

Visiting Hoover Dam has been on my bucket list for a long time.  In fact, after visiting Vegas in 2010, I said that I have only two reasons to ever return: visit the dam and hike the desert.  On this ride I got 50% of my reasons to return.

Blogs and Key Links

Staging Point – Equestrian

Located near the Clark County Museum (a reference only fans of Pawn Stars would get); this is a large parking area in the 8-o’clock position of the River Mountains Loop Trail.  As it turns out, it is also a relatively high spot on the trail (635m) given the descent we experienced and the grinding ascent later in the day.

2014-10-31 - Equestrian Staging Area

2014-10-31 – Equestrian Staging Area

Descent Into Boulder and the Dam Ride

Riding clockwise along the River Mountain Loop, our general direction was toward Boulder Nevada.  The descent into the Hoover Dam saw a loss of more than 150M down to 387M at the top of the Dam.  En route, a section of the trail doubled as a flash flood spill way (aka skate-board turn pike).

2014-10-31 - Descent into the Hoover Dam via the spill way (aka turnpike)

2014-10-31 – Descent into the Hoover Dam via the spill way (aka turnpike)

The actual descent toward the dam included by-passing the new bridge, clearing a security check point and seeing the US-federal government fineness pull over a seemingly innocent looking car.  Both the ride and K-9 units were quite exciting.

2014-10-31 - The New Bridge

2014-10-31 – The New Bridge

2014-10-31 - Descent and the K-9 Unit

2014-10-31 – Descent and the K-9 Unit

2014-10-31 - From the Arizona Side

2014-10-31 – From the Arizona Side

Ascent Out of the Dam – the Climbing Begins

For every descent, there is usually an ascent; and despite delaying at dam level, we began to make our way up again.  Fortunately a parking garage and elevator shaved five-stories of climbing off of our return to the River Mountain Loop.  Unfortunately the rest was either ride or push; including the initial ramp from the parking garage to the Tunnels Trail.

2014-10-31 - Start of Tunnels Trail

2014-10-31 – Start of Tunnels Trail

Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail

According to its website, the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail:

… the gravel Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail hugs the hills on the southern shoreline of vast Lake Mead. The rail-trail offers panoramic views of the manmade lake and snakes through five railroad tunnels on its way toward Hoover Dam.  After the dam was completed in 1935, the railroad ceased operation, and in 1962 the tracks were removed; the trail opened in 1995.

Riding on the rail way bed was fun but we were glad to be descending rather than trying to climb through the loose gravel.  Five tunnels give a brief respite from the heat and vistas down to Lake Mead were around most corners.

2014-10-31 - Leaving one Tunnel and Starting Another

2014-10-31 – Leaving one Tunnel and Starting Another

A quick snack at the campground just off the River Mountain Loop Trail brighten our spirits, fluids and energy levels.  Little did we know how much we would need of all three over the next few hours.

2014-10-31 - Lake Mead from the Campground

2014-10-31 – Lake Mead from the Campground

River Mountain Loop Trail

After the campground, civilization quickly fell away (well except for the excellent asphalt trail we were riding on) to be replaced by desert vistas and rocks.  Also making its presence known were long hill climbs up and out of the Lake Mead valley.  Making the effort more challenging were the +30C temperatures which saw water being sweated out faster than it could be consumed.

2014-10-31 - The Desert and the Ascent

2014-10-31 – The Desert and the Ascent

Completing the River Mountains Loop Trail

Six hours, about 4 litres of water and 74+ km later, we returned to our starting point.  Dehydrated and exhausted – we still had enough energy to hit the Vegas strip during a very crazy Halloween Night.  Supper at Gordan Ramsay’s Burgr Bar and stroll afterwards capped off an excellent day of riding and bucket list kicking!

RTC - Bike Map - detail of Day 1

RTC – Bike Map – detail of Day 1

2014-10-31 - Lake Mead Overview

2014-10-31 – Lake Mead Overview

S(p)in City – Cycling Vegas: an overview

I started writing trip logs (a much more manly term than scrap booking) on adventures about 20 years ago.  I have tried a few different formats such as a log book, word document, and a desk top publishing tool.  Given that I have yet to re-read many of the trip logs, perhaps a blog is way to go as a method to remember where I have been and what I did once I was there.

By way of a note to myself, because this blog will be available on the www (including to spammers and nasty people who visit my site); I have purged most personal details and tried not to post too many pictures showing faces, focusing on landscapes instead.  Look to Facebook and secure to see more personal content.

With these caveats in place, here it goes, my first blog-trip-log!

Cycling Vegas – an Overview

Las Vegas, sin city is also Spin City.  Unknown to many visitors, Las Vegas and environs is a cycling destination. Beyond the Strip, bike lines, canyons, the Hoover Dam and desert vistas await. The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC) ran a 5 day event that combined 3 days of riding and a bit of what Las Vegas is best known for. The trip left on October 30, 2014 with a November 3 return.  Using a hub/spoke model from the Green Valley Ranch in Henderson Nevada (GVR), this trip was an intermediate ride meaning a moderate level of physical condition and cycling experience.

The trip details are available and Frank’s Packing List – Vegas 2014 for the trip are provided (mostly) for my future reference and so I don’t need to go and find that lost log book of adventures.

Blogs and Key Links

Getting There

Billed as an EBTC ride, (un)fortunately, only the two organizers, Frank and G., signed up.  They travelled to Las Vegas via West Jet on October 30 and picked up their rental van.  As a turns out, the Dodge Caravan was a great investment as it both permitted transportation and a safe place to stow the rented bikes.

A great place to stow bikes and cruise the Vegas strip.

A great place to stow bikes and cruise the Vegas strip.

The bikes were were rented from J.T.’s Bicycles in Henderson Nevada at a cost of about $150USD for each – which included an emergency repair kit (tube, multi tool, C02 pump) and putting on the pedals and saddles that we had brought with us.

2014-11-02 - Our Trusty Steads

2014-11-02 – Our Trusty Steads

Both G. and I liked the bikes although the smaller frame and bent handle bars took some getting used to on my part.  I was hoping for a third granny gear on the front sprocket for hill climbing but was this was not available.  As a result, G’s powerful lungs carried him to the top of the ascents where as I huffed and puffed my way up, typically having to traverse the trail or road to reduce the hill slope.

With bikes, a van to store them and place to sleep (read on for my Tripadvisor.com review of GVR) – we were ready for our first day of adventure, Hoover Dam.  But where to cycle, time for a quick overview of riding in Vegas.

Riding in Vegas – An Overview

There are a LOT of bike and shared trails in and around metro Las Vegas.  I looked for an exact number (and could not find it) but did discover, there are lots.  This trip focus on three different sections of these trails: River Mountain Loop, Red Rock Canyon and the Wetlands/Lake Las Vegas.

Three Cycling Days - 2014 Las Vegas

Three Cycling Days – 2014 Las Vegas

G and I rode primarily in the eastern portion of the metro-Vegas area with the exception of Day 2, Red Rock Canyon.  There are still lots of the bike trails to explore including numerous Rail to Trail routes.  It looks like my bucket list just go bigger!

Day/Date Ride Distance and Elevation
Day 1: October 31 Hoover Dam and the Loop 74 – kilometres
6:19 hours
4,014 feet of gained elevation
Day 2: November 1 Red Rock Canyon 27 – kilometres
2:21 hours
1,859 feet of gained elevation
Day 3:November 2 Wetlands and Lake Las Vegas 68 – kilometres
5:24 hours
2,569 feet of gained elevation
Totals 169 – kilometres
14:04 hours
8,442 feet of gained elevation

OK priced, clean, safe and very far sans auto

Trip Advisor review of Green Valley Ranch
I stayed at GVR for a 3-day bicycling holiday over the 2014 Halloween weekend; so yes, there is more to do in Las Vegas than gamble away your kid’s college fund. Assuming that you have a vehicle or that you plan to spend the entire trip depleting your child’s educational future, GVR is a good location for accessing points throughout Las Vegas due to the proximity of the freeways.
The hotel was clean and grand in that Las Vegas faux reality sort of way. The staff were all friendly with nary a grump in the bunch (even the tie and jacket security guys would give you a nod hello). The pool would keep the kids entertained for a few days and there is a small garden beyond the pool in which the freeway noise is only a low throbbing. I did not see any signs of soccer, a playground set or the like – so other than the pool, GVR is at best neutral on the kid friendliness scale.
Keep this scale in mind if you don’t have a rental car because you are otherwise kinda stuck at GVR. There are some high-end shops nearby but the expect to cab, drive (or bicycle) to a nearby non-trendy grocery or drug store.
In side the casino there is a food court that seems surprisingly over priced. The buffet is a good value, at least for the two breakfasts we head there. $8 for all you can eat with a good variety and quality short beats a $20 cab ride for a box of corn flakes.
Overall, GVR seems to occupy the market space between the fancy strip hotels and the low-mid econo-casinos that dot Vegas.
Overall, I rate it “OK priced, clean, safe and very far sans auto”.
Stayed November 2014, travelled with friends

Writing as a Team Sport – In a Tasking Sort of Way

Last February I tried something in which I assembled a ‘virtual-team’ to help me review an article (see IAEA Property, Plant and Equipment Framework).  Given that this group provided such excellent advise, I thought I would try it again with my next article.

So, a huge note of thanks (and a libation or coffee on me next time I see you) to the following individuals who provided ‘friendly-peer-review’.  As in the last go round, the result was a much better article with bad bits beaten out with bats.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.



 Anne-Marie A. Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute 
Rhonda S. Andwa Consulting
 Pam Q. Athabasca University
 Catherine S. Government of Alberta
 Chad B. Government of Alberta
 Darwin B. Government of Alberta
 Stacey R. Government of Alberta
 Eric S. Government of Alberta
Shakeeb S. Government of Alberta
 Nicholas T. Social Metrics

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to createnet-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

Openheimer, Los Alamos and Summer Camp for Physicists

The Manhattan Project is well-known to even the most history illiterate.  The general story is that $2 Billion (1940’s) dollars were spent on secret facilities (including one in New Mexico, Los Alamos) to beat the Nazis to building the bomb.  A German surrender meant that the bomb was dropped on Japan ending the hostilities of the Second World War.

Traditional history is that the two bombs saved about 500,000 allied soldiers from death and dismemberment and many fold more Japanese military and civilians.  Revisionist history suggests that Japan was on the state of surrender anyway and the bombings (in particular the second one on Nagasaki) were unnecessary.

Los Alamos National Laboratory; “Jumbo”, a 200 ton container, was originally intended to be a part of the Trinity test, but was eliminated in final planning. Credit: Digital Photo Archive, Department of Energy (DOE), courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

Before the bombs, there was the effort to create the bombs.  In perfect hindsight, it is generally acknowledged that the Germans had no hope of ever developing a similar device. They had neither the treasure, time or talent to do so (on the talent front, their policies encouraged many of the central players such as Teller, a refuge from Hungary, to be available for the British and American efforts).  Nevertheless, in the dark days of the early 1940’s such knowledge was not available and the assumption was that London or New York could become a smoking pile of radioactive waste.  And thus the most American effort to the build the bomb.

Jennet Conant explores this effort in her book, “109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos”.  Conant is an excellent story-teller and this is a great read for the history or leadership buff.  There are two central figures in the book.  The first, well-known to history, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and the second largely unknown, Mrs. Dorothy McKibbin.  Dorothy was Los Alamos’ first employee and she manned the Santa Fe address that was the front for the laboratory many miles away.  More than simply a functionary, she was the sole contact for hundreds and then thousands of scientists, engineers, contractors and their families while they were in virtual lock down for nearly two years.  She located hard to find and rationed supplies, was a confidant, tireless worker and supplied her home for a number of marriages amongst the inhabitants Los Alamos (due to war-time secrecy only their first names appeared on the marriage license).  Down to earth, practical and a friend to all she was the perfect foil for Oppenheimer who was brilliant and could be arrogant and oblivious to social niceties.

The book rounds out an understanding of Oppenheimer.  For example, he was an avid outdoors man who would spent days trail riding or hiking in the desert.  This was an aspect of his personality that I would have not have guessed.  As the Director of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer had every reason to fail as a leader of the Los Alamos project because of his temperament and political past.  In the end, he commanded respect and loyalty amongst those who stayed and toiled – or hatred and loathing amongst those who left.  The leadership lessons focus on the establishment of a clear objective (building the bomb) and learning how to reach out to those who look to you for your leadership.

109 East Palace is a great companion read about the history of the project.  Ms. Conant brings a female perspective to the book telling the stories of wives, secretaries and families locked behind the secure gates and fences.  Conant does this without losing site of the technical and scientific achievement of the two years in Los Alamos.

In the end, a highly recommended book for those interest in history and leadership from a military, scientific, and female perspective.

Breakthrough: Hughes and Banting

In my ongoing effort to remember what the heck I have read, some notes on a good (albeit not great, but a solid good) book: Breakthrough.

It is the story of the purification of insulin which has saved millions of lives.  The book itself focuses on the Canadian scientist Frederick Banting and a young American girl Elizabeth Hughes – who was one of the first to receive insulin.  The Chapters description of the book is excellent so take a read of that if you want a sense of the book and its story.

Young girl injecting herself with insulin.  Courtesy of the book's authors website: www.breakthroughthebook.com

Young girl injecting herself with insulin. Courtesy of the book’s authors website: www.breakthroughthebook.com

My thoughts on the book are two fold: a glimpse on a world gone by and a glimpse to a revered albeit fairly unsympathetic individual in the form of Dr. Banting.

The book starts with a look into a world of privilege for Elizabeth Hughes.  Born into wealth, power and status – her life changed in 1919 with the death sentence of a diagnosis of diabetes.  At that time, there was not a cure – only an existence that involved living in an isolated world away from the temptations of food and subsisting on a starvation diet. The images of emaciated bodies of young people who would haunt the world 25 years hence of Nazi concentration camps where self-inflicted by young people hoping to live long enough until there was a cure or a treatment for their affliction.

This is the glimpse into a world we know longer know, the world before the medical breakthroughs.  Although I was aware of effects of diabetes at an intellectual level, the book did a great job of bring it to a personal level.  That is the impact on a vibrant lovely young girl/woman who choose near starvation on the faint hope of a future cure.

In Canada (and certainly the developed world), diabetes is the most common chronic disease and its incidence is on the rise.  A scourge in first nation communities, its long term effects are heart breaking (blindness, amputation of limbs, other diseases).  As bad as these long-term effects are; dealing with them in the long-term short beats dying a horrible short-term death which was the scenario before insulin.

The other glimpse the book provides is into the competitive and ‘Keystone-cop-esque’ world of University research departments and Dr. Banting.  As a Canadian I wish I could say that Banting’s behaviour was an example to follow but alas he is a fairly unsympathetic character who was petty, jealous and quite frankly immature.  He was also driven to find a treatment for diabetes which allowed him to persevere in the face of setbacks and failure.  In the end, these failures are not remembered as well as his success in mitigating the horror of diabetes.

If you enjoy medical-history story and a fairly well written book about a time period distant but not that long ago – a well recommended read.  The authors have done a good job in weaving the personal stories of the two main protagonists (Banting and Hughes) around the larger historical drama.

Xeno Chronicles: How to become a Pig and live to Tell About It

The Xeno Chronicles: Dr. David H. Sachs and His Fantastic Plans for the Future of Medical Science by G. Wayne Miller

Xenotransplantation is the use of non-human organs in humans.  Follow this link if you want a good summary of the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenotransplantation

Still with me, then consider reading this book if you want a slightly more complete understanding of one researcher in Xenotransplantation, Dr. David Sachs.  Dr. Sachs is a very sympathetic character who has a dream of saving people through the use of animal organs.  In 2005, the publication of the book, Dr. Sachs has had some success with a genetically bred pig.  Unfortunately concurrent with this success is the loss of his major funding source.

The author does a good job of both portraying Dr. Sachs as a highly capable research, boss and a nice person in general.  Glimpses into Dr. Sachs early life are provided including a bout of polio.  On the other side, Wayne Miller presents a reasonably balanced portrayal of the pros, cons and moral minefield of using ‘Babe’ for our human replacement parts.

Babe the pig – not the same variety used for xenotransplantation but possibly just as cute (and tasty!). (image courtesy of virgin media)

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the concept of breeding animals for replacement human parts.  As long as the animals are treated well and have their life ended humanly, breeding (and the eating) Babe so that a person can life a fuller and longer life is okay with me.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for Babe), Xenotransplantation seems to be a long way off.

Although Baboons have survived a few months on pig hearts, every hurdle cleared seems to expose another challenge.  Thus, my larger problem with pursuing xenotransplantation is the diversion of resources away from other organ sources.

For example, an Opt-Out rather than an Opt-In system can increase the supply of donations.  In an Opt-Out system, everyone is assumed to be a donor unless they have expressly requested that they take their organs to the grave (Monty Python movie sketches notwithstanding).  A better registration of the intent to donate can mean that organs don’t go to waste when there was an intent to donate (e.g. Alberta’s new Donor Registry).

The challenge with a better human (or allotransplantation) is still rejection by the recipient.  Although this has improved over the decades with better matching and drugs, rejections is a threat looming over everyone saved with a new organ.  Xenotransplantation has a better supply of organs but the reasons for rejection.

Which leads me to my conclusions of xenotransplantation, this book and a lifetime of research conducted by Dr. Sachs.  I suspect that it may be time to give up on the idea of Babe as an organ donor.  It was a good idea and a good try but the effort remaining and the risk of cross species disease transmission does not make a good investment for society.  Instead, lets continue improving the supply of organs but also put our efforts into either machines that duplicate an organs function or growing  organs through cloning.

A machine that duplicates an organ function can be ever more precisely engineered.  Thus the clumsy artificial heart of the 1990’s can quickly become the science fiction of tomorrow.  Even better, lets grow or clone replacement organs and thus eliminate rejection and disease cross contamination.

So my thoughts on the idea of Xenotransplantation, Dr. Sachs and Miller’s book?  A good idea whose investigation was worthwhile and an okay book for those who can find it cheap or free.

Tchibo – Impulse Buying (and summer cheating)

This blog is cheating.  But then it is summer so a bit of laziness is understood.  Actually some folks asked me about some cycling blogs I made on a site called Toytown when I was living Munich Germany circa 2005-2006.  Before getting to the cycling blogs, I came across this gem on a European/German institution: Tchibo.

For those who have never been to Europe or never noticed the Tchibo stores, give this blog a pass.  For those who know Tchibo, read on for some information on them.  Be sure to take a read of comments from the original thread, posted about 8 years ago.

Original thread: http://www.toytowngermany.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=28469&st=0&p=404809&fromsearch=1&#entry404809

Typical Tchibo Store Front

Tchibo: A new experience every week

Get rich selling coffee, and toasters, and…

Tchibo is quintessentially German. When I first arrived, the now familiar Tchibo logo was simply part of the background noise. My wife nudged me toward awareness as she started to buy their coffee. It was then that I noticed a whole spectrum of seemingly bizarre and unrelated products. So, for those of you who are still in the background noise phase of their Toytown sojourn; or if you don’t have a kindly wife to point out the obvious, here is the basic synopsis of this business.

Tchibo started out in 1949 selling mail-order coffee. Given the post-war state of the West Germany at this time and the shortages of many basic food stuffs, this was pretty innovative. 1963 sees Tchibo expanding its distribution channels of coffee into local bakeries; 18 years after the war’s end and before the advent of the big box store, this was another bright idea. Expanding on this pre-existing channel, in 1972 Tchibo enters the consumers goods market, but with a twist.

Each week a different set of 15 products are offered linked by a common theme. However, once these items sell out, they are gone – no rain checks, back orders or second chances. They called this model is ‘A new experience every week’ and it relies unabashedly on impulse shopping. Given that 60% of Tchibo revenue is estimated to come from non-coffee sources, a weekly collection of related consumer goods obviously works.

Nor are these themes random act, carefully planned upwards of 18 months in advance, Tchibo buyers will review numerous competing products and select the best quality for the lowest possible price. As a result, Tchibo patrons may only be offered one iron but it will be the best valued iron for its price point and features. And if it breaks, a generous guarantee with good customer service backs up the product. After all, nothing kills an impulse buy then a bad past experience.

Tchibo is described as a ‘secretive’ company owned privately by the Herz family of Hamburg. Coffee and weekly products must be lucrative because Michael Herz, his brother Wolfgang (each estimated to own 34% of the business) are multi-billionaires. There other brother Günter and sister, Daniela are out of the business but are reported to have exchanged their inheritance for $5B. A fourth brother, Joachim, makes due with a 15% share of the pie.

Even if you have not met the Herz’s or bought a gadget from them, you have probably have supported their wealth. Tchibo Holdings owns about 50% of Beiersdorf AG, the maker of Nivea products. And, until recently, they owned a large stake in the world’s fourth largest tobacco company, Reemtsma (since purchased by Imperial Tobacco). Tchibo’s brand awareness is reported to be 99% in Germany and rising in the other markets they have entered such as Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Eastern Europe and recently the UK.

I do wonder if a Tchibo concept would work in North America? Americans and Canadians have had a historical tradition of using mail order services, but we are also accustomed to a big box store having every possible variation of a product immediately available 24/7. I don’t know if North Americans would have the patience for a New Experience Every Week, we rather have one every day… oh, and here is my rain check on last months experience that I missed!

So, what is your best Tchibo experience (good or bad)? UK’ers, impressions from the Tchibo invasion on your shores, is the model working amongst the English? Any takers on buying the franchise rights to North America, it could be the next IKEA!

Select Sources: http://www.tchibo.com and links http://www.nationmas…ionaires-(2005) http://www.hoovers.c…factsheet.xhtml

Travelling Up North, Back in Time and With Pierre Berton

If you are either a North or a Berton-phile, do I have the book for you: The Mysterious North by Pierre Berton.

I am not a huge Berton fan.  I have found some of his books great and some of them are a tedious bore.  Nevertheless he is a Canadian icon and he did do much to explain my country.  Born in the north (the Yukon), he was part of that great generation which grew up poor, went to war and then built a country.

This particular book is a series of essays and articles he wrote, mostly for Maclean’s Magazine, from 1947 to 1954.  This is a gold age before he become to much icon and not enough Berton.  He discusses a series of trips and provides some excellent vignettes about not only the territories but also about cities such as Edmonton before Leduc #1 changed its character.  After each chapter is an updated post script (circa 1989) which its self is a time capsule.

