Monday, December 20, 2010

Write your own story

One of my most memorable mentors in life is Jim McKenzie. Jim was one of my professors at the University of Regina's School of Journalism. Jim taught me three things - 1: to be true to personal values, and 2: to be balanced and compassionate in the writing process, and 3: to be thorough.

Since graduating from the School of Journalism, I never stopped writing.  Writing is what keeps me grounded. Writing keeps my head in my own game. It is the means through which I document the story of my experience.

Writing challenges me to think through all the corners of my mind and to look at the world from an objective perspective.  I have rules for writing.

1.  Be factual and balanced.
2.  Be compassionate, but not passionate.
3.  Be compelling.

I also follow one of the other rules that I learned as a child:  "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  (Those were the wise words of Thumper's mother in the Disney movie, Bambi.)

Jim could deliver a lesson like none other.   A hard core journalist, Jim was everything you might imagine. He was kind of rough around the edges, a little gruff, and had mastered the fine art of challenging others without saying a word. He was a master instigator of learning.

One lesson Jim taught me was how to set my own boundaries. Our class was writing an on-line magazine that semester, and the focus was the sex trade.  I was assigned the topic of child prostitution along with another student.

The plan was simple, or so we thought.  We would locate a person and interview them.  That's what journalists do, right?

We began the way an inexperienced person might begin. We went out to find out what was going on.  So we drove to the neighborhoods that were infamous for such things, and observed.

I saw children.  Period. I did not see the "sex trade".  And I saw the stereotypes that we were propagating by just being there.

We were unwittingly participating in the problem. It struck me that if that were my child on the streets of my own neighborhood, and someone made that assumption about my child, I would have to retaliate.  Secondly, it made me realize - who was I to label these children?

I went back to Jim to deliver the news that I could not do the story as assigned.  He asked me why and I told him that I did not believe there was child prostitution.  I believe there is child abuse. And to participate in that story is to further the lie and protect the abusers.

Jim bought my reasons and let me off the hook.  Instead, I focused on the abusers - the people who were taking advantage of children.  I attempted to interview some people who were already serving time for such things, but not surprisingly, they declined the invitation to be interviewed.

I spoke to parents of children who had been abused on the streets and their story was sad.  One woman told me she would block the door, but her daughter would find another way out.  The mother told me she could not compete because she did not have the money to give her daughter the things she wanted.

I spoke to adults about their childhood experiences on the streets, which only furthered my view that this was abuse and that children need to be protected.

In the end, I retold the public record, including a listing of who had been before the courts on such charges and what the outcomes were over a period of time.  I let the facts speak for themselves.  And I wrote the story that needed to be written.

Jim passed away some years ago, but I often think of him still when I am challenged to tell "the" story. Not just "a" story.  The principles that Jim instilled - to be factual, compassionate and compelling - continue to guide my writing process.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to tame your dragon

Monsters under the bed. We've all had them.  Years ago, I interviewed children aged 5 to 8 about the monsters that come out in the night.  The stories that these children told me were vivid and real.  One was purple with bulging eyes and small arms and legs. It was an under-the-bed dweller.  Another was just a set of eyes that would be visible in the dark.  And it lived outside of her window and would tap on the window, wanting to come in.  They also told me what they do to conquer their fear and slay the dragon that stalked them at night.

One child talked about jumping from her bed to the hall way, because the hallway was beyond the reach of the monster.  Another child had a dog that would do a sweep of the room before bedtime, which confirmed there were no monsters that night.  Another child told me that as long as the blankets were tucked in under the mattress, there was no way her arms or legs could fall over the bed. Another child told me she went undercover, so the monster could not see her. 

Fear of dragons and monsters is really about our most basic need to feel safe, protected and in control of our environment. I wrote a poem about their stories, because fear of monsters is real, but emotionally charged at the same time. Here it is:

 Night Fear
 Sometimes in the night, 
Suspicion grows. 
It  creeps inside your closet, 
and seeps inside your head
and underneath the bed 
the silence begins to roar. 
As you lay in bed, it waits
and if you try to escape
lest you jump beyond its reach, 
that beast will drag you underneath.
The heavens erupt, 
the angels cry 
their tears stream down the window 
while bolts of lightening pierce the sky
and through the tears you will see it there
waiting for  you to close your eyes.
There is only one way to escape the beast
that lies beneath your bed
that creeps in through the closet
and seeps inside your head.
You must confront the demon if you dare
for unless you do,
it will always be there.

 We all understand fear.  The monsters in the poem were just manifestations of their fears. We tend to grow out of our fear of monsters as we get older, but we encounter other types of undesirable behaviors that are more difficult to deal with.  Bullies.

Bullying is not a manifestation of fear. Bullying is real and common. Bullying is not imaginary. Bullying is a fact of reality and it is often systemic.  How many times do we encounter people who are control based, power seeking and destructive to others? How many times do we see people in power with these less than desirable tendencies.  How many times do we react and give way to their fear mongering by being afraid, or by not confronting the fear.

 If a child can see the irrationality of fear, and find a way to address the fear, then why as adults do we accept fear and bad treatment? When did we lose our ability to fight back? When did we become politically correct?

My dad always says that we cannot change people, we can only change the way people affect us.  Easier said that done. There is something insidious and creepy about protecting the poorly behaved while their victims run and hide.  Or worse yet, need counselling.  And if we do fight back, how does one fight back? How do you tame the dragon in the light of day, is the question.

 Here is what the Canadian Safety Council has to say about bullying in the workplace.

“Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace therefore takes a wide variety of forms such as:
• being rude or belligerent
• talking in a dismissive tone ("talking down") to subordinates and/or peers
• screaming or cursing
• having an arrogant attitude in general, e.g., "I'm right and everyone else is always wrong"
• being quick to criticize and slow to praise
• destruction of property or work product
• character assassination
 • spreading malicious rumors
• gossiping about others
• not providing appropriate resources and amenities in a fair and equitable manner
• social ostracism
• physical assault”

 According to the Canada Safety Council, “Over 72 percent of bullies are bosses, some are coworkers and a minority bully higher ups. A bully is equally likely to be a man or a woman.  . . . Bullies tend to be insecure people with poor or non-existent social skills and little empathy. They turn this insecurity outwards, finding satisfaction in their ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them. The bully is always driven to control others."

There are tools in place to help organizations weed out these kind of behaviors.  I have seen the constructive culture approach work, but it must have the commitment and leadership to be successful.  The leader must demonstrate the desired behaviors and hold his or her management accountable. The following is the recommended course of action.

What can you do if you think you are being bullied?

If you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or subjected to any form of harassment:
FIRMLY tell the person that his or her behaviour is not acceptable and ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or union member to be with you when you approach the person.

KEEP a factual journal or diary of daily events. Record:
  • The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible
  • The names of witnesses.
  • The outcome of the event.
Remember, it is not just the character of the incidents, but the number, frequency, and especially the pattern that can reveal the bullying or harassment.

KEEP copies of any letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.

REPORT the harassment to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management.

DO NOT RETALIATE. You may end up looking like the perpetrator and will most certainly cause confusion for those responsible for evaluating and responding to the situation.

(Adapted from: "Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide". CCOHS, 2001)

 Bullying creates a residual effect because it leaves its "victims" feelling powerless, frustrated and often devalued.  If you  have been bullied, chances are you still feel the sting for a a long time after. Something may remind you of a bullying event, and you wince.  It is traumatic and a serious issue.

 Like the child who imagines the monster each night, and lives in fear, when we accept bad treatment, we carry it forward to other places. We may turn it inward and withdraw from others, or we may lash out at others undeservedly.

 It can become part of who we are. I think that's sad.  Because then we pass it on.  It's a bad virus. We know from our dragon slaying days as children how to instinctively deal with our monsters, we need to remember that it's OK as adults to do the same.

Bullying Facts

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Humility is Vogue.

The Noble and the Ignoble in Gothic Architecture 
Humility.  A human quality that allows us to stand in the shoes of another.  Understanding another person's experience is a challenge.  Living inside some one's reality is next to impossible.

In order to understand another person's experience, one has to get off the "me" track. And that's not easy.

We are trained to think about "me."  It's the first question we ask. The closer to our own reality, the more we care.

The "me" factor is complex because it is all about my world, my experience, my culture, my language, my values, my fears, my goals, my wishes, my dreams, and my beliefs.  I call this a mask. The more factors there are, the more impermeable it becomes.

We are masters of mask making.  We choose not to see that which makes us uncomfortable.  We ignore the pain of others. We might sympathize, and possibly empathize, but rarely do we allow ourselves to care.  We mask that which is imperfect or inconvenient.

19th century social commentator and architect John Ruskin authored  "The Stones of Venice". He wrote about the noble and the ignoble in Gothic architecture and the shift from hand chiseled imperfect forms to mass produced perfection.  He spoke of a loss of humility in the quest for perfection.

Imperfection is a mask in itself.  We are afraid of imperfection so we hide from it, and do not acknowledge it.  We ignore the plight of the disabled, and hope we never have to stand in their shoes. I often think of this and the many masks we use to hide ourselves from the experiences of others.  Think of yours.  Now multiply that by a world. This becomes even more complex when different languages are factored in to the conversation. It's all about  me, to the power of the world. No wonder world peace is unattainable.

I am working with a group of people who share in a vision to create accessible visual communication for people who cannot communicate in words.  I first became involved in this project when I met a speech pathologist from Saskatchewan with a compelling vision for an international standard of communication via visual symbols, or pictograms.

I was hooked. First of all, I wondered how is it possible that we have missed this?  How can one group of people (which by the way could be you or I any time) who cannot communicate verbally have been locked out of the human conversation?  Listening to his compassion and desire to improve life for just one person drew me in. It is compelling, humbling and important.

I have dedicated my life and work to the art and business of communication. So I feel blessed to have walked across this man's path. He has shown me something that I would never have seen if I hadn't seen it through his eyes.  I am reminded that humility is a great attribute of humanity, and if we can remember to stand in some one's experience, for just awhile, we might see a world and forget about the "me" fascination.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Look me in the eye when you say that.

A drive by email is one that comes at you out nowhere and kinda hits you in the side of the head. The tone is flat. The words are poorly chosen. Demanding. Not courteous. Careless. Insensitive.

I love email, texting and the conveniences of communicating through technology as much as the next person.  But way back in the day, when I was a communication officer under the watchful and eagle eye of my boss at the time, we would have gotten our butts kicked for communicating in this careless manner. In fact, we would have, and did, get called into the office where we were corrected.  We would leave her office with her trusty green pen markings all over the email.  I know I walked out of there a few times with a few lessons on how to communicate responsibly.

That was about 15 years ago.  When email was a newer thing in business, and we needed to have communication and usage policies so that people would know what was expected, and what would not be tolerated.

