July 1st – Canada Day

Canadian fans Alexandre Laflamme, from the left, Christoph Bonneau and Francis Leclerc celebrate as Canadian skaters perform at the ISU Korean Air World Cup short track speed skating Saturday, October 29, 2011, in Saguenay, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

A colleague (Andy Hargreaves) shared a list of Canadian socially impactful researchers and writers. I have met several. Here are some:

Northrop Frye – a great English scholar. Athabasca University gave him an honorary degree (at the same time as Clarence “Big” Miller) and I was fortunate enough to have dinner with them both (1985 – I was visiting at the time, later I became Dean of the Faculty of Administrative Studies – later the Faculty of Business). A quiet man, he was quite penetrating with him comments.

Steven Pinker – smart men. We were speaking as keynotes at a conference and we chatted in the green room. Good one liners and insightful man.

Kim Campbell – each year I teach a summer school for the Alberta Teachers’ Association on leadership (first with JC Couture and now with Phil McRae) and we had Kim come along to the class. She was terrific – smart, sharp, empathic and compassionate woman. Shame she had so little time as our Prime Minister.

Jack Layton – one smart politician and champion of equity. Met him in Edmonton and Ottawa and had lunch with him (along with a dozen others), but he listened and wanted to understand.

Michael Ignatieff – academic and former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (not a very good one). Smart and sharp. Probably too smart and too sharp.

Pierre Berton – author, personality and very clever man. Met him when we were both keynoting at a conference. He had them all in the palm of his hand. Wonderful story-teller.

John Ralston Saul – very clever, erudite man who sometime speaks such complex sentences that one needs a lie down and a sleep to process them. He was speaking at an event I helped organize and we had lunch.

Don Tapscott – we ran a conference together at the Canadian High Commission in London on the technology enabled future. Don was the star of the show and I was “and also here is…”, but we got on well and have kept in touch (occasionally) since.

Helen Fisher – she is a biological anthropologist who works on neuroscience and neuroplasticity but is very focused on love and compassion. I consulted with her over a new book I am working on. She is at the Kinsey Institute (yes, that Institute) and is scientific advisor to match.com

Jerry Cohen – philosopher and Marxist based at Oxford. Jerry, from Montreal, was a fun guy to have a beer with. He wrote a wonderful book – Karl Marx’s Theory of History – A Defence, which I devoured. He was appointed to Oxford in 1985 (successor to Isaiah Berlin no less) at All Souls. He died of a massive heart-attack in 2009. I met him over tea with the legendary Tony Benn who had written the preface to a pamphlet I had co-authored with David Reynolds.

Victor Vroom – yes, this is his real name! Psychologist (as am I – well, sometimes – I am a Fellow of the British Psychological Society in recognition of my work in counselling psychology). Victor worked on theories of motivation, as did I (with Michael Apter, Sven Svebak and many others). He taught at Yale and I met at the congress of applied psychology is Sydney, Australia (with Michael Eysenck).

So I managed to meet eleven of those on the list. I would love to have spent time with Ludwig von Bertalanffy one of the “founders” of systems thinking and a great influence on many of us who have worked with this framework all of our lives – people I have worked with like Michael Apter, Stafford Beer, Peter Senge were all greatly influenced by Ludwig, who taught for quite some time at the University of Alberta (1961-8). He died in 1972.

I also missed out meeting Marshall McLuhan who was born in Edmonton (in 1911) and died in Toronto (1980). He did more than anyone to help us think about the way in which media shapes our understanding of the world.

There are several Canadian psychologists that influenced my work in the 1970s and 1980s – Albert Bandura, Philippe Rushton, Donald Hebb, Bob Hare, Brenda Milner and Ernest Burgess – but I missed these too.

[Erik Erikson appears on the web-list which began this entry. While married to a Canadian, he was not. Why he is on this list I do not know.}

July 4th

Independence Day in the US, except it is not. The US is now so dependent on everyone else and global trade that the very thing it is celebrating is under question. Worse, the founding fathers must be horrified at the behaviour and mind-set of the current incumbent of the White House. He has now hijacked the 4th July celebrations to celebrate nationalistic fervour when the whole spirit of the 4th July has always been patriotism, which is quite a different thing.

