Category Archives: interesting people

Upcoming talk: Toronto Innovation Showcase

Just a little FYI to let people know I’m going to be in Toronto on Monday, November 2nd for the City of Toronto’s Innovation Showcase.

I’ll be doing a panel Open Government with Maryantonett Flumian (President of the Institute On Governance, I remember meeting her when she was Deputy Minister of Service Canada), Nick Vitalari (Executive Vice President at nGenera), and Peter Corbett (CEO of iStrategyLabs – which runs the Apps for Democracy Competitions for Washington DC).

The Showcase will be running November 2nd and 3rd and our panel will be on Monday the 2nd from 10:15am until noon in the City Council chambers. Registration is free for those who’d like to come and for those interested but not in Toronto, you will be able to watch a live webcast of the event online from their website. You’ll also be able to follow the event on twitter hashtags #TOshowcase and #opendataTO

The goal of the showcase is to provide:

“a venue for you to come and meet with your colleagues to discuss these questions, hear their success stories, share experiences about opportunities and challenges in the public sector using social media, propose suggestions, exchange information on IT and trends, create connections, knowledge, tools and policies that address the increased demand by citizens for better public service, transparency, civic engagement and democratic empowerment.”

Should be fun – hope to catch you there and to have something fun to blog about after it’s over.

The Day my Universe Changed

burke-universeLast night I re-watched the first episode of James Burke’s 1985 history/science series, The Day the Universe Changed. If you’ve never had a had a chance to watch it, find it in your local library or watch it on Youtube (thank you Gary C for the link) you won’t regret it.

James Burke is a personal hero of mine. I fell in love with his work in Grade 9 when I stumbled across his shows on The Learning Channel. I even emailed with him in my second year of undergrad in the hopes of securing a summer job (I wasn’t successful).

There are so many things I learnt from Burke that have stayed with me over the past 2 decades but three things really stuck out as I re-watched the first episode.

First, I’ve always admired his ability to take incredibly complex ideas and make them not only easy to understand, but fun and engaging. Part of it is his passion: Here is a man with a sharp mind, a glint in his eye, and a heart in love with his chosen subject. But watching the episode, it is obvious that the script is meticulously planned. So as Burke hops around the world, every word, every scene, every prop, helps advance the idea and narrative he is conveying. Had TED talks been available over the internet in 1985, I think James Burke would have been the master TED talk presenter (and more of a household name today). I spend a good part of my life trying to convey ideas, and it’s fun to go back and see a master at work.

Second, James Burke is the first person who made me consciously comfortable with complexity. I always loved history (I ultimately majored in it) but until I met Burke history was always conveyed in a nice neat linear fashion. Burke tore that notion up. He weaves together complicated tapestries (which in the medium of television is no small feat) of not just science, history and social change, but also of luck, chance and misfortune to help paint a picture of how we ended up being both who we are, and where we are. Reflecting on my most recent talk on the future of government and on a recent blog post, I’ve frequently talked about how:

The biggest problem in predicting the future isn’t envisaging what technologies will emerge – it is forecasting how individuals and communities will respond to these technologies. In other words I often find people treat technology as a variable, but social values as a constant.

Watching Burke yesterday, I realized that 20 years ago he shared this idea with me first. If I’m comfortable with the complexity of this type of thinking today, it’s because he’s given me two decades to first get comfortable, and then mature intellectually, with it.

So if you are interested, go find a copy of The Day the Universe Changed. It is a wonderful defense of curiosity and asking questions, no matter what powers or issues that puts you at odds with. It’s that curiosity that Burke made me aware of in myself, and that today fuels and motivates me.

Thank you James.

Opendata & Opencities: Proposed panel for SXSWi

panel pickerOver the past year I’ve been inspired by the fact that an increasing number of cities are thinking about how to more effectively share the data they generate with their citizens.

As most readers of this blog are probably aware, I’ve been engrossed advising the Mayor’s Office here in Vancouver on the subject and am excited about the progress being made on the City’s open data project.

