Do We Still Need Unions?!

Those of us who grew up during the Cold War experienced more than our fair share of capitalist propaganda. Communists were the enemy, and capitalism—more than democracy—was positioned as its antithesis. Reaganomics and Thatcherism promoted the idea that the only thing better than Capitalism was capitalism unfettered by unions and government regulations. With the advent of offshoring, this was done one better by dispensing with niceties like human rights, by moving jobs to countries where democracy didn’t spoil the fun!

As a child of the 80’s I bought into this propaganda, and didn’t notice the prejudice that I, and those around me, had developed against unions, and the people who belonged to them. When I entered the working world, it was common to hear people say proudly that they did not—and would never—belong to a union. The word ‘union’ had transformed from noun to derisive adjective.

First-in-last-out, pay based on tenure, constant labour strife shutting down productive capacity, and strikes timed with good weather, all seemed to undermine the idea that unions still had a place in a Darwinian capitalist system. The best that supporters of the labour movement could do was point out that they were to thank for the 40-hour work week, and weekends.

Sure, but what have you done for me lately?! 
It turns out, not much.
 
So why don’t we just get rid of them? We can, as long as we can answer ‘no’ to all of the following questions:

Do jobs exist where people trade their productive capacity for money? Does worker safety come at some cost? 
Is anything other than profit a desired outcome?

For people who have knowledge-based jobs, they are inevitably paid to continue learning. Every job becomes an opportunity to add to the résumé, and increase their value to the market. But there are still many jobs—and notably, jobs that can’t be offshored—where there is a straight trade of money for time, with the worker becoming less valuable with each passing day. Does a delivery person become more or less valuable as the years advance? How about someone working in a mine? Chances are, their market value is dropping as they work, which exposes them to being exchanged for younger, perhaps more energetic, and lower paid replacements. Also, when unemployment rates rise, these types of jobs are prone to salary erosion dictated by market forces; if there is always someone willing to do it cheaper, it’s a race to the bottom.

The profit motive is the basis of capitalism. Profit and the interests of the worker are often at odds, as is usually the case when it comes to worker safety. We’re not sending foreign workers into railway tunnels with unstable explosives anymore (I think), but there continues to be lots of skilled and unskilled work in environments where cutting corners to save a buck will cost lives, or the quality of them. Without a mechanism to counteract the profit motive, it will win out over safety every time.

For some jobs, it is pretty easy to calculate a worker’s value. How many quality widgets did he produce? How much did she sell? How many billable hours did they contribute? Many others are more qualitative than quantitative. Has a balance been stuck between patient health, and the cost of health care? Are students being adequately prepared for the world? Are the interests of the public being prioritized over political expediency? In these cases, it is a great advantage for a worker to have protection, when pressures such as cost, profit, and perception could lead to bad outcomes.

Until someone comes up with something better, unions still have a role to play when workers trade their value for money, worker safety comes at a cost, and we desire more than just profit.

JBPDT 2010* – Day Four: Juno Beach (& Centre), Courseulles/Berieres/St. Aubin-sur-Mer & Beny Canadian Cemetery (WWII)

*Juno Beach Professional Development Tour 2010

Today, we visit the tour’s namesake: Juno Beach. Unlike other museums, at other D-day beaches, the Juno Beach Centre is right on the beach, and a short walk from the front doors has your feet in the sand. Yes, unlike the deadly Dieppe ‘chert’ beach, this beach is sandy. Not too far away from the Centre, are many remaining fortifications put in place by the Nazis, often built during the war using locals as slave labour. Also unlike Dieppe, there are no tall chalk cliffs to be seen. Between the sand, and the absence of cliffs,  I suspect the commanding Canadian officer excitedly called ‘dibs’ on this beach after the Dieppe experience.

The Juno Beach Centre

Today we are also to visit the towns of Courseulles-sur-Mer (where the Juno Beach Centre is) as well as Berieres-sur-mer and St. Aubin-sue-Mer, and make one of two visits to the Centre itself. Juno Beach was the code name given to the wide beachhead (about 8 km wide) that extended from Courseulles-sur-Mer in the west to St. Aubin-sur-Mer in the east, with Berieres-sur-Mer in between, hence the reason for visiting these three towns.

The Centre is very impressive from an architectural standpoint, the first thing you notice is the bird droppings. The Centre is SHINY, and for some reason birds find shiny things –like your newly cleaned car– absolutely irresistible. The outer skin of the Centre looks like scales of a fish, in this case a titanium fish, as other typical materials (particularly aluminum) degrade very quickly in salty air. In front of the Centre is a large statue and the beginnings of a static display. Our visit was not long after the placement of a recently dedicated 25-pound gun (or as Garth would say, ‘the gun that won the war’) and I understand from the Juno Beach Centre’s website a Bofor gun was added only a month ago. There are also many commemorative plaques with the names of the many donors that made the Centre possible.