Some tidbits to look out for:

  • Writing in the classic Berton style the pre-dates the stuffy political correctness.  The first nation people are Indians and they are presented as the good, the bad and the ugly.  In other words closer to real people.
  • How far things have changed.  Writing just at the end of WWII, he calmly explains that a highway was needed and one was built (the Alaskan).  Oil was needed to build the highway and a pipeline was built to provided (the Canol Pipeline).  Employment was needed to so mines were sought out and built.
  • The lost opportunities to make the north self-sufficient.  Muskox meat taste likes beef, reindeer can be herded and a 1950’s guess of arable land in the north suggested that there are a million acres of it.  To the latter, unfortunately it is not contiguous but it has upwards of 86 frost free days a year (more with a warming climate).

Great maps, great classic Berton writing style and a good read.  Well recommended (particularly on a sweltering July evening with a cold beer).


Phrankism: Documentation is a Waste of Time

In World War Two, the British counted the bullet holes in airplanes that returned from missions.  Based on where the holes were, they now knew where not to bother putting armour on their airplanes (see this Mother Jones Article).

Mother Jones: Counter Inutitive World

Mother Jones: Counter intuitive World

Documentation seems to be a bit like this; one of my Phrankism is: Documentation is a complete and utter waste of time… until the moment when you need it.  Therefore figure out when you will need the documentation and work backwards from there.

The challenge when creating documentation is what is needed and what will never be read (e.g. the bullet holes in the returning airplanes).  In the old days, one way to do this was to look at pages in a binder and see which ones were the dirtiest, dogged eared and marked up.  The pristine pages were never read and the beat up ones were the important pages.

Binders have largely gone the way of the DC-3s and have been replaced with digital mediums such as Wikis.  Over the past seven years I have been using Wiki as the primary documentation ‘container’.  One of the benefits of using such an electronic container is the ability to measure when a page was created and its modifications.  Tools such as SharePoint also allows you to track how often a page was visited.  Ideally a rating tool (such as what Microsoft uses for its help pages) measures both quantitative and qualitative values (e.g. how helpful was the page to you).

The result for organizations?  Focus documentation efforts on the pages never updated, opened or rated.  Ask if a page is digitally pristine, is it needed? Is the organizational knowledge being documented so obvious that it need not be written down?  Is the page so poorly written that the organization avoids or ignores it?

One last little trick on documentation is to ensure that each page is assigned an owner.  Ask them during performance review time why the page was never read, is it needed or how to improve it.

Documentation is a complete waste of time.  The best way to improve the value of the effort is to ensure the pages in the binder or in the wiki come back shot up, bruised, battered and successfully used in the war of Organizational Knowledge and Productivity.

Chance Favors the Prepared Mind – and the Oblique Approach

(With apologies to Louis Pasteur)

Louis Pasteur, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly by John Kay

I have spent most of my professional career thinking and planning for the future.  Certainly not as a futurist but as a ‘Budget-Guy’ or strategic planner.  Unlike most accountants, I preferred the numbers of tomorrow to those of yesterday.

Given that I have written my fair share of plans, I was interested in John Kay’s book which has a premise that the path to tomorrow is often not straight and definitely may not be quantifiable.  Kay proposes that a focus on passion and excellence leads to better profits than maximizing shareholder value.  For example, Boeing was more successful when aeronautic-philes ran the board room versus when it was filled with suits, MBAs and accountants.

Given that I a) own a suit; b) am an accountant and c) have a MBA; should Kay’s premise worry me?  Are budget guys of the future doomed to be replaced by those with passion?  I think not for two good reasons, both contradictory, like the premise of this book.

The first is that passion is a well-known and recognized attribute of successful companies.  Passion causes people to work long hours for NASA so as to put a man on the moon.  Or passion drives working for a charity or a non-profit organization.  Business gurus have cleared whole forests coming up with other names for passion such as an organization’s Vision or the need to stick to one’s knitting.

The second good reason is in the form of the question: ‘how do we know that Boeing was more profitable when it was run by passionate versus suited-accounting-MBA types?’.  Presumably because in both cases, suited-accounting-MBA types were still there paying the bills, developing budgets and keeping government regulators at bay.

In other words, we should be willing to take the long road home and follow our passions.  Great discoveries have been found through chance when the right person was looking in the right direction (hey, it got Louis Pasteur a nice Nobel Prize).  So, Obliquity is something to cultivate and encourage… but… in the end only execution matters.  The aeronautic-phile executives at Boeing developed the 747 through both vision and a lot of hard work (including the suited-accounting-MBA variety).

And this brings us back to Kay’s book and whether or not you should bother to read it?  My thoughts are:

  • a) Yes, because he is right.  Chance favors the prepared mind and the organization needs to expect a bit of serendipity to accomplish its goals.
  • b) No, Kay has cherry picked his examples.  For every Boeing that has re-located its passion there are dozens of Packard Motor Works who had passionate people but lacked the capital or size to compete.
  • c) Yes, because Kay is an engaging writer.  Even if the book suffers from a lack of research, it is still a great read.

I was going to suggest that you rush out and buy the book but decide to instead recommend obliquity finding it in a book shop near you while not looking for it.

Healthcare Ethos: Its Positives and Negatives

The healthcare ethos extends well beyond the front line worker. Front line managers, administrators and support staff also participate in the healthcare ethos although the strength of the values and belief systems decreases with the distance from the patient or client.

Like many things, the healthcare ethos has a positive and negative side. The positive side is a powerful motivator; people have been known to go to heroic extremes for the safety their patients. Managed properly, the ethos can help healthcare organizations to deliver the very best patient focused services. Without proper management, the ethos can lead to stagnation, animosity and anything but organizational harmony. The larger organization goals can be clouded by the immediate priorities of the care giver.

So how do successful healthcare organizations strike a balance between the good and the bad of the ethos, through 4 strategies.

1. Communication, Trust and Respect
2. Managing the Group through the Individual
3. Intangible Asset: Nurture but don’t Exploit
4. Manage change transparently, but practice tough medicine

Healthcare Ethos – As a Motivator

(This is the second in an intended series on the Healthcare Ethos, be sure to Read the Ethos Definition.)

I have worked directly or indirectly for healthcare organizations for nearly 15 years. During this time I often ran internship or cooperative education programs and thus would have a steady stream of young people joining and leaving my teams. One of the ways I introduced a fresh-faced twenty-something to the world of healthcare was to give them this observation on their first day of work:

“Somewhere in this hospital (or organization), there is a small premature-baby weighing about as much as a pack of ground beef; and all he wants to do is take his next breath. Somewhere else is a little old lady surrounded by children and grandchildren who wants to take her last breath with dignity and respect. This is what we do for a living.”

I would go onto explain that while we may be doing budgeting, accounts payable or some other seemingly far removed work from that baby and beloved grandmother, we were still contributors to their well-being and journey in life.

As a result, I found that by explaining the Healthcare Ethos, my staff better understood our role, were better motivated and interested in the work at hand. This does not come without a warning about not abusing this emotional message however, but more on that in future blogs.

The Healthcare Ethos – A Definition

Overview –Motivating People is Hard Work

Motivating people is hard work.  If you are responsible for more than yourself, you know the difficulties in keeping your staff engaged.  As tough as your circumstances are, consider this question.  How do you keep staff motivated working in a hospice in which every single client will die?  How do you motivate staff on a paediatric oncology department in which too many of the children will lose their battle with cancer?  How about within a mental hospital; how do you motivate the staff whose clients sometimes face limited cure possibilities, a life of poverty, loneliness and an ostracizing stigma?

These are the motivational challenges facing managers who work in healthcare.  Yet despite the seeming difficulty, the vast majority of people who work in healthcare enjoy their job and generally look forward to helping the patients and clients that they serve.

Motivators and Organizational Ethos

Good pay and benefits help, but as Herzberg pointed out, lack of pay and benefits may lead to job dissatisfaction but they are not themselves motivators.  Thus the enigma of what keeps a nurse, a doctor, or an aide going back to work, day after day and dealing with circumstances that are by definition life shattering?

The enigma of course is also the solution.  A number of separate studies of nurses have consistently shown that the prime motivation to enter that profession is to make a difference, engage in the human connection, a need to be needed and altruism.  Individuals working directly with patients are exposed to many of the strongest and most powerful human emotions.  Pain, suffering, despair are balanced against hope, joy and relief.  Thus frontline healthcare workers are active participants in the human condition.  For most healthcare workers, this exposure is life affirming and positive.

Of course healthcare workers are not unique in this regards.  Police officers, firemen, teachers or soldiers can also experience intense emotional environments.  In each case, a fraternity develops amongst the workers and there is a desire to do ‘good’.  In the case of healthcare I call this motivation and fraternity the healthcare ethos which is defined as follows:

“The vicarious emotional impact felt by healthcare workers as they experience the human condition indirectly through their patients.  This impact acts at the individual and group level as a motivator, driver to protect patients and as an affirmation of purpose and importance of the work done by the group or individual.”

How to Beat Frank (and Everyone Wins… Even Frank)

This is a cycling blog that also has a leadership lesson.  ‘Beat Frank’ is a solution to the problem of keeping a cycling group together when it has disparate fitness and speed levels.  Or, more generically, leading a team with different abilities while maintaining group cohesion and supporting individual goals.  Or, more historically, how do you prevent the chubby Scout from getting discouraged and the fit Scouts from getting bored?

Lessons from Chubby

You see, Beat Frank was born about 20 years ago back when I was actively involved in Scouting.  Here is a typical scenario, you are out for a Saturday hike with your troop composed of ~20 or so boys (later boys and girls).  They ranged in age of just barely eleven to nearly fifteen.  Some of the boys were athletic and some were decidedly not.

Boys being boys, the fourteen-year-olds would race ahead, the eleven-year-olds would try to keep up and the chubby kid would plod along in the back.  When poor Chubby got to a rest point, the fourteen-year-olds would declare ‘ITS ABOUT TIME’ and immediately take off with eleven-year-olds in tow.  The older and fitter boys were constantly resting while poor Chubby, the one who needed the break the most, was constantly plodding without respite.

Over time, Saturday hikes lost their appeal.  The fit Scouts would describe them as being ‘boring’ because they were constantly waiting.  Chubby saw them as torture and got discouraged.  The opportunities to lead, teach and develop the Scouts through a Saturday hike were lost.

Learning from Chubby

Funny enough, I sometimes found the same thing cycling with adults.  I remember one particular group in which some twenty-something guys and gals were grumbling having to wait for the fifty-something laggers.  The source of their grumbling was that the twenty-somethings were getting cold and bored waiting.  In the meantime the fifty+ were riding way over their comfort level and getting discouraged.

Beat Frank is Born!

From both experiences, I refined a game called of ‘Beat Frank’.  Here is how it works.  On a set course, the group naturally separates into the Fitties, the core group and the Frank .  The Fitties go like hell to a turn around point.  For cycling, ideally this is at least 5KM ahead and is fairly obvious (e.g. the first stop sign, t-intersection, etc.).  When the Fitties get to that point, they turn around and return whence they have come.  Once they have passed the last member of the group – typically me (the Frank) – they turn around and give chase.

I ask them to give me head start (this amount varies but ideally at least a minute or up to 50% of the difference between the turn around point and when they have passed me).  Once the first Fitties passes me, I speed up, pass as many of the core group as I can and race the Fitties to the turn around point.

The final part of ‘beating Frank’ does not involve a Frank but instead is a competition between the Fitties to see who has racked up the most clicks on the route.  So while I might have cycled a distance of 50KM, the most fit may have ridden 60 or 70KM.  The result is rather than waiting  5, 10 or sometimes 20 minutes for the group to catch up; the Fitties, the core and the Frank all get to the turn-around/collection within about 2 minutes of each other.  Thus the group stays together, the core group rides to their ability and the Fitties get a great work out.

Different Names – Same Game

In Scouting, the name varied and evolved.  Generally though the Fitties were tasked to run ahead and come back with ‘Scouting Reports’.  The fifteen and eleven-years old in tow would run back and forth screaming and having great fun… while increasing the distance they traveled.  Chubby was now the intelligence Scout; he was expected to listen to the reports and report what he had heard to the group once it had assembled.  Often the intelligence scout had observations about the hike that the faster kids had missed while running around like mad.  Everyone had a role to play that appealed to their strengths and with a result that achieved the learning objectives.

In Scouting and cycling, the competition and cooperation created greater group cohesion and a better experience.  The fast Scouts had a good run and then heard a summary of what they observed or what they missed but was seen by the slower kids plodding along. The cycling adults cheered on the Frank or the fast cyclists to the finish line.

Beyond Chubby and Cycling

Beyond the Scout Troop or cycling trip, I believe that there is a lesson here for organizations.  Too often organizations either leave behind their chubbies or hobble their fast cyclists in an effort to create organizational harmony.  This ‘tyranny of mediocrity’ satisfies no one and fails everybody.  By taking a bit of time and a bit of structure to find a role for everyone and at their own pace – the organization, Scout Troop or cycling trip can have a better experience.

Thus by Beating Frank, everyone wins – especially Frank.

The author, his cycling physique which is why he likes to play 'Beat-Frank'

The author, his cycling physique which is why he likes to play ‘Beat-Frank’

Buying In – BzzAgents and Volunteer Marketers

Just finished the book, “Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are” by Rob Walker who writes a column for the New York Times Magazine: “Consumed“.  Being a cheap consumer, I purchased the book second hand from the excellent local used book store (SHAVA) that we have here in St. Albert.  As a result, the book is a bit stale published in 2008; well before the financial melt down and the resulting impact on consumption.

Nevertheless, Walker is an engaging writer who walks the reader through the world of consumption, brands and fashion.  For example, who knew that the Hello Kitty mouth was too hard to express in a cute way – so it was cut from the final design in 1974 (pp. 15-16).

Hello Kitty - sans cute mouth

Hello Kitty – sans cute mouth

Or that the Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer was purchased in 1985 by a Texas ‘beer-baron’ whose business plan was to slash costs and let the brand “decline profitably”. PBR used to be the blue-collar beer of the working man.  Now it is the markedted blue-collar beer made en masse.

While Hello Kitty and PBR are cute and taste okay (in that order), the interesting section in his book is on volunteer product evangelists or word of mouth marketers (p. 166).  These are volunteers who work for companies like BzzAgent who employ ‘volunteers’ to talk up products.  The volunteers button-hole friends, neighbours and unsuspecting would-be consumers with encouragements to buy sausages, perfume or read particular books.  They are encouraged to post positive reviews and write glowing praise of the particular product that is being promoted.

Some of the volunteers spend as much as 10 hours a week doing the promotion, writing reports and networking with other volunteers.  This is a part-time job working for a marketing company, promoting products – all done pro bono.  Walker provides an example of one word of mouth marketer:

Gabriella and the rest of the [BzzAgent] sausage agents are not paid flunkies trying to maniplate Main Street Americans; they are Main Street Americans…. … and she gets no remuneration.  She and her many fellow agents had essentially volunteered to create “buzz” about …. dozens of … products, from books to shoes to beer to perfume.  By 2006, BzzAgent claimed to have more than 125,000 volunteer agents in its network.” (p. 168)

While these volunteers earn points for prizes – many do not cash in the points.  So what motivates them?  One BzzAgent agent Ginger explained her willingness to volunteer for the following reasons:

  • It was a chance to get products before their release (and be an insider)
  • BzzAgent gives her something to talk and opinion about with other people
  • She believes she is helping people – by promoting a specific product.

To be fair BzzAgent’s code of conduct includes an expectation that:

BzzAgents always tell others they are part of a word-of-mouth program.  Be proud to be a BzzAgent. When Bzzing others, you must let them know that you’re involved with BzzAgent and tell them what you received as part of the campaign. If you genuinely like something (or even if you don’t), it’s your open, honest opinion that counts.

Code of conduct notwithstanding, somehow it feels like BzzAgents are on the wrong side of an invisible line.  Certainly they are not boiler-room fraudsters trying to hustle little old ladies out of their life savings – but still there is a part of me that is a bit queasy about the whole word-of-mouth marketing model.

Perhaps it is because I am a ‘free-lance’ word of mouth marketer.  I promote businesses that have given me good services or products and I do so because I believe that I am being helpful.   However, I do so on products and services of my own choosing and without having to report back to the business (or an intermediary such as BzzAgent) of my efforts to date.  As well, when in the course of a normal conversation, how exactly do you interject that you are now been sponsored by the ACME corporation?  I envision a conversation like:

  • Frank’s Friend: Boy it sure hot today!
  • Frank: Sure is… oh, by the way, this part of conversation is brought to you byBzzAgent and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or PBR.
    • Boy this PBR is sure refreshing, goes down smooth and is cheap too.  The beer of hipsters and rappers, PBR is the only beer for me. 
  • Frank: We now return to our regular conversation already in progress.
  • Frank’s Friend: Huh?  Are you okay?  I think you need to get out of the sun and stop drinking so much of the PBR swill.

Myself, I am happy to stay on this side of that invisible line and continue to promote/malign in an objective manner good/bad products and services.  Nevertheless, I would love to hear your comments – perhaps over an ice-cold and refreshing PBR, the official beer of word of mouth marketers….

Where Public Health Stops and the Nanny State Begins

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Talbot speak.  If you don’t know who he is but you have heard of the current measles outbreak or past-pandemics, then you know of his and his office’s work. In addition, if you get a chance to hear him speak (and hopefully not telling you that there is a quarantine on your house), be sure that you hear what he has to say.

Firstly he is an engaging and down to earth speaker who has a knack of being able to explain the complex via the simple metaphor.  Secondly he has excellent perspectives on how public health can be cheap yet effective.  Finally he has an excellent sense of the history of public health and a sense of humor.  He can tell you about the cholera outbreaks of yester-year to the current measles blip with a wry context.

So while I would encourage you to hear Dr. Talbot speak, listen as a private-citizen looking to protect your own right of choice in a free society.  Hear what he has to say on public health but ask where the public good stops and the Nanny State begins.  Here are some examples, one past and some future.  The past example is the public health battle against public smoking.  I will admit that I have had the very occasional good cigar but otherwise have never caught the smoking bug.  Thus, over the past ten years, I was ambivalent and ultimately thankful when smoking was banned in places like bars and restaurants.  In my view,assuming you have read the warnings on a cigarette package, and you are not polluting my space or kids – it was your choice to start, continue or stop smoking.  In other words, banning smoking in public places is a reasonable public health compromise of personal choice versus public good.

Fast forward now into a time when sugary drinks are perhaps the new smoking campaign.  Not only will we not be able to super-size our mega-drinks while ordering a big Muck, they pop is banned outright as a public health measure.  Because I am not a big pop drinker, perhaps I will continue to watch this change with more ambivalence.

But what about the next step beyond smokes and a glass of pop.  What happens when public health measures become so intrusive that there is a backlash against them – and good is thrown out with the bad.  Perhaps we are seeing this already with the local measles outbreak.  A virtually preventable disease making  a come back because some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children.

In other words, public health measures which effectively reduce our choice or make decisions for us (smoking, sugary drinks) may lead to public health challenges because people are tired of having choice taken away from them.

This situation can be described in the question of where exactly does public health stop and an intrusive nanny state in the guise of public health kick in?  I don’t have an answer but it is an excellent question that I will ask Dr. Talbot the next time I hear him speak.

PP+E, Its Life, Its Verification, Its Article

Happy Victoria Day (the first long weekend of the traditional Canadian Summer, e.g. no snow – maybe).  In addition to celebrating a long dead monarch of the British Empire, I am also celebrating the publication of my 6th published article (an even half-dozen!).  Entitled, the IAEA Property, Plant and Equipment Lifecycle Framework (whew!), I am pleased at how it turned out.  If you want to read it right now, visit the Spring 2014 FMI-Website.

If you want some more details on the framework, be sure to check out my Director’s Cut of the Framework.  Included in the Director’s cut is a bit more detail on the Verification Framework and Attractive Assets.

Once again, thank you to my ‘friendly peer-reviewers‘ who assisted me in developing this article and to the IAEA for giving me a chance to solidify this set of ideas (and an incredible one year!).

So, enjoy the long weekend (fellow Canadians) and if you have trouble sleeping, take a read at article number 6… and now to start writing article number 7… after the long weekend!

DIY Sleep – Luddite’s Style

I have two shocking confessions.  The first is that my first and only smart phone to date is an employee issued Blackberry Bold.  The second is that I appear to snore – a lot.  To the second confession, I have an apology to make.  To all of those friends and family members I have shaed a room with, I am sorry about the snoring thing.  (Errr, a small explanation, room sharing means the same sleeping areas, for example a dorm in a hostel…).

The two confessions are related in the following way.  To start, I thought I had a health problem (snoring) and being a Do It Yourself (DIY) kinda guy, I went out and bought a digital voice recorder and software for analyzing sound.  Over the past few nights, I have been recording the ambient room noise and then analyzing them with the software.  I have done this to confirm that yep, I sure as heck snore.

Sound Sample from May 9th.

Sound Sample from May 9th.

The above graphic I plan to give to my family doctor physician when I see him next week.  Not sure what happens next but I do I hope to start sharing rooms with friends and family once again (in a platonic hostel-dorm sort of way).

The smart phone confession comes in when I thought, “This is brilliant, why hasn’t someone built an app for this (recording and analyzing snoring)”.  Well lo and behold, about 100 different apps available on the market (google ‘app snore sound record’ for about 700,000 hits).  Had I been more smartphone savvy and less of a Luddite, I would have realized that instead of a DIY solution, my Blackberry could have done this with an app that is either free or at most a few bucks.

Looking a head 10 years, perhaps it might be strange to your family physician if you did not show up with a record of your sleep – whether you suffered from snoring or not.  Of course the smart phone 10 years hence may also tell your doctor your average blood sugar, physical activity, pulse rate, blood pressure and karma/fung shi levels as well.  In other words, the smart phone may become our most powerful tool to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

There is an Orwellian double-edge sword here.  What happens if that information is not freely given but instead is demanded by insurance companies, employers, health authorities or governments.  This is not as much of a stretch as you think.  The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that there are 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 injuries as a result of driving drowsy.  People who do not drink or smoke get insurance breaks – why not people who sleep well?  Employers can test for drugs, why not how well you have slept over the last month?

