Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

Out the window a light dusting of the sparkly stuff reminds me that we are closing in on another year. This annual newsletter is a fine excuse to observe the grains of time that have slipped by. I was introducing myself to a fine new bunch of staff the other day, and being of this era, I pulled out my phone and flipped through it to show them the last year in selfies.

Gosh, it looks like all I've been doing is going on runs. Crystal joined me this year on a few MEC runs; a great deal by the way if you don't need the T-shirt. I also did the spring Shamrock run just because, and the Run for the Cure with Tammy, Donald's fiancee. Tammy and I have a standing date on Wednesday nights, usually fitness related. That girl has lost a total of a hundred pounds, and is a superstar at the Weight Wise clinic.

This summer was a different trial of endurance, as we faced the spectre of unemployment. Art got a work promotion and his supplemental salary got us through more than one rough patch. Since the fall I have been working for West Canadian Digital, and a very fine employer they are turning out to be. The work is challenging and, my staff, every one of them, are dedicated and hard working people.

Nothing gets under my skin faster than boredom, so with spare time on my hands I have been Pok√©mon playing (level 22), sewing, painting, writing, and jumping in to new opportunities. I did a talk on the power of Process workflow at Nerd Nite Edmonton (sort of like Ted talks with beer), and now I'm a fan. Like them on Facebook. Cruise through event photos of past events. Join me at The Needle Vinyl Tavern one fine night. The next event is January 11; hint, hint I'll be there. Get a ticket before it sells out.

And I have joined Brownlee's Best Toastmaster's club, as part of a personal long-term goal that I choose to keep to myself for now. Check back with me in 2019.

Naomi is sixteen, maturing before my eyes, scaring herself with the reality that the future is truly hers now, and finally settling down taking each day as it comes. It helps that she has some stellar teachers this year. Crystal is of course taking life seriously. She also is my biggest fan, capturing some of the best shots I have of Nerd Nite. We do the MEC runs together, but not at the same pace. She has her best gait and I have mine. So we high-five at some point in the race on her return leg, and she is there to greet me at the finish line. A fine analogy of our relationship, I think.

Donald is calm, happy, and in love. His plans for a fall wedding to Tammy in 2017 are shaping up. I am so proud of them both.

Dad has entered the final phase of life with more grace than I would have credited him. The truth is that COPD will take him, and that he faces increasing frailty to the end. He loves visits, and inquires often on the welfare of all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He tells stories, he shares family history, and provides always crystal clear insight in to life. I look forward to our visits not out of any sense of duty, but treating each visit as icing on the cake.

Icing. A dusting of snow. Sparkles. Joy.

All in all, a very fine year.

Art and I pass on our very best wishes to you all this coming year.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Managing the Mundane

Have you ever had to slog through a repetitive task that seemed to never end, struggling to keep mind and body engaged, wondering if any of it was worthwhile? Seen on a gravestone never, "Here lies a good worker."

A good part of my career is composed of managing simple, mundane, ordinary, invisible, routine tasks. I can bore an executive silly in seconds, simply by talking about my day. They know the work is important, but spare the details, please. 

There are hordes of workers like these that keep a complex, industrialized society running smoothly. They keep the lights on, the doors locked, the wastebaskets empty, and the notices flowing. Unfortunately, the few times these workers do become visible is when something goes wrong. 

Is there a way to find meaning and purpose in mundane tasks? Why, yes there is. Since 1975 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been studying a state of being where the entire body and mind is engaged in a task, and published a work called "Flow" to describe this state of mind. In this work, he describes an assembly line worker who repeats the same activity many times in a day. (Pick up sprocket A and insert it in to Widget B at point C). How can such a worker find significance and meaning in his work? One way is to become increasingly skilled in his task, setting up personal challenges and steadily improving his technique.

I have used this flow technique to bring a spark of joy to any task. I have experienced flow when painting, sorting, and data crunching. I've been honing my carrot peeling technique for a decade now. Flow does indeed allow time to fly by. My best paintings were completed quickly, seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly while in a state of flow.

