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Friday, April 29, 2011

Administrative Professionals

It has always been my observation that the paramount positions in any organisation are, in fact, the front line personnel and the key EA's who are, without a doubt, always so integral to the most critical and sensitive functions of any organisation...   

But I have had some amount of reinforcement in this thinking
 I have had the privilege (or perhaps sheer blind luck) of working with some great leaders in my lifetime.  Among those would be President Likins of the University of Arizona, an institution similar in stature to the University of Alberta.  Dr. Likins was literally a rocket scientist turned administrator.  This explains the multiple mirror laboratory, space sciences facilities, and alliances with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory topped off by the honor of being the first public university to command an interplanetary spaceflight mission (The Phoenix Mars Lander).   
For a brief time, I was attached in special service to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Edward C. Meyer.  Later in life, after becoming a professor, I came to know Dr. Vernon Smith, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, also from the University of Arizona.

Perhaps one of the smartest people I ever knew was Dr. Cherry Murray of Bell Laboratories, a leader in Quantum Physics research, especially her work with Raman scattering from very small monodisperse Si quantum dots.  Like Dr. J.D. Garcia, another friend who is a Physics Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, Dr. Murray could provide the brightest minds with riddles to ponder.... perhaps for years!  She has an uncanny ability to see into the future, much like Carl Sagan did.  Quantum physics can be both intellectually challenging and time consuming, but it is, above all, endlessly fascinating.  Over on the Computer Science side of the house, I had the good luck counting  

Dr. Larry Smarr as a distinguished friend.  Larry's doctoral dissertation centered on a question related to the computational overhead requirements needed to simulate a hypothetical collision of two black holes in space.  This resulted in his necessity to acquire access to the computational facilities of a National Laboratory, so as to provide sufficient computational power to evaluate his questions at the time. This research helped propel Larry to the NCSA, then to the PITAC, and he is one of the greatest visionaries and leaders in high speed high performance research computing to this day.

Above all, Larry is a very approachable, down to Earth, common sense kind of guy.  Through the enormous challenge of acquiring computational overhead sufficient to analyze his queries, he became involved with the science of lashing together, so to speak, supercomputers in order to facilitate massively parallel supercomputing facilities.   

The largest on earth today is Tianhe-i located in China serving the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education (nuclear physics I should imagine), but the prettiest data centres are still in Chicago and Barcelona.
There was one common and most interesting trait shared by all of them.  Without fail, in conversations about their success, whether intellectually, academically, or financially; they understood with absolute clarity, that they could only be as great as the people they were surrounded by. 

Each of them would also say that they were no smarter than most, perhaps more focused in their particular areas of expertise.... true enough.  But they all recognized their accomplishments were only achieved through effective and collaborative teamwork.  Understanding everybody's relative strengths and weaknesses were, in their eyes, the most important underpinning girders upon which their accomplishments were crafted.

Each one of them, when asked what decisions they thought to be most crucial, would have slightly different lists.  But upon each list I carefully noted there was always one position that was never missing.  It was always on each list; and I might add... quite often at or near the very top of the list. 

What was the magic?  What was the secret sauce?  At the end of the day, most of the lists I gleaned from these giants of leadership are identical to those which can be found in any assigned reading for MBA students from Harvard to LSE and everywhere in between.  But what was the one item on all their lists that does not appear in any of the leadership or business books - what was on the list that never shows up in any MBA curriculum or any Business program?

All of these people listed, without fail, as one of their greatest assets; having an excellent Administrative Professional on their team. 

The art of being an Administrative Professional, I have noted in my lifetime, spans academic discipline, intellectual savvy, technological expertise, diplomacy, work ethic, morality, and probably dozens of fine characteristics I can't even begin to list.  But I find it fascinating that the wealthiest, brightest, most accomplished, and the most famous... each and every one of them had the role of Administrative Professional upon their list.

I did, of course, ask why...

Because without them... leadership, creativity, strategic decision making, and organisational excellence are summarily blunted.  Perhaps these people recognized they would be handicapped to such a tremendous degree so as to separate, with absolute clarity and surgical precision, a high performing organization from one of mere mediocrity.

With All My Esteem, Respect, and Admiration... I humbly honour all Administrative Professionals.