Started to watch a BBC TV series called Years and Years, which has amongst its cast Dame Emma Thompson who plays the part of a northern British populist politician in 2025 after the US dropped a nuclear bomb on the Chinese island (manmade) in the South China Sea. There is also a major bank collapse and we are essentially watching post-capitalism work itself out over six episodes.

This coincides with my reading an excellent book by Peter Frase called Four Futures – Life After Capitalism (London: Verso Books, 2016). He begins by explaining why we should take two thing for granted: (a) that capitalism is in its final stages and will collapse; and (b) climate change is real and will continue to have an ever increasing impact on us all and, more specifically, how we spend our time and earn a living. He then looks at for possible futures based on two dimensions. Dimension 1 is the extent to which we live in a hierarchical society or one based on equality; Dimension 2 is focused on the availability of goods and services – will their be abundance or scarcity (think food, shelter, water, housing).Putting these two dimensions together in a matrix gives us this:

  • Abundance / Hierarchy gives us rentism (we rent what we need)
  • Abundance / Equity gives us communism (we share all we have)
  • Scarcity / Hierarchy gives us exterminism (the survival of the fittest)
  • Scarcity / Equity gives us socialism

The book then describes each of these four scenarios without preferring one over another. As Peter says, we need to determine which of these scenarios we prefer and then act accordingly.

As a futurist and author of books on the future, this is good stuff – clear, focused and very well written. It helps us reflect on what the “big” picture really is. I have some quibbles with Peter’s text (for example, he underestimates the potential of technology and overestimates the willingness of people to engage in meaningful change quickly), but it is an excellent book.

So on this 4th of July as the US President celebrates the squandering of trillions of US dollars on the military industrial complex which denudes Americans of their civil and human rights (tanks in Washington and concentration camps on the US border with Mexico), give a thought to the future. Watching Years and Years (on HBO) may help you think about this more clearly.

July 5th

David Nicholl’s is a successful novelist. His debut novel One Day (2010) was both a best seller and is now a movie. His novel US (2014) was also a rip-roaring success. He is just releasing his latest novel called Sweet Sorrow. In an interview published on the BBC newsite he says that writing a novel is a real nightmare – “completely terrifying”. I agree.

I started writing a novel three years ago. It was a big idea – doppelgängers, MI5 and the Vatican, the Mafia – and I managed some 30,000 words. I interviewed (over an excellent lunch) someone who I had in mind as the lead female character in the novel (she was most graceful and helpful), read a lot about the particular branch of the Mafia I was focused on – the ‘Ndrangheta mafia based in Southern Italy (which I also visited) and which has strong Canadian connections – and met with one of the world’s leading experts on doppelgängers, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College, London. But it’s tough.

[As an aside – doppelgängers are fascinating. These are two physically identical persons who have no biological connections to each other at all. They are everywhere. I had seen a documentary where Tim spector brought them together and looked at their biology, facial recognition and studied their behaviour under laboratory conditions. He concluded that some (but not all) had more in common physically (but not genetically) than some biological identical twins. CBS news has some examples and there is a short video worth watching.]

There are two approaches to writing a novel. One is to lay out the plot in great detail as well as the characters involved before writing a word. There are various approaches to this and some software is available to help with this work (indeed, the writing program Scrivener is based on this idea). The web is full of advice and ten point plans and some novelist friends strongly urge that this is the only way.

The second approach is to sit down and write, making notes as you go along about characters that emerge and plot lines that need to be followed through. E L Doctorow (The Book of Daniel, Great Depression, Billy Bathgate and many other historically grounded novels) called this the “headlight” method. He said “writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip”.

I chose the second method. I had spent six months thinking about it, rehearsing parts of the novel in my mind at night just before going to sleep and I had a book of notes and observations (a pocket book which is sitting on my desk staring at me as I write this).

All went well. I was on a roll. The novel flowed. It poured out of me like a vintage wine into a crystal glass purposely made for that specific wine. I had plot, character, and ideas.

Then it happened. I got stuck. The story was writing itself and I kept going back and forth in the manuscript, tightening sections, strengthening plot connections, getting rid of bits that didn’t fit. I thought a novel of around 60-75,000 words would be straightforward. After all, I have written some thirty-six other books (all serious and reasonably dull) and over one hundred and fifty other papers, chapters and articles. How difficult can this be?