Since there is so much energy around this topic across North America I thought there might be interest among SXSWers on the opportunities, challenges and benefits surrounding open data.

Here’s my proposed panel, and if you think it is a good idea I’d be elated if you took the time to head over to the panel picker website and voted for it!

Title:

OpenData: Creating Cities That Think Like the Web

Level:

Beginner

Category:

Community / Online Community, Government and Technology, Social Issues, User Generated Content, Web Apps / Widgets

Questions:

  1. What is open data?
  2. How can I effectively mobilize people to get my local government to share data?
  3. How can open data be shared most effectively?
  4. What are the benefits of open data?
  5. What business models are emerging around municipal open data?
  6. How can citizens/citizen coders help government bureaucracies share open data?
  7. How do government bureaucracies centered on secrecy and security shift to being interested in open?
  8. How is open data changing the role of government?
  9. How is open data changing the relationship between citizens and government?

Description:

Across North America municipal governments are opening up their data and encouraging citizens to create online applications, mash-ups and tools to improve city services and foster engagement. Panelists from cities leading this open movement will discuss the challenges, lessons, benefits and opportunities of open data and open government.

Some of the people I’d love to have as panelists include:

Kelly Pretzer (@kellypretzer) Is a City of SF employee who has been working with a team on an open data initiative with the city of SF. You can track their work here.

Peter Corbett (@corbett3000) is CEO of iStrategyLabs. iStrategy Labs is the organization that ran the Apps for Democracy competition in Washington DC. If Peter can’t make it, we’d hope iStrategy could send a representative.

Ryan Merkley (@ryanmerkley) Political advisor to the Mayor of Toronto and helping oversee the open Toronto Initiative.

Myself! (@david_a_eaves) I’ve been advising the Mayor of Vancouver on open government and open data and co-drafted the Open Motion, passed by the City of Vancouver on May 21st.

It would, of course, be nice to have Vivek Kundra, but I’ll confess, I’m not sure I have that kind of pull…

Eat the Young!

There was a fair amount of chatter among my friends last week as a result of  Lawrence Martin’s column If there’s an inspiration deficit in our politics, blame it on the young. My friend Alison Loat wrote an excellent, albeit polite, response, pointing out that blame could be spread across sectors and generations. She’s right. There is lots of blame to go around. And I don’t think Martin should get off so lightly. Here’s why:

The young reject the political status quo, as they should, but they are too lazy to do anything about it. Most of the under-25s don’t even bother to vote. Instead of fighting for change, they wallow in their vanities and entitlements. Not much turns them on except the Idol shows, movies with smut humour and the latest hand-held instruments. Their disillusionment with the political class is understood. Their complacency isn’t. It will soon be their country. You’d think they’d want to take the reins.

The problem with Martin’s piece is that he’s looking in the wrong place. He’s not looking at what young people are doing. He’s looking at what he thinks they should be doing… or more specifically, what he would have done when he was 25. To say an entire generation has given up because they don’t vote or participate in party politics is farcical.

Yes, young people reject the status quo, but it is deeper than that. They eschew the tools that Martin wants them to use – not just party politics but traditional media as well. They reject the whole system. But this isn’t out of juvenile laziness, but for the very opposite reason. In a world filled with choice, one that fragments our attention, they seek to focus their energy where they will be most effective and efficient – at the moment, that frequently means they are uninterested in the slow and byzantine machinations of politics (why engage when every party, even the NDP, are conservative?), the snobbishness of traditional media (when’s the last time a columnist on the Globe actually responded to a reader’s comment on the website?) or a hierarchical and risk-averse public service (held hostage by the country’s auditor general).

Indeed, Martin’s example around voting is perfect starting point. Here is a system that has not changed over 60 years. By and large one must still vote at the local church, community centre, or school, places that may or may not be near public transit and are not frequently visited by young people. In a world where shareholder proxy votes are regularly done over the web (not to mention credit card transactions), how are young people supposed to have confidence in a system that still cannot manage electronic voting? Complaining that an Elections Canada campaign targeting young people didn’t work is akin to wondering why a marketing campaign on Facebook didn’t generate a bigger youth audience for a cable TV Matlock marathon. Why didn’t young people watch TV any more? Can’t they see that Matlock is a classic?

