Terrorism here and there

I am struck this morning by two New York Times headlines in the daily news feed which I read every day. Scrolling down, I read “2 Die, Including Gunman in Shootout in Washington State High School” and “Two California Officers are Killed in Rampage“.  Five needless deaths. Much higher up in the list of news tiems is speculation about the motivation of the Canadian terrorist who invaded our House of Parliament this week. One needless death, three injured – and one probably necessary death there.  But what makes it different is to label it as TERRORISM.

I’ve lived in the US and love the country – but we Canadians really are somewhat different. My day of the Canadian shooting started as usual.  I had the radio on and was driving in the car when it happened this past Wednesday.  It was too early for breaking news.  I went to a morning meeting, went out to lunch with a friend, and had a short meeting with a team I am involved with.  I drove back home without the radio on, and then decided to hop on the subway to the Apple Store in one of Toronto’s biggest shopping malls to see if they had Iphone6  in stock.  I’d acquired a hearing enhancement device and the controller can be an Iphone – how cool is that! The Apple Store already had a long line-up for the limited number of the phones arriving daily – but the helpful guy at the door suggested the store on the ground floor might have one if I went with a payment plan.  Since I was going that route, and they had one phone left,  I was all set.

The process took about an hour while they tried to up-sell me on several things I didn’t want or need. I finally left to catch the subway just before evening rush hour.  I came home, checked a few emails and answered some, did a little bit of monkeying with my phone to set up voicemail and checked out a couple of the new features.  By then it was nearly 6:00 pm, so I poured a glass of wine and sat down to watch BBC America on PBS.  This was when I learned of the events in my capital city.

I have to confess that I switched immediately to a Canadian network and got caught up. The story is tragic.  It is still not clear whether the perpetrator was a terrorist sent by others or someone whose mind was deeply muddled by a mixture of dreadful ideology, isolation and misdirected anger. Like all countries we have such individuals but so far we are not all perpetually frightened. It’s comforting to have political leaders who hug each other the next day before getting back to partisan positions – but they get back to work. The headlines of the daily paper and the articles show degrees of media obsession as always we but tolerate it and get one with our lives.The news was out but no one felt they need to comment – I doubt that all the people I met were as unconnected with the news as I was.  We accept both that the world has changed – and that it hasn’t.  One of my sons and I were locked in Tower of London for a few hours in the ’70s days of Irish terrorism- but everyone remained calm.  We once lived across from a high school when a crazed teen came and killed another student.  We’ve lived through the FLQ crisis. We’ve lived through Sars.  People got killed – people got sick – people died – but not everybody did.

We live in a beautful and free world that can turn perilous. Millions don’t and live in real peril all the time.  The challenge for us is to live in both worlds without giving way to perpetual fear and hysteria.

 

A mentor gone

Robert Genn – artist and writer whose twice weekly articles died yesterday.  I shall miss him for his humor, wisdom and practical tips – not just about art but about creating.  Rest in peace, Robert.  Your legacy is in your writing and example.

What Works – and What Doesn’t

I sat in a meeting yesterday and heard an interesting presentation from a person who is trying to build a new church community in a suburb – without a building, and the hope that a gathered community would have enough strength to move toward one some time in the future.  His target audience is families with young children – people quite like himself – and he is trying to do this by meeting the people where he knows they are – probably on public transport where they spend large portions of their lives. Because he also has a technology background he has created an app to make contact with them.  He calls the app, “Redeem the Commute”.  His target group is also described as “unchurched” – in other words, those who have no experience of or context for the kind of community that he is trying to create.

It’s a new way to try to combine local with global – and what was engaging was the honesty of his reporting.  How many of us get real about how things work – or don’t.  – in the worlds of social media and mobile apps.

His idea was to offer online mini- courses – parenting, marriage preparation and relgion 101.  I immediately found myself questioning the first one here – did he have the necessary credentials to offer a course on parenting – especially as a new parent himself?  While I have decades of parenting experience I’d be inclined to recognize my views as opinion rather than credentials.  Marriage prep and Religion 101 were fine. These are churchy things and related to the business he is in.  There were hopes that participants would group themselves around topics and form discussion groups.  There were also invitations to come to real meetings in a real location  Here are some of the things that happened.