I would recommend for anyone hoping to have a larger career than they currently have to hire a communication coach.  Someone who can help you get your point across without offending the free world. Some of the smartest people and greatest leaders I know have done this, and it has worked to their credit. A CEO for example, that cannot communicate, can't inspire.  Nor can anyone hoping to get the co-operation of others.

I can't stress the importance of this enough.  A good communication coach can help you to see and hear yourself the way others see and hear you.  Good and bad.  But we all need that. Because everything we do communicates a message.

Here are some pet communication peeves that I have observed:

1.  Look me in the eye when you say that.  When someone is talking to you, where are your eyes. If you are talking to me, look at me. If your phone rings, ignore it. If you are the kind of person who is distracted, then place yourself in an area where you can't be distracted.

2.  Save your breath. When someone is talking to you, and you inhale before he or she is even finished talking, you have effectively stopped listening and are now listening to the words that you plan on saying next. First the inhalation, then the words come out. Whether the person has finished talking or not, you are now interrupting.

3.  Be nice. If you need someone to do something for you, the last thing you should do is hurl an email their way. All that does is demonstrate that you couldn't be bothered to actually spare a second of  your precious time to communicate in a respectful manner. What's worse, when you hurl email, you may affect the other person, with no accountability for your own actions. If you are treating your employees this way, you probably don't get much co-operation, or they are looking for jobs.

Communication faux pas like this are generally unintentional but the impacts are lasting.  As a rule of thumb, it is good to remember that everyone is having  "a day" and when we enter their day, even if it is by email, or text, we should be part of what makes it better. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Just Jump

Standing at the ledge of a rock, you can feel the cool breeze of the air and the water swishing, wistfully against the shore line.  You lift your arms overhead, and you fall, immersing yourself.

That's one approach. Another is you can run as fast as you can, and throw yourself in. Another is waiting to be pushed in.  But hey, it's a vacation, so anything goes along as it feels good. In fact we take vacations to feel this freedom, this reckless abandonment, this sense of courage and to live in the moment.

But then we come back to our lives and the vacation ends. We are met with responsibility, accountability, and people who depend on us.  We are no longer adventure seeking, fun in the sun lovers. No, we are land and ledge lovers.  We pride ourselves in stability and knowing where the next dollar is coming from. We like to plan our vacations, and we want to raise our children.  Those are the reasons we work.

When we jump, we have to have some degree of comfort that the water will be the right temperature, and that it can sustain us.  We need to know that if we take that dive into a new place, a different place, we must accept the risks of possible loss of income, possible loss of identify, and possible loss of the comfort of what we have every day.

The funny thing about standing on the edge of this pool is that we might want to jump more than anything. We might want to take a head first leap into a new place.  I admire people who can do that.  And I admire the people who support those people when they do that.

But the bottom line is, one needs support to take that dive. When people ask me - "should I change  . . ." I ask, are you happy with what you are doing?  Do you feel that you have something more to offer? Do they have something they can offer you?  Is it worth your while to stick around? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then you have to leap, I tell them.

I am an advocate for jumping in one's career if the job is not helping the quality of life.  I remember once reading the back page of an annual report which accounted for the employees who had passed away that year, and the number of years those people worked for the organization.  One of them worked right up to the day he died. I remember thinking - "Poor Guy, Poor Family."  I hope these people loved their jobs and got immense satisfaction from the experience.

I am dedicated to living while I am alive.  I feel very strongly about being challenged in my work and liking my work.  I work according to the principle that we are each obligated to grow, and if work is not challenging, or it is taking time away from our lives that should be spent living, then it is time to move on.  This is important, because by definition, if one is not moving forward, one is standing still and possibly moving backward.

But alas we find ourselves on the ledge of our own making.  What if taking the leap means tomorrow will be different? What if landing hurts?  What if  . . .

So what's a ledge lover to do?  How does a ledge lover leap?  One of my former colleagues who leaped landed in a very happy place. He is a financial strategist. His specialty is making money make money.  He says that people tend to need less money than they think and that you need to know what your costs are, and you need to have a plan.

I knew that word would find its way onto my ledge. Plan.  I always have a plan, you say, but not right now.  I can relate.  Plan development is my specialty. I am very good at seeing the cracks of other people businesses and lives and helping them to fill them. The funny thing about those cracks is that they are difficult to see when they are underfoot.

Plans are specific and goal oriented, so you can see progress.  Here's my plan: My plan is to work with  two - three clients who want to get somewhere by helping them create and implement plans, help them get the word out and market and brand themselves.  My plan is to gross $100K in the first year.  My plan is to do work that aligns with my values. And my plan is to look forward to every morning of my working life.

Now I stand upon the ledge of the watering hole of my own making, and I am thinking, what would happen if I jumped . . . now.  Would this plan hold water?  I believe it will.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everything you wanted to know about strategic planning, and wished you never asked.

You can probably tell by my headline that I have something to say.  For those of you who read my blog, or who may know me as a strategic planner, you know that there is a resistance that a strategic planner manages every day. A resistance to order. A resistance to leadership. A resistance to follower-ship. A resistance to listening. A resistance to talking to each other. A resistance to getting engaged. A resistance to all things.

Througout my  careeer, I have been a corporate facilitator  that leads various groups through the process. I have been the eyes, ears and often times the mouth of the organization.  Does "the organization" know this? Not likely.  And that's OK because my job is to be the facilitator, that enables an outcome, not the leader. That's the job of the CEO.  The upside to my role is that I have an objective front row view. The downside is when the organization has been successful, I am invisible. C'est la vie.

I am always open to new ways of doing things.  So when I have a few moments, just for the heck of it, I google the following:  Why people hate strategic planning.