Some people place an extraordinary value upon leadership... whereas I do not necessarily subscribe, with blind faith, to that view.  Instead, I place a high value on understanding, with absolute clarity, the strengths of each and every member of a team and then deploying them to undertake the work they are most passionate about with authority to engage in their own decision making.  Upon this foundation of mutual respect and trust, tremendous obstacles have been overcome, battles have been won, and wars have been brought to successful conclusions. 

Leaders, I'm sorry to say, are a dime a dozen, but leaders who understand the value of their team and how to leverage their strengths and creativity are a rare commodity.  And so I humbly wish that Administrative Professionals shall receive this small and humble offering with the spirit with which it is given.

With the Greatest Admiration and Respect

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mother Earth, Water, and All Life

The Desk and Derrick Club has provided 60 years of service to members and the energy industry.  They are a non-profit organization for almost 2,500 individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries, and they have 60 clubs in 7 regions throughout the United States and Canada.  It is their goal to enhance and foster a positive image to the global community by promoting the contribution of the petroleum, energy and allied industries through education by using all resources available.

I was honored to be the keynote speaker for their 60th Anniversary event at the Desk and Derrick Club of Edmonton.  What an amazing group; very well organized and run with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.  It was a thrill to represent the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre at their anniversary celebration.  Having been afforded the opportunity to speak four times at club and regional meetings, I have now come to know so many of these remarkable people.  I remain honored by their gracious invitations.

Our topic was water, and the topic of fresh water conservation seems to grow in global significance each day.  The Earth and all life upon it would not exist without water.  The majority of cells in the bodies of all living creatures and plants contain water.  Equally important to all life on Earth is the fact that water reduces the fluctuation of global temperatures, allowing our planet to sustain life.  Water protects all life both aquatic and land based, it covers over 70% of the Earth.  Without it, all forms of life would forever vanish from the Earth.  To say that water is important cannot possibly be overstated.  It is the very foundation upon which all life is built, sustained, and nourished.  In fact, all fresh water on earth, if it were shaped as a sphere, would look quite small. 

Throughout history, humans have traditionally settled near sources of fresh water.  Ancient civilizations, such as the Anasazi of the desert southwest, focused great amounts of time and energy in order to construct cliff dwellings near water sources.  Their engineering feats were magnificent, their creation of aqueducts and agricultural efficiencies unparalleled as was the brilliance of their site selections which leveraged gravitational water flow to nourish their corn, squash, and other plantings.

Fast forward through the centuries and mankind, for the most part, still settles near sources of freshwater.  Yet we often take that water for granted, assuming somehow, that there will always be plenty.  I suppose mankind is lulled into the thought that water is so plentiful because the vast majority of our planet is covered in water.  We see tremendous glaciers, and mountains covered with snowpack that melts each year and fills our rivers.

A closer examination of the facts, however, clearly demonstrates a different reality.  The first fact that is somewhat startling is that of all the global water, only 2.5% is fresh water.  Of the 2.5% or global fresh water, nearly 69% is locked in glaciers and ice caps, the majority located in Antarctica and Greenland.  Groundwater accounts for about 30% of the global fresh water supply, while surface water accounts for slightly over 1% of the global supply.  The drill down on surface water reveals that about 73% comes from ice and snow, much of it running into our rivers during the Spring melt.  Lakes, such as the Great Lakes and the millions of other smaller lakes, contain about 20% of the water.  Swamps and marshes account for about 2.5% and rivers less than a half a percent.  The remainder derived from biological and atmospheric water.  In summary, the importance of protecting and managing our freshwater resources is a paramount consideration for Alberta, for Canada, and for the entire global community.

Alberta is moving forward with a strategy called Water for Life.  To understand and monitor groundwater, Alberta monitors shallow, intermediate, and deep wells across the province.  Data regarding these wells may be acquired by the public at: http://www3.gov.ab.ca/env/water/gwsw/quantity/waterdata/gwdatafront.asp

In Alberta, approximately two million people get their drinking water from large municipal systems; many obtain potable water from smaller water treatment plants.  Others obtain their water from private systems such as wells, water co-ops or by hauling.  The supply of fresh water is plentiful in many places, but the southern part of Alberta already has shortage issues.  More than a half a million hectares of land are cultivated and irrigated via 13 irrigation districts which share water across municipalities and for agricultural production.  In fact, more than 40% of all fresh water use in Alberta goes toward growing the food products we consume to sustain life.  As such, the Government of Alberta began focusing resources towards the goal of water conservation precisely in the part of our province where it is most critical.