More recently as part of my personal transformation, I have introduced exercise as a new discipline. But discipline, "knuckling down", gritting it through, and boot-camp style isn't the way to inspire me to jump out of bed in the morning. Deep down, I have to believe there's some fun in what I choose to do. To my great relief, I found out I don't have to do burpees to be fit. I can fling myself around like a fool in Zumba if I want.

It also helps if I set medium and long term goals to train for, like the Tough Mudder that my niece invited me to in August 2015, and the Grande Cache Death Race I'm planning for now.

These days when I see an extra set of stairs I have to run up, I see an opportunity to get stronger. If I need to carry an extra five pounds of equipment, it's building my upper body strength. Every week those five pounds get lighter. I'll walk the five blocks, thank you very much. It's helping me get to where I want to be.

Energized, strong, able. 
Having fun.

Keeping the gears of an invisible service running smoothly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tikkun Olam

Word of the day Tikkun Olam. Repair the world through kind acts. Consider if there are too many people who are disinvited from the table of prosperity, they will react. As in reactionary.

Prosperity however, grows from stability.

If the disenfranchised have rejected the political establishment, perhaps it is time for direct giving, generosity. That is, by those with the most to lose from instability, chaos, anger.

I'm not using the word charity on purpose. See what Thoreau has to say about that.

The kind of giving that heals is where I come alongside my sister and put my arm around her shoulder, asking quietly, how can I help?

Charities I am considering this year include,

Lucky Iron Fish
Homeless Connect

Friday, June 17, 2016

Please, google, may I work for you? Thank you

Charming May Ashworth and her grandson Ben are basking in the glow of internet stardom this week, for Nan's polite google query,

Time magazine noted this viral news, and google UK was tickled pink. Here's their warm reply.

Which got me to thinking today, in my fourth month of unemployment, that it might not hurt to cast my sights wider. If I asked politely, might my application float it's way past thousands, and get google's attention?

Not that I'm beneath casting my net lower. The morning paper route is invigorating.

Casting higher again, google is a great place to dream for. What I would bring to google, I believe, is my ability to understand large systems and how they interact. I find new connections that leads to unique solutions. These may be buzzwords to some, but this is honestly how I put things together. I see a great shift in society in the next thirty years or so, and sharp companies will ride the wave of change.

This is why I think the change is inescapable:

World Population Trend

  • World population will peak
  • Our consumer economy is dependent on a steadily growing population 
How can an economy continue to prosper in the face of an aging or declining population? The consumer based model must be replaced with something else. I believe an efficiency based economic model would be ideal. Since we are dealing with fixed resources and a fixed population, the only way to get more with less is to get smarter about it. Our current throwaway generation will fade in to an annotation in history.

Our society has experienced great leaps in efficiency before with such innovations as crop rotation, mass production, and the Green revolution (fertilizer and improved seed).

Here's two leaps I've been pondering. I've got more ideas but I'll hang on to them for now.
  1. Global automated job matching
  2. Car for life
Automated Job Matching
Regional unemployment and shortage of skilled workers leads to missed potential. Efficient matching of worker to opportunity - globally - would increase world efficiency (prosperity) many times over. Search engines/algorithms are becoming increasingly skilled at reading our tastes and interests. But this potential has been barely utilized by either employer or employee. 

Advertising, interviewing, and selection is slow, and there is uncertainty whether the best matches are selected. Many great matches are missed simply because the selection process is so cumbersome, and the filtering process brutal. 

I think cooperation of some of our great search engines with the top employment sites would be a great first step to make job matching so much more efficient. 

Another required skill-set for this imagined future is the experience to set up a turnkey work camp with all the amenities, anywhere in the world. Some jobs, especially in labor, must be mobile in order to adapt to shifting world demands. Imagine if workers in these fields could know if an operation is closing in this part of the world, there's a home and a job for them even half a world away. A great deal of disruption and lost income (both for the employer and the worker) could be eliminated if these mobile work camps were quickly set up at location of the new demand.

Car for Life 
The disruptive technology of autonomous cars and the market forces I mentioned above means transportation and vehicle ownership in the next few years will be transformed. Futurist Tony Seba speaks of these coming changes. He is highly persuasive. I would add that in a limited-resource, limited-population economy based on efficiency, we will no longer "throw away" or exchange our vehicles every ten years. 