Inevitably, I am not disappointed. Today I discovered the attached link: Four Reasons Why Productive People Hate Strategic Planning.  The company is "SmartDraw" which espouses that the solution is technologically based.    I disagree. Vehemently.

A strategic plan can be captured on a napkin. One of the strategies that I am most proud of was drawn on a napkin in my friend's kitchen.  A strategic plan is merely an expression of where the organization / group / individual is going, measures that it will use to manage success, and an overview of the various strategies that it will take to get there.

It's this simple:  I am going on a road trip.  Where to? Air or car? How many days?  Who is coming along?  What am I going to do there?  What risks might I encounter  and how will I counter that?  When do I begin.

So gimme a break. It's not hard.  We make it hard when the human element is introduced. If I had to factor my entire family into that conversation, that adds complexity. Probably a good idea so they at least know where I am.

In the work environment, strategic planning is even more important because 3 or 300 or 3000 people need to have a clear view of the plan and what they  each need to do.

I have worked with 1000 person companies, 10 person companies and 3 person companies. And there is one truth that I have encountered no matter the number of people involved.  If people don't get the plan, stick to it, internalize it - understand what it means - all kinds of things go wrong.

So what's the answer?  Well, it's not technology, although it helps.  There are no answers because this is a human process. But there are some thing that can help.

1.  Strategic Planning gets muddy when agendas and vested interests muddy the water.  The strategic planning facilitator's role is the central communicator and facilitator of said plan.  That person should not be part of the company or the plan because then there can be no vested interest. That's the role that I play.  I am the outside facilitator. The objective view. The unsung hero. The one who connects the dots. I am the one who brings the people together.  That's my part.  I am not responsible for the plan Per Se. I am the conduit through which the plan can occur.

2.  Have a clear commitment to leadership. The CEO is the owner of the strategic plan. He or she must be the leader and the ultimate director of said plan.  Understanding the leadership style of the CEO is imperative.

3.  Keep it simple. Planning words tend not to be real words.  In fact the concept to strategy comes from the military so of course it is heavily coded.  The Strategic Planner (me) needs to crack the code and convince the powers that be that the language must be real. Words like "optimize" and "enhance" tend to be used, but what do they mean?  Say it, don't code it. You need a strategic planner with a communicator's soul to pull that off. Or a communicator with a strategic planner's soul.

4.  Bring people together to talk about it.  Talk about it . Talk about it . Talk about it. I can't say that enough times.  A plan and direction that doesn't get talked about doesn't happen.

5.  Expect progress and when it is not there, ask why. Lots of time, plans get lip service. We've all said it . . . "sure mom, I will do the dishes,  right after. . . ". The dishes never get done.  We've all used this trick. In business, lip service costs money. Think about it. Resources - people and money - are tied up waiting for something to happen. If the commitment to progress is not there, the resources are wasted. That's like bringing a crew to your house to clean it and then never letting them past the landing.

6.  Make it "my" job and my resume. When people are accountable, and that accountability is taken seriously, things happen.  If my name is on something, I get it done.  And then recognize me. High performing people who get things done simply won't stick around if they are not recognized.

But if you are part of the team / company actually responsible for the plan here's your job:

1. Show up.
2. Have a perspective that you are prepared to share. (One of my clients told his management team that if a person did not have a voice or opinion at the table, that person is redundant.)
3. Be realistic.  Can this plan be delivered? If it was your name on it (and it is) would you bet your career on this?  Or do you see failure?  Where do  you see failure?
4. Represent.  Make sure that you get the plan and that you know how it translates to your teams. Make sure you are putting your team in a position to be successful.  Make sure you are part of the solution.
5. Be responsible. If the plan or the process is ineffective, ask if you have followed steps 1 through 4.

Resistance to change is futile in life.  The tide moves. The wave of change is consistently upon us.  Strategic planning helps people to be prepared at the very least, and at the most to take advantage of change through foresight and action. Get involved. Get engaged or be on the outside.  It's pretty simple.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When work . . . works.

"Wanted - mediocre employees who generally do a bad job."

No employer in their right mind would actively seek people who are not qualified, or do not have the right attitude.  In fact, I can't think of anyone who would apply for this job.  People tend to want to contribute at work.  Job ads tend to be more inspirational - in search of people who can bring their brand to life. The following is a career ad for 7-11 from their website:

We Have Absolutely No Doubt. To Be The Best Retailer, We Must Also Be The Best Employer.
Each person in the vast 7-Eleven family of professionals knows he or she counts – really counts – is genuinely respected, and will be given every opportunity to succeed and advance. Currently, 7-Eleven is home to more than 35,500 corporate and operations employees who recognize, as we do, that a combination of effective teamwork, great friendships, and selfless service will enhance our company’s position as leader of the convenience industry.

If you become part of our team, we want your work to be more than a job. We want it to be an investment in your future and ours. That goal is fully supported by the three Cs of our leadership model – The Capacity, Commitment and Character to Lead.

What I like about this ad is the closing line: The Capacity, Commitment and the Character to Lead.  These are the workforce qualities that can make or break the business.

I have the privilege of having worked with some very good people who fit these characteristics.  People who are dedicated to solving problems. Finding better ways of working.  But there's more to it than these characteristics.  There is culture.