Nor can they find much comfort in the media. If newspapers are the gathering places for political discussion, how inspiring might they be to young people? Since Martin writes for the Globe and Mail, let’s start there. Its opinion page’s most frequent columnists include Rick Salutin (68), Rex Murphy (62), Lawrence Martin (61), Roy McGregor (61), Jeffrey Simpson (60), Margaret Wente (59), Christie Blarchford (58), John Ibbitson (54) and the one young voice, Jim Stanford (43?). It’s not just political parties that have boring old guys (or BOGs, to use Martin’s term). I think it is safe to say that the hegemony of the boomers isn’t limited to the polling station. (No wonder so many of us prefer blogs – we at least get to hear what our peers think.) I wish the Globe would take a risk and hire some young and smart columnist for their opinion page – someone like Andrew Potter. The New York Times did; they replaced the relatively young William Kristol (56)with 29 year-old Ross Douthat. It would appear there’s an inspiration deficit in our newspaper too…

But above all, just because someone doesn’t vote, prefers blogs to the Globe, or doesn’t find Ottawa engaging doesn’t mean they are either inactive or a bad citizen.

Take my friends over at Mozilla (some who vote, some who don’t – but all of whom are young): they are part of a worldwide movement that broke Microsoft’s monopoly over control of the web (probably the single most important act to preserve freedom of speech and expression in the world as well as democratizing innovation online) and now, through a combination of technology (Firefox) and advocacy (the Mozilla Foundation) are continuing to innovate and find ways to preserve the freedom of the internet. This is something no political party or government initially cared to do or was willing to do something about. Should they have devoted their time and energy to get involved in politics? Should they have instead lobbied the government to regulate Microsoft (for all the good that ended up doing)?

Or take ForestEthics – another organizations started and staffed by young people. Canadians may consistently rank the environment as one of Canada’s top priorities and yet inaction consistently wins out. So ForestEthics bypasses government altogether and combines the power protesters with that of market forces to improve logging practices and save forests. It identifies corporations — such as Victoria’s Secret, with its vast catalogue distribution — whose consumption shapes the paper industry. It then offers these corporations a choice: cooperate and reform their practices or face painful protests and boycotts. For those that cooperate, ForestEthics works with the multinational’s procurement department to help it adopt more sustainable practices. This has given ForestEthics direct influence over the forestry industry practices, since logging companies pay attention to their largest customers. Would the staff of ForestEthics be more effective running for office or working for Environment Canada?

The key is, young people (and many Canadians in general) are engaged and more exciting still, are innovating in new and transformative ways. It just happens that most of it isn’t seen by today’s BOGs. Moreover, even when it is happening right in front of us it is hard to spot, such as within the Globe (where it feels like Mathew Ingram is almost singlehandedly fighting to save the newspaper), within political parties (where a community here in Vancouver has been excited and rewarded by our work with Vision Vancouver around Open Data) or within the public service (where a small and and amazing team within Treasury Board has been creating tools like GCPEDIA in an effort to pull the government into the 21st century).

But because the efforts are often invisible, herein lies the real dangers: not to young people — they are going to be just fine — but for the institutions Lawrence Martin and Alison Loat worry about. To many of my friends, today’s newspapers, political parties and public service look a lot more like General Motors than they do Google, Facebook, or better still, Mozilla, ForestEthics, or Teach For America. As they look at the institutions Martin assumes they should engage, they’re still evaluating: should we bail them out or should we just let them go bankrupt and start from scratch?

And that’s why Martin is looking in the wrong place. His misidentifies where the real innovation gap lies. The fact is that these institutions simply aren’t places where new thinking or experimentation can easily take place. They may have been at one point – perhaps when Martin was young, I don’t know – but they aren’t today. So those young people he believes are wallowing in their vanities and entitlements… they aren’t apathetic, they’ve simply opted to deploy their social capital elsewhere, places Martin chooses not look, or don’t know where to look.