The centre, like other Canadian memorial sites we visited, has a great guide program that allows Canadian students to serve as guides over the summer. All of our guides were fantastic, and were a great credit to the Centre.

German Bunker & Humour

We were given a guided tour, down to the beach, to visit a German bunker that was still in very good condition. This is where we discovered that the German soldiers had a very sick sense of humour. From watching many war movies, I know that one of the best ways to take out a bunker is to get close (this is usually the hard part) and then toss a grenade into any available opening. Right in front of the rear entrance to the bunker are what look to be two ventilation holes, one about eye level, and one by your feet, which would be an appealing target for a grenade. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the Germans have a sick sense of humour, and these holes are actually connected in one long U-shape. The live grenade gets tossed in the top hole, and drops out at your feet just in time to explode. While it was likely some Canadian soldier that ended up the brunt of this joke, we couldn’t help but chuckle at this.

When most people think of D-day, they think of the American narrative of Omaha beach, where they suffered over 3,000 casualties. In the first hour of the attack on Juno, the Canadians saw a similar casualty rate (~50%) to that at Omaha, but the resistance waned as they cleared the sea wall; they sustained about 1,000 casualties (dead, injured, captured). Each landing was quite different, for example Utah Beach (another US objective) only saw about 200 casualties.

After spending some time on the beach, we returned to the Centre for the Director’s introduction on the Centre’s mandate. We were also informed about the different ways the Centre can help educators –either on site or remotely– provide education on the Canadian war experience. Since we spent much more time in the museum the following day, I will leave comments to the next post.

Mike B on the DD Tank

A short bus ride east took us to some static displays, including a duplex drive tank, defensive guns, and many plaques and memorials that mention the Canadian landings June 6th 1944. There is one plaque that marks where Charles-de-Gaulle made his victorious return to liberate French soil, a little over a week after the Allied landings (there is apparently still debate between the coastal villages as to where he actually made the landings, but that is as prone to historial revisionism as de-Gaulle’s value in the war effort).

Mike B. gave us another one of his great talks at the DD tank, in fact he was so passionate about this amphibious vehicle, I would put him high on the list of suspects if it were to ever go missing. He spoke of the surprise of the Germans when strange canvas boxes approached the beach, then dropped their surrounding skirts –used to increase buoyancy– and revealed a battle-ready tank. He also mentioned that they could have had a greater impact, had not many of them been launched too far out at sea, in choppy water, that resulted in many (including this well-preserved specimen) sinking with their crews before they reached shore. Nearby was a memorial to the First Canadian Scottish Regiment, and another to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (a 15+ foot high wooden sword). There was also a British red phone booth, which was just odd.

First House Liberated by Canadians

A short drive a little farther east to Berniêres-sur-Mer, we visited a house that has become a shrine of sorts to the Queens’s Own Rifles of Canada, as they made this the first house liberated by Canadian troops on D-day. There is much interesting museum-quality memorabilia on the walls, and several pictures of the house itself as it looked on D-day. The house is still privately owned and the owner’s son kindly welcomed us into their home.

After lots of time at the beach, we took a bus ride to a very unassuming looking field. Near the field was a memorial to the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. In the day 3 post, I had mentioned Garth Web, President and Director of the Juno Beach Centre. It was in this field that he watched 10 of his comrades get blown to smithereens by a German 88mm gun, that lay undetected in a nearby forest thought cleared by advancing troops. The artillery team, heavily laden with high explosives, made for an easy target for the hidden 88. This was yet another example, how by having a knowledgeable historian along (Mike B.), an otherwise unassuming site was turned into a rich historical experience.

After visiting more beach defences, we made a final WWII-related stop for the day at The Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, about 3.5km south of the beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer. In this cemetery lie about 2,000 Canadians, mostly killed on D-Day, and the battle for Caen. This is also where the remains of 27 Canadian POW’s, illegally executed by the SS at l’Abbeye d’Ardenne, are now interred. I will expand on this last story in the next post, as we visited the Abbey the following day.

We ended they day back in Bayeux, with some unscheduled time to tour around the city. Unlike Caen, Bayeux was taken with little resistance or damage, and and is stunning in its beauty and history; you can peruse some of my pictures to get an idea.

And sleep…

JBPDT 2010* – Day Three: Dieppe, Pegasus Bridge (WWII)

*Juno Beach Professional Development Tour 2010

No travel was required to get to our first stop of the day, as we spent the night right on the beach at Dieppe. Mike B. took us up the beach to discuss the events of the Jubilee raid and the Canadian regiments involved that each have memorials along the beach. I found one such memorial, to the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment to be particularly striking.

