Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where is it all going, and do we have a clue what we are buying?

Facebook, Twitter, Email, Gmail, Telephones, iPhones, cellular phones, blackberries, SMS messenger, PingChat . . .  there are numerous ways to communicate with each other.  We call this "social media".  It is technologically enabled communication that allows us to communicate with others.

Admittedly, I am a willing participant, although not a misinformed one - I think.  But I wonder where this is taking us as a people. What are we walking towards?  Can we control it?  And who else is listening?

Since the early times, it has been natural and in fact necessary to communicate with each other. When we think of communication, we think of talking to each other.  Connecting with human beings.  Connecting with our environment. Connecting with other worlds.  Connection is good, because if we can understand each other, perhaps we can one get along as a civilization.  Communication is culture building.  We have all grown up with special stories from the past that help create context for our present.  And over the years, communication has been largely verbal and with the written word in more formal contexts.  Newspapers, books, magazines are some examples of our source of information.

I remember when I was in Journalism School in 1996.  The "World Wide Web" was just emerging at that time.  We had trouble remembering addresses. We also wondered what was the point of this Internet superhighway, and how long would it last. We also asked questions about what it's impact would be, and how could it be used. How would one make money using this new vehicle? These questions are still on table. Ask the newspaper industry that must somehow adapt profitably to this new phenom.

This changes relationships too. Looking at my daughters, the eldest just missed the cell phone human leash, but my younger daughter was a cell phone kid.  We justified the decision by believing that we would know where she was and that she could call us anytime.  However, she was completely connect to her friends and social environment all the time. I believe this placed a lot of pressure on them.  As a parent of the cell phone kid, I had to learn to communicate the same way.  So now I have an iPhone because she may not answer the phone, but she will always respond to a text message or a GMail.

The same has played out in our work lives.  Most of us have a blackberry or some form of cellular communication device that connects us at all times to our workplace, to our families and to our friends.  Personally, at times, I find it to be an invasion of my own space. So, I exercise my option to turn it off, but there is always the risk that some "emergency" could happen and I would be unreachable.

FaceBook and Twitter are the new social media kids in town.  At first, Face Book was a great way to "connect" with family and friends.  In fact, our family has been legislated to belong because it is a great way to stay connected.  Now I can see the babies in our family grow up. We get to learn about who is doing what. And we are not strangers anymore.  I think it's great.

But who else is watching and reading your status updates?  Can a potential employer look you up and see your life in pictures?  Should they be able to?  Facebook has privacy options.  Use them.  Make sure that "only friends" can see your words and pictures.  And if you are worried, you can also block people from every finding you via searches.  The other thing is - be strategic about what you say.  Do not post things that you wouldn't want someone to see. Do not offend others.  And protect your own reputation by not posting embarrassing or questionable content.

Also, be aware of how easy it is to share pictures.  On an iPhone, you can take a picture, and immediately SMS it to someone as a text, or you can upload it to your Facebook page. How easy is that? To easy. Be discriminate and be wary.

Privacy is a bigger issue than you think these days.  Every step we take, every purchase we make, every credit card we stake, they are watching you. (I borrowed Sting's rhyme - couldn't resist).  But it is true.  If you post a comment about something on Facebook, you might find ads on your Facebook page about that.  And who can blame them.  Many entrepreneurial business people have discovered this new medium and like it as another channel to find their audience and sell them something.

Beyond that, we are seeing more virtual technology.  We have seen it in the movies - I am Robot was about the use of robotics to replace humans.  The movie Avatar toys with the idea of creating an alter ego outside of ourselves.  The Matrix supposes that we are living in a manufactured setting, driven and created by and for a higher technological power.

So, to answer the question, where is this taking us a people? I think it's our choice, but we have to set boundaries. The boss needs to know that after 5 the "crackberry" is turned off.  We need to set boundaries for communicating with our friends, and we need to know that somebody else might be listening and taking notes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Islands in the sun . . .

Over the past few days, I have been on the island of Hatzic Lake, British Columbia.  I am here in the land of the lotus eaters.   This little community is right next door to Mission, and near Abbotsford, which is apparently the fastest growing city in Canada.  It is picturesque and au naturelle. 

Preying eagles, hungry coyotes, and of course the ever so popular ducks that casually land in the swimming pool, totally and perhaps strategically missing the lake altogether.  It's nature.  Predators, prey, squatters and runners, all participating in the quest to survive another day.

I watched the last episode of LOST, and I am proud to say, I am lost on what the show is about, so I am thankful that I did not invest 3 years of my life watching it. However, with my 2 hours of experience with this mental mystery, I wonder if the island is a metaphor for our own reality where we each hide a piece of ourselves on a special island of our own, so that we always have a common bond with our own reality.