I got stuck on the plot. I discussed it with other novelists who also happened to be friends – Brian Thomas Peter, author of The Last Truth, and Richard Sherbaniuk, author of The Fifth Horseman A Novel of Biological Disaster, and they were encouraging. But only I can write the next chapters.

What to do? First, I did what my first boss always told me to do. Nothing. (Dr. Harford Williams of The Open University in Wales told me “when you get into trouble, the first thing to do always is nothing – 75% of the time, the trouble goes away”). So I left it for six months. When I returned, the problem persisted. I left it a further six months. Still the novel wouldn’t write itself (I wrote two other books meantime).

Next, I used what I had written to write out the plot as a plot line (accompanied by a character line), which helped and I wrote another 9,000 words. But I am still stuck.

So I could now either forget it (unlikely, since this annoys the hell out of me) or decide that I will finish it come hell or high water by December 31st 2019 and publish next year. So that is what I have decided to do.

I am sharing this as a way of public confession but also as a way of forcing myself to finish. I figure – if I tell enough people I am writing it, the pressure will be on to finish. It’s worth a try. After all, I am halfway there.

So, I turn the headlights on again later today and I am writing.

I should add that, in this same time period, my sister (Wendy Rhodes) not only finished her Masters degree in creative writing, but wrote at least three books. We don’t compete. But it kind of makes the point that you simply have to get on with it!

July 6th

Food is a joy. I love food. I love cooking. One of my earliest memories is of being in my grandfather’s restaurant kitchen – Hardy’s, opposite St. George’s Hall, Bradford – and watching food prep and cooking and loving the energy, smells and process.

Now I cook and we have a big collection of cookbooks. I love planning a meal, shopping, prep and the cooking process. From simple meals – smoked haddock in a mustard sauce over wilted spinach (James Martin recipe) – to more complex ones – Lamb and Pistachio Patties with Sumac (Ottolenghi) – the joy of cooking is always there.

One challenge of living here in Alberta is that we have to shop in several places for the ingredients for one meal. When we lived in Wales or England, one shop was usually able to provide everything we needed (Sainsbury or Waitrose). But here, a chosen menu will often involve four or five different places. But this becomes a kind of “hunter / gatherer exercise” and the chase is now part of the process.

Sometimes the meal disappoints. We ate out last night at Aarchy’s Chettinad Curry House (nearby) and while we simply adore the Ulunthu Vada (a lentil donut) and Chicken Tikka Masala Dosa, the other curry’s were run of the mill. This is sometimes the case with recipes and food we cook. So, we live and learn.

Sometimes a meal is just dreadful. The first time we cooked a chile con carne we overdid the fresh and dried chile. We had a guest – a newly appointed Professor who was technically in charge of part of my work portfolio. She nearly died – it was a weight loss chile! You could feel yourself losing weight as the sweat poured off you! The Professor was very kind about this culinary disaster.

But sometimes the food we manage to put on the table lives on in memory. For my birthday once we made Jamie Oliver’s simply incredible shepherd’s pie. To die for. On another occasion, we put out a lovely slow cooked rabbit stew.

Each time I cook – which is a few times each week (we cook a meal from fresh ingredients at least once a day) – I think of my grandfather Leclerc. A wonderful, kind and generous man. I thank him for passing on the love of food, cooking and the experience of eating.

July 8th

Wimbledon is something I really enjoy, especially the second week when we start to get really serious. Good tennis is, for me, a joy to watch.

Now that Andy Murray is not playing men’s singles (but is doing well in Mixed Double’s with Serena Williams), we needed to find someone else to root for. This year it’s not too difficult. There is a wonderful new and very young player – Coco Gauff – who is simply outstanding. Just 15, she beat Venus Williams easily in her first Wimbledon game. Then she came up against a very sombre, solid and experienced player Polona Hercog, who is ranked 60th in the world. Coco is not ranked at all. We watched part of the game, but it looked clear that Coca was going to lose in two sets. We left to go shopping. When we came back over an hour later, Coco was still playing. What the… She won 3-6, 7-6(7) and 7-5. It was quite the game. Coco had to really show skill, determination and grit and she did. In abundance.

Today she plays again. This time against the world’s 7th best women’s player – Simona Halep from Romania. It will be one the highlights of this years tennis, no matter what happens. At the start of the year, Simona was ranked the world #1 and has slipped down the rankings since, but has still managed to win over $2million this year so far. She was #1 in 2017 and 2018. So here we have a fifteen year old taking on one of the great current players of the game.