Essex Scottish Regiment Memorial - Dieppe

Essex Scottish Regiment Memorial - Dieppe

The memorial is a black obelisk (see picture) that has a maple leaf cut through it that shines sunlight on to a silver target on the ground every anniversary of the raid. “Red Beach” is indicated on the memorial, as this one one of several beaches (others in Puys and Pourville) that were a target of the Dieppe Raid.

This raid still causes heated debate amongst historians, as to whether Canadian lives were just thrown away to satiate Russian desires for a second front, or if the lessons learned were actually worth the lives lost. What is clear, is what was always intended to be a raid (attack, then retreat, without holding ground gained) turned into a major disaster with almost 60% casualties.

The beach itself posed serious problems to the landing. With one of the largest tides in the world, the decision to land is either with the perils of high- or low-tide. They chose low-tide which created the challenge of running up a long open pebble beach with heavy packs. I tried running up the steep incline of the beach without any heavy load (or anyone shooting at me) and I was winded! The large ‘chert’ pebbles of the beach also act to magnify the effect of the enemy artillery fire. Sand does a good job of absorbing the energy and shrapnel of artillery shells, while this chert beach just takes the energy and transfers it to the rocks, which become deadly projectiles.

The Beach in 1942 and 2010

Another big challenge to the Canadians when they landed, was the great observation posts the cliffs offered to the German defenders. We were taken to a observation point on the south end of the beach, which offered a commanding view of the entire length of the beach. Our guide indicated that ‘if you can see it, the Germans could shoot it’, which was all of the beach.

It was two years later that Canadians were able to avenge the raid when they liberated Dieppe after the D-day landings. How thankful the local French citizens are to Canadians is apparent everywhere. Canadian flags can be seen more often than the Tricolour in many places. Many street names have been changed to make reference to the liberating Canadians. This was very apparent at our next stop in the town of Pourville, where we visited Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt Bridge. This bridge was named after a Canadian soldier of the South Saskatchewan Regiment who won a Victoria Cross for leading groups of his men over the bridge under heavy enemy fire, and then covered their retreat resulting in him being taken as a POW.

Unusual Arrangement

The next stop was at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, a cemetery originally created by the Germans, which accounts for it’s unusual (for Commonwealth cemeteries) arrangement of the graves head-to-head. Like all the other Commonwealth cemeteries we visited, it was immaculately kept, and a fitting memorial to those who gave their lives.

With jetlag still lingering, the two hours drive to the Pegasus Bridge site near Caen was a welcome chance to have a rest. During the drive we watched a video of  Garth Webb, D-Day veteran and President/Director/Founder of the Juno Beach Centre, discuss his experiences in the Canadian artillery. It was largely his efforts that gave us the opportunity to have to this trip, and to visit the excellent Juno Beach Centre which I will discuss more later.

Pegasus Bridge was the site of early operations of the D-day landing. Once the beaches were taken, the allied forces needed to make sure they could control access to key bridges. British troops used gliders to land near the bridge and take it and the adjacent Ranville bridge from defending forces. Many similar operations were being undertaken at different key sites, but this operation has the distinction of having the first allied casualty of D-day. One of the gliders landed in the water, resulting in the drowning of one soldier (the ‘first casualty’); another was lost in the battle for the bridge. The operation was successful, and the bridges were taken intact. The neighbouring café was the first building liberated on D-day.

Glider Landings near Pegasus (highlighted)

The site has an excellent indoor museum with many large static displays outside, including the original bridge (which was replaced by an identical –but wider– bridge), artillery field pieces, vehicles and a replica Horsa Glider. The original gliders, made almost entirely of wood and fabric, didn’t survive very long after the landings, as raw materials for building were in short supply. The museum collected what little was left and put it on display.

In the museum itself, they have an exhibit, using a lighted map and live narrator, that does a great job of illustrating the Pegasus Bridge operation (Operation Deadstick) and other parts of Operation Tonga.

We finished our day in Bayeux, a beautiful city which would be our base of operations for the next five days.

Who Hasn’t Seen the ‘Last Lecture’?

Randy Pausch’s last lecture has come up in several recent conversations I have had, and I am always surprised to find people who haven’t seen it. I mean, the guy was on Oprah, everybody must have heard of this guy or his book by now!

We are coming up on the two year anniversary of Randy’s last public post to his blog (June 26th, 2008) before his death on July 25th 2008 of pancreatic cancer, so it might be a good time to remind the world (well my small world anyway) about his gift to the world: His Last Lecture.