I envision a future where the small percentage of the population who would own their vehicles, will own them "for life". The intelligent car would stay busy during the day, earning it's keep so to speak, by picking up and dropping off rides. It picks up the owner to take her home at the end of the day of course. That owner would get pretty attached to her ride, I would imagine, over time. I don't know about you, but if I knew if I had one car for life, I'd customize my ride. 3-D printing will facilitate this. Parts on demand.

I won't be driving my ride either. I see all sorts of car fun emerging. 

Eyes on the road, James Corden!

Anyways, those are two ways I envision a radically different future. There's all sorts of innovation opportunities in the periphery of both ideas. I'd love also to coach the upcoming generation on how to see the big picture, how to find the new connections and opportunities, and present their ideas in a coherent form. The kids these days are poised to take over, and I wish them all success. It's a radically different world they are making.

Even ideas can be a dime a dozen. But I've got maturity, too. Just in case google is listening, here's my resume.

Thank you greatly for your time,



Thursday, June 2, 2016

Self-Made Books

Some days I wonder if I have read past my contemporaries - certainly well past the young folks these days, my head so stuffed full of sage advice and wonders from a lifetime of reading, if I'm ready for roasting.

Books change one. Call them the flavor enhancers of a life well worn.

Books open up new worlds and fresh perspectives in a compact and private discourse that cannot be matched in a hundred lectures. So what is a woman like me to do, when there are few who have traveled as far or as broad?

Have you ever wondered how Marco Polo fared when he returned to his home town? Would his mother's cooking ever match the exotic fare that had passed his lips? Who of his friends could match his stories, never mind understand them?

One thing a world traveler can do is write. Those thirsty for adventure can drink deep from his experience.

A modern Marco Polo is Louis L'Amour who traveled the world as a merchant seaman, making up his own education as he went along. His memoir, "Education of A Wandering Man" includes a condensed list of must-read books. I've added his list to my own.

Here's a list of self-help books that have done the most to improve my life, in order of impact, with a short note on why they made my list.

  1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey. A tough book because it demanded a tough look at my life. I got stuck on habit three and I had to put the book down a few months. What is the one thing I'm not doing would have the greatest impact on my life? I knew what it was, and indeed it made the biggest difference. Why did I wait so long?
  2. On Writing Well by Zinsser.  I put the principles in this book in to practice, specifically crafting all my writing succinctly. Clear writing demands clear thought. Clear thought leads to purposeful action and eliminates confusion. This book changed the way I think. 
  3. The Time Paradox by Zimbardo. By simple examples, the author convinced me I'd be happier reframing my miserable past in warm nostalgia, discarding the crippling bits. The happiest people have warm memories of the past, enjoy a hedonistic present, and prudently future oriented. 
  4. The Power of Habit by Duhigg. The author offers a simple but powerful message. I now redirect my habits instead of fighting them. It's way less tiring that way. 
  5. Catch! A Fishmonger's Guide to Greatness by Crother. I used the principles in here to insert fun and energy in to a large records office. Our group and the Ministry won a recognition award for this. 
  6. Leave the Office Earlier by Laura Stack. I picked up this book when I was in a very, very busy position. Indeed I stopped all overtime by applying these principles while meeting all my deadlines. I use this book as a foundation for my time management course. 
  7. Getting Things Done by David Allen. This is a time management advanced primer. This book let me relax in the midst of a hundred tasks. Have a system; trust the system.
  8. Flow by Csikszentmihalyi. This researcher's compelling studies convinced me to find moments of flow and high creativity in everything I do from peeling a carrot to completing a painting. 
  9. Iconoclast by Berns. A validation for my out-of-the box thinking. 
There's another book on Change Management, that provides over a hundred strategies on "recipe cards" that outline when and how the strategy would be used.  But I can't find it right now. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Getting my Geek On...the Process

At geek week down at the TELUS world of science. I am inspired by Mark Connolly's guests from who organize nerd evenings where local affectionados strut their stuff. In front of other nerds of course. Their events sell out so they must be tapping in to Edmonton's heart.