George Orwell aside, I hope my Luddite-DIY-Snore information can help me get a better night’s sleep in the coming months.  Wish me luck!

The Origin of the Origin – Charles Darwin

Evolutionary theory is a key underpinning of our understanding of our natural world.  It, and its sister theories (e.g. the theory of gravity, germ theory, planetary motion, thermodynamics… well you get the idea) have given us a profound understanding of our planet and the universe.

I suspect that I am like most people in that had a fuzzy notion of who Charles Darwin was.  He took a trip on the Beagle, visit eco-tourist spots (Galapagos) and wrote a book, On the Origin of Species.  Oh, and he had a cool beard (as it turns out primarily because he had trouble shaving himself).

Charles Darwin - in old age

Charles Darwin – in old age

It turns out that Darwin was a well-respected Zoologist in his own right long before his evolutionary explosion.  Detailed in a very accessible book, Charles Darwin, Cyril Aydon, follows his life from his wealthy beginnings to, well, his wealthy end.

A key theme of Aydon’s was that Darwin was very privileged and fortunate.  He was born into a solid upper-middle class family and he had a (for the time) relatively supportive and indulgent father.  On the latter point, Darwin’s success on the Beagle was due in part to his father’s willingness to fund expeditions and the trip itself.

Upon his return, his family wealth and his need to organize the fruits of the expedition allowed him time and resources to become a well-respected zoologist and authority in his own right.  Thus his fear of being a dilettante was allayed by the quality of his earlier works.  This also gave him the necessary credibility for his work on evolution.

Two other things that I had not appreciated about Darwin were his family focus and his very poor health.  He married well into both a good dowry but also an understanding and loving companion in Emma.  They dotted on their children and it sounds like the Darwin’s was the place to go for lunch and sleep-overs if you were friends with their kids.  Darwin was a homebody partly because of very poor health (and was exacerbated by stress).

Aydon does not shy away from Darwin’s warts.  The author paints Darwin for what he was, an eccentric scientist boiling pots of animal remains to examine the creature’s skeletal structure.  His marriage to Emma was fortunate because she was self-effacing, put her husband’s needs ahead of her own and was not an intellectual force in her own right.  Also Darwin was fortunate to have boosters who promoted and defended his ideas (e.g. Thomas Huxley) when his poor health would have prevented him from doing so.

In the end, Darwin lived a good life and was productive well into his later years.  He was survived by his beloved Emma and most of his children.  Darwin contributed scientific understanding that would have made him a well-respected zoologist – and of course he started us down a path that forms much of our modern-biological understanding.

Aydon’s book, Charles Darwin, is a good and very accessible read and biography for those who want to understand the origin of the origin.

The Art of Riding Bikes

Full Disclaimer: I am not an expert on cycling.  I have never raced, mountain biking seems like too much bother and I don’t ride in -40C.  Nevertheless, I am passionate about cycling because it has allowed me to see things and meet people in contexts that generally promote conversations, beer drinking and long-term memories (okay, the last two sometimes clash).  Before reading on, insert the standard caveats about checking with a physician before starting a physical exercise program.  This blog is not intended to replace medical advice.  Use at your discretion and always employ common sense.

I like to share this passion and this Spring I am running a how to ride program entitled the Westend Wriders.  One individual from the program asked the question about whether she bought the right bike and why she seems to be so slow.  I responded in email but to help to thwart the eventual hardening of the brain cells (too much cycling and eventual beer drinking), I thought I would throw the advice out here to for public consumption.  If you are a super-duper expert on bikes, feel free to weigh in (but please correct me gentle).

The Three Things to Keeping Up with the Group

Riding with a club gives you a chance to see the super-duper triathlon types and the newbies who simply want to keep up.  This advice is more for the newbie in which 40km seems daunting and 80km or more seems impossible. So, to keep up with the group you need to focus on three things: physical conditioning, equipment and technique.

Physical Conditioning

Guess what triathletes, you have this one nailed!  In the other corner are folks like me who discovered a winter bulge where one did not exist last fall (or at least I was better at ignoring it).  To ride with a group, the better fitness level the better but most people who can walk for a few hours, climb moderate hills, etc. can do well on short to moderate (40-80km’ish) rides.  So even if you have mystery winter bulges, carry on to the next two things.

Well Maintained Equipment

To bicycle you need, well, a bicycle.  Myself I tend toward the touring hybrid variety as I like to carry stuff in panniers (saddle bags), water bottles accessible while riding and fenders for my commuting bikes.  Like anything in life, the more you spend, the better quality you get and the less you will experience in break downs, etc. A reasonable starting price for a new hybrid is about $500 and a good one can be had for the $750-1,000 mark. If you are now experiencing sticker shock, remember how much a golfer pays for a good set of clubs. As for where to buy, MEC is a good starting point or any local bike shops (a plug for my local shop, Crankys in St. Albert). My experience is avoid department stores, chains or anywhere where the mechanic looks like a high school student working part-time.

Alternatively buy a very good used bike.  Pay a bit of premium by buying it through a reputable bike shop or a club sponsored bike swap, such as this one – bike swaps.

A word of caution though, bikes are like mushrooms, before you know it your one bike will soon be 2, 3 or more!

Buying the bike is only the beginning, maintaining it is even more important. Bikes are remarkable bits of machinery, they can be forgiving but when the fail – they generally do so as far from home as possible.  As a result having some basic knowledge is critical. In particular you should know how to: change both tires (front and back), wash your bike, clean and lubricate a chain and do basic lubrication of the bike. Adjustments, bearings, etc. I leave to my friendly bike shop.  If you are like my wife, you can also leave everything to your husband.

Where do you learn these skills, back to joining a club, taking part in a cycling 101 such as the one offered by the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club, Westend Wriders and talking to people who pretend they know things about cycling (like me!).

Six Central Techniques

Okay, you are at least minimally fit and you spent your kids college funds on a new bike – now you can keep up, right?  Maybe but probably not.  Cyclists are generally a lazy lot who like to get places while spending as little energy of their own energy as possible (and looking dazzling in spandex).  As a result, the following six techniques are critical.

Technique number one, cycling is about RPMS, not torque.  You may have seen the big guy grinding his way up a hill while a petite young lady zips past him.  If you have, you have seen the difference between revolutions per minute and torque.  When riding, you want to ideally be spinning the pedals at the same cadence (revolutions per minute) and with the same effort (light, think of gently kicking a soccer ball to a 3-year old) whether you are on the flat, the up or the down hill.  To do this, you must know how to use your gears so that your cadence and torque can remain consistent.

Technique number two – be kind to your delicate bits.  Get a comfortable saddle, riding shorts and then take the time to let your more delicate parts get used to it.  ‘Time in saddle’ is something you have to do each and every cycling season.

Technique number three – Learn to post.  Post means getting up on the pedals and riding for a distance with your delicates hovering over the instrument of torture.  Posting a few times an hour (or thereabouts) allows the blood to flow back to the pelvic floor and other nether-regions (not to be confused with the Netherlands).

Technique number four – pedal baskets or shoes.  There is only one point of energy transfer between you and the bike – the pedal.  The conventional pedal is a mediocre connection device as most of the force is only spent in the 1 to 5 o’clock position of the down stroke.  With baskets, shoes, etc, the energy transfer is possible through the entire rotation.  As a bonus, posting is alot easier with your feet attached to the pedals.

Technique number five – jettison weight.  I have to admit, I have a hard time with this one as I like to carry tools, extra water, a snack, a second camera, clothing (well you get the idea).  Unfortunately every gram of weight has to be paid for by your effort.  If you can leave stuff (and winter-bulges) behind.

Technique number six – Hydration and Nutrition.  Thanks to Joe who provided the advise below.  My own rule of thumb is to only snack on rides (e.g. no big lunches) and lots of fluids.  Joe’s advice is even more targeted:

Proper hydration and nutrition come into play long before you get thirsty or hungry. Start when you leave the parking lot and take a sip every 15 minutes, consider a quality sports drink or easily digestible carbs to conserve your glycogen. Do not eat at least 2 hours before the ride starts, since it takes that long to stabilize your blood sugar, otherwise the insulin will rob you of energy at the start.

Ride, Ride and Ride

Finally, like anything else, get out there and ride.  Not only will it reduce your winter surprises, give you time in saddle – you will also get to meet interesting people, go places – and hopefully drink some beer.

Thanks to Other Contributors

Garet H, reminding me about the benefits of posting and Greg P. reminding me about my weight (errr, carrying weight) and Joe M. about hydration and nutrition.

IM/IT Lifecycle – Co-opting COBIT

In early March, I introduced the Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) Lifecycle Model. Since then I have had a few comments including the question, but isn’t this simply COBIT (or ITIL or other frameworks)? In short, mostly but not entirely.

Before getting to the comparison, for those not familiar with COBIT, the following is the summary definition from the COBIT 5 Executive Summary:

Simply stated, COBIT 5 helps enterprises create optimal value from IT by maintaining a balance between realising benefits and optimising risk levels and resource use.

COBIT 5 enables information and related technology to be governed and managed in a holistic manner for the entire enterprise, taking in the full end-to-end business and functional areas of responsibility, considering the IT-related interests of internal and external stakeholders.

The COBIT 5 principles and enablers are generic and useful for enterprises of all sizes, whether commercial, not-for-profit or in the public sector.

Huh? Actually the definition is not too bad but it is also probably clearer if one goes back to COBIT 4.1. That version had a process model subdividing IT into four domains: 1. Plan and Organize, 2. Acquire and Implement, 3. Deliver and Support, and 4. Monitor and Evaluate. These four domains roughly map to:

IM/IT Lifecycle Steps COBIT 4.1 – Domain
 00.Governance  IT Governance Focus Areas
01. Business Need
02. Budget Review & Approval
 1. Plan and Organize
03. Project Management 2. Acquire and Implement 
10. System Business Operation
13. IM/IT Fleet and Resource Management
3. Deliver and Support
15. Business Need and Salvage
16. End of Life, Version Update, Change in Standards
 4. Monitor and Evaluate 
06. Invoice
09. Project Costs
07. Supplier Inventory, Construction, etc.
11. Recognized & Cost adjustments
12. Depreciation
14. De-Recognition
 Not directly included

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model includes COBIT but is more comprehensive. I believe that the model presents a more logical progression for the business manager to see the flow of events and their roles within. Finally, COBIT infers the accounting functions but does not draw them out specifically. By contrast, the IM/IT Lifecycle Model encourages the business manager, CFO or IT Manager can see the inter-relationships between the operations of IT and the corporate ERP systems that support its operations. 

Finally, this is not an either or discussion either.  I hope to be drawing on COBIT (and other frameworks) as the basis for my deep dives into some of the Steps of the model.  In the meantime, hopefully it is a means by which organizations can see at a glance how their IM/IT investments are fairing. 

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

IM/IT Inventory – Mapping Example

The previous blog introduced the IM/IT Inventory. In this blog, I am going to take my first stab at how the applications are potentially mapped to the Inventory as indicated in the diagram below.

IM/IT Inventory-Model with sample mappings

IM/IT Inventory-Model with sample mappings

At the bottom-left are the applications that are the most general purpose and easy for the user to make configuration changes to. A great example are the office productivity suites such as Microsoft Office. Diametrically opposed are Bespoke Applications that an organization has purposed built. The application in this case may exists only in the organization and may or may not have been written in either a language or manner making system changes easy.

The red box overlaying the model is what I would suggest be included in an IM/IT Inventory. The green braces is the grey zone discussed in the previous blog, whether to include or not these ‘applications’.

Personally, I have built a number of applications that fall into this grey zone. Typically budget and reporting systems, they were fairly sophisticated tools that provided unique organizational value. In future blogs, I hope to drill down a bit more on this area and ask how to measure, report and more importantly – what to do with the information coming from an IM/IT Inventory. As always send me your comments.


Inventorying IM/IT in the Grey Zone

Question #2 of the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model asks: ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it?

Although there is a lot stuffed into this question, in this blog I want to focus on a small but important part of Question #2, what do you currently have for IM/IT resources?  If you have read my prior blog, you will note that this is an area managed by Step 13: IM/IT Fleet and Resoure Management of the IM/IT Lifecycle Model.

Before dashing off and building new IM/IT resources, should organizations not know what they have in the cupboard to start? Over the past twenty years, I have been amazed at how hard this question is to answer. So, to find the answer, let us define the problem, “what exactly are we counting when we inventory the systems”?

Does the organization count its office productivity software (e.g. Microsoft Office)? If so, how many times should it count it? Once for the organization, once per user or once per every file created? Is a memorandum written in a Microsoft Word file an IM/IT resource that should be inventoried as a resource?

Likely most people would tend to say no to a Word file. Okay, how about a Word Mail merge file that supports an organization’s marketing effort? Perhaps this file has had thousands of dollars of custom Visual Basic scripts developed for it and links and performs unique functions within the organization. Would this Word file now count as an IM/IT resource? This mission critical ‘application’ is now entering the “grey zone”.

The grey zone is when IM/IT resources go from a commodity (e.g. Microsoft Office) to an operational, tactical or strategic resource for the organization. In developing an inventory of applications, the following graphic is my current thinking about what to count, including what I would see as the grey zone.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The horizontal axis asks the question, what knowledge is necessary to make changes to the application? As you move left to right, there is increasing technical knowledge needed to make a system change. The vertical axis asks the question, is this a purpose built application or one that was created specifically for the organization? Applications at the top are purpose built; those at the bottom are common to any organization or user.

This blog is a teaser and in the next one, I will overlay applications your organization may have lying about on top of the model. Let me know your thoughts, do I have the right measures or are there more than two dimensions that should be measured?

IM/IT Lifecycle – Re-Do

Thank you to those who provided comments on my previous IM/IT Lifecycle Model.  Your collective whacks on the side of my digital head identified a number of areas of improvement.  Thus, this is a Re-Do blog with what I think is a much better model.  Thanks again for your comments!

The previous blog introduced the SWOT+4 Planning Model. The value of the model is the ability to focus on specific elements of IM/IT planning. Once an organization is successful with one part of the model, it can move on to other areas needing improvement. This blog will introduce a tool to evaluate the robustness of an organization’s IM/IT lifecycle. Intended to be an introduction, future blogs will drill down further.

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model
The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

One of the first areas of model to evaluate is internally focused on the IM/IT needs and capabilities of the organization. In the SWOT+4 model these are represented by the organization’s IM/IT strengths and weaknesses and specifically questions 2 and 3:

  • Q2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Steps 01 through 16)
  • Q3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Step 00)

Context for the IM/IT Lifecycle Model

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model is an adaptation of the Asset Lifecycle Model. While the Asset Lifecycle Model focuses on the management of tangible assets, the IM/IT variation is concerned with the acquisition of things like computers and technology systems. The governance, system and audit functions at the bottom of the model answer questions #3, what is an organization’s IM/IT capacity? All the other steps answer question #2, what are the organization’s IM/IT needs and are (or when/how will) these needs to be fulfilled or they support the accounting and reporting functions.

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

IM/IT resources move through the model from left to right and may use more or less of each step depending upon the nature of the IM/IT system. In theory the model applies equally well to both technology (infrastructure, applications) as to information itself (data, reporting, data standards, etc.).

Two steps of note are Step 03 and 13. Step 03, the Project Management Office (PMO) replaces the requirements specification in the Asset Lifecycle Model but is broader and ideally encompasses other steps. For example, a good PMO methodology incorporates procurement processes such as issuing requests for proposals (Step 04), managing resulting vendor contracts (Step 05) and managing the vendor provision of assets, software, licenses or consulting services (Step 07).

Step 13 replaces the asset management function in the Asset Lifecycle Model. It includes in or outsourced functions such as application maintenance or technology production management. In an ideal world, these processes and systems drive the accounting of IM/IT. For example, an application built, capitalized but then abandoned is identified in this Step and communicated to the accounting system for de-recognition or conversely adjustments to the amortization schedule. Step 13 also straddles the central corporate IT and business area functions as it should be a partnership between the two.

Direct Attribute Costs (Step 09) and System Business Operations (Step 10) are purposely overlapped. Direct Attribute costs are the resources the organization brings to bear to implement a system. Examples can include the dedicated project staffing or costs to retrofit a data centre to accommodate new servers supporting an application. System Business Operations by contrast are the costs and effort to commission the system and bring it online. From an organizational perspective, Step 10 asks (and answers) the question, does the IM/IT resource meet the business needs identified for the asset?

Enterprise Resource Planning and the IM/IT Lifecycle

Included in each step are possible metrics as well as the information system such as the organization’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool or Information Technology System that may support the step. For brevity, the following ERP components are used:

  • (1. Budgeting): the planning, monitoring and resource allocation functions.
  • (2. Procure to Pay): from requisition to payment including the treasury management functions.
  • (3. Asset management): the receipt, installation, maintenance, tracking and disposal of assets.
  • (4. Accounting to Reporting): the proper accounting, record keeping and reporting (internal and external) of assets.
  • (5. IT Infrastructure Management): the creation, maintenance of servers, networks, security systems, desktop access, operating systems and all components necessary to run one or more applications.
  • (6. Application Maintenance): the maintenance, support, bug/fix, user training, system administration and other functions necessary to maintain one or more applications that support a business process or function.

The purpose of this blog was to introduce the IM/IT Lifecycle Framework and place it in context to the SWOT+4 Model. In future blogs, I plan to drill down on each of the Steps and provide examples of systems, standards and best practices across organizations.

What do you think? Does your organization use a systematic method such as the IM/IT Lifecycle to plan, implement and manage your IM/IT investments? Where do your systems potentially lie within the model? For example, does your organization have a systematic PMO function or do you even know what is in your application fleet? Drop me a note and send me a comment with your perspectives.

Lifecycle Management of IM and IT

Note to the Reader, this Blog was superceded by this Re-Do Blog on the IM/IT Lifecycle.

The previous blog introduced the SWOT+4 Planning Model. The value of the model is the ability to focus on specific elements of IM/IT planning. Once an organization is successful with one part of the model, it can move on to other areas needing improvement. This blog will introduce a tool to evaluate the robustness of an organization’s IM/IT lifecycle. Intended to be an introduction, future blogs will drill down further.

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

One of the first areas of model to evaluate is internally focused on the IM/IT needs and capabilities of the organization. In the SWOT+4 model these are represented by the organization’s IM/IT strengths and weaknesses and specifically questions 2 and 3:

  • Q2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Steps 01 through 16)
  • Q3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Step 00)

Context for the IM/IT Lifecycle Model

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model is an adaptation of the Asset Lifecycle Model (source pending).  While the Asset Lifecycle Model focuses on the management of tangible assets, the IM/IT variation is concerned with the acquisition of things like computers and technology systems.  The governance, system and audit functions at the bottom of the model are used to answer questions #3, what is an organization’s IM/IT capacity?  All the other steps answer question #2, what are the organization’s IM/IT needs and are (or when/how will) these needs to be fulfilled.

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle MOdel

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle MOdel

IM/IT resources move through the model from left to right and may use more or less of each step depending upon the nature of the system being acquired.  Of note is step 03, the Project Management Office (PMO).  This replaces the requirements specification in the Asset Lifecycle Model but is broader and ideally encompasses other steps.  For example, a good PMO methodology incorporates procurement processes such as issuing requests for proposals (Step 04), managing resulting vendor contracts (Step 05) and managing the vendor provision of assets, software, licenses or consulting services (Step 07).

Direct Attribute Costs (Step 09) and System Business Operations (Step 10) are purposely overlapped. Direct Attribute costs are the resources the organization brings to bear to implement a system. Examples can include the dedicated project staffing or costs to retrofit a data centre to accommodate new servers supporting an application. System Business Operations by contrast are the costs and effort to commission the system and bring it online. From an organizational perspective, Step 10 asks (and answers) the question, does the IM/IT resource meet the business needs identified for the asset?

Enterprise Resource Planning and the IM/IT Lifecycle

Included in each step are possible metrics as well as the information system such as the organization’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool that may support the step. For brevity, the following ERP components are used:

  • (1. Budgeting): the planning, monitoring and resource allocation functions.
  • (2. Procure to Pay): from requisition to payment including the treasury management functions.
  • (3. Asset management): the receipt, installation, maintenance, tracking and disposal of assets.
  • (4. Accounting to Reporting): the proper accounting, record keeping and reporting (internal and external) of assets.

The purpose of this blog was to introduce the IM/IT Lifecycle Framework and place it in context to the SWOT+4 Model. In future blogs, I plan to drill down on each of the Steps and provide examples of systems, standards and best practices across organizations.

What do you think? Does your organization use a systematic method such as the IM/IT Lifecycle to plan, implement and manage your IM/IT investments? Where do your systems potentially lie within the model? For example, does your organization have a systematic PMO function or do you even know what is in your application fleet? Drop me a note and send me a comment with your perspectives.

Guerrillas in Your Midsts

Do you Have Guerrillas in your Midsts?  Perhaps you should as they can be a source of innovation and organizational renewal.  This field guide can help you identify them starting with a description:

Organizational Guerrillas are individuals or teams that achieve corporate objectives using asymmetric and highly flexible tactics.  They may do these activities with overt blessing of the organization or they may achieve the objectives despite the indifference or active hostility of the organization against those objectives being accomplished.

The habitat for Organizational Guerrillas seems to have shrunk over the years.  For example you used to be able to find them in quality circles, employee-empowerment-enclaves or the Kaizen Jungle.  Today, an Organizational Guerrilla is just as likely to be in the cubicle or office next to you.  Given their possible proximity, the question for the organization is whether to support or discourage their guerrilla fighters.

What is a Guerrilla?

While guerrilla war tactics have been around as long as there have been larger armies invading smaller ones, the word comes to us from Napoleonic era.  Battles two hundred years ago involved masses of men shooting largely inaccurate weapons at each other at relatively short distances in the hope that a musket or cannon ball would find its mark.  Bright colour uniforms and precision military drilling were necessary so this blunt force could be maneuvered around the battle field to achieve objectives and react to change.  Napoleon excelled at this type of battle – and then he invaded Spain.   There small bands of men harassed the larger fighting forces of Napoleon’s allies.  While these small bands could never win the war, they could cause the larger army to lose it, in the words of a Prussian Officer:

“Wherever we arrived, they disappeared, whenever we left, they arrived — they were everywhere and nowhere, they had no tangible center which could be attacked.”