If you still don’t know if you want to invest 70 minutes of your life on this, watch the 10-minute version that was on Oprah. But I challenge you to watch this, then not watch the 80 minute version; so pick… 80 minutes or 90 minutes.  😉

TEDx 2: Ideas Worth CREATING

Just prior to attending my second TEDx event (this one in Waterloo), I got a lot of questions form friends and family:

  • What is the conference about?
  • What are you going to get out of it?
  • Who is going to be there?

I would just smile, and say “I’ll tell you when I get back.” I could have told them about TED’s tagline of ‘Ideas worth Spreading’, pointed them to the TED.com website, or have said ‘I am going to spend some time amongst other people –like me– that just love ideas’, but somehow those didn’t do a good job of explaining why I go. People are conditioned to want to know ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) or ‘what’s in it for you’ (WIIFY). I couldn’t explain TEDx in their ‘immediate payback’ terms.

Not being able to answer WIIFM would never stop me from doing something that I know is intuitively right, but for those that need to understand, I think I have figured it out: It helps ignite your brain and create ideas.

After two events –TEDx Ottawa and TEDx Waterloo– I have noticed that there is one thing I consistently get out of attending: The days after a TEDx event are filled with the relentless churning of my brain giving me ideas, so fast that I have trouble keeping track of them.

In brain science, there is an adage that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. New neural pathways are created a lot in your youth during your brain’s hyper-plastic phases, but as people get older they –and their brain’s wiring– tend to get set in their ways. Your brain is designed to find the path of least resistance, so as you get older you try harder and harder to use those existing neural pathways to solve problems, relate to the world, and to other people, because it required less energy (literally!). You may start to surround yourself with like-minded people because it is less effort than to try and relate to those that have very different views than yours. Group-think ensues.

When you are at a TEDx conference (and I would venture to guess, a TED conference) you are presented such a plethora of big ideas, that come from all directions, it forces your brain to start creating new pathways between parts of your brain that perhaps never talked to each other before. In the following short summaries of each presenter, I will talk about the new ‘Oh Snap!’ moment that each presenter gave me; that moment where my brain found two previously unrelated concepts and slammed them together.

Disclaimer for other TEDx Waterloo participants: your brains are different than mine, your results will vary.  I would be very happy to hear your own epiphanies in the comments field below!!

Terry O’Reilly on Friction

My friend Gary kept asking me I had yet listened to ‘Age of Persuasion‘, and two days before TEDx I got around to listening.  I was happily impressed with the quality and content of the show, took some notes, and filed it away. I hadn’t paid much attention to who was presenting at TEDx Waterloo, since I knew one of the key organizers, and his reputation told me it was going to be some great content.  Then Terry O’Reilly walks up on stage… I look down at my notebook and see that I am still writing on the same pages as my notes from his radio show?!  Find this hard to believe? Have a look at the dates and content of my notebook:

Weird Coincidence

For those cynical bastards that choose to think that I had just looked up Terry because I was going to see him at TEDx: You are a cynical bastard.

So what was the O’Snap moment? FRICTION can create CREDIBILITY

Terry gave several examples in his talk about how people were not willing to believe in products that seemed too miraculous: antiseptics like Bactine that wouldn’t sell because they no longer caused pain, and hair products that were marketed as working in 30 minutes (instead of the actual 2) because it was more consistent with the salon experience. Because the new product was so far from the customer’s previous experience, it lacked credibility. That credibility was only created by adding some friction (alcohol back into the antiseptic to create pain, or a 30-minute wait before rinsing in the conditioner) to allow the customers to believe in the product.  For those of you who have seen my presentation on ‘Made to Stick‘ and/or read the book by Chip and Dan Heath you will remember how important credibility is to make a message sticky!

A quick chat with Terry after the presentation (another great perk of TEDx) also allowed me to conclude two things: 1) I like the guy and 2) I am now a Terry O’Reilly fan.

Philip Beesley on the  Hylozoic Ground

If I were putting on an event like this, I would start and finish with ‘sure things’; that is, presentations that will appeal and be understood by the whole audience (Terry and Amy were good choices!). Speaker #2 allows you to take risks with topics that might really challenge the audience to relate and understand.