Alberta also has obligations to provide certain amounts of water to Montana and Saskatchewan due to apportionment agreements.  Essentially, the apportion agreement with Saskatchewan insures that half of the water in each of the shared, major river basins, must be allowed to flow into Saskatchewan.  A similar agreement exists with the state of Montana because some watersheds flow from Montana into Alberta and then back again to the headwaters of the Missouri and Mississippi watershed.  Few people recognize these agreements are in place.  As such, it is incumbent on all of us to conserve and protect our water supplies because they have an impact on many people across our region, and in fact, the ramifications are global.

Continental drainage is a concept unfamiliar to many as a science, but most of us know intrinsically that our water flows to certain areas.  Alberta is particularly interesting because the flow of our water reaches the Water drainage flows to several different areas due to the geographical location of Alberta.  In the far south, the Milk River Basin drains to the Missouri – Mississippi, farther north it drains to the Hudson Bay and about half of Alberta’s water drainage flows to the Mackenzie Delta and into the Arctic.

In fact, the Mackenzie Delta is such an enormous water resource that it is the 3rd largest watershed on Earth and contains approximately 1/3 of Canada’s fresh water supply.  At the Desk & Derrick Club, we discussed these topics.  Being the curious people they are, always on a quest for knowledge, I gave pause to admire the purpose of their club and the kindness of their people.  The inquisitive mind is always healthy and abundant in thought. 
The pursuit of education can be summed up in many ways.  I would choose to leave you with this thought.

It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time -- for we are bound by that -- but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.

T.S. Eliot

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bike Town, Twitter, and Confucius - The Common Thread

Sometimes I get a chuckle out of reading the local paper.  Not because it isn't good journalism, it is.  But sometimes I find the editorials to be a bit skewed when the news cycles are somewhat slow.  Before I say anything about the Bike Town comments made today, I feel the need to highlight a few things.

When I was a soldier, I agreed to go anywhere, fight anywhere, and if it wasn't my lucky day, I was prepared to die as a soldier... on any given battlefield in any far flung corner of the globe.  Everybody who puts on the uniform of the Army, or the uniform of any armed service, accepts this as part of their job. 

One of the main reasons I volunteered to do this was to defend the principles of liberty and the ability to enjoy freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression is provided to all Canadians within the body of Canadian constitutional law.  And so I openly and loudly applaud this individual's right to speak freely.  It is, of course, only fair that I am equally entitled to the very same freedom of expression.

I find it ironic that a contemptuous picture has been painted of the present day Council, but I openly state that it is within the rights of any person to do so.  With what seems like copious sarcasm, the writer states that "a councilor" (sic) had to start a Twitter account for the municipality.  I'm fairly confident the reference was made towards myself since it is widely known that I have been a champion of social media in our community since the day I arrived in Devon.

Perhaps I misunderstood the writer, but it seemed like they were insinuating that our municipal staff were unable to accomplish the simple task of starting a Twitter account and that Social Media is, somehow, not a worthwhile tool.  I have no trepidation to report neither of these assumptions would have any basis in reality.  Make no mistake, I have and shall continue to support social media and enhanced web presence for the benefit of our municipality.

A few weeks ago, Twitter celebrated its 5th Birthday.  Since the first tweet on March 21, 2006, Twitter has swelled to over 200 million users.  This number, of course, is in fact erroneous because Twitter adds over 500,000 users every day.  We have not even gotten to our next Council meeting and dozens of people have already signed up to follow @BikeTownAB with demographics that span continents, embrace our region, and provide a mechanism to extend regional, national, and international exposure for Devon... at no charge.
Would it be prudent to drag Devon back into the 20th Century in order to appease the contemptuous feelings of one person?  I should like to hear their prosecution against Twitter made to our own Prime Minister Harper, or perhaps President Obama, or quite frankly, take your pick of any G20 leader.  Could it somehow be possible that World leaders, Fortune 500 corporations, and hundreds of millions of people know something this person doesn't?

