Saturday, October 30, 2010

Being right isn't enough


The world starts out black and white and moves into shades of grey.
It used to be so simple. Five plus eight was thirteen. The capital of Canada is Ottawa. The area of a circle is Pi r squared. Black or white. On or off. Yes or no.
There was a time when you could be right. It was childlike, but it was clear. This also explains how teenagers can know so much more than their parents.
If you're right, there may be a few who will naturally recognize how good your ideas are. But to make a difference in the world, being right isn't enough.
Once you've got a good idea, you need attention. In a crowded media landscape, people are already so overwhelmed with content that they won't even notice your message unless there's something in it for them. They're paying with the scarce resources of time and attention, so give them value in return.
Once you have their attention, you need to be persuasive. Messages need to resonate with to your audience and communicate your idea in ways that address their issues. Even if you're persuasive about issues that don't matter to them, you're unlikely to get to the next stage: Action.
Harnessing the power of other people's imagination is a great way to move things forward.
It's hard to make a difference alone, so getting other people to take action based on your idea is the only way it will be relevant.
Imagine a parent recognizes a dangerous intersection. Even if she's right, if she can't get people's attention, or persuade them to take action then the intersection will remain dangerous. It may take something tragic to get people's attention, but by then it's too late.
For a great positive example, look to Calgary's new mayor Naheed Nenshi. He was admittedly polling "within spitting distance of zero" when he started the campaign. With his vision and his campaign team he was able to command attention and inspire Calgarians with better ideas for Calgary. These ideas resonated with people, who acted with their votes to elect him, despite long odds.
Changing the world takes a lot more than just being right.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Waste Reduction: Garbage and time

Waste reduction: Minimize what you throw in the trash,
and don't waste your time or attention.

Last week was waste reduction week, although you might have missed that with all the hype around the various Alberta municipal elections.

With some modifications to the kinds of things you buy we can really cut down on the amount of waste going to the landfill. You already have enough stuff. Visit cleanbinproject.com for some great ideas on how to reduce solid waste going to the landfill.

Although Waste Reduction Week is about reducing garbage, there are other sources of waste in our society that get in the way of living the life we want.

In the world, natural resources are limited, and if we put them in the landfill eventually we won't have access to those resources anymore, without mining the landfills.

In our lives however, time is the scarcest resource, unlike the landfill, once time passes we can't get it back.

Toss out any notions of time management. Unless your DeLorean can do 88 MPH, or (for the physicists) unless you're moving at nearly the speed of light, your time will pass steadily and relentlessly into the past.

Instead, think in terms of managing your attention and activity.

Facebook games, for example, may be free of financial charge, but you're still paying the price with your non-renewable attention. Same story with TV, websurfing, or anything you could choose to spend time on.

The time is going to march on regardless of what you do. Best to make the most of it. Here's how.

Be clear about your goals, both in the short term and the long term. Clarity of purpose is a powerful way to cut down on wasted time.

Once you know what you're trying to accomplish, then work to use your scarce resources, your time and your attention, to get it done.

David Allen's book Getting Things Done and Merlin Mann's website 43folders.com have great resources on being effective.

Don't waste your time or your attention. You could stand to cut back on your garbage too.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

What do we care about?

Calculus alert: Where else but an election can you take the integral of what you care about over the entire population?

Elections can throw into sharp relief what we care about, both individually and in community.

Individually, either you've paid attention to the issues and marked your boxes thoughtfully, or you've ticked off boxes at random, or you didn't bother to show up to vote.

Your awareness of the issues is higher than usual as you've balanced the pros and cons of various people and positions to decide what matters to you most.

Everyone else has had to pick too. There are winners and losers. You've had a chance to look at the aggregation of what other people care about.

Some issues are likely to come to the fore. Everybody's wondering what's in it for them. Snow removal, roads, infrastructure, economic development, economic attraction are all popular subjects around election time. Hey, here's some free candy. Vote for me okay?

On the flip side of those issues is the issue of taxes, how those government services we demand get paid for. We want it both ways: Great services and low taxes. As individual communities, the election shows us how we make that tradeoff.

In any case, the elected officials need to work in the long term best interests of their constituents. The short term interest doesn't cut it. Taxes would be slashed, maintenance deferred, and over time everything would fall into disrepair.