Judy Murray, mother of Andy, thinks Coco can go all the way to the top of the game, though maybe not in her first outing at Wimbledon. She is also great for the game:

“Simply by virtue of her age, Gauff will be great for the game. The extraordinary viewing figures she generated last week – 5.2 million on the BBC – showed that her story broke out of the tennis bubble and into the mainstream. Gauff is a teen and she talks the same language as today’s schoolkids. So when she tells interviewers about streaming Jaden Smith’s new album or how she hopes her mother will become a meme, the teen world can relate. She is really cool, and if she helps to make tennis cool as well, that is the best asset any sport can have.”

I’ll be rooting for her in about half an hour. Wish her luck!

(Later: She lost but played great tennis and then Simona Halep went on to win the Championship title.

Let’s talk a walk around and see what is happening in the world.

Most of us by now has forgotten most of Donald Trump’s Forgettysyburg Address. Except, of course, we all remember his suggestion that Washington’s troops had to take the airports (especially during the Battles of Le Guardia and O’Haire). This “old” news has been replaced by the “new” news that Britain’s US Ambassador thinks that Trump is “inept” and his administration is uniquely dysfunctional. Quite right. Our Ambassador was doing the job he is paid to do – i.e. “provide honest unvarnished assessments of politics in their country”. He should be ennobled.

In the UK, Borish Johnson is busy making news. He wants everyone is Britain to be able to speak English. I think he must just have been in Glasgow or Newcastle and couldn’t understand a word anyone said to him. He is also starting to think about who he might have in his cabinet, assuming he wins the Tory leadership election next week. He might well look to others who have also appeared on Have I Got News for You, Britain’s great TV satire news quiz. These could include Jimmy Carr, Dara O’Brian, Rhod Gilbert, Sean Lock, Jennifer Saunders, Miranda Hart – all great comedians.

In Greece, the left wing has lost an election to the right-wing centrist party (only in Greece could such a party exist). Known as the New Democracy (I thought Greece was where democracy began), the leader is a former banker with US Chase bank – Kryiakos Mitsotakis. He also worked for McKinsey. A banker running Greece. Wait. Don’t bankers “own” Greece? One of their own.

The US Women’s soccer team won the World Cup and did so as by far the best team playing in the championship. Trump promptly uninvited them to the White House.  They have, however, been invited to the House of Representatives – well done Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Last but not least, the oldest person in the US celebrates their 114th birthday last Saturday, 6th July. She is Alelia Murphy and lives in New York. The oldest person in the world lives in Japan and is 116 – Kane Tanaka. Would love to see these two play tennis at Wimbledon. It would be a slow game, but slow is now the new “fast”.

July 10th

A few days ago some documents from UK’s US ambassador were leaked by an unknown person. In these documents, Sir Kim Darroch makes the observation that Trump is “inept” and that the White House behaviour is “uniquely dysfunctional” – both, it seems to me, accurate statements. He also said that the Trump administration is “dysfunctional, unpredictable, faction-riven and diplomatically clumsy” – all of which is clear just by looking at what they do, reading their own press statements and watching / reading the news. Darroch is saying what Bob Woodward said in his book Fear – Trump in the Whitehouse and is also consistent with comments made by those who were once in the Whitehouse and have now left.

Trump went bonkers. And made it clear that he can no longer see any way which he or his administration can work with the UK ambassador.

Before going any further, it is important to understand just what an ambassador is supposed to do. Lord (William) Hague, former leader of the Conservative Party, former Foreign Secretary and a great biographer came to the defense of Sir Kim. Making it clear that the job of the ambassador is to provide candid and insightful daily observations about what is going in the country / region they are attached to. Hague also said this:

“The best response to these leaks, however, is not to go into a funk of embarrassment, self-doubt or talk of removing our Ambassador before the end of his term. Indeed, the idea that somebody who tells the truth as he sees it should be asked to leave his post prematurely should be completely unacceptable in any part of government.”

Yet Sir Liam Fox, a well known apologist for Trump, apologized for Darroch’s comments not in general terms but directly and to Ivanka Trump, well known handbag designer. Fox demonstrates the kind of insecurity and flip-floppiness that Darroch observed in Trump.

Darroch has now resigned, making it clear that the narcissistic reaction by Trump is making it impossible for him to do the job of ambassador in the way that he would like – i.e. directly, honestly and without “gloss”.