Clear measurements took place over a 60 day period. There were a fair number of downloads of the app and quite a few visits to the website. But there was very little interest in the parenting or marriage course; there was better response to religion 101. The online communities never formed.  There were a very small number of visits to the local website.  Turning up for local events was sparse. Some local initiatives worked so much better.  An outdoor movie night attracted 400.  A Christmas party brought out 40 parents and children.

What do these things say to any of us who write for blogs or websites or posts for social media? We may be fooling ourselves quite a  lot of the time.  I had the same experience writing for a local community grouping in downtown Toronto over a three year period.  There were interested subscribers from all over the world – even a reporter from the Washington Post checked in – but local interest was sparse at best.

My Facebook friends are people whom I would recognize if I met them on the street – and some of them live a plane ride away – but the truth is we have common contexts for being digital acquaintances – and let’s face it, we are not all friends in a real sense but more often colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances.  It’s extremely difficult to develop relationships unless people have something of substance  in common – and what the targeted group had in common here was actually defined – no knowledge of the enterprise that was trying to recruit them. Social media is now based on the economic hope that what we “like” will be adopted by our “friends”.  Such friendship will come at a price and it doesn’t really build human bonding.

What did work was what the movie and Christmas party have in common.  They were local events where real people could actually meet and interact with other people.  When I think back to Howard Rheingold’s lovely book, The Virtual Community, Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier”, which I first read in the early 90’s, I realize how much things have changed.  Local combined with digital was possible then – to have a local community like the Bay area “Well” where people could meet online and share theirv real life experience.  But they also shared the context of San Francisco.  What there is to share in the sense of a new suburban commiunity is a a bit hard to say. There often is no sense of history or common experience and sometimes even landmarks are hard to spot.  Apps, on the other hand, are almost by definition, global.

So this honest presentation raised far more questions for me than it answered.  The presenter suggested that he might go in an app direction or a local relationship building direction or possibly a combination.  What did seem necessary was to make a choice – because the strengths and limitations of both were clear.  And I found myself leaning toward building relationships.

 

Transformation – and how it happens

I spent the morning seeing pictures and hearing about a recent trip to China – two working professionals spent a month there last November on holiday. One is a lawyer.  Her husband is the dean of a cathedral in a neighboring city.  He started by saying that getting his visa was more difficult than for any other member of the touring group.  Apparently he was seen as a threat who might be up to converting the 1.5 billion Chinese he’d run in to.

They had marvelous pictures – and raved about the luxurious accommodation and the food.  The dean remarked that for him, what was odd was not visiting any place of worship of his own denomination during his time on the mainland – though there was clearly lots of exposure to temples and shrines.  The way he described the experience – and especially the contacts with young English speaking guides was “transforming”.

This made sense to me.  On thing that bugs me about any enterprise is how often we seek transforming experiences is by hanging out with people so much like ourselves. In his book, Imagine, How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer notes how the strength of the high tech industry in Israel is influenced by the fact that most young men have compulsory military service a few weeks of the year.  It means that they make loose connections with people frequently and reconnect – and this spills over into new ideas from varied sources and capabilities in different fields.

But Lehrer also notes that our  “friends” and connections so beloved of social media – surely loose ones – are no substitute for real learning from others.  Thinking that others really care about what I have for dinner, or where I am right now, or my latest selfie may just represent the triumph of ego over reality.  But I find there are benefits of following different folks on Twitter who come from different fields and perspectives.  Some of them are good curators of new ideas well worth a read.

Good ideas

I wish I could draw like the folks at RSA – but at least I can forward their messages. A tip of the hat to colleague Dave Robinson for recently posting this. He notes – not new but worth a look.

Getting real about the value of conference calls

A tip of the hat to Seth Godin for this chance to review why conference calls are frequently NOT the best option for meetings