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Maybe a Different Perspective Will Help

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post on my old website about North Korea in an attempt to put things in some perspective for those of us in North America.  We tend to see North Korea as an extremist nation with a crazy leader (both the current Kim Jong Un and his father… and his grandfather I suppose) and that may be true.  There are plenty of reasons for North Americans to dislike the North Korean government but I don’t think we really understand what life must be like for the people of North Korea.

With continued war, natural disasters, UN sanctions and a lack of natural resources, North Korean people do not enjoy the same luxuries that we do.  I don’t condone the nuclear program in North Korea but I also don’t condone the UN sanctions.  Witholding food and aid does nothing but hurt the already struggling people of the country and I really don’t think that sending boatloads of biscuits is the answer to easing tensions.

North Korea is a country that has been at war for the better part of the last 100 years.  They have been relatively peaceful with South Korea for decades but officially, the 2 countries are still at war as no peace treaty was ever signed.  In the 1990’s North Korea suffered severe famine due to weather and farming practises that are pretty much archaic. It is estimated that as many as 3 million people died during the famines of the 1990’s.  Imagine that happening where you live.  Imagine your friends and neighbours starving to death and you are watching it happen struggling to just stay alive yourself.  Imagine that other countries are trying to force you to abandon technical advances like nuclear power while you are struggling to live from on day to the next.

North Korea relies heavily on foreign aid.  The country has been heavily hit by severe storms, mudslides and is prone to natural disasters.  In 2006, storms and mudslides resulted in more than 100 people reported dead or missing.  More than 10,000 homes were destroyed and at least 9000 families homeless.  Imagine the frustration you would feel when the rest of the world wants to shut you out.  Imagine the anger you would feel as you are forced to suffer and watch others around you suffer.

Denying aid to North Korea is not helping to bring an end to any political tensions. It’s an attempt to break the spirit of the country and it does nothing but cause ordinary people like you and me to suffer.  It forces children to go hungry with no home to go to.  Imagine someone doing that to you and your family.

As I said earlier, I certainly don’t condone the missile tests or the production of nuclear weapons but in the world today, it is the countries capable of waging war that are prosperous.  The countries with military power can demand and they receive.  North Korea has been a have-not country for so long that I imagine they just want to enjoy some of the simple things that we take for granted every day like feeling safe and secure.  I know it sounds a little crazy but what if the rest of the world reached out with some kindness and compassion?  The last 60 years of war, sanctions and broken promises haven’t done much to make the situation better.  Einstein, who was a pretty smart guy, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe to North Koreans the rest of the world seems insane.  For decades we have promised to help North Korea and have backed out on those promises, we have manipulated and lied (read up on the US claims of North Korea moving nuclear material to Lybia in 2003) and yet we somehow think that North Korea is going to abandon nuclear weapon testing and just decide to live peacefully with the rest of the world.  The same world that demonstrates time and time again that nations with military power and weapons have a better standard of living.  Doesn’t that sound even more insane than starving people wanting to be able to feed their families and have a good life?

What if we tried a completely different approach?  Maybe we would see a different result.

Earning a Soapbox

I’m sure that most people reading this post have an account on facebook.  I’m sure that most of you have also seen something like this posted at some point during your time on facebook:

facebook_complain

I can’t really comment on this because I realize that foreign policy and immigration are things that I just don’t understand at the political level.  From a human perspective I can relate to all of these statements and I feel sympathetic.  I am well aware of the homelessness issue in my country (by the way, this image originated in Australia).  I am certainly aware of how expensive it can be to get the proper medications even when you live in a country with universal health care.  My Son has type 1 diabetes and the costs after the portion the government pays for is around $1500 per year.  That’s considerably cheap compared to what other people have to pay for their necessary medication.  I can understand all of these things and I can’t necessarily disagree that we have a lot of problems in this world.  What I can’t understand is how people can be so brave to post this on facebook or pound their fist in the coffee shop complaining about how we need to change these things.  OK, maybe brave isn’t the right word but I’m reluctant to use the word lazy.