Working in the community's long-term best interest is more difficult, but it's ultimately more rewarding. Not only do you keep the infrastructure from falling apart, but you build common amenities that no individual could build alone, the public spaces and transportation networks that no individual would build or maintain alone, but that serve us all well.

Take a close look at the election results once they come out. That's what your community cares about.

Once they're elected though, they represent you whether you voted for them or not. Make sure to let them know how you feel on the issues you care about. Then let them use their best judgement to work in the community's long term best interest. They may disagree with you, but at least they'll know where you're coming from.

Whatever side they're on, do what you can to steer them away from the dangerous allure of short term thinking.


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Saturday, October 9, 2010

18? Step into your power


Imagine you've just turned 18. If your first thought was "let's go to the bar" you're probably not alone.

But this is isn't about being able to go drink. We're way beyond that now. You get some of the responsibility for this experiment called civilization.

No more training wheels. The world is going to be what you make it. It's up to you to stick up for yourself and your generation.

Governments are tempted to push problems into the future rather than dealing with them now. In case you haven't been told, well, you're an adult now: There are lots of problems.

The big problems involve living beyond our means. Financially, and ecologically, we borrow from the future to get some sort of benefit right now. We're sorry. We mean well. It's the system. You'll get to use the [expensive_amenity] too. There are lots of excuses.

The people who are making these choices/excuses are older than you, and care less about the future than you do. They see it in the distance. You'll have to live there.

Like it or not, you're going to be responsible for cleaning up their mess, or facing the consequences if you don't.

Your best shot at the future starts now.

Municipal governments in Alberta will be elected October 18. Pay attention to the issues. Elect people who represent you. Otherwise people who don't care so much will end up deciding your future.

Politicians know that young adults typically don't vote. That's why they don't often address the long term issues that will affect you most of all.

You've had your adolescent rebellion. Now put that aside. Claim your adulthood. Care. Vote.

But there's so much more. Step into your power. They won't see you coming. They don't even understand what's about to overwhelm them.

You represent the most connected generation in the history of the world. You could coordinate a thousand people without getting out from under the covers.

Imagine what you could do if you really put your mind, your thumbs, and your energy into it.

Those problems? They're getting worse. The status quo isn't a solution. Nobody has more to gain from a sustainable future than you do. What's more, you have the tools, the connectivity and the self-interest to take a stand and make a difference.

Vote, but don't dare stop there. The future you save may be your own.


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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Beware of candidates promising tax cuts

Spend your money. Don't spend hers.
This election, don't be dazzled by tax cuts.


Tax cuts are cheap publicity, easy to explain to voters and completely short sighted. What you should look for instead is sound fiscal management. That might even include tax cuts, but let's look at the big picture.

Municipal deficits are worse than low taxes. Deficits become debt. Interest on debt compromises the future by eating away at future tax revenues until you pay back all the money. The interest payments eventually become a large part of where tax money goes, and cripple options for the future.

Running deficits kicks the problem down the road, saddling the adults of tomorrow with debt because we couldn't make the hard choices to live within our means. Won't somebody think of the children? The kids will have enough problems of their own. They don't deserve ours too.

Sound fiscal management, on the other hand, would bring in enough money to cover the cost of services and administration, put a little away for emergencies, and pay off any debt.

Getting clear of debt eliminates the interest charges that would otherwise be a drag on the municipality, and lets the taxes cover the municipal expenses, like they should.

For example, if your municipality owes $1000/person in debt at 6.6% interest, that's an extra $66 per person that they need to raise through taxes each year, just to cover the interest on the debt. Having that debt paid off would mean a $66/year tax cut for everybody, all else remaining equal.

But that means making hard decisions because we can't live beyond our means. Making those tough calls is better than having austerity measures imposed on you. In Spain, Belgium, Italy and Greece, their austerity measures are drawing huge protests from societies that became accustomed to living beyond their means. Let's not let it get that far.

Municipalities need to get clear of debt and stay that way. It's easy to spend more than you have. That doesn't make it responsible.

Elect responsible leaders. Vote this election, either in advance or on election day, and beware candidates promising tax cuts.


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