Prussian officer during the Peninsular War, while fighting with French regulars against Spanish guerrillas

Guerrillas in the Organizational Midsts

So like an army from two hundred years ago, organizations excel at directing large bodies of resources toward an objective. But what happens when you have a multiple objectives to achieve, many that do not lend themselves to brute force? Even worse, what happens when these larger resources have stretched your logistics and supply lines beyond their capacity? What happens if your organization manages these challenges by relying on ‘Management through Magical Process’? A partial answer for your organization may be the Guerrillas in the Organizational Midsts.

A Little Guerrilla Fighting is a Good Thing

One of the reasons why Organizational Guerrillas can be hard to spot is that are often camouflaged as good, self-motivated employees. Southwest Airlines, provides a good example.

Once, when a passenger, also a famous author in a hurry forgot to carry his identity card with him, it created a problem at the airport check in counter, where verifying the passengers ID is now mandatory. Any other airline would first insist on a formal ID card, and then make the customer wait as the check in clerk asked his supervisor for authorization, who in turn forwarded the request to the manager, and so forth, until the passenger missed the flight. But not at Southwest. The empowered check in clerk could verify the identity of the passenger, an author from the cover of his published book, and let him through.

Bright Hub: How Employee Empowerment Has Pushed Companies Ahead

Perhaps you have noticed a double edge sword in the above example.  On the one hand an employee nobly applied a creative and innovative solution to identifying a passenger, but on the other hand the employee likely violated both corporate policy and US Federal law.

This is where an organization needs to decide whether to tolerate guerrilla’s in their midsts.  Ideally Southwest Airlines commended the individual employee.  At the same time though, the Airline must also work with its check in agents to explain this one exception does not a corporate policy make.  This is a case where for very good reasons (regulations, risk of litigation, terrorism) the organization will need to commend the initiative but ban the activity.

What Guerrilla Fighting is Not

There is a grey zone when an individual steps from being simply a good employee doing one’s job well to being an Organizational Guerrilla.  That line is when an individual has taken a personal risk to achieve an organizational objective.  The Southwest check-in agent could have been fired or even charged with an offense – because of this personal risk, the agent was definitely an Organizational Guerrilla.

To carry the military metaphor to the breaking point (or maybe a bit beyond), guerrilla units still require discipline and structure.  Thus law-breaking or breaking the trust of the organization can never be tolerated.  The “Organization” part of the nom de guerre is important; guerrillas accomplish objectives the organization has established.  US Federal Aviation law notwithstanding, the Southwest check-in agent took a personal but still reasonable risk by allowing the famous author on the plane.

The Down Side of Being a Guerrilla in the Midsts


Perhaps at this point you might be inclined to wear your Che Guevara t-shirt to work and shout viva la revolution!  Unfortunately there is a down side to Guerrilla Objectives.  To start, real guerrillas live in bug infested jungles with a precarious supply line and an even more uncertain future.  Che Guevara was executed and called a terrorist.  It is nearly impossible to parlay a guerrilla action into larger strategy without organizational support. Without this larger context, real guerrilla fighters have a nasty habit of becoming war lords or criminal organizations.  Finally, the organization is not the enemy.  It may be an indifferent ally but at the end of the day, unless there is illicit or unethical activity in the organization, it has established the objectives the guerrilla fighters are trying to achieve.

How to Come Out of the Midsts

So, if you want to be a weekday guerrilla fighter. Three pieces of Organizational Guerrilla advice to avoid execution or having to sleep in bug-infested-jungles:

  1. Find a senior level sponsor/ally.  This is the person who will help your convert a small guerrilla victory into a larger organizational strategy.
  2. Don’t lose contact with the sponsor/ally.  Stay in contact with your sponsor and continue to feed/receive intelligence from them.
  3. Cut your losses and fight another day.  Cut your losses when surprise, subterfuge or camouflage has failed you. You cannot win them all and you will probably (ideally should) have more failures than successes.

So, are you a guerrilla fighter, have you accomplished Guerrilla Objectives? Does your company encourage, discourage or is oblivious to the Organizational Guerrillas in its Midsts?  Do you have an example of a guerrilla action being successful? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Professional Development and Good Intentions

As a professional accountant, I am happy and obligated to record and report on my Professional Development (PD).  This is in particular because I have always liked the Certified Management Accountants Competency Map.

CMA Competency Map

CMA Competency Map

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge I have had over the years is the best way to record PD!  I have tried spreadsheets (an accountant’s best friend), online databases and just about everything in between.  One the one hand LinkedIn seems to offer a solution (discussed in a previous Blog: LinkedIn – Do I have a Deal for YOU!) – on the other hand, I hate to leave my professional reporting obligations in the hands of an American company.  In the end, I have landed on a simpler solution – put them on my website.

So, dear brand new Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada/Alberta;

Starting January 1, 2014; I promise to record my PD activities on my website (Phrankisms > Phrank’s CPLD) and make them publicly available.  I further promise to use this webpage to promote the concepts and benefits of PD within in my community.  Finally, I encourage my friends and colleagues to gently remind me when I fail to follow through on the above promises in a timely manner.  A libation of their choice (coffee, tea, stronger) is the incentive to identify PD that I have missed.

How about you?  Do you have PD reporting obligations and if so, how do you tracking and manage them?  Send me comments, email, etc.  with your strategies.  And keep your eyes open to see if I have missed any PD!

The SWOT+4 Planning Model

Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) is expensive. As well, the advantages it provides are fleeting and easy to imitate (or worse steal). An organization must strategically and operationally plan for its investments in IM/IT. The problem is, what exactly should be in the Strategic or Operational plan, and what are the questions the plans are trying to answer?

Over the past 20+ years I have being pondering these questions. Being a visual person, I have developed what I am calling the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model. It is a bit busy but here it goes. At the centre is the SWOT matrix. Overlaying the SWOT matrix are the four-central IM/IT questions and on top of the questions are the respective planning tools to answer the questions.

SWOT+4 Planning Model

SWOT+4 Planning Model

At the core of the SWOT+4 model are the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This 2×2 matrix is a mainstay of strategic analysis. Although familiar to virtually everyone, in brief it is a method to view a situation from two key dimensions: internal versus external and positive versus negative. For example, Strengths are internal-positive attributes whereas Threats represents the external-negative possibilities.

Unfortunately, the SWOT tool is incomplete when it comes to evaluating an organization’s IM/IT. For example, is a change of technology an opportunity or a threat? Are the existing IM/IT systems a strength or a weakness? The answer to both questions is – it depends. As a result, I have used a Four Question Model for IM/IT Planning over the years as an analysis checklist. In order of priority the questions are:

  1. ORGANIZATIONAL PLAN: What is important (e.g. priorities, plans and strategies) to the organization? This is at the centre of the model and crosses all four SWOT considerations. Included in this question are things like the organization’s vision, its mission, business plan(s), budgets and all things strategic.
  2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? This is an internal consideration although it touches the external dimensions of the SWOT model to represent amongst other things benchmarking and industry best practice. This question is ideally answered by both the strategic documents discussed above and the IT Department’s operational plan(s).
  3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? What about the fleet of applications or physical resources; is the organization still running Windows 3.1, Office 95 or has it been able to adopt leading/bleeding edge technologies. How about the organization’s Bespoke and COTS applications, are they on current versions or getting long in the tooth? These questions are internal considerations for the organization.
  4. IM/IT FUTURE: What is on the organizational event horizon that will affect or change the above? There are both threats and opportunities in this respect for an organization. Hacker activists, lower technology costs, legislation (e.g. privacy or technical) and changing industry standards are all examples of future changes that may be positive or negative.

Finally two typical planning tools are overlaid on the SWOT and 4 questions. The bottom and foundation is the organization’s business or strategic plan. IM/IT may have its own strategic plan or it may piggy back on a larger corporate plan. Irrespective, the plan should be able to answer the questions of (q1) what is important and (q4) what is on the horizon for the organization? The IM/IT operational plan focuses on the questions of (q3) current capacity and (q2) near term organizational IM/IT activities.

The delineation between the plans is not clear and ideally they should overlap each other rather than having a gap. The operational plan purposely extends into the Threat quadrant of the organization and the Business Plan relies on organizational strengths to capitalize on opportunities in the environment.

Beyond the Box

What do you think? Is the SWOT+4 Planning Model a muddled mess or does it provide a conceptual basis in which your organization can begin to structure its IM/IT planning. What is the value proposition to understanding and using the model well? I believe the model can support faster technology adoption, lower cost of implementation and ownership and better leveraging of IM/IT assets. Stay tuned as I am hoping to drill in a bit more into the model in future blogs. For example:

  • How a lifecycle approach can be used to measure IM/IT Capacity (q3)
  • The roles and technologies involved in delivering Organizational IM/IT (q2)
  • How much IM/IT should be in an organizational plan (q1), and
  • Where to buy a good crystal ball for the IM/IT Future (q4).


The Disappearing Spoon – Good Chemistry

As part of my ongoing attempt to remember what the heck I read, a quick blog on a recommended read:

Title: the Disappearing Spoon, And Other True Tales Of Madness, Love, And The History Of The World From The Periodic Table Of The Periodic Table of the Elements.
Author: Sam Kean
Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4.5
My thoughts: In general I am a student of history and in particular I enjoy reading about the history of science.  To me science is one of the greatest human achievements.  It allowed ourselves to move to a rationale state away from the tyranny of myth and legend.  This book is about one of the greatest of all human achievements, the creation of the periodic table.

YAWWNNN you may think but the history is full of humanity at its best and worst.  At its best is the sharing of knowledge that allowed for an obscure Russian, Dmitri Mendeleev, to effectively lift the study of matter out of an understanding that really had not changed since the Greeks.  It is about the sharing of that knowledge so that one person’s breakthrough is done by standing the shoulders of giants.

Of course goody-goody-two-shoes scientists are great when it comes to inventing silicon chips for smart phones or sulfa drugs to treat diseases; but flawed scientists and skull drudgery are much more interesting and this book is full of them.  And, they are all linked back to the periodic table.  Two great examples

  • During World War I the Germans managed to claim jump and generally harass the owner of one of the very few Molybdenum mines in the world.  Added to steel, this alloy can withstand the excessive heat in artillery guns because it melts at 4,750F.  It was not until 1918 that the US federal government realized that the mine was stolen from one of its own citizens – and that the metal – critical to the war effort, had been sent to Germany.
  • When I think of Marie Currie I imagine her as a saintly woman scientist suffering the indignities of a sexist period in our history.  It turns out that she was also a bit of femme fatale.  Thus she would pull fellow scientists into dark closets – see her glowing vial of Radium. Curious from concerned wives of the scientists would ensure the observations did not last too long!

The Disappearing Spoon should be required reading for high school or perhaps first year college chemistry course.  Not only is full of interesting characters – which were also brilliant – it is also a book that allows one to understand the current configuration of the periodic table from the ground up.

The individual who discovered or the image of the element

The individual who discovered or the image of the element

From Chapters: Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery–from the Big Bang through the end of time.

*Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.

Writing as a Team Sport

On the off chance that you have been wondering where my blogs have gone, I have been putting the finishing touches on an article to be published (hopefully) in the next issue of the FMI Journal.  Writing, especially when you do if for free, is a labor of love and you don’t do it alone.  Beyond relying on one of the best editors/critics in the world, my wife Margreet, this time around I also had some help from former colleagues.

This is the first time I have used what I am calling a ‘friendly-peer-review’.  Certainly friends and colleagues have read prior articles and provided comments, but this time around I asked for help in a more systematic manner.  The result was a much better article with perspectives that would never considered or with bad bits beaten out with bats.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.



Aaron F. Alberta Health Services
Conor O. IAEA
Leanord T. Deloitte Canada
Neel G. IAEA
Neil P. Government of Alberta
Richard I. Government of Alberta
Shawn M. Western Economic Diversification Canada
Steven S. World Intellectual Property Organization
Stewart S. Private Contractor
Terry E. Private Contractor

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to createnet-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

Management through Magic Process

For those following my blogs, you know I am slowly working toward a better understanding of Organizational Biology.  This includes understanding how organizations achieve business objectives in either a productive or destructive manner.  The following ‘Phrankism‘ is written slightly tongue in cheek, I hope you enjoy this Magical-Post!

Stretch Goals versus Magical Process

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said: ‘Stretch targets energize. We have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually do the impossible; and even when we don’t quite make it, we inevitably wind up doing much better than we would have done.‘

These are good words but are unfortunately subject to abuse by those lesser than Mr. Welch. The dark side to a stretch goal/target is ‘Management through Magical Process’ or Magic. This is where

An organization (collectively or an individual) engages in an activity without sufficient consideration of its readiness or resources to achieve the objective. Success comes at either the expense of pre-existing objectives or Management through Heroics. Failure to deliver magic leads to the punishment of the innocent, organizational numbing, martyrdom and quickly moving to the next magical task.

Dilbert images and other content is copyright Universal Uclick and/or its creators.

Dilbert images and other content is copyright Universal Uclick and/or its creators.

 Magic Defined

The above definition is a mouthful, so a bit of explanation.

This is where an organization (collectively or an individual engages in an activity without sufficient consideration of the organizational readiness or resources to achieve the objective.’: realistically this means the senior management or leadership of an organization.  Don’t try magic at home – or at a junior manager level.  Also, good magic relies on illusion and subterfuge.  As a result, you know you are in a magical-situation when the person doing the asking glosses over questions of organizational capacity.  Hearing things like “don’t bore me with the details; I don’t sweat the small stuff; that is adminis-trivial that does not concern me” are pretty good indicators you have a magical process in your inbox.

Success comes at either the expense of pre-existing objectives…’: past crises de jour, previous magical-management requests or solid organizational objectives are swept aside or expected to be completed in addition to this new request.

‘…or Management through Heroics; …’: Management through heroics is when the body-corporate takes extraordinary measures to achieve things.  Evening and weekend work, calling in extra resources or sacrificing elements of the organizations (e.g. selling off assets) are examples.  Sometimes extraordinary times require heroics.  Recent examples include a typhoon in the Philippines or flooding in Southern Alberta.  The problem is when the extraordinary becomes the new normal.  Magical organizations seldom are aware, remember or quite frankly care how many soccer games or family events a person has missed – as long as the person continues to do so and is prepared to make larger sacrifices next time.

Failure to deliver magic leads to the punishment of the innocent, organizational numbing, martyrdom ….’  If the body-corporate of the organization cannot arise to the occasion, blame and punishment is meted out usually to the innocent.  Assuming the individuals do not leave the organization, this results in either numbing or martyrdom.  Numbing is the effect of indifference and apathy amongst the staff and is the opposite of excellence.  Martyrdom is an even more worrying consequence in which people fall into a dysfunctional relationship with the organization.  While the numb can be identified by their pension days counting or zombie like appearance, the martyr can often be identified by the distinctive and oft repeated call of ‘worked last weekend – again; stayed to midnight – again; I am so busy’.

…and quickly moving to the next magical task.’  The key to a good Magic show is the spectacle and the pace of the performance; Management through Magical Process is no different, but a bit of organizational amnesia helps.  So, taking it from the top:

  1. Senior Management show their mettle by assigning impossible work via Magical Process…
  2. The martyrs and the numb dutifully change organizational direction… until the next Magical assignment comes along to replace this one… or until through heroic effort the task is completed.
  3. The new and the dumb ask about organizational capacity.  Typically they are silenced by the group-think of the organization.
  4. The new staff-members who don’t conform to the magical cultural norms of the organization leave the organization.  The numb trudge onto the next activity and the martyr complains about how busy they are but perhaps look forward to the next crisis.

Beyond the Magic

Taking my tongue from my cheek, sometimes organizations need to use heroics to get things done.  Under the right conditions, stretch goals can lead to dramatic success (think about the Apollo program) and most people are neither a martyr nor numb.  Organizations are living entities that are staffed by good people; good people will try to rise to the occasion (as seen last summer during the Southern Alberta flooding) but this is a trust that must not be abused.  Doing so numbs the organization and creates a corporate culture that cannot focus on excellence (martyrdom is optional).

What are your thoughts on the Management through Magical Process (tongue in or out of cheek)?  Be sure to read about other Phrankisms.



Command, Control & the Smiles of Good Fortune

Being in my ’50s, I remember the Cold War.  In the early 1980’s, I had earnest discussions with friends about the merits of nuclear deterrence, the policies of Ronald Reagan and the threat of the Soviet Union.  While now seemingly a distant memory, the 1980’s were also the last full decade when us humans faced mass extinction via nuclear war on a global scale.  In this new century, we can now look forward to only localized extinction.

Nuclear Explosion – Courtesy of the Guardian

The 1980’s is the context for Eric Schlosser’s book, “Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, And The Illusion Of Safety”.  (Some of Schlossers other books include: Fast Food Nation, Chew On This, and Reefer Madness).  Schlosser paints both a sympathetic and frightening picture of nuclear weapons, their record of safety (sort of 100%) and how close we all came to extinction in the Cold War – but did not because of divine intervention or dumb luck.  Schlosser has written the near-perfect non-fiction history.  He blends a central story and the large tapestry of the nuclear weapon ‘industry’ from the late 1930’s to present day.  The story is about a tragic accident at a Titan II missile facility near Damascus Arkansas in 1980.  One airman dropped one socket which resulted in the destruction of the facility and risk of a nuclear explosion.  On that day, confusion, bravery and a system unable to cope with the unexpected reigned – and this formed the central story of Command and Control.

Missile Silo – Post Explosion

Most of the book, however, deals with the context and the events leading up to the dropped socket and its effects afterwards.  Schlosser has written an extremely balanced book.  Too often in current popular culture, the US Military, Ronald Reagan or nuclear weapons are painted in dogmatic caricatures.  Instead Schlosser provides excellent context to these people and events – without pulling punches for incompetence.  A good example of this balance is his discussion of the anti-nuclear movement in Europe against the NATO deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe.  His wry observation is that the protestors of the 1980’s were demanding missiles, not yet installed, be removed while blissfully ignoring the Soviet and Eastern Bloc missiles already deployed and pointed at their homes.

In the end, Command and Control is about fallibility of people, systems and technology – and the role that bravery, systems, good technology – and a lot of luck – played in avoiding any serious accident in the American or NATO nuclear arsenal.  While inspiring from the perspective of good people doggedly working to make the system better, Schlosser leaves the reader with a few warnings.  First, there are still tens of thousands of weapons of various designs and states of repair in the world.  The relative peace we have had since the 1990’s has made nuclear Armageddon less likely but has also increased the chance of an accident as these weapons age, experience personnel retire, less reliable countries develop weapons and organizational culture changes while weapon custody does not.

The second lesson Schlosser imparts is that complex systems (with multiple points of contact and connection) increase the chance of an accident.  At the very least, a complex system may experience a catastrophic run away response to an otherwise small error.  Complex systems, such as the command and control of a nuclear arsenal, have inter-dependent parts that can act unpredictably when under stress or when exposed to unexpected influences.

Schlosser has written an excellent book that is very accessible.  My only critique would be the cast of thousands introduced and the difficulty keeping the individuals straight (particularly when listening to the audio version of the book).  Otherwise, a great read and highly recommended for all military and history buffs out there.

PS.  Apparently you can buy decommissioned missile bases.  For only a million dollar (ish) you can own the worlds greatest paint ball facility/deep scuba-diving tank.

View of a Titan II Complex



Frank’s Frosty Balls

Normally my posts deal with organizations or accounting matters, however this one is a bit more whimsical.  My wife was flying back home and I thought I would surprise her by putting up some Christmas decorations.  The problem with living in a two store house is a) I don’t have a ladder tall enough to get to the second story; and b) even if I did the ~30 foot climb/drop is not appealing.  As a result, after living in one house for 13 years – I had yet to hang decorations.

A combination of seeing this idea on my niece’s Facebook feed (thanks Shannon) and the desire to surprise the wife resulted in Frank’s Frosty Balls being on display in our front yard.  If you want to have your own cool/kewl multi-colour balls, here is what I did:

Step One: Fill Water Balloons with Colour

Fill balloons with food colouring and water, I used the following various colour mixes listed at the bottom to about a 5-pin bowling ball’s worth of water (e.g. about 500ml).

Frank's Frosty Balls - 2013 Christmas

Frank’s Frosty Balls – 2013 Christmas

Step Two: Set Them Out to Freeze

Right, you would think this would be the easy part living in Northern Alberta.  However a warm front and the glycol in the food colouring meant that I had to wait a few days until it was -25 and the balls froze.  A large freezer would have sufficed as well.

Step Three: Decorate the House

I choose to decorate an arbor in our front yard.  Peeling the balloons off was a bit of a strange experience to say the least with a surprise as to the exact colour!

Peeling the Balloons off of the Frozen Balls

Peeling the Balloons off of the Frozen Balls

Step Four: Enjoy… Well for Now

Alas a warm front and snow is forecasted in the next few days.  We will see how long Frank’s Frosty Balls kick around before the melting food colouring necessitates their removal.  In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to everyone from the Potters and OrgBio!

Frosty Balls in the Sunshine

Frosty Balls at Night

No. Yellow Blue Pink Red
























































































































Air Cover and Extraction

This is a relative new (e.g. only a few years old) Phrankism for me.  During recent circumstances, I have found myself using the phrase ‘Air Cover’ more often.  As a result, it is probably time to define it and place it in its proper place in the ‘Phrankism-Hall-of-Fame’.

Official Definition(s)

The Free Dictionary: air cover, n (Military):

the use of aircraft to provide aerial protection for ground forces against enemy air attack

The Free Dictionary: Extraction, n (Military):

In military tactics, extraction (also exfiltration or exfil), is the process of removing personnel when it is considered imperative that they be immediately relocated out of a hostile environment and taken to a secure area. There are primarily two kinds of extraction:

  • Hostile: The subject involved is unwilling and is being moved by forceful coercion with the expectation of resistance. Essentially, it is kidnapping by military or intelligence forces.
  • Friendly: The subject involved is willing and is expected to cooperate with the personnel in the operation.

Oxford Dictionary, air cover, noun:

protection by aircraft for land-based or naval operations in war situations: ‘they provide air cover for United Nations convoys of relief supplies

Oxford Dictionary, extraction, noun:

the action of extracting something, especially using effort or force:

Phrank’s Definition

As a Phrankism, it is a military term borrowed to provide good imagery within an organization.  My current working definition (e.g. until someone comes up with a better one and I steal it) is:

The support of one’s superiors, organization and/or colleagues while undertaking an assigned task which involves some risk or need for unanticipated resources.  Generally any guarantees are provided in an informal and often verbal manner rather than via a formal organizational structure.