Folks, I think that everyone has a right to their own soapbox to stand on and talk about issues like these but I firmly believe that you have to earn your soapbox.  I have to wonder, of all the people who “had the guts” to post this, did any of them have the guts to volunteer time at a homeless shelter or even take a homeless person out of the cold and buy them a coffee or even a meal?  Have any of them organized a fund raiser to help elderly folks pay for medications?  Have any of them also complained about having to pay taxes that are used to fund the troops and ensure that they have proper equipment and benefits?  Have any of them spoken to an immigrant to understand why they came to our country and what issues they might be facing?  For all of the problems we have in our own country we are comparatively well off and I think I would feel horrible if we told the poorer nations that there is nothing we can do to help especially knowing that we depend on the well being of every nation for our continued prosperity.

I am far from being the most socially conscious person but I have adjusted my work schedule to free up one day per week to volunteer my time to help in my own community.  I have become friends with a number of immigrant folks and I am so thankful that I have never had to live through some of the horror they have seen.  I admire their bravery in leaving their lives behind to ensure the safety of their children and I am thankful that my country has been able to offer them some safety although, with anti-immigrant attitudes I can’t say that we have been comforting.  Even with the little bit that I have done there are people out there who do far more than I could ever do.  At the same time, there are people who will complain about all of these issues and then complain that nobody is doing anything about it.

We all have a responsibility to one another on a global scale.  We have to stop thinking about our own little bubble and think about the world around us.  We can’t let ourselves be satisfied with re-posting an image on facebook and thinking that we’ve done some brave deed that is going to help change the world.  We need to roll up our sleeves and give something of ourselves to our communities.  I live in a province of 1 million people… very small.  If everyone in this province made the commitment to dedicate one hour of each week to giving something back to their community we would contribute 52 million hours per year to improving our province.  That is the equivalent of adding 32,000 full time jobs dedicated to improving our province.  The government can never do something that huge.  We have the power to do it and we have the power to make a difference.  The questions is, are we brave enough to sacrafice one hour per week to change the world for the better?

Keeping Our Kids Safe

My heart goes out to the people in Newtown Connecticut.  The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a terrible tragedy and as a parent I can appreciate how horrific that event must have been for everyone who had children at that school.  For parents of the children who lost their lives, the world grieves with you but many of us will never know how much it hurts to lose a child.

The Googlesphere is all abuzz with talk of gun control and 2nd amendment rights.  Then you get those damn smug Canadians chiming in saying “Well we have gun control and we don’t have these problems.  Maybe it’s time to change your gun laws, US!”  OK, there are points to be made on both sides.  One thing that we have to keep in mind is that legislation can only do so much.  Of all the mass shootings in the US over the past 40 years (and there are a lot of them!) almost 3/4 of the shooters purchased their guns legally.  But hold your cheers, you NRA freaks!  The vast majority of weapons used in mass shootings were Semiautomatic handguns or assault weapons.  Perhaps things like this would be less likely to happen if shotguns were the only legal weapon for civilians.  In support of my fellow smug Canadians, yes, you are right.  We have nowhere near the number of mass shootings that the US does.  Even Mexico is much less violent.  Check out this map for a quick visual.  I am a firm believer in gun control.  There is absolutely no need for the average person to own semiautomatic or assault weapons for “hunting” or “personal protection”.  Americans can wave the 2nd amendment around all they like but that amendment was adopted in 1791!  OK, here’s the deal, you want weapons?  You can have any weapon that was available to the general public in 1791.  Have at it!  You’re looking at a single shot, flintlock fired, muzzle loaded gun here folks.  Do you honestly think that if Patrick Henry or Alexander Hamilton were alive today that they would be supportive of arming the average citizen with assault weapons?  Do you really think that’s what they had in mind?