So is there an innovation gap? Absolutely. Just not as Martin describes it. There is a gap between where it is actually taking place, and where he thinks it should be taking place. But let’s be clear, there’s plenty of innovation taking place, if you know where to look. Will it manifest itself in some political revolution? I don’t know. But more importantly, will it change Canada, or the world? Definitely. It already has.

As an aside, one friend suggested that Lawrence Martin and I should debate: “Be it resolved there is an inspiration deficit in our politics and young people are to blame.” If Martin is up for it, I’d accept the debate whenever and where ever he wishes. Perhaps we could rope Alison in to moderate.

eaves.ca Around the Web

In the past couple of weeks I’ve done a few interviews and been cited in a few articles. Don’t want to dwell on these so thought I’d just bundle them into one quick post.

First up, eaves.ca held its position as the 5th highest ranked political blog in Canada. While the methodology of the ranking system is probably not perfect and I doubt that I generate the 5th most web traffic in the country it is still nice to be ranked so well.

On August 3rd Michael Geist published ‘Crowdsourcing’ puts many extra hands to work in his regular column. In it he cites my work in Vancouver around open data and the upcoming release of a garbage reminder service I blogged about as examples (more on the Garbage reminder service soon).

Speaking of open data, on August 2nd Cloud of Data podcaster Paul Miller released an interview with me on Vancouver’s Open Motion and the future of open data in government. (Also available here.)

More locally, Jeffrey Simpson ran a piece on August 6th entitled Open Web advocates say social media needs reform in the Georgia Straight where Zak Greant, Mark Surman and I comment on privacy and data ownership in social networks.

Finally, Steve Anderson, the man running the saveournet.ca campaign to preserve internet neutrality in Canada penned these important pieces on the current CRTC hearings and process around the future of the internet regulation in Canada.

Also, a number of my posts have been ending up in themarknews.com a website I recommend checking out…

The Rat Pack of Public Service Sector Renewal

As many of you know I spend a lot of time thinking about public service sector renewal – that’s a wonkish term for renewing the public service. I do it because I think the public service is one of the most important institutions in the country since it affects everything we do, pretty much every day.

Over the past few years I’ve met more and more people who are equally passionate about this issue. Some I’ve met in person, others I’ve just chatted with by email. But, over the last 4 years I’ve watched a small group of bloggers – a rat pack of public service sector renewal – emerge. We’re scattered across the country and have come to from different angles but we all care about how our government is, how it should be, and how we can get to from the first place to the latter.

This is no easy task. I’m outside of government so it’s easier for me to speak truth to power. That’s why I’m so impressed with the other rat packers, in pursuit of making government better some have put their jobs on the line from time to time. I’d encourage you to go check our their blogs and give them a read.

The CPSR rat pack:

Me: as my readers know, my own thinking on public service sector renewal tends to focus on public policy development, and how it is going to be impacted by demographic change, technology, social media, networks and emergent systems.

Nick Charney’s blog CPSRenewal is one of the best blogs on public service sector renewal out there. Nick often does a weekly roundup of CPSR articles and blog posts, interviews with public servants and generally shares his thoughts.

Etienne Laliberte is one of the bravest public servants I know. A couple of years ago he wrote “An Inconvenient Renewal” in which shared his thoughts on renewal. Most important, his is probably the only document I’ve seen that treats renewal as a management problem, not a policy problem (something I’ve discussed in the past and intend to talk about again shortly). You can catch him at his blog as well.

A couple of other people I think of as being part of the Rat Pack include Peter Cowan – an OpenEverything alumnus – whose part of a team doing very interesting work with social media tools at Natural Resources Canada.

Thomas Kearney, who doesn’t blog, but is amazing nonetheless, has been a big part of the work behind GCPEDIA.

There’s Laura Wesley’s who’s got a great blog over at Results for Canadians: Measuring Success in Government. Nice to have someone concerned with how we measure success!