Watching out the window, the eagles and ducks appear to have this figured out. Their DNA and natural instincts prescribe their natural way of life.  You will never see a mouse turning on a hawk, mid field, and the hawk fleeing for its life.  Here on the island, there are rules of the game and one must respect the law of order. And there are distinct roles on this island of personkind: we have healers, thinkers, doers, dreamers, predators and victims.

The island and its time travel qualities is a well played out theme in literature and life. We often escape to islands when we want to get away from it all. There is something attractive about being marooned and isolated from the land lubbers.  We like to escape and be in another place.  Johnathon Swift created "Gulliver's Travels" as a metaphor for the way he saw things, but couldn't express, due to political and social constraints.  Alfred Tennyson wrote "The Lotus Eaters" in 1832 to explore the concept of escapism.

This age of technology creates a new kind of escapism, and leaves yet another gaping hole to the questions:  Are we there? Is this my reality, or is it someone else's?  Does anybody really know what time it is?  Is anybody out there? Can anyone hear me? 

The movie, "Matrix", explores the supposition that we are subject to a master mind / mainframe, and that we are living via the programming of another.  There is a Biblical parallel to this - the concept that the book is written, and fate unfolds as we make choices along the way, but that we are all destined to a truth. We just don't know what it is yet until we find it.

The answer to all these questions, is it depends on where you are standing.  To illustrate, look at the impact of time zones.  At this moment, my daughter is in Australia,  a continent island surrounded by the sea. She is living in my tomorrow, while I am living my my today. Conversely, she is living in "her" today, and I am living in "her" yesterday. 

You get the point.  Time is relative and so is experience, and yes we are all living on our own islands under the sun. But there is a single truth that I have learned thus far in my journey:   if you are the prey to the eagle,  duck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some thoughts on being human

There are moments in life when we try and try, and still it's not enough.  There are times when you wish you would have reacted differently, been more kind, been more generous.  There are days when you wince at the things that were said and done.  These are teaching moments.

They teach us to reflect on the situation and remember it, for better and for worse. Teaching moments sting - they make you wince when you think of them.  Teaching moments bring our humanity back to us so that we remember how to be  . . . human.

Being human is not an easy task for us humans, I find.  Quite often, I think that to be human is to be a great aspiration, and not easy to achieve.

So what is a good human?  To me, a good human is someone who is authentic in who they are and live in their own skin, no matter what.  Good humans stand up for others when they need it, no matter what the repercussions.  Good humans ask for help, and they help others, without being asked.  Those are tall orders.  Think of great humans who embodied these principles and who have shaped our world with their actions:   Gandhi, Martin Luther King. Princess Diana, Mother Teresa . . .

Sometimes I worry that there are not enough good humans.  Truthfully, I tend to see a lot of what I would consider "carnivorous" behavior in the world.  People who would swallow their young to get ahead.  People who would sell their friends down a river for a chance to get up stream.  In fact, sometimes I think this kind of behavior is rewarded.  Maybe that's why many leaders tend to have narcissist behaviors.

All I can say is, nobody is human all the time.  We slip into negative behaviors because we are afraid, intimidated, or our pride and ego is driving us.  Good humans feel others and are empathetic towards them.  But they and we are human, so we make mistakes.

I am happy to report that there are good humans walking among us.  A leader whom I respect is the President of the University of Regina.  She said recently at a Women in Leadership Conference:  She said, "leaders cry sometimes. . . because as a leader, if you didn't invest emotional energy, you are not a leader."

Another leader who I believe to be a great human, my friend, coach and mentor,  recently reminded that everyone fails, everyone falters. Everyone wishes they would have done or said things differently.  It's how you pick yourself up that matters.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's important to remember . . .

 . . . the path you take and the reasons why.
 . . . the people that matter in the decisons you make.
 . . . when to swallow your pride and ego.
 . . . to let the things that matter, matter.
 . . . that after the bandaid is ripped off, the pain subsides.
 . . . that everything heals.
 . . . that each day ends with the sun set.
 . . . that each day begins with a sun rise.
 . . . that not everyone is on your team.
 . . . that those who are loyal and unconditional deserve your sacrifice.
 . . . that that who are not deserve only your commitment to task.
  . . . that self respect and integrity are what you take with you every day
 . . .  to carry your self respect and integrity home each  night.
 . . . that sometimes the sprint is painful, but is far from the finish line.
 . . . what matters.
. . .  what doesn't.
 . . . who does.
 . . . who doesn't.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How to be a Pink Flamingo in a Brown Duck Pond

Today, I heard quacking, but then I realized I was just listening in the wrong language. Of late, I have been observing the fowl world and more specifically communication, adaptation and behavioral strategies.