Well, it was a challenge for me anyway. Philip’s current project is beautiful, shows great imagination, and I am really glad there are places in the world that nurture this kind of creativity. I hope some day to see his work in person, and that would allow me to have a greater link to the work he clearly has so much passion for.  While I found it hard to grasp, there were a couple of Oh Snaps! that got my brain churning:

In cities we stand on fragile ground, which is not a natural state for human beings. When you think about it, if you are standing in nature: on a beach, or on a mountain top, you are standing on solid earth that is (in human terms) immovable, solid and permanent. In cities, we stand on paved streets above the voids of sewers, subways or in buildings comprised of many layers of poured concrete hanging precariously in space. Does the human mind perceive this? Are we impacted buy it? I don’t know, but it certainly made me go hmmmm…

Almost contradictory to his previous point (but this assumes I understand it), using materials that are pushed to their structural limits, on the verge of collapse, leads to more sensitivity and a state of calm. This made me think of asian architecture where rooms are separated by paper walls and materials that seem engineered to be ‘just strong enough’ to fulfill their designed purpose. Does this actually have an impact on culture? Again, I don’t know… but it made me go hmmm…

Aimee Mullins on Dis-abled vs. En-Abled

TEDx organizers choose TED videos to be presented during the event that are consistent with the chosed TEDx theme. Being an avid TED video fan, I had seen Aimee’s (2nd) TED talk before, but TED videos are always best experienced in groups, so I was happy to see it again!

Oh Snap! moment: “That’s not fair!” With advances in science, people who in the past would have been viewed as ‘disabled’ could instead be viewed as almost super-human. For Star Trek TNG fans, you can think of Geordi La Forge, the blind officer who’s visual prosthetic allows him super-human vision. For a more recent example, you can look to the career of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee ‘blade runner’, who’s gets banned from races because people think his carbon-fibre legs give him an unfair advantage! Aimee uses the example of how she can vary her height by 6″ depending on the pair of prosthetics she chooses. Imagine using this to your advantage in a business meeting where (unfortunately) height still translates into higher salaries and promotions!

Ray Laflamme on Quantum Computing

I have a degree in Engineering Physics, which required me to take courses in quantum mechanics. If I had a professor like Ray, I might still be passionate about that field instead of afraid of it!

Oh Snap!: I have been trying to understand the concepts behind the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment for years, and Ray explained it for me in 10 seconds… If a bullet can be in two places at once (quantum superposition theory), and cat is shot, the cat can be both alive and dead. While it begs the question of ‘What do physicists have against cats?’ it finally cemented this concept for me after 14 years of trying. Thanks Ray!

<BREAK where I got to chat with some cool participants and speakers>

Paul Saltzman on The Beatles

You ever met a person who is funny without even having to try? That’s Paul.

He tells a story about how he bumps into The Beatles while trying to learn how to meditate in India. The Beatles had secluded themselves from the world, and their meditations led to 48 songs being written during a 7 week period. Paul S. has a picture of The Beatles whilst composing their hit ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, and speaks of profound conversations with George Harrison in particular (for the pic, see David’s great summary of the event HERE).

Oh Snap!: Nothing Changes Until You Do. Much of our focus is placed on how we change OTHERs’ attitudes or behaviours. How much time and energy to we spend thinking about how we change ourselves? If  life isn’t about the fans, the money, the ‘success’ but love, health and peace inside, (as George Harrison said to Paul) isn’t the time best spent trying to understand how you can change yourself to meet these objectives? That said…I am off to the gym.

Caroline Disler on the ‘Western Civilization’ Misnomer

Caroline explains how the term ‘Western Civilization’ is a very polarizing term that down-plays the significant –if not dominant– influences of the whole world (and the middle east in particular) in the development of what is now called ‘Western Civilization’. For example, we often credit the Greek philosophers as the origin of many of our concepts, including scientific thought. Caroline illustrated that the Greeks credit much of their thought to the Egyptians and Indians, and their knowledge was only allowed to be passed on by the patronage of Persians (Iran) when they were persecuted by the Christians. Ironic huh? Also notable was how the very influential ‘western’ philosophy of Thomas Aquinas was in turn influenced by works of arab philosophers like Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali who he cited 31 times.

Oh Snap!: I am going to wait until the next summary.  Caroline’s talk was like a perfect setup and complement to the next presentation, a TED video of Wade Davis.

Wade Davis on Endangered Cultures

This guy should get a short film Oscar for colourful use of hyperbole! Lines like “to have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with Baroque paintings and landing on a sea of electricity” brought uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Oh Snap!: Different cultures create different realities. Wether it is an Inuit hunter fashioning a shiv out of his frozen feces to kill food, or a tribe from NE Ecuador where  54% of their mortality rate is from spearing each other to death (but could track specific animals from the smell of their urine), or a culture where the children see their first sunrise at the age of 18, they see the world in very importantly different ways than our own culture.  I used to think that the increasing hegemony of cultures was actually a good thing… perhaps a side-effect of my own colonialist culture that actually celebrates Ethnocide as a form of developing civilization. I thought that the more we understand each other, or even become like each other, the less conflict there will be in the world. But wait, remember that ‘group think’ comment form earlier? You avoid this and increase the richness in the world by ensuring that cultures are not eradicated. This was the first time that I really understood the Canadian perspective of ‘multiculturalism’ vs. the American ‘melting pot’ concept.