And finally there is the outspoken Douglas Bastien at Government of Canada 2.0, ready to tell it as it is and take no prisoners.

I know there are more people than just those I’ve mentioned, but these are the group I know and who’ve always been kind about letting an semi-outsider like me in. If you care about Canadian public service sector renewal (twitter hashtag #cpsr) then I hop you’ll add their RSS feeds to your reader.

Structure of Scientific Revolutions vs. The Black Swan (Journalism remix)

Structure of Scientific Revolutions CoverI’ve just finished Thomas S. Kuhn’s classic 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” For those unfamiliar with the title, it is the book that gave us the important and oft over-used term: “paradigm shift.”

I won’t pretend it was an easy to read. Written in a classic academic style, what is a fascinating topic and set of ideas struggles to shine. However, don’t hear me blaming the author for this… it is both that the book comes from another era, and that it springs from a cannon of academic writing that simply doesn’t seek to be as penetrable outside a certain community.

That said, I did enjoy it immensely. One reason is that I once again lucked out and ended up reading it at the same time as another book – Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s The Black Swan – that despite being on a different topics and written 45 years later, dovetails nicely.

blackswan-199x300Paradigm shifts are black swan events. They can be hard, if not impossible to predict. They can arise because of the appearance of a single unforeseen data point (a black swan in a world where all swans were previously believed to be white) and they overthrow systems that we have become overly, comfortably, complacent and reliant on. Finally, although paradigms shifts are rare, because they force us to see the world in an entirely new way they have a disproportional and possibly even unparalleled, impact.

I often like to refer to Schopenhauer’s three stages of truth: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Both Taleb and Kuhn’s books play on this theme. For Taleb, our problem is that we can’t see or predict the changes in our world. We expect that we can predict them and that they’ll arrive in a nice orderly – or bell curve distributed – manner.

They don’t.

Despite the mental image we have of history (and our lives), history doesn’t crawl. It moves it fits and starts. Oscillating between long steady states and sudden change. We often believe the steady states will last forever, and when change comes we trivialize it and then fight it, until it becomes the new steady state, at which point, we come to believe it was always that way.

This is also Kuhn point. Look at how he sees paradigm shifts as being important for both the science and politics changes:

Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environmental that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by growing sense, again restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution…

…The parallel has, however, a second and more profound aspect upon which the significance of the first depends. Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favour of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all. Initially it is crisis alone that attenuates the role of political institutions as we have already seen it attenuate the role of paradigms. In increasing numbers individuals become increasingly estranged from political life and behave more and more eccentrically within it. Then, as the crisis deepens, many of these individuals commit themselves to some concrete proposal for the reconstruction of society in a new institutional framework. At that point the society is divided into competing camps or parties, one seeking to defend the old institutional constellation, the others seeking to institute some new one. And, once that polarization has occurred, political recourse fails. Because they differ about the institutional matrix with which political change is to be achieved and evaluated, because they acknowledge no supra-institutional framework for the adjudication of revolutionary difference, the parties to a revolutionary conflict must finally resort to the techniques of mass persuasion, often including force. Though revolutions have had a vital role in the evolution of political institutions, that role depends upon their being partially extrapolitical or extrainstitutional events. (Kuhn, Pages 92-93 of the 3rd edition)

If you don’t think the world operates this way, just look as far as the news industry.

When Shirky says revolutions are times when “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place” he is paraphrasing Kuhn. Journalism is already dividing into camps, those defending the old, and those seeking to figure out what the “new” will be.

But despite all the discussion, we are still very early on in the debate. How do I know? Because we haven’t even begun to shed the old paradigm? The entire debate about journalism, what it is, how it should be practiced and what makes it good or bad is still being largely being evaluated and adjudicated by the old matrix. When journalism finally gets saved I suspect it will be because it will be, in part, radically redefined – a redefinition affirmed and made possible by the establishment of some new institutions, organizations and/or processes. (That’s what my post on the death of journalist was seeking to do).