  • Employee: I have an idea (or the organization has an idea for the employee to completed), I don’t know exactly what resources I will need, how to proceed or what the organization (e.g. colleagues, peers, subordinates, other areas, customers, suppliers, etc.) will think of it, but it is important we try it.
  • Boss: I like the idea and I think it might work.  However because it is new to the organization and involves risk, we will do informally.  However, don’t worry because I will provide air cover and extraction if necessary from the project.  That is I will ensure that you will not be punished, reprimanded and will reasonably receive resources if you request them.

How, When to Use and the Success of Air Cover and/or Extraction

Air Cover and Extraction are based on trust; in particular trust at a personal level between a subordinate and the superior/organization. In this case, the trust includes:

  1. The superior has the resources to provide Air Cover and Extraction.
  2. The superior is willing to use them if/when the time comes.
  3. The employee will know when to and will call for them appropriately.
  4. Once extracted, the employee will not go back to the situation without authorization and thus require further Extraction or Air Cover.

The first two points of trust are top down.  They can also be used to mitigate organizational practices such as Drive By Management or Management through Magical Process.  A word of warning to organizations about trust; the late Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explored the idea of an emotional bank account.  When meeting someone new, everyone starts with a small positive emotional account balance. They then make contributions or withdrawals based on their actions. The more one contributes, the higher the trust; the more withdrawals, the greater the suspicion and lack of trust. In other words, offering air cover and then leaving a subordinate to languish on the beachhead is a sure-fire way to start you down the road of a dysfunctional organization.

Points three and four are about trust going from the bottom up to the top. If your superior is expecting status reports, provide them! If your boss would have helped you out of a pickle – but you never asked – you have violated your trust relationship.

On the fourth point, a person going back into a situation without authorization, works in adventure movies but seldom in real life. Think about the action hero who violates a direct order and heads back to rescue the damsel or save the world. Some by the book superior is cursing him/her as they see the rocket ship/parachute/starship fly away. Nevertheless by the end of the movie, the hero saves the day/world/universe and all is forgiven and the superior is proven wrong.

In the real world, quit when you are ahead. An organization or a boss may rescue you once. Going back and trying again, without permission, is a sure-fire trust-busting activity.

Formal/Informal: When to Use and Over Use

Air Cover and Extraction can have a formal arrangement. For example, the structure of an organization is designed to delegate authority down and allowed a set of pre-approved decisions to be made by subordinates.

Informal Air Cover and Extraction is a tactical tool the organization can use in specific circumstances.  Like any good tool, its utility is understanding when it is not being used enough (e.g. an organization is stagnate, dysfunctional or moribund in bureaucracy) or too much (e.g. words such as cowboy, free-for-all, loose cannons or out of control are used to describe the organization… and hopefully not by the auditors or shareholders!).

The balance of just enough Air Cover is a sub-theme found in some previous blogs (see list below) and one which I hope to return to in future blogs. What are your thoughts on this?  Leave me a comment but please don’t ‘carpet-bomb’ my site!

Further OrgBio thoughts on the themes of Air Cover and Extraction are as follows… in order of relevance:

  1. Drive By Management
  2. The Propensity to Mediocrity
  3. Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit
  4. Contra-Free Loading: Why Do People Want to Do Good Work?
  5. Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety
  6. AIIM’s Collaboration Definition
  7. AIIM’s Life-Cycle Collaboration Model
  8. Three P’s and a G over T Collaboration Framework
  9. Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired?
  10. Paying Volunteers – Experience

Paying Volunteers – Experience

This is a third blog in a series on ‘Paying Your Volunteers Well‘. All of the blogs in the series have been on the theme that organizations pay their volunteers via three ‘currencies’:

  • Currency 1, Purpose: being part of something that is bigger than any one person.
  • Currency 2, Affiliation: the feeling of community and the creation of social bonds.
  • Currency 3, Experience: (this blog) gaining experience or practicing skills from being a volunteer.

The previous blog focused on the first two currencies: Purpose and Affiliation. This final blog will look at the concept of experience (individual and organizational experience) as a currency and some thoughts on how volunteer organizations can implement the three currencies. Finally, this series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

Paying your Volunteers with Personal Experience

Looking back over the past 5 years, I am a bit amazed at the experiences I have gained as a volunteer. For example, I have learned desk top publishing, a bit of .NET programming and how to manage websites. As well, I have strengthened my facilitation and project management skills – all within a volunteer context. This is partly because I have a personal philosophy to “never volunteer for activities that are like my current job“.

I have cultivated this philosophy on volunteering since my early teens. That in its self is typical according to a 2000 Statistics Canada study [1]. One of the ‘sells’ for many youth programs; e.g. organized sports, scouting or cadets; are that kids learn leadership, organizational skills and team work. These learnings are in addition to the skills relating to the organization (e.g. stopping goals, lighting campfires or flying airplanes). While youth volunteer organizations do this through a program structure (e.g. coaches or a badge/promotion programs); the concept of experience as a currency is not just for kids.

A highly effective volunteer organization will ask their adult volunteer, ‘What do you want to learn/experience as a volunteer?’ For some individuals, the answer may be ‘I am happy to simply help out’. For others, they may be more strategic is using volunteering as a learning opportunity. According to a 2010 Study by Statistics Canada,78% of respondents want to use their skills and experience. A majority of respondents indicated that they acquired skills through volunteering (see quote and graphic below):

About two-thirds of volunteers benefit from improved interpersonal skills. Although most volunteers get involved with a charitable or nonprofit organization for altruistic reasons, most also believe that they receive substantial benefits themselves. Many stated that their volunteer activities had given them a chance to develop new skills…”

Skills acquired through volunteering – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

Skills acquired through volunteering – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

The Volunteer Experience

Schools currently do a good job of matching volunteer experiences to learning through work experience programs or (unpaid) internships. I would suggest that employers can learn from this model. That is, employers could support staff members who are both volunteering and learning with a community organization. For example, a person who wishes to learn project management can hone these skills in a lower risk volunteer/community organizations setting (e.g. organizing a United Way campaign, building a playground, etc.). This scenario is win-win-win; the volunteer organization receives work in kind; the individual has the altruistic opportunity and is learning/improving their skills and the employer has pseudo on the job training while demonstrating community support.

There is a caution here because altruism is a funny thing. Consider the economics of voluntary blood donations versus being paid to donate. An economic tipping point is crossed when an individual believes that they are being compensated for what was previously an altruistic activity. Curiously compensation generally dissuades individuals from donating money, time or blood. The participants in this win-win-win situation need to ensure that the relationship remains noble and altruistic.

The Volunteer Experience

Returning to the Stats Canada study, a couple of interesting statistics jump out: ‘45% of non – volunteers had not become involved because no one had asked them to, which suggests they might sign up to volunteer if they were approached the right way. On the other hand, about one-quarter (27%) had no interest in volunteering and 7% had not been satisfied with an earlier experience‘.

I find the final value, 7% having a bad experience, to be surprising low!  I have been part of volunteer organizations that have treated their volunteer-cadre poorly.  This treatment included indifference, cliques, poor organization, political games or simply taking their volunteers for granted.  To avoid a terrible experience, think of volunteers as a precious resource that needs to be managed via lifecycle approach:


Lifecycle State Description Organization Activities
Unaware The individual is unaware of the organization or the volunteer opportunities available. General promotion, alumni/ambassador networking.
Aware, uninvolved The individual is aware, but is not involved as a volunteer.  Interest in being a volunteer is not known to the organization. General promotion, creation of prospect lists, creating volunteer ‘buddies’.
Peripherally involved The individual has volunteered informally or has expressed an interested in being involved. Add the individual to a volunteer-prospect list and describe the volunteer ‘value proposition’ to him/her; use a low-pressure follow up.
Non-stalwart involvement Individual is a regular volunteer but is not a stalwart [2] of the organization. Ongoing volunteer-experience reviews, ask the individual to be a “volunteer buddy”, solicit feedback and implement quality/experience improvements.
Stalwart These are the 10% of the individuals who contribute 50%+ of the volunteer effort. Ibid. to non-stalwarts plus, develop mentorship and succession plans; ongoing touch points to identify burn out early; provide sabbaticals, breaks and change of duties; ask stalwarts to organize or move to the alumni and ambassador programs.
Alumni Former volunteers willing and able to ‘tell’ the organization story in informal settings. Maintain a current roster of alumni/ambassadors, keep them informed of organization activities, and ask for both ongoing donations but also network/community engagement.
Ambassadors Individuals who have formally agreed to promote the organization within the community. Ibid. to alumni plus, provide a higher level of engagement than that provided to alumni.

A Brief Description of the Lifecycle Activities

If you are on a board of a small volunteer organization and the above activities seem daunting, do not despair.  Implementing any one of the activities can help; implementing all, can help more.  Being able to implement all of the activities is unlikely except for the largest volunteer organizations.

General promotion: normal organizational advertising/promotional activities to improve brand recognition, organizational awareness or donation solicitation.

Alumni Networking: An informal to formal program in which former volunteers and staff members are periodically made aware of the organization, its current activities/accomplishments, needs and interest in having past volunteers/staff members return to or make donations to the organization.

Ambassador Networking: A formal program in which an individual agrees to ‘tell’ the organizational story within a community so as to achieve specific organizational objectives.  The development of the ambassador program should following the Know/Do/Fund model.

Creation of prospect lists: Within the confines of privacy legislation and organizational privacy policies; the collection and management of potential individuals interested in the objectives of the organization.  Existing donor software supports this activity although the information should also be organized along the Know/Do/Fund model and managed like a sales-call list.

Volunteer ‘buddies’: A formal or semi-formal program in which current/alumni/ambassador volunteers are encouraged to partner with potential/existing volunteers/donors, etc.  Through relationship management, the organization ‘story’ including the ‘value-proposition’ of being a volunteer.

Volunteer ‘value proposition’: Why should a person volunteer for this organization versus another.  This should include a description of the overall objectives of the organization, its recent achievements, history, affiliation, volunteer testimonials and individual opportunities.

Low-pressure follow up: Based on the prospect list and using the value proposition, the buddy or volunteer recruiter follows up within prospective individuals.  This is done in a low-pressure manner and interactions are documented (with the consent of all individuals involved).

Ongoing volunteer-experience reviews: A formal or semi-formal program in which the value-proposition reality is measured against what is/was promised.  Advice collected is acted upon through a quality/experience improvement program.

Mentorship and succession plans:  all volunteers and their positions have a succession/training plan which includes a risk analysis for key/technical positions.  Long serving volunteers who are feeling burned out may be offered sabbaticals, breaks and change of duties to encourage ongoing participation.  Recruitment to the alumni and ambassador programs is encouraged.

Competition in Altruism

There is both good and bad news for volunteer organizations.  Firstly the bad news, a poor volunteer experience generally can be traced to the culture of the volunteer organization.  The stalwarts of the organization may see little reason to manage the ‘volunteer-experience’.  After all, they have been ‘holding the fort’ for so long it is time for somebody else to do!  It is easy for volunteer organizations to develop an insular or group-think view-point.

The good news is that organizational culture can be fixed, evolved and changed.  There are excellent opportunities for volunteer organizations that are willing to have open conversations about their culture and volunteer management strategies.  The better news is that an organization who engages in these conversations can best compete for altruism.

The 2010 Stats Canada study found an interesting trend.  While the number of individuals who volunteer is increasing, the TOTAL HOURS volunteered has plateaued.  Individuals have fewer hours available to volunteer and the stalwarts have taken up the slack.  Two job families, Go-Go parenting, technology and an erosion of social structures has made our lives more frantic but we are still willing to volunteer.  This is a double edge sword for volunteer organizations.  On the one hand volunteers will become harder to find, more expensive to recruit, harder to retain and cost more to manage.  On the other hand, organizations who understand how to pay their volunteers well will out-compete other organizations for the precious volunteer hour.

This is the end of this three blog series and the thoughts contained within are based on 35+ years being involved with volunteer organizations.  Now that I have articulated what I have felt, I hope to use these blogs to make the organizations I am passionate about better.  While competing for volunteers may seem mercenary, it is also the reality facing the causes that we care about.  In addition, volunteer organizations may be asked to carry more of the burden within our society as governments grapple with debt and budget concerns.  So, when you think about the volunteer organization that you are passionate about, how well equipped is it to pay its volunteers?

[1] Jones, F. 2000. “Community involvement: the influence of early experience.” Canadian Social Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008. No. 57.

[2] A compilation of both the aforementioned 2010 Stats Canada study as well as ‘Understanding Canadian volunteers : using the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating to build your volunteer program’, available: http://sectorsource.ca/resource/book/understanding-canadian-volunteers-using-national-survey-giving-volunteering-and

Paying Volunteers – Purpose & Affiliation

This is a second blog in a series on ‘How to Pay Your Volunteers‘.  The first was an introduction with the idea that organizations pay their volunteers via three ‘currencies’ listed below.  This Blog is a drill down on the first two currencies – purpose and affiliation.

  • Paying Your Volunteers Well: introduction
  • Currency 1, Purpose: being part of something that is bigger than any one person.
  • Currency 2, Affiliation: the feeling of community and the creation of social bonds.
  • Currency 3, Experience: gaining experience or practicing skills from being a volunteer.

This series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

A Blurred Line: Affiliation and Purpose

Affiliation and Purpose are two parts of why people volunteer.  Purpose is the greater good and affiliation is the sense of belonging.  Although listed separately, the distinction is a bit blurred.  The way I think of them though is: Purpose will get a volunteer’s interest in an organization but affiliation will keep them with the organization.


In his book, ‘The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life‘, Jesse Bering goes to great lengths to discuss the concept of the Theory of Mind.  In summary, this theory is that Homo Sapiens’ primary evolutionary advantage is the ability to think like another person  (e.g. “I think Bob is thinking this, therefore I can predict Bob’s behaviour or motivations“).  This in turn gave rise to human-altruism and allowed us to be a highly effective social species.

In other words, the Theory of Mind means that humans seek out purpose and social circumstances.  We are hard-wired to want to belong and more to the point, do right while belonging.  One of the things Bering discusses in his book is that people are more likely to follow social norms if they think others are watching them or are part of a close-knit community.  The inclination to want to contribute to a community can be seen in the StatsCan data of what motivates individuals to volunteer.  According to the most recent (2010) results, 93% of individuals volunteer to make a contribution to the community.

Top reasons to volunteer

Top reasons to volunteer – 2010 Stats Can Report: no. 11-008-X

Organizations can take advantage of this basic human predisposition by clearly articulating the ‘story’ behind the purpose or cause of the organization. While the Society to Improve Chances on Buying a Porsche Frank Potter generally won’t fly (err, donations accepted though); saving wetlands, helping children, aiding seniors or rescuing dogs are likely good causes people will want to volunteer for.

It may seem crass to take advantage of this base human need.  On the other hand, this is the fundamental quid pro quo of the volunteer relationship.  By being a volunteer, a person is fulfilling a deep-seated need to contribute.  By providing these opportunities, telling the story and supplementing it with experience – a volunteer organization can meet and exceed filling that need.


This brings us to the second currency, affiliation. According to the same 2010 Study by Statistics Canada, about two-thirds of all Canadians who volunteer did so with friends, family or people they knew.

Many Canadians become involved in volunteering because people they know are doing it. In 2010,43% of volunteers said they did their volunteer work as part of a group project with friends, neighbours or co-workers; another 25% said they had joined members of their immediate family in their volunteer work. 

This is the affiliation aspect of volunteering.  The Ying to this Yang is  how to get work out of the volunteers beyond just having a ‘social-club’?  I think there are two strategies to this end, focus on the purpose and reward the right behaviour.  Purpose was discussed above, but by focusing on WHY the organization exists will channel people to activities that directly support the activity.

The second part is to then reward the right behaviours, e.g. achieving the fund-raising goal, putting on an event, etc.  In both cases, I think that ‘Telling the Story’ is critical.  Newsletters, FaceBook pages, meeting reports or other forms of communications help to achieve this.

As a final point of affiliation, a bit of swag does not hurt either; something with an event and an organization’s name on it are all examples.  This is a great way to not only identify the volunteers while an event is occurring but also to perpetuate the story after the event.  A good quality shirt with a logo can elicit questions about the event in elevators, around water coolers or even shopping malls.  A stranger asking about an event listed on a t-shirt means the t-shirt wearing volunteer has been paid in affiliation long after the event has ended.

Tailoring Purpose and Affiliation

The challenge volunteer organizations have is tailoring the right amount of Purpose and Affiliation to their population of volunteers.  This balance can be partially be struck by having the conversation with volunteers  about their past and desired future experiences. More on this in the next and future blogs.

Paying your Volunteers Well

This past weekend I was at a thank you brunch for the Edmonton Touring and Bicycle Club.  This got me thinking to get back to a post on volunteer organizations (see Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards) and specifically why do people volunteer in the first place?  From a rationale-economics model it makes absolutely no sense – giving away your time and talent for free. Volunteering is not limited to a few individuals either, according to a 2010 study by Statistics Canada, nearly half of us volunteer.  Recent models and the study of altruism in animals suggests that there is an evolutionary basis for volunteering (more on this in a second).

This inclination to volunteer is good for our community because it means, at a fundamental level, people want to contribute.  As a result, the question is how to encourage and sustain a natural inclination?  The answer is two part: payment and reducing as much as possible the burden of volunteering.  To start what I hope will be four additional blogs (insert good intentions here)….

The Currency of Volunteer Payment

Let’s start with the three currencies by which organizations can pay their volunteers:

This series is a companion to a previous blog entitled “Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards”.

The Burden of Volunteering

There is a ‘negative-payment’ involved in volunteering, the burden to do so.  My fourth blog will be and exploration of what are the impediments volunteer organizations put into place that dissuade volunteers.

As always, let me know what you think or send me your volunteer horror/success stories.

Maximizing a Secondment Experience

This past Friday I met up with a fellow Government of Alberta (GoA) employee by the name of Henry (name changed to protect the innocent from bad blogging) who is soon off to Washington DC for a two-year secondment with an international banking organization (the Bank). Henry wanted to pick my brains about my secondment experience with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a few years back. I thought the advice I gave him so good that I figured I would take some notes on the off-chance anybody ever asks me again (hey, it could happen).

Before, During and After

As it is always good to start with a definition, thefreedictionary.com defines it as:

2. secondment – the detachment of a person from their regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere.

From this definition, a secondment involves three parties. Henry; the GoA or the ongoing employer; and the seconding organization – in this case the Bank. Secondments also have three distinct time periods: the time before you go, the time on secondment and then the return. While good to think of them in three distinct periods they should nevertheless have a constant theme – the Value Proposition to three parties involved in the secondment.

Before the Before – The Secondment Circumstances

A secondment happens because a person has:

  • a) applied for a position possibly unbeknownst to their current employer,
  • b) the ongoing-employer encouraged the person to apply, or
  • c) the person was requested by the seconding organization.

There is a subtle difference between these circumstances. Henry was encouraged to apply to the Bank position by the GoA. Thus his boss (his home Ministry) is behind him 100%.  In contrast, I have found myself in both circumstance a) and c). In 2003 I had sought out an opportunity to work in Munich Germany – type a). Unfortunately the employer at the time did not grant me a leave of absence and as a result I quit that job to go to Germany. In 2010, the IAEA sought me out to assist with an accounting project – type c). In this case, I was able to secure a leave so as to take the secondment. What changed in the intervening seven years? I had a better understanding of how to sell the value proposition of the leave to my ongoing employer.

To support this value proposition, it was critical that the IAEA email/write to my boss and describe the circumstances behind why they specifically wanted me and the value to the GoA of my involvement. This provided credibility to the experience and started the process of making my experience a larger organizational experience.

Before – Start with the End in Mind

Henry, assuming you have the full endorsement from your Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM), it is now time to start planning for your return from your secondment. Steven Covery calls this ‘starting with the end in mind’. Envision the first day/week/year of your return from the secondment and define how you want to be thinking about success for the experience. To help you with this visioning, enlist the aid of your boss (and your boss’ boss); ask questions such as:

  • What are the three critical things you want me to accomplish while on this experience?
  • What is the number one problem for our organization the seconding organization can help us with?
  • If you were me, what would be your personal and professional priorities for this experience?

You don’t have to accept all of their advice but you should accept those that align best with your own ambitions, interests or priorities. The benefits for you to start with the end in mind includes:

  • It reinforces the fact that you will be returning to the ongoing employer.
  • It begins the process of making your secondment a shared experience with the organization.
  • It helps you to define the ongoing value proposition themes.

I have been focusing on your employer Henry but don’t forget to do the same thing for your friends and family. What does your wife want to have accomplished in the same time period? Can you offer to host family members so as to share the experience? Can you take your children and can they take part in the international school experience? For myself, here are the goals I had when I went to Vienna:

Goal 1: Family & Health

  • Setting up circumstances to share this experience with my wife and son
  • Maintain my health so I can continue to be productive
  • Experience the Austrian cultural life as much as a non-German speaker can

Goal 2: Exit Gracefully the IAEA

  • Contribute positively and effectively to the project
  • Over the course of the year, complete about 90 ‘things’ well to support the project

Goal 3: Re-Enter the Government of Alberta Gracefully

  • Re-charged, reset and ready for new challenges.

Goal 4: Prepare for Future Opportunities

During the Secondment

In a very short period of time you will be living the dream – the secondee in Washington DC. Then, in a few months the honeymoon will end. At this point you will start to feel (at least a bit) depressed, in limbo, out of touch and isolated. Fortunately the cultural difference between Washington DC and Edmonton are not as extreme as say Edmonton and Haiti. Nevertheless, more than likely you will be living in a small apartment, working in a small cubicle for seconded staff*. And the permanent staff members and those around you will have their own lives and families to go home to.

* small aside, I had a great office and room-mate while working for the IAEA – nevertheless I have worked in some crappy places as a consultant.