To address other bike races that Devon has missed, I believe you'll find the Tour de France is still held in France, that's true.  As for the MS race the author mentions, I must say that I'm quite delighted to know that Canadians who suffer with multiple sclerosis shall benefit from a bike racing community that is dedicated not only to sport, but to service for others.  Quite frankly, this kind of action is a clear demonstration of the qualities I most admire in my fellow Canadians.  As such, I would be remiss if I did not tip my hat to the writer who eloquently, albeit inadvertently, underscores the brilliance of the Bike Town initiative and the high moral character of the fine Canadians who enjoy this great sport! 

The Leduc to Camrose race is scheduled for June 11 & 12 and I encourage everybody who is interested to please do what they can to support the fight for a cure for multiple sclerosis.  If you are interested, you can follow the MS Society of Alberta on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and they even have a great link to the Liveshare Coolaris 3D wall.  They also have a Facebook page for CCSVI, a disease that has impacted the lives of people right here in Devon.

The author goes on to complain about decisions of previous Council.  Rather than comment on things done before I was elected to Council, I would suggest the words of ancient wisdom could be applied in this case.

"Do not be desirous of having things done quickly. Do not look at small advantages. Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly. Looking at small advantages prevents great affairs from being accomplished"

- Confucius

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Few Thoughts About Bike Town Alberta

Branding is an interesting topic.  Brands are full of research, study, and billions of dollars poured into them by countries, corporations, municipalities, politicians, and the list goes on.  A brand is a short cut for consumer decisions.  For example, a brand like Tim Horton's represents something in the mind of every Canadian from coast to coast to coast.  It represents a level of quality and consistency that can be expected. 

There are components of a brand that need to be considered.  For example, there is the core meaning, sometimes called the brand identity.  Then, of course, there is the brand image, which may be thought of as reputation.  After developing a brand, it is critical to protect the brand, this falls under the concept of preserving brand equity.  Brand purpose is also a paramount consideration.

Without dissecting the different aspects of what a brand is, or what branding means to a municipality, it seems logical that the different segments of branding would, in and of themselves, be cause for some amount of confusion.  Some have expressed concern that Devon will lose our roots due to the Bike Town brand.  To my knowledge, there has never been any attempt to suggest that the history of the oil and gas industry would somehow be discounted for any new brand.  We know our history and it is ours to keep.  Nobody can take history away from us.

But what about the future?  Even the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre rebranded, striking the word "Petroleum" and "Canadian" from their brand, replacing those words with "Energy" and "Leduc #1" respectively.  Did they give up any part of what they are to do this?  I would argue the answer is no.  Did they do it because they don't like the oil and gas industry?  I'd argue that nothing could be further from the truth.  Instead, they decided to focus on energy.  This opened up the horizon to new customers, displays of renewable energy, and the potential to preserve the history of the oil and gas industry while expanding the mandate of Leduc #1.  Nobody batted an eye at the idea of rebranding to expand the potential of Leduc #1.

Let's now consider Devon.  In much the same way as Leduc #1, nothing is sacrificed by brand extension.  Devon doesn't change, the river valley is still here and so is our golf course, our campground, our boat launch, and all the walking trails.  Bike Town is not designed to be what we are nor who we are.  Instead, it is designed to represent an activity.  Due to fortunate circumstances and the hard work of many volunteers, Devon has already developed a brand throughout the bike racing community because of dedication, volunteerism, warmth, and the remarkable hospitality of our residents.  This reputation has been cast on a global stage, with professional bike racers who compete in the Tour de France commenting on Devon.

As this groundswell of interest grew, some people in the community recognized the potential.  One of the key components in a successful branding project is to appeal to consumers.  The idea is to leverage strengths to create a new brand that will appeal to people outside of our community.  After all, we don't need to be told who we are.  The idea is to appeal to people who might like to engage in some kind of activity in Devon, and thus, bring their dollars to Devon so our residents and businesses can prosper.