Which got me to thinking. What gets my geek on? Near the top of my list has got to be process mapping considering I leap at any opportunity to facilitate a session. I must have racked up at least ten thousand hours by now.

These diagrams I am convinced also are a critical tool helping businesses stop leaking money. In these times of restraint, it is a great way to keep us all afloat. I have convincing reasons to show you why.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Yet another comment on Trump

I had the occasion to draw anger. My contemporary model should be no surprise, and it was very easy to find him in full rosy glory. Now, when I am fully absorbed in drawing a figure, I come to know it, even intimately. I saw enough to make a prediction. Though it seems this side of foolish to scatter more random comments in to the roar of words surrounding this man, I'm saying it now. After all, a prediction falls a little flat after the fact.

As I drew this face, I saw perfectly - I mean - perfectly straight teeth. A tad overlarge for the mouth. His naturals have been capped. The skin, disturbingly free of wrinkles. And very evenly tanned; except for around the eyes. This is a man who is hiding his infirmity. 

If this candidate-elect ever becomes president, the job will kill him. Not from random violence or protest, but simply from over-work. He is on the brink of ill-health, and is going to great pains to hide it.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Old Rocks

Happy Old Rock Day. I picked the granite at the Devonian Gardens to sketch this morning. The challenge of sketching rocks used to confound me. Their irregular shapes and shadows are deceptively simple, but difficult to get just right. But get in to the rock, and I get a sense of what it is. Which I suspect Japanese gardeners have known for a lot longer than I have. Rocks represent immense age and experience. Age and experience is something I do hope this society learns to revere, before we bury it.

As I drew this morning in my sketchbook, this is what I saw with our Devonian rock, carefully selected and placed by a master gardener,

Rocks just sit there, so it is easy to pass them by. They don't charm, entertain, or amuse like a lively pet. The rock has no need of us, so it's message is a whisper in the fountain of life. One must take time to sit and listen. First I am impressed with how massive it is, and how life has settled in to it's nooks and crannies. There's a heavy fall of orange pine needles, and several lichens; green, grey, and white, creep across it's surface. How long does it take an inch of soil to form on the surface of bare rock? Five hundred years! Imagine how many years drift by on our prairie winds.

Underneath the lichens is the rock itself, heavily striated. The surface is nearly uniformly smooth; hostile to new life. The edges, roughed out but still showing the striations of it's early development. How many years do those lines represent? Impossibly older than I will ever be.

I am in the presence of a thing that has outlasted me, and will endure well beyond my spark.

The framing plants are tightly pruned, their winter twigs forming dense globes on either side of the granit. All things are for a reason in a Japanese garden, so I wonder.

The rock was in charcoal, but I could not dismiss it's dressings, so out came pastels and chalk for the orange and green, and finally white acrylic for the brightest lichens.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Minimalist Recap

Well, that was quite a trip. 496 items and more liberated from our home throughout the month of December. I can relate to many of the feelings expressed by Fish Griwkowsky as I followed him on his journey of purgement (Edmonton Journal one last goodbye). I had fun throughout re-purposing old things for new uses.

My son got a photo album I've been saving for him for over fifteen years. I re-covered the harvest gold cover and stenciled his name on it. He loved it and he and his fiancee pored over the pages.

Naomi raved over her penny collection.

My niece gets a "something old" vintage necklace for her upcoming nuptials from her great grandmother.

My stepmom got a rock (she likes rocks) from me and a Blue Jays pin from hubby.

Dad, a Johnny Cash CD.

My daughter was awed that I finished a book I've been writing for her for the last two and a half years. This was a byproduct of the release, so I'll also count it as a re-purpose.

I started painting again.
I cleaned out my e-mail stash since 2013. Only 75 left unread.
I joined a meetup.
Registered for Coursera (R). That might have been a bit too much.
Downloaded an e-book.
Got twitter-hooked and collected a bunch of likes.
There is a tangible release from letting go of clutter. It's hard to explain, but the evidence is inescapable. I'm also using the experience to encourage office staff to release their work clutter, too.

There are collections I did not let go like my brag board, the grandma toy bin, and memory board. I'll tell their stories another time.