But let’s put gun control aside for a second because that’s a bit of a distraction here.  Violent attacks of any kind in our North American society are not caused by the availability of weapons. Most of us could go out and buy some kind of weapon right now and carry out a violent act but we don’t.  Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because most of us don’t suffer from something that affects millions of North Americans.  About 20% of North Americans have some form of diagnosable mental illness but thanks to our mass ignorance and the stigma that we have attached to mental illness as something shameful, on’y about 1/3 of those people actually seek treatment.  I should note right here that the majority of mental health problems are not associated with violence so just because 20% of us have some type of mental health issue does not mean that 20% of the population is potentially violent.

It’s really amazing what we do to each other psychologically.  It is so very acceptable in our society to tear people down or to criticize and make judgements when people are different.  It’s so easy for us to label people or to write them off as useless or a drain on society.  As a society, we are excessively ignorant considering the vast amount of information available to us.  People have made comments about Adam Lanza (the shooter in the Newtown tragedy) saying that he was autistic or suffered from asperger’s.  This is just further evidence of our general lack of understanding of mental health issues.  Read this article about mental health myths and I think that you might be surprised about the myths believed by you or people you know.

More than half of the shooters in mass shootings in North America over the past 30 years displayed some signs of mental health prior to taking any lives.  None of them received the proper care or treatment.  To make matters worse, funding for mental health treatment programs in North America continues to decline and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for those who have the courage to break past the social stigma barriers to actually get the treatment they need.

So go ahead, change the gun control laws, I’m all for that just because it makes sense to do so but don’t change the laws and think that we’ve solved the problem.  Not even close!  The solution is not the responsibility of the politicians and law makers.  The solution lies with all of us.  It is our responsibility to change the way we think and to educate ourselves.  It’s our responsibility to recognize all people AS PEOPLE and to give them the respect and consideration that we all deserve.  A broken clock is still a clock!

 

Making Steel

OK, time for a little bit of business talk.  Part of what I do is called IT Service Delivery.  In fact, that’s my specialty if I have to have one.  I help companies improve their Information Technology Services.  Quite often companies have the right products for the job but somehow they just don’t seem to be getting the job done.  Well you might have a claw hammer but if you’re pounding the nail with the wrong end of the hammer head it’s not going to work very well.  That’s essentially what I do, I examine what companies do with their IT solutions and sometimes I point out that they might be using the wrong side of the hammer head.  Today, I’m thinking about the communication process.

I asked a lot of questions when I was a kid.  I guess I must have had a lot of questions about where babies came from because when I was about 5 years old my Dad felt the need to take me for a drive and tell me about the birds and bees.  This was a very basic and high level version of “the talk” but it was “the talk” regardless.  When he was finished with his awkward monologue my Dad glanced at me and noticed the puzzled look on my face.  “Do you understand all that?” he asked.

“Yeah.  I just have one question.” I replied.

“What’s that?”

“How does God make steel?”

I still take a ribbing from family members over that question to this day.

Trying to explain service delivery to an organization is often like trying to explain how god makes steel.  You really don’t know where to start but it’s clear that the question asked cannot be answered.  The question shows that there is an obvious lack of understanding in a few areas.

When we approach service delivery within any organization we are met with questions very similar to “How does god make steel?”.  We need to be able to recognize these questions because they help to define the line between understanding and confusion.  Part of developing the service delivery fabric is weeding out the areas of confusion and laying down a base of clear understanding.

The problem is that we have a tendency to ignore these questions and focus on developing processes.  We draw flow charts showing how to do things but we need to ensure that people understand the idea around the process.  Why do we do this?  What happens if we don’t do this? How does this help us reach a goal or desired result?

Successful service delivery is dependant on people not process.  The base skills of the people need to be developed before you can even think about a process.  The process is only as good as the people who use it.