So feeling tired, out of sorts and a bit crummy is normal; expect it, deal with it and get over it. A two-year secondment means that you will have 780 days on the ground. 780 is not a large number and it will go by fast. Nearly 25% of the time will be the weekend or statutory holidays (and you will be working a few of these, trust me). 10-15% of these days will be vacation/leave (guard these jealously!). Now you are down to 500’ish work-days. Be clear with your new boss what you want to/can/must accomplish in those 500 days.

Just as important, for the weekends and leave days, what do you want to accomplish? Do you want to visit every memorial/museum in the city, drive the entire east coast of the United States, explore the Southern United States – set a goal and have a great time accomplishing it!

At the same time though, don’t forget about your ongoing employer. While I was in Vienna I tried to provide a monthly ‘blog’ to my home Ministry. Generally I would alternate between a technical themes (e.g. on accounting, governance structures, etc.) and personal matters (e.g. Christmas markets, cycling or Vienna wall murals). Contact your communications person and establish a writing schedule, possible themes – and then stick to them! Amongst other things, it will force you to better understand your experience, your organization and it will give you some great memories (see the links at the end of this Blog).

After the Secondment

Here is a curious fact Henry – a week or so after finishing the experience, it will be as if you never left. If you don’t plan your return carefully this fact can lead to a sense of loss or make you question why you went in the first place. In contrast a well-planned return can give you a sense of closure, purpose and context for the experience. Here are some suggestions for a ‘gracefully re-entry’ to your Ministry:

  • Keep your goals up to date. The will evolve and change, that is okay, but keep focused on why you took the secondment in the first place before, during and after its completion.
  • Keep in touch with your boss, organization and co-workers. See the blogs discussed above but include a few phone calls to your boss, emails to co-workers, etc. to stay in touch.
  • Share the experience by presenting it. Plan to do a series (e.g. 2-4) brown bag lunches on your experience. Space them out every 2-3 weeks. During the presentation don’t forget to profusely thank your boss and the organization for the experience.  I have included links to the three presentations I did below.
  • Stay in touch with the Bank and its family of employees.  They are part of you and your network now.  And of course, if they need a good accountant who writes blogs, I can send you my resume….

So Henry, that is my advice in a nut shell. Your secondment experience will go by fast! Best wishes to you and your wife and make the best possible use of your 780 days. Also, don’t forget to include me on your blogs about your experience!

 Sample Blog and Presentations

(Links fixed, 2013-11-27)


Drive Bys, Definitions and Dilbert

Now that cycling season is over, it is time to get back to thinking about Organizational Biology – and this includes updating Phrankisms.  What really jogged my memory (and motivation) was coming across a couple of old Dilbert cartoons introducing the concept of ‘Drive-By-Management’.

Courtesy of www.dilbert.com
Courtesy of www.dilbert.com
Courtesy of www.dilbert.com
Courtesy of www.dilbert.com

Provide courtesy of www.dilbert.com per the Uclick terms of use policy, all rights reserved by Uclick and its associates.

The urban dictionary defines Drive By Management as:

A management style bearing the characteristics of a drive-by shooting. Typically, this involves firing off pointers at subordinates with a total lack of regard for accuracy or willingness to take personal responsibility. The manager will then make a quick getaway without accomplishing anything.

I am not sure that quite captures my thoughts on the matter so my definition is:

The assignment of work objectives without the opportunity to negotiate the corresponding details to ensure an optimal result. These details may include due dates, quality or quantity measures, the purpose or ultimate use of the output and a discussion on how to improve the quality and productivity of similar, future requests.

John Wayne, the Military and What is the Problem?

So, what is the problem with Drive-by-management? Heck, think of a John Wayne war movie where he orders (or is ordered to) take that hill/building/machine-gun-nest. The doomed squad goes off with determined grit on their face to achieve the objective despite the possible costs. Later, a smaller number return having achieved the objective and saving the day. Hearty pats on the back and more determined gritted-faces follow. What is not to love about Drive-By-Management!

From a leadership position, the ability to send men (and women) off to do the impossible, without the bother of having to provide details or context, sounds pretty good. In reality it does not work that way. Let’s go back to Mr. Wayne and the military example.

Militaries don’t tend to willy-nilly send their soldiers off to certain doom simply because soldiers, in particular modern ones, are hard to come by.  Perhaps the last time we saw such willy-nilly’ness on a large-scale was during the First World War. Thus a military squad capturing a hill is actually not really Drive-By-Management. Before being sent off, the squad has had training on such things. It benefits from resources such as weapons, supporting fire, and communications between it and the rear.  The squad also has a visible objective – the hill/building/machine-gun-nest. After the objective is achieved, it will be carefully documented in the war diary and will likely be debriefed and evaluated by the higher-ups to see what can be learned for the next hill/building/machine-gun-nest. As a result John Wayne and real life equivalents display very little Drive-By’ness.

A better military example of Drive-By-Management in a military context is the Charge of the Light Brigade. If you don’t know the history the summary is there was:

  1. Personal antagonism on the part of the leadership of the English Military leaders,
  2. Poor communication that provided insufficient clarity and details on the objective, and
  3. Unwillingness on part of the subordinate to verify the details and facts before going and charging into what was asked of him.

The result was a great poem by Alfred Tennyson, the death of 156 men, and the loss of a critical fighting force the English could have used later on if it had not been wasted.

Are You a Victim or a Perpetrator of Drive By’s?

This is where the catchy name/metaphor breaks down a bit. Drive-By-Management is easy to thwart by the driver getting out of the car and asking such basic questions as ‘Do you understand or can you do it?’ The person on the receiving end has the ability to stop the car and ask questions such as ‘When do you need it or how will it be used?’ This is where Drive-By-Management meets Management-By-Walking-Around (and the subject of some future blogs).

In the meantime, what do you have to say; have you been a recipient of Drive-By-Management recently? Alternatively, have you been the one doing the driving? My impression is that Drive-By-Management is more prevalent to the public service but I have no real data to support this (and I see yet another blog on the subject). As a result, any comments or perspectives would be greatly appreciated.

Bennett – Boyko’s Book on RB

We Canadians are uncomfortable idolizing our leaders.  This is too bad as we have had some good ones.  We have had a drunk Sir John A. MacDonald who created a country, Wilfred Laurier who overcame French-Catholic prejudice to lead the country, Mackenzie-King who was a master of political tactics (and has the long-service award in office to prove it) and of course Trudeau who (for better or worse) remade Canada in someone’s image – and nearly destroyed it in the process (but that is another blog).

What about Richard Bedford Bennett (or RB)?  Do you vaguely remember him from Grade 8 social, perhaps you remember the ‘Bennett-buggy’, the horse drawn Model-T used on the prairies because no one could afford the gas anymore?  In his book, Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation, John Boyko explores perhaps one of the most and least lucky of Canada’s Prime Ministers.


A Bennett Buggy, in the United States they were called Hoover Wagons.

His luck started out iffy though as he was born into a home that had known wealth but the family fortunes were in decline during his childhood.  The decline was partly due to his father who worked hard but also liked a strong drink.  Nevertheless, RB was able to obtain his teaching certificate and was soon a principle in a school over-seeing children not much younger than him.  It was during this time that he met a life-long friend, Max Aitken who you may know better (at least for those living in Calgary) as Lord Beaverbrook.  Max would prove a strong ally and provided political practicality to the relationship.  Within a few years Bennett grew bored and left the teaching profession to study law at Dalhousie University.  Soon after graduation, the Maritimes were also left behind when RB took up Senator James Lougheed’s (grandfather of Peter, premier of Alberta) offer to work in his Calgary law office.

From there, RB was soon to amass a fortune through hard work, skill, honesty and shrewd business judgement.  Also during this time he was shown to have innate abilities any politician would kill for.  These included a strong work ethic, an excellent memory and the ability to speak ad lib as if he was reading the best of the prepared speeches.

RB had dreamed of being Prime Minister since his youth in Eastern Canada; in 1930 he realized it.  In retrospect – this could be described as a mixed blessing.  In 1930 Canada did not have a central bank; its economic measurements were crude and would need to wait until the Second World War before such basic measures as unemployment or gross domestic product could be measured accurately.  So while RB attempted to rectify Canada’s fortunes, he was essentially flying economically blind.  In addition, his economic fire power was limited as it would be three years until Keynesian inspired economic measures of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ would show nations the way out of recessions and depressions.

As a result, RB was blamed for much of the country’s economic turmoil – despite the limited tools, measurement or resources he had to fight the Depression.  True, he did not help himself.  He was a workaholic-bachelor who was surprised that others did not share his enthusiasm for long hours in the office.  His brilliant mind meant that he would alienate those who could not keep up.  He was facing a formidable political adversary in Mackenzie-King who was wily and willing to capitalize on RB’s weaknesses.  Finally, he served during a time when communists and fascists were both offering and agitating for alternatives to capitalism and democracy.

Nevertheless RB was generous and gave away much of his considerable fortune during his lifetime.  He supported, often anonymously schools, libraries and university students.  For Canada he founded the Bank of Canada, inspired the St. Lawrence Seaway and commissioned the Canadian Broadcast Corporation – all icons of a modern Canada.  At a time when increasing tariffs were pulling the global economy down into an abyss, he championed free trade and economic liberalization with both the Commonwealth and the United States.  Finally he recognized the growing storm clouds in Europe.  In 1937, Mackenzie-King called Hitler a simple peasant and not a danger to anyone.  RB by contrast was publicly warning of the rise of fascism in 1935 – two years after Hitler had ceased power.

In the end, Bennett should be remembered for more than his Depression-era buggy.  He was a brilliant Canadian who despite being flawed had helped to shape and direct the country we now live in.  Boyko’s book is mostly a good and accessible read – albeit a bit long on details for the more casual historian.  A good addition to all Canadian-history buffs out there.

Being Digital – ~20 Years Later

Have you ever heard of Nicholas Negroponte?  Perhaps you have heard the expression ‘born-digital’ meaning that information started in a digital state and remained that way throughout its life?  It was Negroponte who first popularized and promoted the idea.

Now in his 70’s, Negroponte was an early futurist for the impact of technology and the internet on our lives.  In addition to writing for Wired Magazine, he also wrote the internet-future-handbook: Being Digital.  Published in 1995, the book predicted things such as the pervasiveness of email, the death of faxes, the growth of bandwidth and indirectly the pings of Candy Crush, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Some examples include the co-mingling (e.g. mashups) of formerly distinct streams of information.  Thus television meets audio which meets magazines which meets demographic marketing.  An example: Netflix which streams television shows and collects information which may then be used to promote things like sound tracks to those who are a fan of breaking bad.

YAWWN, boring, this is old-hat and why are you telling us about a nearly twenty-year old book?  The reason is not for the specific technologies but for the principles Negroponte identified in the early 1990’s.  Some he got dead-one, some are coming and some he missed completely (e.g. he did not discuss issues such as the terrorist/activist (you pick) group Anonymous hacking government websites, the NSA snooping every email or Nigerian princes offering their fortunes to you).

The ones that are still out there are things like the role computers can play as personal agents (e.g. Refrigerator to Toaster, let the human know we are out of Milk) or the ability of information to be pushed to us rather than pulled to us (milk carton, hmmm – half empty, better let human know…).

Being Digital has been on my reading list since the late 1990’s.  Some parts are a trip down memory lane and some sections (use email, it will solve everything…. Err, until you get 300 – A DAY!) are a bit dated.  Nevertheless, worth at least a skim if not an addition to your digital library.

LinkedIn – Do I have a Deal for YOU!

Dear LinkedIn, I am a big fan of your product and I have a deal which I think will make both of us fantastically RICH! Okay, it might make you slightly better off and it will save me some time… which in today’s world is the equivalent of getting rich.

I noticed today that you have the ability for members to add courses, great! I have yet to come up with a good way to track my courses. In addition, I have an obligation to my accounting designation to complete professional development. As a soon to be CPA, this will become even more important.  My idea, why not add a few fields next to the course information? They may be things like:

  1. Is this course in support of a professional designation(s)?
  2. How many professional hours was this?
  3. Send to your profession(s) as part of the yearly reporting?

With this functionality, as I take courses throughout the year, I will add them to my profile. They will be appended to my LinkedIn resume information. Then, when it is time to pay my professional dues, I press a button and – BAM – LinkedIn will send the course information to my professional association.  When I took it, hours, where, certification, perhaps even a scan of the certificate (insert details about privacy, membership number, yada, yada, yada – here).

Value Proposition

  • Everyone is happy here.  I am a happy LinkedIn user because you have just solved a major pain in the ASSETS for me – tracking my courses.
  • My profession(s) are happy because they get a consistent and timely reporting of their member’s professional development.
  • You are happy because you just gave me one more reason to not jump to the next big social media thing. Heck, I might even be willing to pay for that feature (if the price is right).

So there you go LinkedIn my idea.  As an aside, I would suggest piloting this with the new CPA designation here in Canada.  The chapters are starting on the ground floor and are looking for innovative ways to show the value of the merger of the legacy designations.

There you go – my idea.  So, can my people call your people about it….

The Propensity to Mediocrity

First some dictionary definitions of the components of the expression:

  • Propensity: n … An innate inclination; a tendency.
  • Mediocre/Mediocrity: of only ordinary or moderate quality; barely adequate.
  • Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com

While ‘Entropy will Always Get you in the End’, we should put up a good fight until then.

Excellence and maintaining excellence is hard work.  Being number one, on top, in the first quartile means constantly beating: number two, those under you and the other three quartiles.  People, organizations and societies want time to rest, enjoy the fruits of their labour or enjoy their entitlements.

My supposition is that people are hardwired toward rest and perhaps even mediocrity.  From an evolutionary perspective it makes perfect sense.  If you are well fed, comfortable, dry and at peace – why risk your genetic inheritance until you are hungry, in discomfort, the roof is leaking or threatened.  Further to some of my prior blogs (e.g. Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired), In/Group and Loyalty is a potentially innate human-attribute.  Excellence, by definition, removes people from the group.

Does this mean that I believe that people are inherently lazy or evil – no.  Do I think that people-families-communities-organizations-societies will seek to cash in on their current riches and past hard work – yes.  Should we care and do something about this – it depends.

There are times when it is important to rest, repair and reflect. As Stephen Covey would observe, Sharpening the Saw is critical to a highly effective person-organization-etc.  However, people-families-communities-organizations-societies also need to be on the lookout for those who confuse earned-rest with entitlement.

So, how do we thwart the Propensity to Mediocrity? Like most things in life, through hard work, discipline, leadership, support and innovation.  Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” has codified these as: disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.  Alas, this leads to a fundamental set of contradictions:

  1. Contradiction 1: there is only a limited number of things we can be great at; striving to be great at all or even good at most will typically lead to mediocre in all.
  2. Contradiction 2: individuals must be given the latitude to be great, even if there is a risk that a few will choose entitlement over effort.  Disciplined leadership means dealing with the few lazy-miscreants and not imposing their punishment on everyone.
  3. Contradiction 3: discipline does not mean authoritative.  Discipline means that tough conversations occur and great solutions are found.  Authoritative often means tough conversations are supressed and mediocre solutions are imposed or tolerated.

If the above seems difficult, even a bit fuzzy – it is because the propensity to mediocrity is easy and the discipline to great is difficult, challenging, never entirely clear or even assured.  Entropy will get us in the end but in the meantime, our ongoing wealth, prosperity and standard of living are based on the need to both rest and to constantly fight mediocrity.

Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired?

I have written a series of blogs on the idea and background of organizational collaboration (Vichy, Definition, Lifecycle and 3Ps and a G over T). For this blog, I want to leave the organization and think about the question, why on earth would humans ever WANT to collaborate? In a modern setting, how does it help you by helping a fellow worker resolve a problem that he or she has? Or, go back a few hundred thousand years, why on earth would a hunter, gatherer or human in general want to collaborate?

A possible answer can be found in David Brooks’ book, The Social Animal (and subject of a previous blog). He discusses a “… generalized empathetic sense, which in some flexible way inclines us to cooperate with others. But there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that people are actually born with more structured moral foundations…” [p. 286]. Brooks goes on to describe five possible ‘moral concerns’. These concerns are common to all humans and all cultures and are:

  1. 1. Fairness/reciprocity: equal and unequal treatment
  2. 2. Harm/care: empathy, concern for suffering of others
  3. 3. Authority respect: reverence for and moral outrage against those who disparage authority
  4. 4. Purity/disgust: avoiding social contamination
  5. 5. In-group/loyalty: visceral loyalty to their group even if the group is arbitrary

Compare this to AIIM’s definition of collaboration, discussed in two previous blogs:

AIIM Collaboration Definition

AIIM Collaboration Definition


Humans are likely hardwired to collaborate, cooperate and be part of an organization (be it a tribe or modern organization). That is not to say that we will not look for a chance to advance our own cause (or personal-utility as economists like to say). This is why the collaboration model introduced in a previous blog includes the concept of Governance – someone has to mind the shop.

This of course leads to an interesting question of why do organizations spend time and resources encouraging collaboration – why does it not simply happen naturally? I suspect that a few individuals maximizing their utility obligate an organization to treat all its members as potential miscreants. Thus a few people end up dictating the cultural norms for an entire organization. I call this effect the ‘Propensity to Mediocrity’ and a subject of a future blog.

Cadavers, Cremation and Pressure Cookers – Stiff: the curious lives of Human Cadavers

Like it or not, we will all become one – a cadaver that is. Barring a zombie apocalypse or a non-messy rapture – sooner or later we will need to worry about what to do with our cadaver (okay technically, we don’t have to worry about what to do with OUR cadaver – but someone will).

Roach has written a good book with a good combination of tongue in cheek versus respect for the corporeal conundrum of cadavers. She walks through the use of cadavers as learning tools for physicians. She takes a swipe at the grisly details when there are not enough cadavers to learn from and you need to snatch one or two. And, she also discusses how cadavers are used as real crash test dummies – so as to do things like calibrate crash test dummies.

I found the book very engaging at the beginning but died a bit toward the end. I guess it is hard to maintain life in a story about cadavers. Nevertheless, Roach also explores an interesting new method of cadaver-disposal: composting or chemical-cremation.

Basically a corpse (human, animal or otherwise) is put into a vat along with a de-composition solution (mostly lye). From there it is pressure cooked and the ‘….equipment can dissolve the tissue of a corpse and reduce it to 2 or 3 percent of its body weight. What remains is a pile of decollagenated bones that can be crumbled in one’s fingers…. “In effect, it’s a pressure cooker with Drano” ‘. The upside of chemical-cremation is that valuable land is not used to store corpses (not to mention the expense and waste of resources for coffin, cement liners, etc.) and mercury from our fillings does not fill the atmosphere from regular cremation.

Chemical-cremation may be the way to go although it is not clear whether you can pay extra for the soylent green option.

Roach has written a very approachable book about the practical problem of what to do when you are done with your body. Some parts are a bit more graphic than others, so be wary. Nevertheless, she never loses sight of the fact that the corpse was a person and she treats that aspect with great respect. Stiff is a great vacation book while being buried in the sand by your family.

Three P’s and a G over T Collaboration Framework

In three previous blogs (Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety, AIIM’s Collaboration Definition and AIIM’s Life-Cycle Collaboration Model) I provided AIIM’s definition and life-cycle model of collaboration. While I like the AIIM definition, I find the life-cycle model confusing and a bit wanting. As a result, I would like to propose an alternative model for evaluating and managing organizational collaboration, the “Three P’s and a G over T Collaboration Model.” Graphically, it is presented as follows:

Collaboration Model

3Ps a G over T – Organizational Collaboration Model

The model’s X-Axis considers collaboration from a time perspective (the ‘Over T’ part), namely the past, future and the present. The Y-Axis considers collaboration from the perspective of People, Product and Process (3 Ps). 3 Ps is a model used in quality management and other methodologies to describe the key fundamental building blocks of an organization. I have provided a definition for each in the above introduction graphic. The 3Ps describe how individuals (People) do stuff (Process) to make money/provide services (Product) so as to stay employed (a virtuous cycle). Overarching the model is the concept of Governance; e.g., who decides what stuff is done by whom to sell what?

Governance heavily influences collaboration; in particular whether it is nurtured, tolerated or heavily controlled. Every point along this continuum is valued. For example, if you are building the world’s first atomic bomb in the desert of the United States it would be best to control collaboration. But, if you are attempting to create a new open-source operating system to compete with Windows, well collaboration is something to be nurtured and with a minimum level of control.

Like any model, this is a simplification of reality but it allows us to focus on one perspective at a time. One question relating to the Time-dimension is why is the past important to collaboration? The answer is that human cultures (even corporate cultures) have long and relatively permanent memories. Changing these memories is difficult enough for an organization, it is even more difficult for a society. In his book, Outliers; The Story of Success; Malcolm Gladwell discusses how cultural patterns continue to echo in the members of a society – long after the need for a particular cultural norm has ceased to be overtly displayed (as an aside, if you have not read the book, I would strongly suggest you do – in particular why most professional hockey players are born within a few months of each other).

“Cultural legacies are power forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behaviour that we cannot make sense of our world without them. [p. 175]”

While an organization’s past is not nearly as strong as that of a society, it will still follow the same principles. Thus years of a non-collaborative environment within your company cannot be erased by hanging banners or a corporate memo saying otherwise. Conversely, a strong and functioning collaborative environment will survive – for a while at least – a new abusive or dysfunctional set of managers. Unfortunately the exchange rate of a ‘collaborative-culture’ to ‘non-collaborative-culture’ is not one for one.

In future blogs, I want to drill down a bit more on each cell of the model. As well, it would be interesting to explore that ability to measure ‘collaborative-ness’ within an organization using the model as a presentation construct. In the meantime, please post any thoughts you may have on the 3 Ps, a G over T collaboration Framework.

AIIM’s Life-Cycle Collaboration Model

In two previous blogs (Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety and AIIM’s Collaboration Definition), I provided an overview to the definition and a lifecycle model of Collaboration. Developed by the American Institute for Image Management (AIIM), in this blog, I want to drill down on the Life-Cycle model. But first a quick re-cap, the definition is…

AIIM Collaboration Definition

AIIM Collaboration Definition

… and the lifecycle model is an eight stage recursive loop:

AIIM's Collaboration Lifecycle

AIIM’s Collaboration Lifecycle


Lifecycle Element Definition
Awareness We become part of a working entity with a shared purpose
Motivation We drive to gain consensus in problem solving or development
Self-synchronization We decide as individuals when things need to happen
Participation We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate
Mediation We negotiate and we collaborate together and find a middle point
Reciprocity We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity
Reflection We think and we consider alternatives
Engagement We proactively engage rather than wait and see

Good Principles – Bad Model

While I like the AIIM definition of collaboration, I have a hard time understanding and using the lifecycle model. The circles suggest that one moves sequentially from one state to another. While I would agree that Awareness is a good starting point, is motivation really the next state? Is engagement truly the end-statement; e.g. everyone in an organization proactively being engaged? Does this not also lead to a lot of organizational noise and tripping over each other?