So yes, we’ve left the ridiculed phase (that lasted 20 years), but we are still early on in the violently oppose phase. All thos unhappy journalists are angry because they may be the midst of a paradigm shift, and that means much like Newtonian physicists confronting Einstein’s theory of relatively everything, absolutely everything they believed in, fought for, taught and lived. is probably going to get redefined and altered beyond recognition. It will still be there, but it will forever be understood differently.

That’s a scary thought. But it is fun one as well, filled with possibility. Which is why Kuhn and Taleb are fun to read together.

It's a brave man who advocates against R2P at the U of O…

…and my friend Matteo Legrenzi – assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa – appears to be just the guy. Remember, this is the University at which Allan Rock is president.

Recently Matteo penned this critical piece on R2P in the Ottawa Citizen. In his trademark style it has some notable harsh lines including:

Occasionally calls to mobilize Canada’s diplomatic network in support of such notions reverberate through Ottawa. The current government is perceived as not incisive enough in the promotion of these “emerging” norms in international relations.

Admittedly, these calls more often than not come from retired politicians who are not in charge of Canada’s foreign policy, let alone world affairs. They are part of that wider syndrome that affects many individuals involved in policy-making after they retire: We are sorry we did not save the world while we were in charge, but let us tell you exactly how to go about it now that we are out of office.

and, because he is an expert on Middle Eastern issues, this quote:

In many Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, opposition to R2P is the only thing that unites the government and the Islamist opposition.

Matteo and I don’t always agree but I do always enjoy his blunt assessments of Canada’s foreign policy. There is a strain of thinking in Canadian foreign policy that is more obsessed with pursuing the perfect ideal than pragmatically finding solution that works. This is something I’ve occasionally tried to write about. Matteo’s assessments is far tougher, and is the type of piece few Canadians are willing to voice and fewer still like to hear (especially in Ottawa).

What makes Matteo tough is that there is truth to his assessment. Contrary to what some politicians preach R2P is unpopular in many parts of the world and it is not established international norm. George Bush spent 8 years believing that the world could become a certain way if he simply believed and acted that it was as such… it was a dangerous strategy that had devastating results. A similar strategy, even if motivated by what we believe are more noble intentions, will also be fraught with danger.

I know not everyone will agree with Matteo’s analysis, but even those who disagree with his prescription should at least take away that one lesson: reality may bite, but we can never ignore it.

Articles I'm digesting 6/2/2009

The Quiet Unravelling of Canadian Democracy by James Travers

This poignant piece by James Travers is long overdue. The concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office – which started with Trudeau and has continued with each successive Prime Minister – along with the decline of cabinet and of parliamentary committees, is corroding our governing institutions. Travers sums it all up succinctly and frighteningly.

My sense is that – while no one would articulate it this way – people may be disengaged from politics because we expect so little from our MPs, so little from the system itself. Our governing system has – I believe – been durable because it relies less on hard rules and more on conventions and norms. This has given it flexibility but also demands a certain degree of self-restraint and self-managed code of conduct among its participants.What makes the corrosion hard to point at specifically is that there is rarely a single, specific triggering event – no moment when a “rule” is broken, but rather a slow process where conventions and norms are abandoned. Take the recent Conservative Party tactic of engaging in personal attacks during member statements. No “rules” were broken, but another norm, one that tried to help elevate the level of discussion in the house, was weakened.

I’m less interested in radical changes – such as new ways to elect members – since it is unclear to me why or how these would change things (and the unanticipated consequences are more troubling still). Instead, there are small steps that could have dramatic results. Giving MPs real money for research and policy staff (like their counterparts in the US) would be one area where I think a small change could – over time – shift some (admittedly not all) power back to MPs. But in the mean time let us get better aware of the problem – so if you can, take a look at Travers piece.

Einstein, Franklin, and the Role of Creativity in Today’s World” (a lecture) by Walter Isaacson (via David B)

After listening to this beautiful lecture Saturday morning I realized that I’d read (or listened to, to be precise) Isaacson’s book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. The lecture tries to tease out what made Einstein and Franklin great men – it wasn’t enough that they were intelligent (lots of people are intelligent) but what is it that made them creative? In short, it is to do what is important to you and to maintain the capacity to challenge – to be intolerant of assumptions, institutional inertia and lazy thinking – while remaining hyper-tolerant of others, their thinking and their perspectives.