I am particularly interested in the contrast between the flamingo and the brown duck because I find these feathered friends to be very familiar with our own species. When one thinks of the flamingo, we think of bright colors. The brown duck is often associated with dull, guarded behavior. The flamingo is thought to be gregarious, fabulous, fiery and flamboyant.

The brown duck is staid, serious, safe and dull in appearance. The flamingo celebrates and dances, while the brown duck perches and waddles. Flamingos like to party in mobs (we have all seen the ever so popular lawn flamingo that often converges in packs of 40 or 50) and brown decks tend to prefer the linear approach to moving together.

And flamingos are revered for their beauty. Ancient Egyptians believed flamingos to be the living representation of the god Ra. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature. They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted flamingos in their art. Brown Ducks make good decoys.

Let me illustrate with some observations and facts.

Flamingos have what it takes to survive a caustic environment.
The flamingo is often referred to as "Fire Birds" and are some of the only creatures designed to survive in the caustic environment of a volcanic lake. Equipped with a filter-feeding system unlike any other bird on earth, flamingoes' beaks have evolved to skim tiny algae from the water's surface. By swinging their upside-down heads from side to side or swishing water with their fat tongues, flamingos siphon the lake water through their filters to trap algae. They can filter as many as 20 beakfuls of algae-rich water in a single second. This unique feeding system gives flamingos a certain security: while they must watch out for predators like jackals or eagles, they compete with no other animals for food.
(Source: )

Flamingos have balance and appreciate a little zen, now and then. 
Flamingos often stand on one leg, the other tucked beneath the body. The reason for this behavior is not fully understood. Some suggest that the flamingo, like some other animals, has the ability to have half of its body go into a state of sleep, and when one side is rested, the flamingo will swap leg and then let the other half sleep, but this has not been proven. Recent research has indicated that standing on one leg may allow the birds to conserve more body heat, given they spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water. As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom. 

Flamingos flourish famously and with fervor.
Flamingos have no firm mating season. The parents build a mud-cone nest that holds one egg, which males and females take turn incubating. When the chicks hatch, their parents must take care to keep the infants from falling off the nest into the caustic lake. When they are old enough to venture from the nest, chicks join groups of thousands and explore their home lakes, waiting for their parents to bring them mouthfuls of water at mealtimes. flamingos hatch with grey plumage, but adults range from light pink to bright red due to aqueous bacteria and beta carotene obtained from their food supply.

Flamingos love to stand out, and show off. (Seriously, can you do this?)
A well-fed, healthy flamingo is more vibrantly coloured and thus a more desirable mate. A white or pale flamingo, however, is usually unhealthy or malnourished. Captive flamingos are a notable exception; many turn a pale pink as they are not fed carotene at levels comparable to the wild.

Flamingos love to flash mob dance. 
Posturing and signaling with their wings, bowing and bending their necks, running back and forth as a group, and then suddenly taking flight to wheel around the edges of the lake -- a crowd of dancing flamingos is one of the strangest, most breathtaking sights in the natural world. Is it a mating ritual? Are the birds burning up excess energy? Or do they do it simply for fun? No one is really sure.

Click on the link here to see Flamingos flash mob dance:

Monday, May 10, 2010

A lesson from the Ants revisited

Companies today are very interested in engaging their employees to the greatest extent possible because an engaged person tends to work toward greater things. Think about it. If you are engaged in a sport, you contribute your best to help the team be successful, because your success is their success. Businesses are like that, but the problem is, a business does not often present an engaging reason to engage.

I do believe engagement is environmental. It is in fact a necessity for the health of an "ecosystem", be it a company, a person, or an ant colony.  If you are reading these blogs, you might remember the one about the ants in Brazil.  They all got together and used their collective strength to carry a piece of cookie 5 times their size back to their queen. In a colony, ants that don't work, I suspect, don't survive. People are like that too.  A person who is engaged in his or her life is actively living. 

So, if engagement is so important to a person's personal ecosystem,  I often wonder to myself - why do people check out?  Why do they opt out? And why would they actually spend time being unhealthy, which sets an entire path in motion.  In the ant world, my guess this would have negative effects on both the ant and the colony.  We all observe this in the workforce.

But what a waste.  It's hard to get in the game sometimes, and yes, it's hard to care about everything. But one has to care about the people to whom he or she is responsible and his or her commitments.  Step back and think about it. What matters most?  I would say family, health and happiness matter the most. The rest is just geography.