Some of the states are very important, in particular Reciprocity. I would suggest that this is the most misunderstood aspects of human existence let alone collaboration. Without getting too far into social-evolutionary theory or economic transactional-theory (stay tuned for future blogs); altruism in organizations only gets you so far and often not that much. I know this because I have created numerous Microsoft SharePoint sites which now lie abandoned or have long since been deleted and forgotten. In many cases the underlying business need has come and gone. In others I failed to or stopped providing a reciprocal advantage for erstwhile users (… errr, on that note, thank you for reading this blog).

As a model, I think the Life-cycle is found wanting. However, as a set of principles, I think there may be something there. Read the stages again but this time with this principles lead statement such as the following:

We the members of our organization, where we choose to work, seek to create a collaborative culture and an effective organization through the following collaborative principles:

  • We [choose to] become part of a working entity with a shared purpose
  • We drive to gain consensus in problem solving or development
  • We decide as individuals when things need to happen
  • We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate
  • We negotiate and we collaborate together and find a middle point
  • We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity
  • We think and we consider alternatives
  • We proactively engage rather than wait and see

Thus, I think the AIIM Collaboration Lifecycle can help an organization establish a set of principles to allow for the creation of a collaborative culture. What the lifecycle fails to do though is provide a more robust conceptual framework to build, nurture, evaluate and continuously improve organizational collaboration. To do that, I would like to introduce the ‘3 Ps and a G over T Collaboration Framework’.

How to Disappear – When you Really Need to Go!

Full disclosure: I am not planning on disappearing and in fact I kinda like my little life just as it is.  Nevertheless, Frank M. Ahearn has written a very accessible book on how to (and not to) disappear if you want/need to.  Of course the criminal or terrorist comes to mind when you think about those needing to disappear.  Ahearn however discusses numerous other legitimate folks who have wanted to disappear for mundane to very sad reasons (mundane: avoiding greedy family members; sad: avoiding ex-spouses who want you dead).

Ahearn got into the disappearing business by finding people.  He was the guy who found you living in a trailer park outside of Vegas (or Balzac for us Canadians).  He was able to find you through a bit of subterfuge and was able to get your current address from websites, utility companies or nice companies who have sold you goods or services in the past.  Thus, while you were living under a pseudonym in Balzac, you transferred your warrant registration for your Harley Davidson motorcycle and you kept up your subscription to Pot-Pori-Monthly.

Ahearn got out of the finding people business because the tools of his trade were becoming increasingly illegal.  Thus, he got into the other side of the business – how to fall off the radar.  For us Canadians, it appears that many of the tools Ahearn mentions are specific to the United States.  However, that is probably more of a temporary state of affairs rather than a bit of permanent protection.  Some of the tools he (continues to use)/used include:

Even if you do not want to disappear, Ahearn suggests that you make yourself less visible on the web and perhaps in general.  He stresses to keep this above board (e.g. nothing illegal and keep on paying your taxes; however he does have a great speculative section on Pseudocide – how to fake your own death).  If you need no other reason, it is to avoid identity theft.

Some of his recommendations (fleshed out a bit from some web-searches) include:

  • Remove your real birthdate from all social media, in particular facebook
  • Do not use your full name in email addresses associated with your personal life, e.g. FPotter rather than frank.potter@….
  • Only accept social media friends from people you know and who you speak with periodically.
  • Use different email addresses for different sites so they cannot be mashed up together.  Don’t use a variation on an email either (e.g. Fpotter1, fpotter2, etc.).

I don’t need to disappear, but I do have enough of a spy novel fascination with it to enjoy the read.  I also value my privacy enough to want to ensure I am not dangly more than I need to on the web.  Now go and remove your real birthdate from Facebook – RIGHT NOW!

For more on Ahearn book:  How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace


AIIM’s Collaboration Definition

In a previous blog (Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety) I provided an overview of the Association for Information and Image Management’s (AIIM) definition and model of collaboration.  I like the definition as it focuses on people and business objectives rather than technology.  The definition, with my annotations, is as follows:

AIIM Collaboration Definition

AIIM Collaboration Definition

Collaboration is Directed: whether an organization likes it or not, people will collaborate because human contact is a need of all of us.  For organizations, the important point is to direct that need toward, a ‘working practice’. 

Collaboration Involves People: collaboration amongst machines (computer, mechanical or otherwise) is straightforward.  Establish a channel of communication; create standardized messages: deal with any noise along the communication channel; receive and verify the message; act per the instructions, lather, rinse and repeat (for more on this, see my blog post: Drums, Writing, Babbage and Information).  Humans are not so simple.  We have complex and extremely rich methods of communications, we form tribal-like social bonds which may affect that communication and we tend to have our own agendas. 

Requires Effort: Collaboration is work, good collaboration is a lot of work.  Like anything of value, an effective collaborative model requires effort, resources and organizational support. 

Has a Business Reason/Need: Organizations have three very good value propositions to encourage collaboration.  The first is it reduces the transaction cost for the business process being collaborated upon.  The second is that it can lead to innovation within and outside of that business process.  The third is it encourages the social bonds amongst staff which in turn (hopefully) improves staff productivity, loyalty and interest for the work at hand.  These immediate and less tangible results are the pay back to the organization for nurturing a collaborative culture. 

I like the AIIM definition but for further consider, the following are some other potential definitions for organizations to consider and adopt as their own.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaboration

AIIM Definition: http://www.aiim.org/What-is-Collaboration

What is a collaborative organization: http://p2pfoundation.net/Collaborative_Organization

Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety

Beer, the Officers’ Mess and Collaboration

It is not uncommon in military circles to have a weekly after work drink. Typically occurring on a Friday afternoon, the officers get together and kibitz over a few libations. Easy to dismiss as frivolous, there is much more going on here. In the words of one retired US Air Force Lt. Colonel I worked with: “I got more work done in 30 minutes at the officer’s mess than I did all week.” His observation was that “… everyone was there, everyone was relaxed and we could quickly work through problems and come up with solutions.

Given the hierarchical structure of military organizations, why would a beer, an officers’ mess and a Friday kibitzing be necessary? For the Lt. Colonel, his observation was that the casual environment promoted informal collaboration that led to more formal decisions and actions been taken the following week. The Friday meeting promoted a social bond that is less obvious in a formal meeting setting. This setting allowed people to work on a problem and not focus on the position or rank of the person at the table. There are valuable lessons from the military for any organization. Nurturing and supporting the ephemeral qualities collaboration is critical to achieving hard and tangible business results. Leaving the officers’ mess, it is time to go and find a definition (don’t worry, I will be your designated blogger).

Collaboration is…

As a person interested in history, I cannot hear the word collaboration and not see the image of a shaved-headed French woman, perhaps clutching a baby, leaving for an uncertain future while being mocked by her neighbours who have just been liberated from the Nazis.

Jeering neighbours after the D-Day libration

For me, the word has a dark recent-history.  For the business world, the lesson from 65+ years ago is that collaboration can be positive or negative within your organization.

Rehabilitating Collaboration – Its Historical and Current Meanings

Collaboration’s Latin origin means ‘to labor together’; this definition is more relevant to the current business context and can be found in most current definitions. For example, the Association for Information and Image Management or AIIM defines it as:

Collaboration is a working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit.

Collaboration Lifecycles and Models

A companion to the AIIM’s definition is its lifecycle model. Shown as a recursive loop, it involves eight elements.

AIIM's Collaboration Lifecycle

AIIM’s Collaboration Lifecycle

Lifecycle Element Definition
Awareness We become part of a working entity with a shared purpose
Motivation We drive to gain consensus in problem solving or development
Self-synchronization We decide as individuals when things need to happen
Participation We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate
Mediation We negotiate and we collaborate together and find a middle point
Reciprocity We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity
Reflection We think and we consider alternatives
Engagement We proactively engage rather than wait and see


Beyond a definition and a lifecycle, AIIM also provides two flavours of collaboration tools. Flavor one is “Synchronous collaboration” such as online meetings and instant messaging; flavor two is “Asynchronous collaboration” such as shared workspaces and annotations.

A quick survey of the literature finds that other definitions are kissing-cousins to AIIM’s definition. As well, the lifecycle model and technology flavors are very consistent with most development views of collaboration. As a result, the work that AIIM has done is a good place to start when thinking about and managing organization collaboration and will be the basis of (hopefully) further blogs on the subject. However, lifecycle models and definitions is thirsty work – let’s head back to the officers’ mess.


Collaboration – Beyond Vichy

The word collaboration has being rehabilitated since the dark days of the Second World War. Thus, whether it is in an officers’ mess, a board room or around a water cooler; collaboration is critical to the good functioning of organizations. In future blogs, I hope to drill down a bit more on a model which helps an organization balance the natural inclination to focus on technology while not losing sight of people or the business purpose that collaboration support. In the meantime, enjoy a Friday afternoon beer this coming week with your co-workers (or libation of your choice); and remember collaboration usually goes better with some salty peanuts.

Lapdances, Polygamy and Religion – The Price of Everything

My oldest brother runs an excavation company and I remember riding with him once.  He had dug up some dirt and was looking for a potential buyer.  Someone had paid him to do the digging (actually it was me) and now he was looking for someone to pay for the dirt I paid him to get rid of.  My brother had discovered what most individuals with a truck and an excavator do not know: the money is not in the work it is in the deal.   I readily paid a price to get rid of dirt and someone else was keen to pay for the same dirt – and my brother happily knew the value of both sides of the equation.

Eduardo Porter expands upon this in his book, The Price of Everything.  Well written and very accessible, it is an excellent addition for anyone with an interest in economics or who, quite frankly, ever buys or sells anything (which is pretty much everyone).  Economists historically have viewed all of us who participate in the market place as being perfectly rational (homo economicus or rational man).  Porter shows that good old economicus is perhaps a bit less rational than he (or she) would like us to know.  Thus economicus would agree with Porter’s central theme in the book that ‘every choice we make is shaped by the price of the options laid out before us … measured up against their benefits’.

While Porter gives numerous examples of this in action, his message is more profound; first some great examples of price influencing behaviour:

–          To counter a falling birth rate, the Australian government offered a payment of $3,000 for any child born after July 1, 2004.  Births declined in June 2004 and there were more births on July 1 than on any other day in the prior 30 years.

–          Lap dancers in New Mexico made $90 more per night in tips when they were in their fertile phase of the menstrual cycle and not on the pill.  Neither the dancers nor patrons were explicitly aware of this – the ‘price agreement’ occurred at sub-conscious level.

–          Saeed Khouri paid $14 million for the “1” Abu Dhabi license plate – a premium of 140,000 times the cost of the standard fee and an overt example of conspicuous consumption (not to mention an easy plate number to remember when recording it on campground self-registration forms).

–          The US Environmental Protection Agency has valued one life at $7.5 million (2010 dollars).  A British year of life in good health is worth 29,000 pounds (about half of the US value assuming a 75 year lifespan and an exchange rate of about 0.63 GBP to USD).  An Indian (sub-continent variety) is worth about $95,000 according to the World Bank.  Obviously if you are going to buy yourself a life, it is good to shop around.

At this point the Marxists in the audience would argue that pricing is easy.  Price is a function of the labour to create a good or service.  A price higher than this input cost is an example of running-dog-capitalists stealing from the working men.  This argument breaks down very quickly of course.  For example, why is a 15 year old bottle of scotch more valuable than a newly distilled one?  To a connoisseur the answer is obvious, to a Marxist less so (unless he likes scotch).  Thus the price of something is the perceived value in the eyes of the buyer – input cost be damned.

Price is also something that is personal and changes throughout our lifespan.  Middle age families spend more on the necessities of life (food, services, etc.) then retired couples.  Poorer families pay less for the same goods than their wealthy counter parts.  The reason is simple, time is money and people compute their precious moments here on earth as compared to the precious dollars in their wallets and make subsequent decisions.  Unfortunately the cost of something is often incomplete.  Porter offers a quote from Robert Kennedy which is as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – it counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” (March 18, 1968)

Thus Porter takes us beyond the price of the material goods and services and considers the price of happiness and well-being (and the enormous challenges in attempting any sort of measurement thereof).

Porter’s detour in ‘The Price of Women’ makes for interesting reading, in particular the sections on why polygamy was so common and why it tended to be mostly one man and many women.  Setting aside a power distortion, the primary driver is that old ghost in our DNA, natural selection.  In a society that can accumulate wealth (e.g. beyond subsistence), a woman was fundamentally better off with the off-spring of a rich man – even if she shared him with other women – than that of a poor man.  A rich man’s child was simply more likely to be fed and live to have other babies.  This is not to suggest that polygamy is pure or perfect in any respect.  Over the long run, it tends to create a cluster of non-mated males, it entrenches poverty and prevents the development of society (including the female inhabitants therein).  Nevertheless, in the short run, it can be explained by economics, which is Porter’s point.

Assuming that a chapter called ‘The Price of Women’ was not a sufficiently large red-flag to wave, how about a chapter on religion.  In an increasingly secular society, we wonder why anyone would bother follow the teachings of a 2,000 year old carpenter or 1,600 year old Arabian merchant (both who had God’s direct dial number, apparently).  Why should we still bother with religion and more to the point, why are people still willing to kill, protest or blow themselves up for it?  Fundamentalism, be it the Christian right or Islam-o-fascists, seem to be stronger during a time of incredible enlightenment –why?

Porter’s supposition is that the higher the cost (or price) of being an adherent to a religion the greater the perceived value of the religion to the adherents.  Thus a willingness to forgive those who wronged you, give up the ‘B’ of BLTs or forego yummy caffeinated beverages means that you are part of the community who has collectively made these decisions.  This collective price gives religion its value to those who practice it.

Lap dancers, polygamists, fundamentalists and my brother all implicitly or explicitly understand the power of price.  For those who don’t have a brother with an excavation business, Porter has written a very readable and accessible book for all who buy and sell anything.  Enjoy!

Drums, Writing, Babbage and Information

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.  By James Gleick

I worked my way through this 500+ page beast, found parts interesting and large chunks way over my head.  On the one hand it appealed to my interest in history by providing a summary of information including interesting dives into African drums, 4,000 year old invoices, the genius of Charles Babbage, efficient communication, cryptology to protect those efficient communications and then a theory of information.  On the other hand, I may simply not be smart enough to ‘get’ this book.

Gleick starts the book with a discussion of ‘Drums that talk’; African talking drums that were used to communicate between villages.  A few key points he makes includes the fact that while there were a relatively few number of drummers, most people could understand the messages being drummed.  The second was the poetic nature of the messages which were not often straightforward.  The reason being that the message had built in redundancy allowing for portions of the drum beats to be lost while the intent of the message was still transmitted.  Finally there was the relative speed.  A message could travel hundreds of miles within a few days with only a minor loss of fidelity.  The information age (or at least the medium part of it) was born! (Read more on drums in communication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drums_in_communication).

Another medium to communicate verbal knowledge is of course writing.  This leads us to alphabets, written words, dictionaries and things of that sort.  It also leads to how the written word affects how we think about the world around us.  Strictly oral based cultures ‘… lacked the categories that become second nature even to illiterate individuals in literate cultures … ‘.  The significance is that the written or graphically presented world fundamentally changed humans and greatly extended not only their information carrying capacity – but also how they thought and constructed the world.  Gleick did not say this, but my inference is that the written word was when we became more than animals and became the über-species we are today.  (Read more on orality: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orality)

Possibly pre-dating the written word was the written-number and the organizational context that went with the numbers.  3,000 BC Sumerian tablets, when translated, where ‘… humdrum: civic memoranda, contracts … receipts and bills. … The tables not only recorded the commerce and the bureaucracy but, in the first place, made them possible’.  (Read more on Uruk tablets: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wrtg/hd_wrtg.htm)

The numeric aspect of writing eventually leads us to one of those unique British geniuses, Charles Babbage.  Amongst his many achievements, he managed to string the British Parliament along with the promise of a ‘difference engine’; basically a mechanical calculator weighing tons which everyone now carries around in the smart phone as default application.  The purpose of the difference engine was the accurate calculation of mathematical tables needed for things like marine navigation or engineering.  Better tables meant fewer lost ships and straighter rail roads.  Beyond complicated machinery, Babbage also was both a code-writer and a code-breaker for which mathematics plays an instrumental role.  (Read more on Charles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Babbage).

Machines that communicate and securing messages continues into an ingenious French telegraph.  It was a mechanical contraption in which the position of the arms of the communicator atop of buildings could communicate according to pre-set codes.  A receiving station 10km or so down the line would observe the message, confirm it and then re-transmit to the next station.  As a result, a signal could travel across 120 stations or 475 miles in 10-12 minutes.  As with anything mechanical, it was subject to the elements, inattentive operators or sabotage.  Nevertheless, this system was a brilliant solution in a pre-electric telegraph era.  (Read more on the ‘French-telegraph’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Chappe).

One of the problems with efficient communications of information is that anyone with the knowledge of code can also quickly read it.  Thus, the book diverts back into a history of codes and where we meet two important men that lead to the current computer revolution: Booles and Shannon.

Booles who was a contemporary of Babbage is the father of the Boolean logic.  Anyone who has ever done any sort of computer program has used his namesake, Boolean Logic to perform IF, AND, ELSE type of functions (Read more: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/boolean.htm).  Shannon was an American who worked for Bell Labs and help to develop code break and making during the Second World War.  He was also known as the ‘Father of Information Theory’, basically how does a message get to a receiver and through things like noise.  Your land line, cell phone, internet and Facebook page are all benefactors or Booles and Shannon in a long, protracted way involving mathematics for which I only have the fuzziest understanding. (Read more on Shannon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Shannon ).

‘The Information’ ends its discussion of the world of information at the most macro and micro levels.  Essentially the universe is information.  Quantum physics is about probabilities and information about a particle’s position rather than necessarily physical units.  Even DNA is fundamentally about storing information; the chemical structures are simply the medium-manifestations of the need to do this.  Thus, with a wink to the movie ‘The Matrix’, we live, love, reproduce and die in an information universe.

From African drums to quantum physics is the journey Gleick takes us on in this book.  It is a fascinating look at buzzing world of data and information around me for which I can only grasp at the most basic aspects.  To some extents, reading this book makes me feel like a 2-year old child who first discovers that he is part of a wider world and is trying to make sense of it.

If you have a better grasp of higher math functions than I, make a living moving information about or share a love of history and how we got here – add this book to your eventual reading list.  If you are happy to be an innocent 2-year who sees cell phones, the internet and Facebook as happy magic – feel free to avoid and never read this book. (Read More in my Books Read Comment Page).


The Social Animal – or why we can’t play like a six year old anymore?

Look for this in my Books Read section as well although I thought this book deserved a bit more of posting.

Title: The Social Animal, by David Brooks

A Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4

My thoughts:  This book touches on my interest of the self-reinforcing roles of biological evolution versus social structures and how the two reinforce each other.  Brooks accomplishes this through a fable of two individuals (Harold and Erica) who come from different worlds (within the American context).  He proceeds to discuss all aspects of life including such things as why we marry (and should we), how we become happy (or not) the role of the rationale and unconscious mind.

A couple of great examples of how this fable story telling works includes the relationship of the newly arrived Harold and his mother and then the role of play and imagination in the development of children.   To the first, some great quotes:

“Harold spent his nine months in the womb, growing and developing, and then one fine day, he was born.  This wasn’t a particularly important event as far as his cognitive development was concerned, though he had a much better view.”

“Though he still had no awareness of himself as a separate person, little Harold had a repertoire of skills to get Julia (his mother) to fall in love with him.”

“Julia’s old personality battled back.  You have to give her credit for that.  She didn’t just surrender to this new creature without a struggle.  … One night, about seven months into Harold’s life, Julia was in the chair with Harold at her breast…. if you could have read Julia’s mind at that moment, here’s what you would have found her saying: ‘F*ck!, F*ck!, F*ck!, Help me! … At this moment – tired, oppressed, violated – she hated the little bastard.  He’d entered her mind with tricks of sweet seduction, and once inside, he’d stomped over everything with the infant equivalent of jack boots. … He was half Cupid, half storm trooper.  The greedy *sshole wanted everything.”

About six years later, Harold’s father, Rob, tried to insert himself into a room full of boys as they were playing a fireman’s game:

“He (Rob) got the urge to join in (with the boys).  He sat down with the boys, grabbed some figures, and joined Harold’s team.  This was a big mistake.  It was roughly equivalent of a normal human being grabbing a basketball and inviting himself to play a pickup game with the Los Angeles Lakers.  Over the course of his adult life, Rob had trained his mind to excel at … ‘paradimgatic thinking.’  This mode of thought is structured by logic and analysis.  … But the game Harold and his buddies were playing relied on … ‘narrative mode.’ … As their stories grew and evolved, it became clear what made sense and what didn’t make sense within the line of the story.  … Rob was like a warthog in a frolic of gazelles.  Their imagination danced while his plodded.  They saw good and evil while he saw plastic and metal.  After five minutes, their emotional intensity produced a dull ache in the back of his head.  He was exhausted trying to keep up.”

A well recommended read to all who are interested in how the heck you got here, human/social interactions and generally a darn good story about two people (Harold and Erica) who you will end up rooting for.  Generally I give away books after a read but this Brooks’ book will be a keeper.


From Chapters:  With unequaled insight and brio, New York Times columnist David Brooks has long explored and explained the way we live. Now Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life. This is the story of how success happens, told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica. Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to old age, illustrating a fundamental new understanding of human nature along the way: The unconscious mind, it turns out, is not a dark, vestigial place, but a creative one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made-the natural habitat of The Social Animal. Brooks reveals the deeply social aspect of our minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. He demolishes conventional definitions of success and looks toward a culture based on trust and humility. The Social Animal is a moving intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. It is an essential book for our time-one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.

Chapters Link

Bewitched – A Fifth Column of Social Change?