The definition of a Yorkshireman is that “they speak their mind, even if there is nothing in there!”. Sir Kim did what he was being paid to do and did it well. He is from Country Durham (very near Yorkshire), so I am declaring him an Honorary Yorkshireman. Stand proud, You did what you needed to do.

July 15th

Let’s have a walk around the world and see what is happening…

President Trump has decided to go full-on Mussolini and attack four smart, left-wing members of congress telling them to leave the US and go back to where they come from (three of them were born in the US). As a full-on fascist with racism added to the mix, he is engaged in a massive distraction while his ICE storm-troopers raid homes and workplaces to remove “illegal aliens”. His fellow Republicans generally are remaining “shtum” (with the exception of Lindsay Graham who continues in his quest to out-Trump Trump).

In British politics we have the final week of waiting for Borish. Jeremy Hunt (often mispronounced on the BBC) is doing his best to fend off the inevitability of Borish Johnson becoming Prime Minister. Clearly Borish is a buffoon (well educated, but a buffoon) who will not be able to deliver on 99.8% of his promises either on Brexit or anything else. But populism has many forms, and Britain seems to love the conservative party version of a cross between Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! Results are due next week.

Over the week-end, England won the world-cup of cricket for the first time in twenty-seven years in the last few seconds; Novak Djokovic became men’s champion at Wimbledon after an epic five-hour match which ended in a tie-break (first time ever at Wimbledon); Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Silverstone race, consolidated his position as leading in the championship and Mercedes as the manufacturing champion leader at this stage in the season – he also won Silverstone for the sixth time, which no one else has ever done.

On television, Poldark (BBC) is back for the final season (at least of this version). So far, it’s as dull as ditchwater. We are likely to see campaigns to abolish slavery, ongoing issues around class and poverty and explore mental illness as Warleggan can’t get over the death of his wife. If it we’re for the stunningly beautiful Eleanor Tomlinson (playing Demelza) I am not sure I’d be watching. As for Beecham House, the less said the better. Lesley Nicolson (cook in Downtown Abbey) is poorly cast (no gravitas, no depth) as John Beecham’s mother and the plot is about as realistic as Finding Dory.

Today is Amazon Prime Day – a kind of online Christmas in the summer. Globally, over $1 billion will be spent today by over 100 million people on stuff they (generally) don’t really need.

July 16th

Over the last few decades there has been a significant growth of “bullshit” jobs in both the public and the private sector, most especially in the private sector. Such jobs are non-essential, well paid positions (e.g. security assistant, box-tickers, executive assistant, concierge, security, identity manager) which do not create value or add to productivity. David Graeber, in his excellent book Bullshit Jobs – A Theory (2018) defines these jobs this way:

“A bullshit job is a job which is so pointless, or even pernicious, that even the person doing the job secretly believes that it shouldn’t exist. Of course, you have to pretend — that’s the bullshit element, that you kind of have to pretend there’s a reason for this job to be here. But secretly, you think if this job didn’t exist, either it would make no difference whatsoever, or the world would actually be a slightly better place”.

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, 50% said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance”, and an equal number were unable to relate to their job in any direct way to the company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A YouGuv poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.

I was thinking about this as I glanced at job listings available at Universities around the world. There are a lot of bullshit jobs in these places. Compliance officers, data gatherers for ranking submissions, faculty communication directors and their minion-like staff. As a former Dean / Executive Director / Provost I know of what I speak!

At Canadian universities, academic salaries for tenured academic staff as a percentage of total expenditures have steadily declined from 34% in 1973 to 23% in 2016 –  spending on administration and general funds increased by 228% during the same period. In 2017, academic, research and teaching related costs were app. 27% of costs and management costs were 22% (excluding benefits) . A great deal is spent on sessional staff (61% of all teaching in Canadian universities is undertaken by sessional staff – in the US it is 75%). In Europe  from 1985 to 2005 students and faculty populations at colleges and universities increased by 50%, while administration increased by 85%, and the number of administrative staff increased by 240%.

A look at Bullshit jobs in universities appeared here. The point is that it is not only pointless jobs that exist, it is also the “bullshitization” of worthwhile jobs that is also occurring. Faculty – whose job it is to teach, engage with peers in the work of scholarship, conduct research and write their socks off – find themselves in endless meetings, ticking boxes, filling in report forms (especially related to research grants) and doing all sorts of mindless admin trivia to satisfy the legions of box-tickers and duck-tape artists in administration.

