National Post Columnist to Speak in Victoria

April 28, 2007

St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria is hosting guest preacher, speaker and National Post columnist Fr. Raymond Joseph de Souza on Friday, May 11th at 7:30 pm. The topic will be “The Church and the Influence of the Canadian Media.”

This promises to be a very interesting talk, from a very compelling, intelligent individual and writer, and I’ll definitely be there.

The following is from an advertisement from St. Andrew’s Cathedral:

Fr. de Souza was ordained to the priesthood in July 2002 and currently serves as Chaplain at Newman House, the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen’s University. He also teaches at Queen’s in the Faculty of Education and the Queen’s Economic Dept. His area of specialization is Catholic social teaching. Fr. de Souza writes for a number of publications. Principal among these is the National Post, where he is a weekly columnist. He also contributes to the National Catholic Register and he serves as the editor of Religion & Liberty.

In addition, his work has appeared in well known publications such as L’Osservatore Romano, First Things, The Messenger of St. Anthony, the Ottawa Citizen and The Calgary Herald.

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The Value of Video and Proper Supervision

April 26, 2007

Not long ago I attended a corporate training course on supervision. It was led by a good instructor, Heather Hughes of HH & Your Company (in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve done some freelance work for Heather separately, though I have absolutely no role in contracting with her for training courses).

As far as training courses go, it was pretty good. But there were two standout items that I took away. The first was the great use of video as a training aid. This is saying something, since anyone who’s watched any type of training video knows they are usually useless. We, instead, were treated to “I’d like a word with you: the discipline interview” by Video Arts, a company co-founded by John Cleese of Monty Python fame.

With John Cleese on board, you know that it’s going to be good. And it is.

Watching the video was especially interesting to me since I’m currently leading a large video project. We are developing three videos for our largest client to be used, at least initially, as part of their annual general meeting–they will also make their way to the web and DVD. These videos aren’t “training videos” (those are still in very early development) but more like a commercial series promoting the value of membership in the pension plan. I’m only days away from getting final script approval, then we enter the next phase of the project, which promises to be challenging and fun. But the use of the medium as a tactical communications tool is what truly fascinates and excites me. I’ll blog more about this project as we move forward, so stay tuned.

This is unchartered territory for my organization, and I’m happy to be leading the way. And as I help introduce innovative ways of communicating I’m looking forward to more creative projects.

The second take-away was a thought on why people actually quit their jobs. The instructor explained that people don’t just up and quit their jobs. Instead, what people quit are their supervisors. This really stuck with me. Upon hearing it I couldn’t help but think about the supervisors in my career and what separates the good from the bad. It’s difficult to pinpoint one or two attributes that make a great supervisor. But they are definitely easy to spot if they fail at the task. They are usually disinterested, focused on themselves and their career, determined to impress their own superiors (often at the expense of those around and beneath them) and, critically, they don’t support their staff.

Not supporting your staff is a killer. A person will come to you for action only so many times. They quickly realize that either you’re oblivious or that you ultimately lack the backbone to take action, and both path leads to nowhere. Or, another way this manifests itself is a supervisor who in the presence of superiors undermines or unfairly represents staff. All it takes is doing this once in the presence of a staff member and respect is lost. And once you’re no longer respected by those you are meant to lead, well, there’s hardly a point in showing up anymore, really. Your unit suffers. Your branch suffers. Your organization suffers. And ultimately, your clients suffer.

At any rate, upon reflecting on the course and the supervisors who have crossed my path over the years, I know that being a good one takes some work. As for me, I’m up for the challenge.


Can You Really Have a 5 Minute Friend?

April 22, 2007

Can you make a friend in five minutes? Especially if you’ll never see the person ever again? 5 Minute Friend allows you to connect randomly, via webcam, with another person somewhere in the world. You get just five minutes, then you’re done. For ever. The system will never connect you with the same person twice.

In a way, 5 Minute Friend is the perfect representation of how our society communicates these days. There is this constant desire to connect and communicate with people–and the web is increasingly employed as an efficient tool for achieving this–yet we establish very specific parameters and time frames and, increasingly, prefer if the exchange remains digital.

Five minutes seems to be the perfect modern-day time limit for an interpersonal connection. We have speed dating to help us sprint through the chore of finding a mate. We have the elevator pitch to keep us sharp and focused when meeting investors or, I suppose, actually talking to someone in an elevator. And when bringing issues to management we’ve got only a few minutes (pdf) to make an impact.