Growing up in the 1970-80’s; I would regularly watch re-runs of the television show Bewitched.  Like 97% of the male population, I was hopelessly in love with Elizabeth Montgomery (the other 3%, according to the Kinsey report were likely in love with Dick Sargent).

Recently my wife and I noticed that the show was available on Netflix and so as a bit of mindless entertainment, we have started to watch them.  Despite some breath holding early 1960’esque moments relating to guys punch each other, jealous boyfriends threatening to kill estranged girlfriends (1–25: Pleasure O’Riley) and of course the whole suburban housewife thing – Bewitch (at least the first season and a bit) was surprisingly subversive for its day.  Here are some examples from season one and the first couple of episodes from season two:

  • Darrin and Samantha shared the same bed (the first married television couple to do so).
  • Witches demanding better representation in the modern media and staging protests to do so – this being an echo of similar demands from Blacks, minorities and later gays (1-07: The Witches Are Out)
  • In a political meeting of the neighborhood, there was a cut away seen showing a black man sitting in with the neighbors – this at a time when blacks in the Southern United States just earned the right to drink from the same water fountain let alone live in the same community  (1–34: Remember the Main).
  • Corruption is exposed in local politics (1–34: Remember the Main).
  • The owner of a pizza chain tells of his passion for pizza with a speech that starts “I have a dream” (1–35: Eat at Mario’s).
  • Endora causes both Darrin and a stranger to appreciate the burdens of child-bearing and Richard Nixon is named specifically likely suffering from a curse (2-02: A Very Special Delivery).

If these seem trivial in today’s context, consider this, while these were being broadcasted (circa 1964-1965):

  • Martin Luther King ‘I have a Dream’ speech was made in August, 1963.
  • John F. Kennedy had only recently been assassinated in November 1963.
  • Richard Nixon was in his wilderness years having lost to Kennedy and sitting out the 1964 election.
  • The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in July of 1964.
  • Samantha’s parents (Endora and Maurice) live full lives without the obvious binding effect of marriage.
  • The Vietnam War, Watergate, Hippies, counter-cultures were stirring but still not in full bloom.

Noting the social-historical context of when the shows were written, produced and aired – lends new perspective to something I enjoyed but did not appreciate from my childhood. This is a series about an emancipated woman (Samantha Stevens) adjusting to a set of suburban norms but who was also a fifth column of social change in the homes of America.  Thus, I have new respect for the show. Of course it does not hurt that I still have a crush on the mid-1960s Elizabeth Montgomery.  So, my wife and are looking forward to reliving a bit of our past and US history through a well written television series that is still very watchable.

Language and How We Think

In an essay found in ‘What’s Next?; Dispatches on the Future of Science‘, Lera Boroditsky discusses the evidence that how we speak influences how we think.  Being a virtual uni-lingual anglophone (who at bests butchers rather than speaks french), this has always being an area of interest to me.

Some of the research mentioned in the essay is familiar.  For example those whose mother tongue involves a gender (German, romance languages) tend to describe a noun differently depending upon their gender disposition.  For example Germans describe a key (masculine in German) in male terms where as Spaniards describe the same object in feminine terms – although in both cases they were using English to make the descriptions.

Further to this essay, Mandarin speakers think of time in an up-down spatial orientation whereas English speakers think of it in a horizontal orientation.  Boroditsky notes that  “English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors … where as Mandarin speakers have a vertical metaphor for time.”  She uses a simple experiment in which you stand next to an English and then Mandarin speaker.  In both cases you point to a spot in front of you and say ‘this is now’.  Then you ask each speaker in turn to describe, relative to that spot in space, to point to the future and past.  ” … English speakers nearly always point horizontally.  But Mandarin speakers often point vertically, about seven or times more often than do English speakers.” (p. 123, ibid).

An interesting party trick, but So What? one might ask.  There are a couple of considerations.  Firstly, this different perception in how we think is a good reason to learn a second language.  Doing so creates a different linguistic-mental-model that actually changes how you think about the world around you.  Beyond being good insurance against dementia, it is also a good way to expand one’s perception of the world around us.

The next reason is to expand one’s understanding of language as a driver of culture.  Being aware of the influence of language on perceptions may help organizations (and those who run them) reduce conflict and cross-cultural mis-understanding.

I do have a more subtle question though beyond the relatively macro-scopic linguistic level.  Do organizations also have a difference in perception because of their different use of technical-language?  For example, I have noticed cultural differences coming from a numbers and empirical world of the Ministry of Finance to a more humanistic politically orientated world of the Ministry of Health.  What is driving what?  Does the use of a local Ministry specific lingo drive the Ministry’s culture or does the culture drive the lingo?  My guess is a bit of both but what degree affects the other is the interesting question.

Alas, this last point is probably impossible to test empirically – but is nevertheless an interesting consideration as one studies organizations.

Social Networks – Value Proposition

The Government of Alberta (GoA), my current employer by way of full disclosure, has introduced a new performance evaluation process.  A narrative form has replaced a numeric based methodology.  With strong kudos to the Corporate Human Resource (CHR) area, the forms themselves use a PDF and have some intelligence for their completion as well as an opportunity for a digital signature.  If you are keeping count, two kudos so far…

Unfortunately on my laptop – only, the form did not open.  A very ugly error appeared and it required shutting down the PDF reader application we use (hint, this does not ‘bode’ well).  Curiously my staff did not get the error and the few people I asked had no problems with the form.  I emailed CHR and the email was quickly and dutifully passed along.  However, I thought I would give the GoA new fangle Yammer-thing a try (okay, new fangle to me).  The next morning a fellow GoA’er (thanks Jocelyn) had provided a solution that was quick and easy.

I bring this up as this is an example of Social Networking par excellence.  Without consideration a person piped up and very quickly the solution has gone into the Yammer-sphere for others to consider.  In other words, this is an example of WHY organizations should support a social media and collaboration culture.  Rather than me waiting for a technical solution and becoming frustrated with the delay, the ‘digital-water-cooler’ came to the rescue.

However, there is a flip side to this which is how does an organization sustain and maintain such a culture.  How do you keep the contributors (e.g. Jocelyn) contributing, keep the malcontents managed and keep cheap Pharmaceutical buying opportunities out.  I have some ideas which I will try to put out in a future blog – but for now a quick Kudo/Brick Count is in order:

  • Kudos: 4, 1-GoA, 1-CHR, 1-Jocelyn, 1-Social Networking
  • Bricks: 1, PDF technology or my laptop

Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards

Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a governance session for the Edmonton Financial Literacy Society (EFLS).  As a former board member, I was quite happy to assist the organization as it pops its head up and evaluates how to provide value the community.  I hope to do another blog on financial literacy and EFLS, but more to the point is a key concept for volunteer/non-profit boards that I call the ‘Knower-Doer-Funder’ principle.

Basically, this principle is a non-profit organization must balance between the three roles that board members play.  The following table explains them a bit more detail.  These are my definitions and of course no one person is exclusively one or another – only darker and lighter shades of grey.  There are other roles on boards, such as the tourist, which you want to avoid.



Knower Has specific knowledge about the organization’s purpose, role or other matters critical to the board.  For example, a lawyer or an accountant would play the respective knower roles of Legal and Finance issues.
Doer These are the critical worker bees.  These are the folks who keep the lights on and the organization humming along.  For many smaller volunteer organizations, the board member and the ‘Joe-volunteer’ is typically blurred.  That is a board member is often both a chief cook and the bottle washer.
Funder These are the people who either have the money, know people who have money or know how to get the money (e.g. via grant applications, fund raising, etc.).  For smaller organizations with low over head and many doers, the balance of funders may be smaller as compared to an organization whose primary role is to raise money.
Tourist These are board members who have joined to pad their resume.  Generally these folks should be pruned from your board if it seems that they can not be moved into one of the above roles.  Be careful not to prune too soon – some people simply need to feel comfortable.  However missed meetings, “smart-phone-crotch fixation” or silence are usually signs you have a tourist.
Coasting Silverback These are board members have perhaps played one of the above roles but are now coasting.  Like tourists, they should be pruned – but with a great deal more delicacy. While it is good to have wise counsel to balance the enthusiastic newbies, comments of ‘We tried that, did not work’ usually means you have a coaster.  The ideal role for these people is to move them into alumni or into helping with the farm team.
Alumni The alumni is the collection of board members (or volunteers, clients, funders, etc.) who have an interest in the organization – but not enough passion to be actively involved.  Keep the organization’s orbit through an alumni function.  LinkedIn, FaceBook and cheap websites makes this very cheap to maintain.  As well, take a read of this article I wrote on Health-Alumni.
Farm Team This is where you get your next board member.  Establish a mechanism to bring volunteers in, assign the meaningful work and then groom them for a governance role.  In an ideal world, you should have a 2:1 ratio of farm team to board positions.  Nevertheless – don’t forget to pay your volunteers very well (a subject of another blog post).

If you are a member of a volunteer board – firstly thank you.  Quite often organizations forget to say that so let me do this.  In some way, method or fashion you are making the world a better place.  As well, hopefully the organization is paying you well.  But back to the list…. Hopefully this helps you – and if you want to read about the facilitation questions used last night, read my facilitation notes.

So what say you?  Have I missed a role that should be covered?  Does this model resonant with your current volunteer board or ones you have served on in the past?  Post a comment and I will update the model (and steal […. errr, share] your brilliant ideas).

An amendment to this blog.  Two recuritment tools when looking for new board members.  The first is a Microsoft Excel which can help you focus on which industries you want to recruit from.  The second is a Microsoft Word document which can help you plan the recuritment.

Board Recruitment Plan

Board Recruit – Industry Selector

PHP – A Glimpse into the Future

One of the few benefits of working for a government organization is you sometimes get a glimpse of the future. Today I saw a demo of that future with an overview of the soon to be piloted Personal Health Portal or PHP.

I wrote about PHP in a prior blog which discussed Crowd-Sourcing as Virtual Medical Research. Today I saw a live demonstration which showed some of the screens and what one can do within the portal. Some possible functionality coming to a home computer (or mobile device) near you may include:

  • The ability to review medication history,
  • Add your own over the counter medications,
  • Log your blood pressure or even up load that x-ray image you got in that Whitefish walk in clinic from that unfortunate skiing accident two years ago.

The end goal is for the patient to have very similar access to their health information as what their healthcare provider has through Alberta Netcare.

Privacy is of course paramount and must be considered. However, I would suggest that policy makers need to look at what people are doing as much as what they are saying. For example, are you entirely comfortable with you privacy agreement you have with your Facebook account? Probably not – but are you willing to live with it nevertheless? Probably yes. Government policy must not discount privacy but it must provide an informed consent to the reasonable person who is willing to live with a trade-off between convenience and risk. Just like Facebook, you will be able to vote with your feet (errr fingers). Thus if you don’t think the convenience of having ready access to your health information is worth the risk – then do not sign up to use online tools such as Facebook or the PHP when it is made available to the public.

The PHP is an example of how technology can be a productivity enabler and contribute, in a small way, to an improved standard and quality of life. Examples may include:

  • Reviewing test results at home – rather than booking a doctors appointment;
  • Having a way to monitor blood pressure over time – rather than keeping scratch logs or excel spreadsheets;
  • Having one place to remember when you had that tetanus booster – rather than that shoe box under the bed.

The PHP is a great start on a much better way to understand and be responsible for our health. I am glad to have had a sneak peek and I am looking forward to it being part of the Alberta Health landscape. As I can, I will let you know more about the technology and possibilities.

DISCLOSURE and DISCLAIMER: the above comments and thoughts are exclusively those of Frank Potter.  Although Frank is an employee of Alberta Health, the above opinions do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Department or Ministry.  The functionality described of the PHP is purely speculation on Frank’s part; it does not necessarily represent the intended, planned or desired functionality of Alberta Personal Health Portal.

Crowd-Sourcing as Virtual Medical Research

An interesting article came through the email pertaining to the The Internet of Humans.  The gist is that an increasing amount of information is being generated by the machine versus the human.  While this is an interesting concept in its own right (so interesting I shamelessly reproduced it below), I was more intrigued by the following paragraph:

PatientsLikeMe.com, which, as Weinberger explained, “not only enables patients to share details about their treatments and responses but gathers that data, anonymizes it, and provides it to researchers, including to pharmaceutical companies.  The patients are providing highly pertinent information based on an expertise in a disease in which they have special credentials they have earned against their will.”  The intriguing term Weinberger used to describe the source of this crowd-sourced amateur knowledge was human sensors.

Now compare this to the 2011 announcement of Alberta’s own Personal Health Portal or PHP which will allow for things such as:

  • Secure log-in for individuals who want to track their own personal health data such as blood pressure readings, insulin levels, weight, immunizations, and much more.
  • When complete in 2015, MyHealthAlberta will provide individual access to Alberta’s electronic health record system.

My thoughts when I combine the Information Management article with the PHP is a made in Alberta crowd-sourcing opportunity.  Assuming suitable provisions for privacy and informed consent, there is an opportunity for Albertans to contribute to the body of knowledge of both their specific disease condition and their state of wellness.

At its most voluntary basis, PHP subscribers with a specific disease condition, would be asked to contribute pertinent information (blood pressure readings, glucose levels, thoughts of depression, weight gain/loss, etc.) via a computer or smart phone application.  The results, would then be used by both health planners and researchers for the effectiveness of treatments, disease prevalence and health resource planning.  Key to this contribution would be to honor those patients (and their families) making contributions as being part of the larger benefit to society.  My own view is that a person suffering from a chronic condition would likely provide very credible and valuable information – if they new this information was being used and was valued by their peer-patients; healthcare providers, researchers and future patients.

In a less voluntary model, instead of a health premium, for example, one could agree to participate and provide factual information about their health condition. This would capture not only information about a specific disease condition but also the general health state of the population.  e.g. how many 30 year old males are overweight, smokers, moderate drinkers who have high blood pressure.

Once again, insert strong privacy considerations here along with a myriad of details about data collection, quality, validity and audit controls.  Nevertheless – a very interesting thought exercise!  Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

DISCLOSURE and DISCLAIMER: the above comments and thoughts are exclusively those of Frank Potter.  Although Frank is an employee of Alberta Health, the above opinions do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Department or Ministry. 

Information Development has posted a new item, ‘The Internet of Humans

The Internet of Things became a more frequently heard phrase over the last decade as more things embedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, or similar technology, allowed objects to be uniquely identified, inventoried, and tracked by computers.  Early adopters focused on inventory control and supply chain management, but the growing fields of application include smart meters, smart appliances, and, of course, smart phones.

The concept is referred to the Internet of Things to differentiate its machine-generated data from the data generated directly by humans typing, taking pictures, recording videos, scanning bar codes, etc.

The Internet of Things is the source of the category of big data known as sensor data, which is often the new type you come across while defining big data that requires you to start getting to know NoSQL.

In his book Too Big to Know, David Weinberger discussed another growing category of data facilitated by the Internet, namely the crowd-sourced knowledge of amateurs providing scientists with data to aid in their research.  “Science has a long tradition of embracing amateurs,” Weinberger explained.  “After all, truth is truth, no matter who utters it.”

The era of big data could be called the era of big utterance, and the Internet is the ultimate platform for crowd-sourcing the knowledge of amateurs.  Weinberger provided several examples, including websites like GalaxyZoo.orgeBird.org, and PatientsLikeMe.com, which, as Weinberger explained, “not only enables patients to share details about their treatments and responses but gathers that data, anonymizes it, and provides it to researchers, including to pharmaceutical companies.  The patients are providing highly pertinent information based on an expertise in a disease in which they have special credentials they have earned against their will.”  The intriguing term Weinberger used to describe the source of this crowd-sourced amateur knowledge was human sensors.

In our increasingly data-constructed world, where more data might soon be constructed by things than by humans, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the phrase the Internet of Humans needs to be frequently heard in the coming decades to not only differentiate machine-generated data from human-generated data, but, more importantly, to remind us that humans (amateurs and professionals alike) are a vital source of knowledge that no amount of data from any source could ever replace.

Contra-Free Loading

Why Do People Want to Do Good Work?

Reading the book, the The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely, I was struck by Chapter 2, The Meaning of Labor.  This chapter discusses what motivates people to do good work.  He references three examples of people or animals motivated or de-motivated to do perform good work based on the perceived use of the work once it was completed.  For example, he describes one experiment he performs using a simple paper puzzle and a cash reward.

Test subjects were paid a reducing-sliding-scale rate for each puzzle page they completed.  The work was a bit tedious (finding in a page covered with letters, two letter ‘S’ adjacent to each other).  The first page successfully completed was paid $0.55, the next $0.50, until the twelfth page when any further pages completed would be done for free.  Divided into three groups, one group’s pages were acknowledged, another had their pages barely acknowledged and the third had their pages immediately shredded (the author’s video blog is available here for those interested in the details).

The conclusion of the experiment?  People are motivated by meaning in their work.  This has also been found in the animal kingdom.  Ariely references the work of psychologist Glen Jensen who coined the term ‘contrafreeloading‘ which basically means that ‘many animals prefer to earn food rather than simply eating identical but freely accessible food’ (p. 60, The Upside of Irrationality).

Not really an earth-shattering conclusion but interesting that there is some empirical evidence to prove it.  This is of interest because of the underlying philosophical debate of whether people are inherently lazy and seek to maximize their own economic well being or whether they are inherently good and therefore will contribute to the well being of the community in which they live.

This experiment must also be considered in the larger context of the human condition.  For example what would be the behaviour of an individual in the experiment if he or she felt that she was entitled to a reward and it was withheld because of poor performance?  Or how is behavior changed when it is monitored in an anonymous crowd rather than in an individual setting?  Finally, are their cultural or social-demographic variables that may change the experiment?  For example, would a hungry and desperate person be more willing to see their work shredded if it meant not going hungry?

Setting these further experimentation ideas aside, what does this result mean for organizations?  I would suggest that it once again identifies the importance of linking vision to strategy and strategy to an individual’s work.  People are motivated by the larger good the organization can provide to the community.  Work matters and is important and it is incumbent on organizations to help workers, volunteers and stakeholders make the link.

These are ideas I hope to explore in future posts and pages.

Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit

Hiring Wisdom: Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit

This is a repost from a LinkedIn feed, nevertheless I love the slightly tongue in cheek list.  More importantly, I would suggest that this list has the potential to be the basis for an organizational metric.  How well does one’s organization match up to this negative list.

Unfortunately there is an inverse relationship here between the size of the organization and the likelihood of it meeting one or more of these Ways.  My observation is that organizations in the public eye are even more inclined to follow these ways through a perverse incentive phenomenon (e.g. why are your public servants having fun on my tax dollars or within an unionized environment why aren’t all employees perfectly equal).

Follow the link below and the content is reproduced here as well for future reference: LinkedIn Story

Hiring Wisdom: Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit

by http://www.tlnt.com/author/mkleiman/

http://www.tlnt.com/author/mkleiman/HYPERLINK “http://www.tlnt.com/author/mkleiman/”Mel Kleiman on Apr 8, 2013, 8:10 AM | 98 Comments inShare7,855

Here are 10 ways to guarantee that your best people will quit:

10. Treat everyone equally. This may sound good, but your employees are not equal. Some are worth more because they produce more results. The key is not to treat them equally, it is to treat them all fairly.

9. Tolerate mediocrity. A-players don’t have to or want to play with a bunch of C-players.

8. Have dumb rules. I did not say have no rules, I said don’t have dumb rules. Great employees want to have guidelines and direction, but they don’t want to have rules that get in the way of doing their jobs or that conflict with the values the company says are important.

7. Don’t recognize outstanding performance and contributions. Remember Psychology 101 Behavior you want repeated needs to be rewarded immediately.

6. Don’t have any fun at work. Where’s the written rule that says work has to be serious? If you find it, rip it to shreds and stomp on it because the notion that work cannot be fun is actually counterproductive. The workplace should be fun. Find ways to make work and/or the work environment more relaxed and fun and you will have happy employees who look forward to coming to work each day.

5. Don’t keep your people informed.  You’ve got to communicate not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. If you don’t tell them, the rumor mill will.

4. Micromanage.  Tell them what you want done and how you want it done. Don’t tell them why it needs to be done and why their job is important. Don’t ask for their input on how it could be done better.

3. Don’t develop an employee retention strategy. Employee retention deserves your attention every day. Make a list of the people you don’t want to lose and, next to each name, write down what you are doing or will do to ensure that person stays engaged and on board.

2. Don’t do employee retention interviews. Wait until a great employee is walking out the door instead and conduct an exit interview to see what you could have done differently so they would not have gone out looking for another job.

1. Make your onboarding program an exercise in tedium. Employees are most impressionable during the first 60 days on the job. Every bit of information gathered during this time will either reinforce your new hire’s “buying decision” (to take the job) or lead to “Hire’s Remorse.”

The biggest cause of “Hire’s Remorse” is the dreaded Employee Orientation/Training Program. Most are poorly organized, inefficient, and boring. How can you expect excellence from your new hires if your orientation program is a sloppy amalgamation of tedious paperwork, boring policies and procedures, and hours of regulations and red tape?

To reinforce their buying decision, get key management involved on the first day and make sure your orientation delivers and reinforces these three messages repeatedly:

A. You were carefully chosen and we’re glad you’re here;

B. You’re now part of a great organization;

C. This is why your job is so important.

This was originally published in the April 2013 Humetrics

Hiring Hints newsletter. Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.


Moby DuckMoby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them

by Donovan Hohn

I love books that integrate more than genre in its book jacket.  As a result, I enjoyed listening to Donovan Hohn’s book on the adventure of bath toys on my commute to work.  A story of obsession, travel, globalism, environmentalism, American literature and a story of home, hearth and fatherhood.  The author takes us along for the ride of what happened to a lost shipment of bath toys.  Starting in the Pacific Ocean, the ride journeys backwards to their point of creation in China and forward through where the washed up on Alaskan shores and finally through the Artic and the Altantic Ocean where they would meet their final demise. 

 In particular, I enjoyed the self-effacing style of the author who provides a humble and sympathetic narration.  Nevertheless, the book is full of fun facts and historical asides.  For example, I find it interesting that the container ship industry was invented by an American in the early 1950’s.  To some extent, I see it as a metaphor of the transfer of power and economic wealth from the American century to the future Asian century. 

A good read and well recommended book for those interested in any of the genres discussed above.