A very tangible example of different cultural realities creating great contributions to the world is the work of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. VS is a neurologist who devised a means to alleviate phantom limb pain and fix limbs previously ‘locked in’ (paralyzed) by pain. In the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, he asserts that this cultural influence was key to Ramachandran’s discoveries:

In India, Ramachandran grew up in a world where many things that seem fantastic to Westerners were commonplace… the idea that living things change their forms was widely accepted; the power of the mind to influence the body was taken for granted, and illusion was seen as so fundamental a force that it was represented in the deity Maya, the goddess of illusion. He has transposed a sense of wonder from the streets of India to Western neurology, and his work inspires questions that mingle the two.

For me, the Davis/Disler double-whammy was the biggest Oh Shap! moment of TEDx Waterloo.

Madhur Anand on Restoration Ecology

This was a presentation that didn’t go clunk for me. I got the importance of Restoration Ecology, putting mined or logged environments back to their original state, not just ‘replanting’ or ‘filling in the hole’ but the link to poetry was lost.

Oh Snap!: I concluded that I have a really bad view of poetry.  As someone who loves how a few words can be very powerful in imparting a rich mental landscape, why do I dislike poetry so much? Did high school make me hate it? Perhaps I was just hung-over from The Davis/Disler Oh Snap!

Micheal Sacco on Horizontal Trade

For those of you who read my review on TEDx Ottawa or participated in the event, this talk reminded me a lot of Tracey Clarke’s talk about coffee. There was a common theme that treating coffee beans or cocoa purely as commodities removes a relationship with the growers and producers that actually is a net loss to consumers.

I spoke to Micheal after his talk, but his discussion continued to give me a crew cut as it went flying over my head. He gave me some great chocolate (thanks!) and I went on my way pondering the ‘so what’ of his message. Perhaps this ‘horizontal trade alternative to pure capitalism’ is something that has to be experienced to be understood. He kept reinforcing that the chocolate was just a symbol to remind us that other worlds were possible.

Oh Snap! Moment: It hasn’t happened yet, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t coming some time down the road.

<BREAK>

Darren Werschler on Imaginary Media

He did his talk on several types of ‘Imaginary Media’ and their impact on us:

  1. Untimely Media like the Babbage Difference Engine, that –while not completed until 153 years after its design(!)– still had a profound impact on our thinking and the emergence of computers.
  2. Conceptual Media that are not just prototypes, but indicative of major shifts in media (Lolz Schrödinger’s Catz?)
  3. Impossible Media that expresses our desire for ‘perfect’ communication like the Star Trek transporter.

Oh Snap!: It doesn’t have to actually work to get people’s imaginations going. The Babbage Difference Engine surprised me. I had always heard that Babbage was credited with the world’s first computer, but I had always assumed it actually worked! But then I started to remember how much science fiction was credited for actual inventions and even impact on media and culture. This reinforces Darren’s final point of his presentation: ‘ You must take the risk of trying.’

Matthew Childs on the 9 Life Lessons from Rock Climbing

Since you can go see the 9 life lessons by going to the TED.com website, I will focus on the Oh Snap! moment: Strength does not equal success (lesson #8) – Women often succeed where men fail because men too often focus on strength. Matthew gave the example of women rock climbers who are more consistent than their male counterparts because they have less ego tied to showing how strong they are; they find positions that leverage the natural strength of our legs. This collided with something else in my brain from a book I read called Born to Run where the author talked about how a much larger % of women complete the gruelling Leadville Ultra-marathon than men. Not sure what I am going to do with it, but an interesting observation.

Marty Avery on Nemaste

Westerners, and particularly men, grow up with the concept that strong people never show that they are vulnerable.

Oh Snap! moment: It takes great strength to be vulnerable. Marty gave the example of one of her high school teachers who –instead of being confrontational– appealed to her student (Marty) to help her with her inability to get key ideas across to her class. While a person in a position of authority –like her teacher– is loath to appear vulnerable to her subordinates, this teacher was able to create a bond with a key ally by being strong enough to show her vulnerability.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal on the 7 Notes of Life

Amy is a person that –much like Marty– exudes a large amount of positive energy. Amy loves the little coincidences you see in life, and has turned them into children’s books, books for adults, and viral internet videos. I had a quick look at one of her children’s books Duck! Rabbit! Have a quick look at the cover and see if you can get the theme of the book:

I’d bet that parents reading this book to their children get their own life lesson: how two people can look at the same thing, and see something completely different! You can also see the book performed HERE on Youtube.