The culture and environment is made up of all the little things that are not visible to the naked eye, but that you can feel once you arrive and begin to work.  As a newcomer, you have to figure out which way is North, and get to know the people who make things happen. In my experience, I would describe them as:
  • The high performers who make things happen.
  • Those who are most respected in the organization are worthy of listening and observation because they tend to have their finger on the pulse of the business, and they likely have the hearts and minds of the workforce.
  • The natural born communicators are those who carry the message.
Work is a two way street - it is a relationship between the employee and the employer. A contract.  So it is important to have your own ad and list of requirements.  The way the organization makes decisions, communicates and executes its plans is high on the list of the high performer.

Here's how the formula works: Decision making translates to responsibility. Responsibility translates to trust. Trust translates to loyalty.  Loyalty translates to good people doing good work.  Good people doing good work is good business.

The theory of decision making is the higher up you are in the organization, the fewer decisions you should make, with the greatest impact.  Imagine a pyramid.  At the peak is the CEO, followed by the executive, senior managers, front line managers and the people who actually do the work of the business every day - creating and delivering the products and services that create value for the customer.

In the ideal pyramid, CEO's ask questions and engage others to find the answers. CEOs set a standard of behavior. CEOs set the culture by their actions. The CEO delegates to his or her executive teams to distribute the accountability and responsibility for decision making.  And each executive delegates to his or her direct reports who delegate appropriately down the line.

Going down the pyramid, the decisions become more frequent.  Every day people who do the work - those who tend to work with the customers, create the products and services make decisions all the time so it is important they feel empowered, know the game plan and are accountable to deliver. And good employees want that.  To be accountable. To be trusted. To grow and learn.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Good Day for Walls to Come Down

 Today is a day in the history of our time that deserves a moment of notice.  On September 11, 2001, lives were lost, families were devastated. A city was crushed. And we became afraid.

On this day, I want to pay tribute to those who lost their families and who are wishing today they had that last chance to tell their loved ones what they meant to them.

 I am celebrating my family.  I am thankful that we have each other, that we live peacefully and without fear, and that our children live in a time of possibility.  

When I think of family, I often am reminded of an interview with an West Berliner who told what family meant to them after the wall came down in Berlin.  (This link tells you the story. The sound track is "Winds of Change by the Scorpions).

Brandenburg Gate - where East meets West
I was there in 1997.  I was invited as a guest of the German government to attend and report on Green Week, an agricultural trade show and conference.  The family of Germany was on the rebuild, and they were anxious to let the rest of the world see what they had to offer.

I toured the country side of Brandenburg, the city state that surrounded Berlin at the time that was once occupied territory.  We went to Bonn, and toured Berlin, along with 25 other journalists from around the world.

I met with government officials and met people who had grown up on both sides of the wall. 

People told me they were sensitive about covering up the effects of the war and the occupation.   They didn't want to forget what had happened, one woman told me.  

She said if we forget what "we did" we might not remember the next time. I visited a 14th century church in Bonn that had been bombed out and restored with much debate.

Downtown I was taken aback by the bullet spray that speckled the sides of buildings, and the graffiti, which no one would translate for me, likely because there are no words that translate the feelings of oppression, angst, anger and frustration. 

Czech writer, Milan Kundera used the word "Litost" to describe this feeling in his book, "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" which takes aim at totalitarianism and political oppression.
I couldn't help but be curious about the social healing that was under way and how the people were coping.

When the Wall came down, the difference between the East and West was profound. The West side had continued to develop along with Western world and the East side was behind.  Education, language differences, and cultural differences, along with a history of hurt and heartache were realities.  

At the time of my visit, there were over 300 cranes spanning the skyline of Eastern Berlin to bring the city back from the brink.  Germany had opened its arms to those who fled, and thousands of immigrants came home, creating further challenges with language and employment. At the time, the news papers and officials were reporting that the unemployment rate was 13.5%, which was substantial in a city of 8 million people.  

Was there resentment in this family I wondered? 

 I interviewed a young man who had grown up on the West side of the wall.  He told me that, yes, it was difficult that so much help and investment was needed to help their eastern cousins. 

But then he said: "they are our family. Our aunts. Our mothers. Our fathers. Of course we will help them. We are one." 

So here are we.  The Wall in Berlin no longer exists.  21 years has passed since the wall came down. November 9 is a day that will be celebrated for the rest of memory.

It has been 9 years since 9-11.  The day a new wall was built.  And since then, wars are raging. People have lost their lives that day, and people have lost their lives since.  There are no physical walls, but there are walls.  Walls that the average person does not understand, but we live with the effects of them.

There are no winners and losers in these scenarios.  Just losers.  I wonder sometimes why we find reasons to put up walls, and why we spend so much time and energy trying to tear each other down instead of tearing down the walls. Why destruction of another is  tolerated anywhere in the world. Are we not learning and evolving? When will we get the point that it is pointless? That nobody wins. That political differences, religion, ethnic origin and lifestyle is not a reason to be intolerant. There is no reason to put another in the path of danger or to negatively affect someone's life. 

Not in my backyard, we say.  Well, I have news.  Just 3 hours away from my front door and south of the border there is a nation mourning and reliving 9-11 this weekend, wishing their families were together. Wishing things had been different that day.  

Like my friend in Germany said,  Family is family. No matter what. We are connected.  We are one.

For more news footage on the wall, check out the following:

 9-11 Video - Where were you when the world stopped turning:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Book of Work

Mind changing strategy and communications is about bringing people together to think and explore what's possible, make decisions and make things happen.  I help people interpret the environment, set a direction and go there.  I have had a front row seat with non - profit organizations, government organizations, private sector and the co-operative sector.

This journey has been one of curiosity and understanding.  In university, the first book that I studied in English 100 was entitled, "Work."  It was a story of work experiences. My English professor chose it because it would have more meaning to us than Romeo and Juliet would have at the time.  Without knowing it at the time, I had become inspired to build a career on the study of work to make work better.