David Graeber is clearly onto something with his suggestion that “there seems to be an intrinsic connection between the financialization of the economy, the blossoming of information industries, and the proliferation of bullshit jobs”. Most of the idea behind the creation of these bullshit jobs is to control, oversee and manage the work of those actually engaged in doing something useful. It is about command and control. Time to stop the bullshit.

July 18th

Literacy matters. One of the gifts of my mother and grandmother was that they helped me read very early and, for reasons more to do with the fact that my mother worked and my grandparents owned a restaurant, I went to school very early (four) and I could read. So I read. I read a lot. By the time I was eight I was writing a lot. Billy Birch and I would write short stories and swap them. One a week. They were dreadful (as I recall), but we were on a roll.

By the time I was fourteen I was writing poetry and short stories. At seventeen I founded, with George Wisz (who used the name Phillip Trent), a literary magazine called Katawakes and we published a few editions before going broke. We published poems by Peter Porter and Walter Gomez, stories about G K Chesterton and some wonderful new poems. On my first ever passport application I wrote “Writer” against the question “What is your occupation” and have been trying to live up to this statement ever since.

So far I have written and published 36 books (including two bibliographies), three pamphlets, 36 chapters in edited works, 50 peer reviewed papers in academic journals, 75+ contributions to journals, magazines (including reviews) and newspapers. I am working on a serious book on AI and Education, another on Strategic Foresight (my third) and a novel (see above – July 5th). Writing is an addiction.

But I worry about literacy. 42% of the working population of Canada have literacy levels below those they need to fulfill the requirements of their work. Since 1997, over 95% of all jobs advertised in Canada have required literacy levels at Levels 4 and 5 on a scale used by OECD to assess literacy (its a five point scale), yet 42% of workers are at levels 1 and 2. In fact, only 54% of the working population can effectively compete for the available work. No wonder we have a skills gap.

Recently, the X-Prize Foundation awarded US$10million for online and mobile “solutions” to this problem. There are many. A friend worked for one of the finalists – CellEd. They use cell phones to teach literacy and numeracy and do it successfully. Colleagues at Bow Valley College in Calgary have a program that can make a massive difference in a short time. Yet this literacy challenge persists.

Here’s the irony. If we could move the needle just a little it could make a massive difference. Increasing the literacy skills in the workforce by an average of 1% would, over time, lead to a 3% increase in GDP. In fact, it could mean a $54 billion gain and a 5% rise in productivity. It is one of the most concrete things we can focus on which would make a massive difference to the lives of people.

Reading – books, magazines (I subscribe to the London Review of Books, The Atlantic, Prospect Magazine, The Idler, The Spectator), newspapers and articles sent to me from colleagues and friends around the world – is a major pleasure in my life. Writing is also both a pleasure and a compulsion. I love words, meaning and thought and was inspired to do so by my mother, grandmother and now by the writing career of my sister (Wendy Rhodes).

Literacy matters. Let’s make it matter for more people.

July 22nd

I am revising my Athabasca University MBA course, something I do each summer. It is focused on Canada’s challenges with productivity, competitiveness and innovation. I teach each March, so I am getting ahead of the game (the course is online and will need to go through production).

Newish this time round is a stronger focus on foresight and the links to the rapidly changing economies, climate and societies around the world (see the Centre for Strategic Foresight attached to this website). I am giving this a stronger focus following the reaction of some students last year to the group project that kicks off the course. One team looked at the future of oil and gas and saw the issue in terms of “getting back to growth” as opposed to “getting out of fossil fuels and into green energy” – the strategy now being pursued by companies like Shell, BP and others. There is a real energy transition going on, and some felt their peers didn’t want to really get into the transitional economy conversation. We ned to. But its more than an energy transition – we are in a massive socio-economic shift.

The course is popular (had 35+ students last time round) and I really enjoy coaching and facilitating this course.