Before I get to the ‘Oh Snap!’ moment, I want to summarize Amy’s 7-Notes on Life which I hope you will get as much out of as I did:

  • A – Always Trust Magic or ‘ATM’: embrace coincidences in life
  • B – Beckon The Lovely: what you look for is what you will see, why not look for the lovely?
  • C – Connected: we are all connected
  • D – Do: don’t talk about what you are going to do, it drains you… just do it!
  • E – Empty: choose to disconnect, get out of reaction mode and create
  • F – Figure it Out as You Go: you can’t plan it all out, get started
  • G – Go to It: ask not what the world needs, but what makes you come alive

If those are the 7 notes to life, it begs the questions: What key is it sung in, and What are the lyrics? Amy answered those questions as well. The Key to life is ‘You’ and the lyrics for the 7 notes are “MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME HERE”.

The Oh Snap! moment: When I heard notes D, E, F & G I immediately thought of a book I have *almost* completed Linchpinby Seth Godin. These notes resonate with many of the traits that Seth identifies with the indispensable ‘linchpin’. Linchpins ship (D & F), don’t spend time doing busy-work like checking Twitter responses and their page hits (E), and they do what they are passionate about (G). This is more supporting evidence for my endeavour to become a ‘linchpin’!

So for those of you who are struggling with how to generate new ideas in your organization here is an idea: Stop sending your people to ‘group-think’ trade shows, and send them to a TEDx event.  You won’t regret it!

I want to express my thanks to the whole TEDx Waterloo team for putting on an amazing show, that make it more than worthwhile for me to make the long trip from Ottawa, and a worthy sequel to TEDx Ottawa!

This is Gonna Be HUGE!

This started off as a comment on Kneale Mann’s blog, but then I realized that a lot of my regular readers are probably expecting me to weigh in on the iPad, and why not! Ironically, Kneale’s post is about all the free publicity that the iPad is getting.  🙂

There are a lot of people griping about what the iPad doesn’t have, and its name:

iTablet was the obvious (good) choice IMHO, but it breaks the ‘two-sylabble rule’ of the Apple naming conventions, and the recent predilection for the use of the letters ‘iP’ at the start (iPod, iPhone).  Complaints about the name are missing the real story here:

All the coverage I have read misses just how much this device is going to revolutionize everything! Apple has created a huge developer community and worked them into a lather over the potential of becoming rich, famous, or rich & famous developing the next multi-million-downloaded iPhone app.  Now they provide those same developers a new platform to innovate on.

Lots of analysts seem to think that this is about Kindle vs. iPad, but that misses the point too.  The Kindle is a very well executed specialized reading device which will continue to do well in the segment of eBook readers.  The iPad provides the opportunity for innovations of much greater scope.

Expect big revolutions in:

  • Medical charting and visualization
  • Marketing
  • Gaming
  • Graphic design
  • eBook technology
  • GPS & mapping
  • Education
  • Human interface design
  • How you enjoy video and music
  • Point of sale enablement
  • Retail displays

Just as an example: imagine you go into the local car dealership, and instead of being handed the usual marketing glossies you are handed a iPad with an interior and exterior visualization of your new car with all the interior and exterior features & colours, exactly to order.  The same could be applied to making all the selections for a new home, where colour and material choices can be visualized in a 3D rendered world navigated by intuitive screen gestures and/or movement of the whole device.

The tablet itself is a nice piece of work at a compelling price point (especially compared to the capabilities offered by netbooks), but the real monster unleashed here is the rabid pool of developers who now have a completely new form-factor to innovate on. In 6-12 months, the folks at Apple will look like geniuses (again).

TEDx Ottawa: A Resounding S.U.C.C.E.S.s!!

TED conferences are mind-blowing, but expensive and far away.  Sp when I heard about the TEDx concept (locally organized TED events) I was excited to hear that an event was being organized in Ottawa!  But how was a local event going to compare to TED conferences which regularly attract the worlds top thinkers?

The same weekend, I was trying to complete my presentation on a very compelling book that my wife bought for me: Made to Stick. This timing was very fortunate for my presentation because TEDx provided so many great examples about how to make ideas ‘Sticky’. I thought I would use the S.U.C.C.E.S.s acronym used by the book to illustrate some of my key take-aways from TEDx Ottawa:

S – Simple: Keep your message core and compact to increase the chance that people remember the one most important thing you want them to act on.