I began my career as a journalist, which I loved, but that I found limiting given the time and monetary constraints of the industry. I moved on to be a corporate communication specialist and writer, and found there was more to learn in policy, because that's where decisions were made.  From policy I went to strategic planning, because that's how the decisions are made, and who makes the decisions. I shifted to other aspects of governance, Enterprise Risk Management, and social responsibility because that is why decisions are made.

And that is where I live now.  I am an instigator of thought.  A facilitator of change.  A map maker in the journey of work. I am the "where's Waldo" of the work world because my journey has taken me to strange and unique places, where I am not the leader, Per Se, but one that creates an environment where leadership can occur.

Businesses today need to watch the bottom line. But it's more than that. It's about the way we work, why we work at what we work at, and whether we should work at all at those things we work at.

Let me illustrate.  Often times, the business environment is fraught with what I often call "sundry" activities.  These are things that we do because:
a).  We always did it that way.
b).  "I" don't want to change.
c).  "I" don't have time to change.
d).  I like it this way and I can tell you 100 reasons why it's important if you are willing to let me waste your time.

All these options really say one thing:  we are resistant to change, so we dig in and justify, justify and justify some more. We like the work, even if we don't, because we dislike change.

Work does change.  For example, I remember my first job as a file clerk about 100 years ago.  If someone took a file, they were not allowed to put it back. The file had to be shipped to the department that I worked in (called Central Records) where more than 10 people were employed.  The files were sifted, sorted, piled, documented and filed.  It was pointless then, and thankfully, business has evolved and this type of system doesn't exist (much) anymore.  And those 10 people hopefully went on to bigger and better things.

It's true that resistance and fear of change is one of the toughest things to overcome.  When people feel the ground shift underneath them, they tend to dig their toes in and hang on.  This is natural.  Yet when it comes to making change, often times, the royal "we" do it badly.  We tend to force it on others and expect them to just accept it.  Through the years, business gurus and consultants have been quite successful in finding ways to make the transition from this way more effective.

In the 80's, Michael Hammer's "Re-engineering" led the way in finding and eliminating inefficient and effective ways of working to be replaced with a new and better way. The problem with the Hammer approach is how it was often applied.  If the people element was ignored (the notion that you need to bring people through their own change) then it feels like the changed is being "hammered."  Hence, the Hammer method became associated with being "hammered."

Kaplan and Norton came along with the Balanced Scorecard. Their big idea was that change requires balance, and a well managed company understands the areas that drive success. Typically people, process, customers and product value and financial management drive business success. Well managed companies make and implement decisions understanding the impact and being conscious of moving forward accordingly.  This is still a very successful theory and approach. As a student of Kaplan and Norton over the past 10 years, I continue to believe that the principles of balance are important, but not easy to achieve because of the tendency to take short cuts to change.

The problem with balanced scorecard idea is that the hammer sneaks in.  One of the elements of introducing a balanced scorecard approach is a learning culture, where there is tolerance for learning and an appreciation for innovation and risk taking.  If that learning culture does not exist, the measures of the balanced scorecard become the hammer of non-performance.

Enter the new kid on the block. This kid has many nicknames - efficiency, LEAN, SIX SIGMA, productivity, cost management to name a few.  With that many identities, this is "curiouser and curiouser", to quote Alice in Wonderland. The ubiquitous nature of its meaning can be a concern if not couched in the right context.

Let's break it down:
  • Business is commerce.  How we make money. How we derive value and deliver value to generate revenue  
  • Process is how we go about making money, creating value.  Process adds cost, in terms of time, people and systems. (subtract from cash). 
  • Innovation is about changing - something.  Creating something new.  Doing something a different way. Building a better mouse trap.  The Information Highway.  (more money is made than is being spent). 
In mathematical terms it looks something like this: Revenue -  costs  + innovation = profitability.

Some say we are in the information age.  Others say we are in innovation age. I say we are in the age of possibility. Business Process Innovation is about changing the way we work so that we can derive more value with the resources we have  - our people, systems, processes and money.  

Despite the possibility of great things,  this is a deep deep well. And the business world where some tools make it and others go the way of the file room, this trend could go the way of Re-engineering if it is not treated right.  

There is great potential in stepping back and looking at what can be better. But since people do the work in the work place, if this is not done "with" the people, it will be done "to" people, and it will be rejected.  

So it all comes down to people and work.  And people are the great variable in that equation.  People have emotions.  They have the ability to be defiant. They can justify and they can stall.  People can become fearful or create fear in others.  The greatest leaders that I have known bring people through change, not force change on them.  

Kaplan and Norton did a great job of instilling the concept of balance.  We need to remember the equation of change includes people.  It's important to remember good principles of change: 

1.  Help people understand what needs to change and why.
2. Show them how they can get involved.
3. Give them the tools and information to be successful.
4.  Get out of their way.
5.  Ask for progress reports. 

It's also important to remember that change takes time, especially when people are involved, if change happens at all.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

There are no words.

A little girl left her sandals so she could play in the ocean.   

There are 70 million cubic miles of water in the Pacific, which equates to 187,189,915,062,857,142,857 gallons, (187 quintillion gallons or 187,189,915,062 billion gallons), of water in the Pacific Ocean.   

This is just a drop. 

So is this a drop . . . in the bucket.  The homeless and the hopeless who live on the streets.  

Where is the love?