Writing this reminds me of some real challenges Canada faces:

  • We are dropping on rankings of competitiveness, innovation and productivity.
  • We have significant challenges with literacy and essential skills amongst the workforce (see previous diary entry).
  • We spend a lot of money on university research ($6b) and get little back for it – we are very strong at invention, but the task is to turn this into commercial or social value, which we don’t do well.
  • We are not moving fast enough on the climate change issues.
  • We are not responding fast enough to the opportunities the AI, augmented/virtual reality technologies represent.
  • We are relying too heavily on population growth as the basis for economic growth.
  • We are not leveraging the intangible economy as quickly as our counterparts in the Nordic countries or UK.
  • We have too heavy a reliance on US trade in non-value added goods and too little global trade.
  • We are not recognizing the energy transition that we are in the midst of (for more, watch Markham Hislop here)

There are other issues, but these are “kickstarters”.

As I said above, we are living in a transitional world. Climate change and ecosystem challenges represent a significant transition; we are also entering (more accurately, we are part way through) the beginning stages of the end of the current models of capitalism; our social norms are changing quickly – witness the rise of populism; there are growing issues of identity and meaning.

The challenge for my students – remember these are executive MBA students – is to lead for a different and disrupted future.

I get to explore some of these ideas with a class of Athabasca MBA students in Calgary on Thursday. They are taking a one week leadership academy run by my colleagues Deborah Hurst (Dean of Athabasca’s Faculty of Business) and the very smart Angela Workman-Stark. Should be fun.

July 23rd

Let’s have a look around and see what is happening.

Borish Johnson, as expected, won the sweep-stakes and his friends and relatives elected him the next British Prime Minister. Just 159,000 were eligible to vote. That’s like the population of Blackpool during the annual Mr. Nobly Knees competition, which Borish may yet also win.  He gave a pointless speech in which he emphasized he was a DUD (with an E).

In the US, Ivanka Trump congratulated Borish on becoming the leader of United Kingston. I think she is confusing Britain with Jamaica. Borish was, until recently, a US citizen (born in New York). Must have been there that he learned how to be elitist, cronyistic, dishonest, lazy and racist. President Trump likes him. I think we know why.

Speaking of Mr. Trump, he suggested to the President of Pakistan that President Modi of India had asked him to mediate in the dispute over Kashmir, which has been going on for seventy years. Quick as a flash, Modi made clear that no such request had been made. This was just one of over sixty falsehoods over the last seven days.

In Canada, we are gearing up for an election which we all know will focus on nonsensical ideas promoted by people we don’t trust who are asking for our support. The outcome is already looking clear, though many think it is still all to fight for. Mr. Trudeau is looking to buy new shoes and Mr. Scheer is worried about being replaced by Mr. Kenney (he will be, its just a matter of time).

In Calgary, the City council has decided to stop supporting public causes so as to provide welfare to very rich people to play hockey and make a lot of money from events. The council is to cut $60 million from its transit, fire, police and affordable housing budgets and at the same time “give” $225 million to billionaires – the owners of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group (a.k.a. The Flames). What the City will not do – and David Climenhaga has pointed this out – is develop a fair tax system for corporations. All this before the City has a clue what our shiny new Alberta government will do it.

On the sports front, Cardiff City played soccer against Real Valladolid from Spain in Edmonton and won in a shoot-out. It is part of the La Liga world tour events aimed at promoting Spanish soccer. Edmonton is seeking to co-host the World Cup in 2026. I lived in Cardiff for many years (1969-1986) and it was good that my son (Glyn – a good Welsh name) and his son Sam were able to attend the game and be suitably thrilled.

July 26th

Music plays an important part of my life – it has always done. My sister will tell you that I used to conduct orchestral music in our living room, much to her embarrassment since I could be seen doing so by neighbours and people walking by. I played in the violin section of the school orchestra (as did my mother before me at her school – I used the same violin). I wrote some music for a chamber group at school (it was dreadful, but they played it, bless them). But most importantly, I went to listen to the Hallé and watch some of the great conductors of the 60’s – Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sergeant, Arvids Jansons, Sir Trevor Wilcox and many more. They played at St George’s Hall, opposite my grandfather’s old restaurant. Wonderful.

We (Lynne and I) had seats behind the orchestra – they offered them at a massive discount to students in local schools and I always managed to get two. I also got to go to some rehearsals. Barbirolli was funny and often came over and chatted with us. Once, during a public performance of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta the orchestra lost the plot around bar 32. Barbiroli stopped them. Turned to the audience and said “I think we should all try and start again”. He then turned to the orchestra and counted the beat and then began the piece again.