If you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole talk (which is 44 minutes, there are 25 minutes of Q&A) then consider fast forwarding to the 37th minute of talk where he talks of both men’s final moments. The way they are at humble, aware of their sins and successes, inspiring to those around them but, most of all, consistently dedicated to the values and tasks they love, well, honestly, it left me teary. Consider Franklin’s funeral in 1790 where:

“All 35 Ministers, Preachers and Priests of Philadelphia link arms with the Rabbi of the Jews to march with him to the grave. It is that type of creativity of tolerance, of looking for new ways of doing things that they were fighting for back in Franklin’s time and I really do think that’s a struggle we are fighting for both at home and in the world today.”

The lecture reminded me of why Isaacson’s book transformed Franklin into a hero to me.

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson

This article has been circulating around for a couple of weeks now and it is the most damning admonition of both the financial collapse and both Bush’s and Obama’s response that I have read.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity [between the US and the financial collapses in South Korea, Malaysia, Russia and Argentina]: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

It gets worse.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside.

The biggest danger? The crises gets somewhat resolved… and nothing changes. This is why I’m such a big fan of Umair Haque’s blog.

Is Charest ready to pounce? by Rheal Seguin

A while back I predicted that, after the Conservatives bungled the budget and the coalition was struck that Layton, Dion and Harper would all lose their jobs before the end of 2009. I stand by the claim (and now have money riding on it with some good people out there). It would appear that the press is increasingly smelling blood in the water around Harper…

Journalism in an Open Era (follow up link)

Been getting a number of great comments and emails from people on the post on Journalism in an Open Era.

Another blogger I meant to link to he’s ideas on the future of organizations I find smart, edgy and thoughtful is Umair Haque, the Director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs for the Harvard Business Review.

In a piece entitled How to Build a Next-Generation Business Now, Haque’s concludes that the problem that dragged down wall street is in part, the same one that is killing (or transforming to be nicer) journalism. My journalism in an open era piece is set, in part, on the belief that the gut wrenching changes we are experiencing economically are part of a transition to a new rule-set, one that will favour, and possibility require, more “open” institutions and business models. This will require – in part – a new journalism but also real leadership in the private, public and non-profit sector (the type Henry Mintzberg raged about in his excellent oped in the Globe and Mail).

Here’s Haque (bold and italic text is mine) on the subject:

The first step in building next-generation businesses is to recognize the real problem boardrooms face – that we’ve moved beyond strategy decay. Building next-gen businesses depends on recognizing that they are not about new business models or even new strategies.

The stunningly total meltdown we just witnessed in the investment banking sector – the end of Wall St as we know it – was something far darker and more remarkable. It wasn’t simple business model obsolescence – an old business model being superseded by a more efficient or productive one. The problem the investment banks had wasn’t at the level of business models – it had little to do with revenue streams, customer segmentation, or value propositions.

And neither was it what Gary Hamel has termed “strategy decay” – imitation and commoditization eroding the returns to a once-defensible strategic position, scarce resource, or painstakingly built core competence.

It was something bigger and more vital: institutional decay. Investment banks failed not just as businesses, but as financial institutions that were supposedly built to last. It was ultimately how they were organized and managed as economic institutions – poor incentives, near-total opacity, zero responsibility, absolute myopia – that was the problem. The rot was in their DNA, in their institutional makeup, not in their strategies or business models.

The point is this: the central challenge 21st century boardrooms must face is not reinventing strategies, or business models, but reinventing businesses as institutions.

Old stuff is breaking fast. The rot is in the DNA – we may, in may circumstances, need a new institutional make up. And the new rule sets need to be understood quickly. Are we coming into an Open Era? I don’t know, but I think open and/or transparent organizations are going to have a leg up.