There is nothing to predict.  We make the future happen by our words and actions.    
We need to use our words.  We should speak out. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

There is no "no". Just "how".

Recently I have been working on a new business idea.  My goal is to bring the best of me to my clients, so that I can deliver mind altering, life shattering, ground shifting ... whatever. The name of this company is "Lynear Thinking".  The truth is, Lynear Thinking has been active since . . .1961.  Lynear Thinking is me.

Here's how it all began.

I was born a small bald child in Regina Saskatchewan. Apparently I was breach and backwards, if that's possible.  My mother says I have been a challenge all my life. My mother tells me that I was, at times, a screaming daddy's girl who generally wanted what ever I wanted.  She tells me I am the one in a million child. If something is going to happen, it will be me.  I have rejected the word "no" most of my life. I remember thinking "We will see about that" whenever someone would say  no to me.  I also remember being difficult and defiant, as all small children are.

Through my school years, I became silently compliant. I was ridiculously shy, to the point where I would pray the teacher would not talk to me or ask me a question. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be invisible, and I was for a long time.  In kindergarten I remember my teacher scolding me for working during a play time. Granted, I was creating a purple cardboard phone, but apparently that was the art project and not "fun".  I still don't get it.  Over my school years, I recessed into the background. Looking back, very few teachers with the exception of 3 were in any way interesting or engaging. The rest of my teachers were what I later came to understand as brown ducks.

This is not a sad story. When one is invisible, one learns to look at things as an outsider. Without realizing it, I was acquiring keen observation skills that would serve me well as an adult.

As a child who lived in my thoughts, I kept journals and wrote poems and songs late at night in bed, under cover with a flash light.  I never shared my duo tangs and stories with anyone.  I developed a love for writing and telling stories. My hero was John Lennon. I fact, I remember the day he died - I said to myself, I want to be a writer. I want to tell stories that will move people. I want to write songs that create memories.

I set out to be a writer, studying English at the University of Regina, and then Journalism.  I remember sitting on the stage at convocation thinking, now what.  Since then, I have been committed to writing whatever it is that needs to be written. I have been committed to moving people to action with words. I have been committed to recording our time together on this earth.

Enter Lynear Thinking.  This is not just a name - it is a perspective.  It represents my personal philosophy that "no" is not an answer. One should ask "how?".  It reflects my belief that we are all the CEO of our own lives and that we have a responsibility to be creative, energetic and optimistic about everything we do.

Lynear Thinking is about creating a vision that others can see and want to reach too.  Lynear Thinking is about being authentic.  Creative. Effervescent. Brave. Resourceful. Flexible and adaptable.

One person described me as a "pink flamingo in a brown duck pond."  And yes, I have learned how to speak the language of the linear thinking, rule based individual. I accredit this set of skills to being raised by an accountant / banker.  I appreciate and understand the need for this type of approach.  I have acquired the ability to package non linear concepts into linear formats that linear thinkers can understand.  As a pink flamingo, I must control my effervescence from time to time, because it can be misconstrued as "flighty."

Pink Flamingos are not often appreciated for their zest and zeal because the Brown Duck is not comfortable with this. One brown duck asked me to reserve any color for the final document because it is just dressing after all.  I did not bother to explain that changes in colors and fonts are designed to help bring attention to information in a purposeful way.

But as the song goes, I gotta be me. I was born kicking and screaming, upside down and backwards. I was not born to follow the path. I was born to create the path.  I was born with a brain, and a creative soul. and the power of words. I was born to tell stories and help create connections. I was born not to placate but to question. I was born not to accept what is but to explore what is next.

So here I am at another threshold in my life and I continue to be who I was the day I was born.  Sometimes I don't fit in.  Sometimes I scare people. Sometimes I am a force of nature.  That's OK.

So now I am about to launch the next version of Lynear Thinking to help businesses connect with their markets. That helps community groups tell their story and garner support to do the good things they do. Lynear Thinking is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who have a desire to do something important and significant with their time and talent. Lynear Thinking is about changing from what we are to what we can be. Lynear Thinking is about doing what's important, exploring new ground and discovering other ways of thinking.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thank you Don, where ever you are.

As a young student journalist, I wanted to do a documentary about street people in Regina.  Yes, we have them, like every other city.  In the research process, I wanted to find someone who could educate me about life on the street.  After months of being turned away and turned down by various helping organizations,  I booked a meeting with a counsellor at the Regina Friendship Centre to tell him about the story that I was hoping to write, and to ask for his help.

When I arrived at the centre, a 28 year old man named Don met me.  He was about 6 feet tall, thin, with sandy brown curly, tossled hair.  His voice was soft and kind, and kind of crackled at times.  When we shook hands, his skin felt thin, and his hands felt weak.

We went to his office to talk.  I had explained my story concept, and after he sized me up as to whether I was trustworthy and genuinely interested in telling an untold story, he offered to help me.  It turns out Don was posing as the counsellor.  He was a self described "street person" who was originally from Winnipeg. I didn't believe him until he showed me a letter that was addressed to him from Social Services.

I explained that the story would take about 4 weeks to develop and he would need to be available at least once a week. I asked if he could commit to that, and he said, "I would like to. It will be the first thing in my life I have ever finished." So Don had a story to tell, and I had a story to listen to.

Don explained to me that the term "street person" refers to one that can live on any street, any where.  He said that "we" tend not to want to be part of the every day rules of society, but there are rules to live by if one is going to make it (and by that he meant be alive) living on the streets.