Now we have season tickets to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra who are under the musical direction of a terrific young conductor / composer – Alexander Prior. They have an outstanding concert venue (The Winspear Centre) and we have seen many outstanding performers – Yo Yo Ma, Winton Marsalis, Rene Fleming and more.

We also generally attend the Banff International String Quartets Competition (BISQC) – wonderful young quartets playing in one of the major competitions of its kind in the world.  That’s how I discover new quartets (as well as get to listen to many I am more familiar with). It is also how I came upon the Dover String Quartet – one of the finest and most talented quartets you will ever hear.

But daily I listen to music. I listen while writing, while reading, while driving. I have been focused for the last few years of listening to “non-mainstream” music. Music by composers that many don’t know about or rarely hear. Of course, I still hear music that we all have come to love – Brahms symphonies, Beethoven string quartets, chamber music by Liszt, Bach’s choral music and anything by Mozart. But I want to explore.

Currently, I am listening to symphonies by George Anthiel, Winton Marsalis Violin Concerto (with the wonderful Nicola Benedetti), Nicode piano music, the piano music of Clara Schuman, symphonies by Walter Piston, string quartets by Arensky and Eleanor Alberga and the film music of Rota.

I subscribe to The Gramophone and cull it each month for music to listen to (Apple Music is my “player”). I also have a Facebook friend – Andrew – who has similar tastes and he keeps me thinking and exploring (despite the fact that we are 180 degree opposed politically, as will be evident if you follow me on Facebook).

Music brings an inner joy and sense that all in the world can’t be bad.

July 29th

Boris Johnson has made clear that he will use bluster and bullshit as the basis for his “negotiation” with the EU and the EU has made it clear that they have no interest in negotiation with Britain. The deal the EU handcuffed around Teresa May – rejected three times by parliament – is the only deal it will offer. No deal is now inevitable.

Part of the challenge Boris faces – over and above managing his ego – is that the EU as anti-democratic and anti common sense. Just ask Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance Minister of Greece. His book The Adult in the Room describes how futile it was to try and negotiate with the EU and the EU simply does not understand the role of an elected parliament, including its own. We can all recognize that getting agreement from 27 governments is tough, but the stakes are high. A no deal Brexit could threaten the future of the United Kingdom and lead to its break-up; could lead to a renewal of the Irish civil war; lead to the potential break up of the Eurozone; lead to significant financial issues for the EU, since the UK would not pay the funds the EU expects from the EU ($63 billion).

Boris says he will leave the EU on my birthday – 31st October – deal or no deal. He said today that he will travel “the extra 1,000 miles to try get a deal”, but he knows that the EU is incapable of imagination. We will all watch with horror. For my birthday, I can imagine nicer present (like a case of Cabernet Franc from the Crush Pad in BC).

July 31st

Well, I got my Brexit thinking dead wrong! Thanks to two colleagues and friends – David Tidey and Alex Olteanu – I stand corrected.

  • The whole Brexit thing is just as much about how dysfunctional the UK and its democracy is as it is about the EU and the UK’s relationship with it. What Britain has demonstrated to itself and the world since the ill-fated Brexit vote is that it does not really know what it wants.
  • While the EU is not “blameless” here – it does need reform and does need to find ways of engaging with its citizens – it has been trying to: (a) keep its members united in the face of the Brexit challenge, which it has done remarkably well; (b) make sure no other country follows the Brexit path; and (c) negotiate with the UK in a way that is clear, made difficult by the fact that the UK is not clear just what it wants – see the various versions of “deals” proposed even within the governing Tory party.
  • The Irish backstop was suggested by the UK. It deals with the very difficult question of how to handle the border between the North (UK) and South (EU). This is more than a question of trade rules – its also, as became clear during Boris Johnson’s visit to Ireland, about Irish identity. What is needed is easy and non-intrusive ability to cross this border – but this is between two Sovereign states with different trade rules (once the UK leaves) and different identity rules. Its an intractable problem.

Alex thinks that: (a) Brexit will not happen not just on my birthday (31st October), but at all; (b) this will lead to a constitutional crisis in the UK and the new Prime Minister (Jeremy Corbyn) redefining the constitution; which in turn (c) will lead to the EU having to engage in reform.

I just hope I live long enough to see what happens here (I am 69 on October 31st 2019)! But it is fascinating. The next few months are likely to be a roller-coaster.