Pay attention to the questions asked and find those points where your people lack a clear understanding.  Address those points before you spend too much time on detailed processes.  Smart, well-informed people will fall into the right process naturally.  Ill-informed people will struggle with any process and they will not delivery the way you need them to.

Broken Clocks

I have a clock hanging in my living room above the fireplace.  I bought it about a year ago, unwrapped it, put a fresh battery in and hung it in place.  It didn’t take long to realize that the clock didn’t work.  Within a couple of hours the time was waaaaayyyyy off.  Even though it made the classic tick tock noises, looked like a clock and the hands moved like a clock it was clear that it didn’t keep time like a clock.

It’s possible that at that point I had far too much time to think and too many opportunities to enjoy several glasses of port or Irish whiskey while listening to Ross Neilsen.  I’m not sure exactly why but this clock become something more than just a broken clock for me.  It became a symbol and I leave it hanging there to remind me of something very important.

The clock is a metaphor for people in this world.  There is a line from a Ross Neilsen song: “even when them hands don’t wind, a broken clock is still a clock.”  The song is about a true event that happened a few years back here in Canada when a person with some serious mental health issues brutally killed someone on a Greyhound bus.  I’m not going to relay the story because it’s probably quite painful for many people to hear.  Anyway, the song made me think about how we treat others and how we make judgments of others based on what we see and based on how we expect other people to act (we usually expect them to act exactly like us).

As a whole, we are far too quick to judge without understanding other people.  We look at their “mistakes” and forget that they are people.  At the very core of everything, people should be treated like people yet we make judgments about others every day.  We write people off as broken without giving any thought to how they may have become “broken”.  It’s rare for us to think that perhaps rather than write them off, maybe we can do something to help them be less broken or perhaps even accept them as they are and try to understand and accept.  Maybe we can put more effort into seeing the good that even “broken” people can bring to the world.  Granted, there are many varying degrees of disrepair in people and maybe some are too far gone to roam safely in society.  That in itself should be enough to make us ask, “Am I helping to build the people around me or am I helping to break them?”

People often comment on my broken clock and ask why I would keep it if it doesn’t keep time.  After I explain, it becomes clear to most that purpose of the clock is far more important than helping me keep time.  It is a reminder that I need to be caring and compassionate.  It’s a reminder that I have a moral responsibility to give back to my community and that I have to do my part to build rather than break.  Sometimes a broken clock is more valuable than one that does what we expect it to do.

Dreams

We all have dreams and goals.  I’d be surprised to hear someone say, I have no dreams.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so disturbing when we see the dreams of others get swept away by the torrent of life.  We don’t typically like to see other people’s dreams dashed because we know how important our own dreams are to us and we can feel the pain and loss that others go through when their dreams don’t come to be.

When I told people that I was shutting down TikLogic Ventures, Inc. there was a lot of concern and I think it’s because people associated this entity with my personal dreams of escaping the corporate world.  I appreciate everyone’s concern but the dream is not dead.

I have been in the IT industry for a very long time and when I made the decision to leave my post as a senior manager with an international software company I took a couple of months off just to refocus and decide my next steps.  The fact that I was able to advance my career and have the opportunity to work for a great company and with some truly talented people would have been a dream come true for many people.  And it was for me too.  Things got to a point where I felt that I had achieved as much as I could but I was unsure what I wanted to do next.  I had always thought about what it might be like to strike out on my own and consult but I didn’t want to be just another IT consultant so I had to figure out what would set me apart.  That’s probably a story for another day.  The truth is, I had been planning my departure from the software company for about a year before all of the pieces started to fall in place.  My decision to leave was not made overnight, it was a planned move.  The decision to start TikLogic came during my 2 months break form the working world.  There were a number of options available to me and it was just a matter of choosing a direction.  There were no right or wrong answers just a choice to make.