Sports tourism is a category and it's growing fast.  The Government of Alberta (GOA) tracks tourism closely because it is an important economic driver for the province.  So important, in fact, that the GOA has a Minister assigned to the portfolio of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation.  What we know from the data is that peak months for tourism, sports or otherwise, are from May to September.  The figures for the Winter months are obviously skewed by ski resort tourism.  Factor that out of the data and the rest of the year looks pretty slim compared to the May-September time frame.  Creating a brand around sports tourism, a sector largely tied to the May-September time frame, is designed to be a catalyst for our local and regional economy during the most opportune time.  This is about tourism dollars, healthy living, and business prosperity.

The data sets demonstrate similar patterns across air travel, room nights, highway traffic counts, national park attendance, historic sites, museums, direct overseas entries, and of course, employment statistics.  All of these line up to indicate the May-September time frame is the best time to capture tourism dollars, and the data sets go back to the year 2000.  All of it shows precisely the same pattern.  For Devon, this aligns perfectly with the Bike Town brand.

Let's talk more data... there are over a half a million bike enthusiasts in the capital region, and it's the second fastest growing activity in North America.  In Canada, it's the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry, tipping in at 2.4 billion per year which translates to a market size of just under 400 million dollars in Alberta annually.

Bike Town is quite unique because the investment is miniscule and the infrastructure is present.  This is about BMX, mountain bikes, road bikes, healthy living, and perhaps as important as anything, it's about creating business success and economic prosperity for the residents and business owners of Devon.

More business, more economic development... and no new taxes.  Few options have such realities attached to them.

I think it's safe to say that everybody in Devon is open to new and better ideas.  I love that about our people, we have a lot of smart folks here in Devon, so please feel free to advise of a plan that delivers more benefit to the community.

Keep in mind, however, there are a few constraints.  Don't raise taxes, leverage existing infrastructure, demonstrate health benefits, reduce carbon footprint, show statistics that support future growth, and provide verifiable & solid data points.

Not so easy...  is it?
Data Resources

1) Town of Devon - Branding Bike Town
2) Government of Alberta - Tourism Market Monitor Data Sets
3) Government of Canada - Canadian Tourism Industry

Follow the news on Twitter @BikeTownAB

Disclaimer:  The above article is my own opinion.  It does not reflect the official opinion of the Town of Devon, the Administration, the Council, or any entity or part thereof.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Political Debate and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

I had the privilege of watching people question my MP today, it was a wonderful exhibition of democracy.  They were asking tough questions about the Joint Strike Fighter.  I don't really know a lot about the particulars of the program, but it seemed clear they probably didn't want Canada to make this investment.

As a veteran, I'm tickled to see citizens asking tough questions of their elected officials, and even more tickled to see a good election that is hard fought.  It is, I suppose, the very essence of what I signed up to defend when I joined the Army.  Later in the day, as my mind wandered back to that chance encounter, I was reminded of some of the memories of my own time in the Army.

There are a lot of good memories and I had a lot of friends.  Unfortunately, some of them died because they didn't have the best possible equipment.  Any Army veteran will tell you how much they appreciate the other branches of the forces because they comprise a team.  I, for one, will always stand ready to pay a few dollars more, by way of taxes, in order to make sure our forces have the best possible equipment before sending them into battle.  What's the price of about one cup of coffee a year compared to the life of one of my fellow citizens who is out there fighting for me?

Sometimes people get lost in debates of national policy.  But consider for a moment, that it is a very different matter for a politician to send their military into harm's way than it is to actually draw weapons, lace up combat boots, and head off to actually fight.  Soldiers don't make policy, they simply follow orders.  It is right, then, to see our citizens question politicians about these matters.  And no matter what we as individuals might think about one policy or another, it is the fact that we can have public debate upon such policies that makes our society great... that's what I think.

One more thing, and I don't think a lot of people know this.  The person who least wants a war is the person who will actually have to go and fight it.  Military personnel want peace, perhaps even more than most, simply because it will be their lives on the line when the shooting starts and not the lives of those who debate and vote. 

Together, as a nation, we form one big family.  Isn't it our sacred duty to treat each other with respect and dignity?  I did have the presence of mind to say that I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that no nations would ever fight and that there would be no need for war or military spending.  But until the day arrives that all nations can agree to disarm and do exactly that, I am not prepared to allow my country to be weak.