If someone really succeeded in getting their message across, I shouldn’t have to look at my notes! And one great example of this was Bob Ledrew who’s key message was to “Sing your song.”, which was all about remembering what things you were passionate about in your youth, and making sure that you make time for them in adulthood.  His personal story about his rediscovery of his passion for music, and his ‘House’ concerts was very inspiring.

U – Unexpected: If you can break a person’s guessing machine you keep their interest and increase the chance that they will absorb your message.

For me the ‘unexpected’ story that stuck with me most from the day was Ray Zahab‘s story about how he entered a Yukon ultra-marathon, and the mental and physical battles he fought during the race to convince himself that he could finish it.  At the end of the race he then says “Nobody is more surprised than me that I finished this race.” and the race marshall responded: “You didn’t just finish, you won.”

Cindy Chastain and Kip Voytek surprised me by clarifying the difference between ‘cooperation vs. collaboration’, and how most ‘collaboration’ strategies actually are about cooperation.  This surprise caused me to furiously write down their proposed approach to collaboration, which I will use!  As a result, I have a lot more ‘pleasure in not knowing’.  😉

C – Concrete: Everyone will take in your message using their own filters and lenses, you must make your message concrete to ensure that your audience gets your message, regardless of their background.

Images and video are fantastic ways to make your message concrete and accessible to a wide audience.  Najeeb Mirza used a video shot in Afghanistan to illustrate how people around have more in common than you would think!  It made me laugh to see a bunch of turban doffing Afghani tribesmen talking about who had the best cell phone.

Williams Jans‘ message about how ‘Bad Roads Bring Good People’ was driven home by his many great photos and video showing how friendly and happy people can be at the fringes of the inhabited world, and showed the joys (and laughs) of learning new languages!

Finally, Mark Levison talked about how images are ‘Google for the mind’ and there doesn’t appear to be an upper limit to how many images the brain can process.  So many of Mark’s comments echoed the ‘Made to Stick’ concepts that I ended up giving him my copy of the book when I was surprised to find out he hadn’t read it!

C – Credible: To get people to believe your message, you need credibility.  The book has many suggestions on how to accomplish this, but I used some TEDx presenters to illustrate.

Tracey Clarke has credibility for many reasons.  First of all, she is the managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, a company who has beaten the mighty Starbucks at the own game (in Ottawa anyway). This should be credibility enough, but then teaches us more about the dynamics of coffee business than I thought possible in such a short presentation!  Her many stories, pictures and detail about Bridgehead’s stance on coffee supply made me proud to be a Bridgehead customer!

Robert Mittelman, a Kiva Fellow, leant a lot of credibility to Kiva’s microcredit initiatives by his experiences with the program abroad.  It was good to hear how this money was being used, and how the inspiration flows both ways: debtor to creditor, creditor to debtor.

E – Emotional: In order to get people to act on your message, you have to hit them in the heart with it; with emotion comes action.

Mark Blevis and his message of the importance of children’s books really hit me at an emotional level.  It made me realize how I really didn’t recognize the importance of these books in providing children context on how to interpret and interact with their world.  The reminder that this is actually a high art form of imparting messages in a compact way to people with a limited vocabulary.  So is this emotion making me act?  Absolutely.  Just one week after TEDx I am sure I have had at least 4-5 conversations about the significance of children’s books!

S – Story: If you tell your message as a story, there is no way that your audience can remain passive. The act of listening to a story (as opposed to just a bunch of facts) forces the listener to build the mental image of the story as it is told, which increases the chances of the listener remembering it.

Danny Brown‘s presentation was all about story telling, digital storytelling in particular.  He told of the new Star Wars series that lost the viewer because it forgot that telling a human story was the important part, and not all the technology that enables it (actually I think it WAS Jar Jar’s fault).  I really liked how he compared the Millenium Falcon to everybody’s beater first car!

Nothing illustrates the power of story like Jowi Taylor‘s Six String Nation ‘Voyageur’ guitar!!  Every piece of this guitar has a story, and is perfectly united to his message of ‘One Canada’.  There was certainly a lot of emotion in his stories as well, as there were several that brought a tear to my eye, and the passion of Jowi about telling these stories was clearly apparent!  The best part about this guitar is that, for all the stories that are built into this guitar already, the guitar itself is creating so many new stories that are being captured by Jowi.  All Canadians must hear the story of this guitar, and I am certainly doing my small part.

I don’t want to diminish any of the other presentations by their omission here!  I got at least one great nugget from each presentation, and many great discussions with the presenters in the interludes.  It was a fabulous event, exceptionally executed.  Even the box lunch was fabulous!  I hope all people that attend TEDx events around the world are as lucky as we are in Ottawa to have such a great experience!  An experience worthy of the ‘TED’ name!

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