At some point in our lives we have all looked back and said, “I wish I had made a different choice” or “That was a mistake”.  Maybe it’s because of my advancing age and maybe there is some sort of wisdom emerging but I really don’t think that any conscious choice can be a mistake.  Every choice that we make can bring with it some good and some bad.  Even the most seemingly devastating choices can help us grow as individuals if we allow ourselves to learn from the experience.  It was the same with TikLogic.

Being in business for yourself is always an interesting experience.  I’ve done it a few times now and have learned something new every time.  In this case, closing the business was not because it was failing or the dream was dead.  When people go through a divorce things change.  Things have to change; change is part of the process.  Throw a lawyer or two in the mix and suddenly, your infant company that barely makes enough for you to manage a modest living as it’s sole employee gets touted as a multi-million dollar international conglomerate and the dollar signs swirl in front of your ex-wife’s eyes.  So to make it easy and to eliminate any confusion about what it really is, you have your accountant deliver the financials to your ex so she can see for herself that there is no huge fortune tucked away somewhere and to shut up her lawyer who contends that the company is infinitely valuable and probably the next Google you go back to work for someone else and close the company doors and carry on with your life.  OK, that might have sounded a little bitter because certain humor tones don’t translate well to blogs Big Smile.  The truth is I’m not bitter at all and shutting down my company didn’t impede my journey to achieving my dreams.

In fact, I am still moving toward my dream of putting the 8 to 5 work day behind me.  I work for a great company that understands the importance of treating its employees as people.  There are no clocks to punch and as long as the work gets done I have all the freedom in the world.  But this was also a choice.  I had the option to work for a number of organizations some even offering a significant pay increase but at the end of the day I couldn’t put a value on the flexibility that my current employer offered.  The pay might be a bit lower but the freedom is priceless to me.

So, for those of you who were concerned that my dreams had died, don’t worry.  I’m closer to achieving them than I thought I would be at this point :-D

Hey! What’s Going On?

Yeah, I know, you guys are probably wondering what happened to the TikLogic business web site.  Well it’s a long story but after a year of trying to negotiate a divorce settlement I finally had to shut down my company.  It’s funny how people change and become something you never thought they could be.  Sometimes the change is positive and sometimes it’s negative and many times the perceived change in people  is neither positive or negative but it is simply a matter of individual perspective.

I’ve been told by a number of people that because I have a professional image to maintain that I shouldn’t talk about my personal life on my blog.  I completely disagree with this idea.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this kind of thinking is exactly what is wrong with the corporate world today.  Like it or not, every one of us is a person with a life outside of our work environment.  The events in our personal lives affect us as and act as catalysts for our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development.  Is it realistic to ask people to put aside their very being for the sake of a “professional image”?  If I am doing my best to be a good person, wouldn’t I want that to be part of my professional image?

Our daily interactions with people are much different if we fail to see others as human beings with hopes and dreams and problems and successes.  If we take a myopic view of people and consider only a professional facade we miss out on the very core of what makes each of us individual, unique and truly interesting.  We will also lack a true understanding of the skills and capabilities of others and from a pure corporate perspective, isn’t it important to understand what our co-workers are capable of?

If there is one message I want to get out in this post it’s that I choose to embrace who I am and even though it may make some people uncomfortable to hear me mention my divorce, it is an event in my life that has caused pain but has also helped me to discover new things about myself and re-evaluate the limits I have placed on myself.  Shutting down my company doesn’t mean that I have lost anything.  It’s part of my personal evolution.

For those of you interested in my business philosophy, stay tuned because I will be talking about those ideas.  But I will also be discussing some more personal topics that may seem out of place for a business focused blog but I assure you, its all relative.

Education

Throughout my career education has been an important component.  Being an IT professional and not having an IT degree (or any University degree) I have spent a lot of my career struggling with the perception that I didn’t have the same level of skill as my peers with the fancy piece of paper.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against education and in fact I believe that we should constantly strive to educate ourselves throughout all of our lives.

This video does make me think about our education system and makes me wonder if we are educating properly for today’s world.