Over the weeks, Don took me to all the places in Regina that "street people" hung out. He showed me where he / they lived, and where they ate. He showed me who to avoid and he showed me who I could trust. During my time with Don, I felt safe.  They accepted me.  All I had to do was be sincere, and open minded to learn what they had to teach me. I had only but to listen and not judge. To be earnestly and genuinely interested in their lives.

One day in January, I was meeting Don in front of the Army & Navy department store. He was waiting for me at the bus bench across the street as planned. It was about 30 degrees below zero that day (Fahrenheit).  I looked down at Don's feet and he was wearing men's shoes, but they were not leather.  He had no socks.  I asked him where his socks were and he said they were stolen from his room overnight.  His face was banged up so I guessed the two incidences might have been connected.  I asked him to wait for me and went into the Army & Navy department store where I bought him 3 pairs of men's wool socks for $5.00.  I came out and gave them to him.  He cried, and then he put them on.

I never gave Don my home number, but I could reach him at the Queen's Hotel anytime.  Don kept his promise to me, with the exception of 10 days when I thought he had left town, and I would have to start over.  I called the Hotel every day and left messages with the bartender to call me when Don arrived.  Finally, I got the call that he had returned. I phoned him and we talked.  He explained to me that he was very sorry but that somebody was after him and he had no choice but to run. Such was the life of Don. I thanked him for coming back.  "It was least I could do," he said. "I said I would do this and I want to do this."

During our time together, Don told me all about his family, his life and his childhood. He said he didn't know where they were anymore, and he didn't blame them for not telling him where they were living.  Don told me that he started running when was 14 - got mixed up with drugs and alcohol and did whatever it took to feed his habit, including being a male prostitute at the age of 14.  Don said that his parents and family tried to bring him home, but every time they tried, he just ran further and faster.  "Eventually they gave up on me. I can't really blame them. I burned them out."

Don and I did finish the radio documentary.  And then I never saw him again.  I have often wondered what happened to him - if he found another street to live on in another city, or if he found his family, or possibly is living a normal life somewhere.

But each day when I go to work downtown, I see many of the people who I met with Don during our travels, and I think to myself - there but for the grace of God go I.  And then I remember to smile at them when I pass them on the street. And if they need a dollar for coffee, and I have one, I give it to them. If I could see Don again, I would thank him for teaching me something about humanity, humility and grace.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Circus Tents and Flying Trapeze

When I was a child, my favorite circus act was the flying trapeze.  I loved watching the person glide through the air, letting go of her swing, her arm extended, she would  find another that would take her the rest of the way across the circus tent.  It was exquisite poetry in motion. A beautiful bird in flight.  A leap of faith.  A courageous act of letting go, and having faith in what lies ahead. 

Most things that we do in life are a practice for the next big show.  At  3, we let go our children's hands to go to playschool. At 5 they go to kindergarten.  At 6 they were front and centre in their tutus and tap shoes. At 10 they went to their first school dance.  At 16 they learned to drive and we gave them the keys and a machine to hopefully navigate safely.  At 18, we watched them walk across the stage, graduating from high school.  In their 20's, they continue their journey, forging a path of who they are yet to become, learning along the way, testing the skills they learned through all their practice.

As parents, each time we waved good bye, we said a little prayer to ourselves. We watched them fall and pick themselves up. And we wiped their tears and bandaged their scraped knees and egos. 

What we don't realize that that with every step they take, we take one too.  Growth is imminent. To stop growing is to become stagnant.  When a plant becomes stagnant, it dies.  If a bird in mid flight, becomes stagnant, it can no longer fly.  Think about it. We were not meant to stand still. 

So we shouldn't.  There are signs all around us that tell us when it is time to take that leap of faith.  Job dissatisfaction.  Checking out.  Not caring about the things that used to matter.  Becoming complacent.  Sometimes we act out against others when we feel stagnant in our lives, as if we are entitled to change without taking a risk. Sometimes we just feel . . . finished with where we are or what we are doing.  For me, that feeling is one claustrophia as if being caged. 

But some measure of risk is required to let go and find a new place.  Like the circus performer who flew effortlessly through the air when I was 7, I am sure she was scared, but she was confident that she had learned well and prepared herself to take the leap.  

We need to learn what we have learned, heed the signs that tell is change is imminent, and let go to a new place, exquisitely, gracefully and fearlessly.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Using my powers for good . . .

It was 1996.  I was sitting on the stage at convocation. When I entered university, I set a goal to graduate and to become a writer. I pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English, and a Bachelor of Journalism and Communications from the University of Regina. I remember thinking, now what?  Before I left the stage, I had a plan.

I set some early career targets to move me along my path of becoming a writer and away I went, finding things to write about. I worked as a journalist, corporate communicator, policy analyst, strategic planner and facilitator for a variety of companies, including national and provincial crowns, credit union companies, non-profits and private businesses.   

During the course of this work, I facilitated approximately 400 planning sessions, produced about 50 plans and strategies, as well as more speeches and presentations than I can remember.  I wrote and published poetry.  And it was good.  The work was recognized by my peers in the communications industry, as well as people such as the Auditor General of Canada for my work in annual reporting. 

A funny thing happened on the way to this goal.  I discovered the power of the written word, and the change that can happen when people come together to bring those written words to life.  I have also learned that the path of change is not always linear, nor predictable.  It is one that must take in a variety of perspectives and interests to share the vision. Finally I learned that when one's values align with the work, the work becomes important.  

So now, I am turning my attention to using my powers of good communication, writing and thinking to help legacy builders and thought leaders bring their important work to life with compassion for others, honesty and integrity.  

Sunday, May 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Islands in the sun . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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