What 5 Minute Friend reminds me of, actually, is the old-school drop in. You know, when a friend or relative would just drop by unannounced and you were suddenly faced with entertaining someone on a second’s notice. It’s the digital version. I wonder how long until Miss Manners deems digitally dropping in on someone untoward?

[Via Compiler]


New TED Better Than Ever

April 18, 2007

TED logoIt’s a goal of mine to one day get to a TED conference. I’m not sure how just yet–it costs a fortune to attend, but I’m a hopeful person. In the meantime, they have updated their website and have added even more free content from their renowned conferences. Their blog has the text of a story on the redesign from Monday’s New York Times. If you’ve never checked out TED, do yourself a favour and have a look around. Their new site is quite attractive with a clever homepage interface that serves up stories as a visual tag cloud that you can organize based on preset parameters. If you enjoy ideas, you’ll love TED.

I’ve been listening to TED podcasts since they were first offered online. They are particularly fantastic for long road trips when you can do nothing else but drive and give yourself over to the presenters. But they obviously work equally well in non-driving environments! Just be prepared to want to really listen, to set aside whatever you’re working on and surrender your focus. It’s an inevitability. The sessions are thought provoking and challenging, and often humorous. One of my favourites is Sir Ken Robinson’s talk where he wonders if schools kill creativity. A great quote from his presentation:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.”

This quote has more and more relevance to my work environment every day. But that’s another post. For now, enjoy.


Catch-up: Flashing Headlights, Positive Communications

April 17, 2007

I’ve been away for a week, hence the drop in posts. Not that I didn’t have web access–it’s getting harder and harder to actually avoid wireless internet access while you travel. However, I managed to stick mostly to family activities and the occasional e-mail.

We were on a road trip, to BC’s interior, and while traveling the Coquihalla Highway I managed to get myself a speeding ticket. It’s been a few years since my last one, and needless to say, I was annoyed. It was a radar trap near Merrit. Now, what does this have to do with communications, you ask? Plenty! Here’s how.

In the lead-up to my being caught by the laser radar gun, there were countless numbers of times I could have been warned. What has happened to brotherhood of motorists where people look after each other and offer warnings of upcoming radar traps? Seriously? When did this form of communication stop?

As a kid, riding with my dad on summer road trips, I remember delighting in the fact that drivers would warn each other of the presence of police. To me it was like some grown-up world of secret handshakes–made all the better by the high speeds and the air of rebellion. It was a definite “us vs. them” scenario, as complete strangers banded together to save each other from the indignity of sitting on the side of the highway while being written up in a fast-paced version of the perp walk.

To drive the point home, so to speak, following my radar trap there were two more within fifteen minutes! Yet, I was warned once, by a trucker. Once! This was Good Friday, with a lot of traffic–obviously, given the number of police out in force–so there were dozens, even hundreds, of drivers who could have offered up a flash of the headlights.

I wonder if the lack of forewarning by fellow drivers might serve as a commentary on the individualistic and selfish nature of our times? As our lives–with the help of technology–have become more fractured and isolated, people tend to look out for themselves. Extended families are a thing of the past. Large families are viewed negatively and discouraged. Neighbours don’t often know each other. It’s all about “me.”

Anyway, I am now, once again, an owner of a radar detector. My old one was stolen years ago, but this episode has forced my hand. I picked it up at a great price in Trail, BC, at a small stereo shop called Rock Island. It was their last one. It had no price tag. The owner literally made up a price on the spot, a price that made us both happy.

Finally, on a more positive note, check out this short post on creating positive communications experiences. It’s short but good.


Is Google Finally Evil?

April 2, 2007

Conspiracy theories and general outrage are still floating around the net about Google’s decision to “update” the New Orleans map data with pre-Katrina imagery. While they’ve since mended their ways and have re-loaded more recent high-res data, there’s still some things to take care of: like responding to demands (pdf) by a congressional subcommittee that they explain their actions. Reading this letter, I was struck by the paranoia and contempt for Google by the chair of this committee. There’s a sense that a bit of a witch hunt is going on, when he asks in the letter if FEMA, the USGS or any other governmental organization was in touch with Google about the changes. Then he tosses in this little shot:

Digital technology has any number of benefits, as Google’s healthy balance sheet demonstrates.

This sort of comment is just antagonistic, and reveals far more about the author than I think he realizes.

Most interesting in this whole drama, though, is how we get a very clear view of how public reaction in our online world can reverse the actions of a huge organization. News spreads quickly and momentum builds and a company not paying attention, or able to respond quickly, can find itself in serious trouble before they even know what happened. Also noteworthy is how Google used its official blog to respond to critics. They calmly spelled out their response and told the world their side of the story.