Flo

A little strangely, Flo does not seem to appear as a character in the old ERC/CEBA stories (Environmental Resource Centre/Centre for Environmental Business and Advocacy) of this blog. She was a pillar of the the organizations that made those places go. A book-keeper by trade, and Treasurer of the Tomorrow Foundation for a Sustainable Future for many years. And, most significantly, the rep for TF on more than one bingo association. Flo helped keep the lights on for most of the south Edmonton environmental organizations. 

My cell-phone rang near the end of the work day, July 3. The caller was not in my phone contacts so only a phone number appeared. When I answered and heard, "Hey Myles," I recognize the voice of Flo's son.     

"Hey," I replied. "I'm sorry man, but I'm afraid you're going to tell me bad news."

"We lost mom last night."

I expressed my sadness and condolences and asked to be kept informed about memorial services. 

Later, while departing Aquarius (that is the fake blog name of my cubicle at work), I stopped at the entrance to SMF's cubicle. He has been my neighbor for maybe a year now. I mentioned to him that one of my old friends had died. I did not say "another friend" had died though I thought it.

"It's such subtle thing about getting older," I said. "We think getting older is about aches and energy and diminishing eyesight. But no one ever told me about when death changes. When we're younger and a friend dies, it is tragic. But somewhere along the line, the tragedy stops and all you have is sadness."

The Toxics Watch Bingo Crew

This weekend I searched my archives for this picture taken by the sign of the old Argyll Bingo hall which used to stand near where the Argyll Casino is today. It's a strange feeling to look at a picture from your own photo album and notice that almost half of the people in it are no longer with us. 

I think that I will post a link to this entry on my FaceBook page and tag some people to say that while we may not be in touch, I still tell myself good stories about you. 

  • Current Music: Sister Golden Hair

Mnemonic Loa Loa

I am imagining a parasite that preferentially feeds on neurons containing a specific concentration of acetylcholine. Too little or too much of the neurotransmitter makes a brain cell distasteful to the parasite and so it is left intact. Just the right amount of acetylcholine, though, is like wasabi on sashimi and the parasite devours the neuron, which causes the character to forget. 

And not just forgetting as in a lapse in memory where, once reminded, mnemonic information washes back to mind, recreating a mostly complete picture of what has happened like a watercolor painting accidentally splashed by a drink. No, this neuro-parasite consumes a memory so that things are utterly forgotten. Obliterated, as though the causal events had never happened, and what would otherwise be considered "reminder stories" are experienced as completely new information.  

I was thinking it could be a mutant form of toxoplasma gondii or a pork tapeworm since exposure to these creatures is common enough through cat feces and improperly cooked meat. But Google research suggests that the Loa loa threadworm might a more viable choice as infection by this parasite contributes to  encephalopathy, a condition that can cause cognitive losses, memory problems, and personality changes, inter alia. The character's infection by loa loa would have occurred when he opened a box of mangos containing a piece of fruit infested with some surviving mango flies. 

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Memoryland

Dad and I visited Marceline, Missouri in 2011 as we both happened to be in the state in June that year. Dad would spend weeks living in Branson to see the latest in old-time county music shows, and that year I was in St. Louis while Hanna attended an international librarian conference. 

Marceline gave the impression, to me at least, of being a depressed Midwestern town doing its level best to make use of every asset at its disposal to preserve its social and economic viability. It is most famous for being the psychological hometown of Walt Disney. 

Disney lived in Marceline as a boy from 1906-1910, in-between longer periods in Chicago and Kansas City. But despite the short duration of his life there, the town made a powerful impression on him. Marceline was an archetype of Walt's personal culture, a touchstone of memory, that informed other things that he created. 

Interpretive signs were posted on landmarks all along Main Street Marceline, described the young Walt's experiences there and alluded to the influences they had on later Disney films and features of Disney theme parks. 

Several of the buildings were vacant with their windows dressed with art or displays along Disney themes but lacking the production values and polish of their "originals".

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A Year Ago

Beatrice Cassidy Adams texted last week to ask if I am still posting on LiveJournal and e-cheered "yay!" when I replied. The gap since 2015 creates a peculiar feeling. "Time moves strangely," she added. 

I read through an article on Carlo Rovelli's work last week that was promoting his recent book The Order of Time and only understood the things I already understood. I'll have to work on it further, but my thought is that Beatrice is correct, time does move strangely. 

It is the morning of May 19, 2018.  A year ago today I texted Griz to encourage him to set up an another hangout for us with an old friend and colleague. And he had replied the next day.

He didn't follow up, but that was not surprising. Like me, Griz' habits are largely defined by work and we can go for long periods without connecting with people for strictly social reasons. But not long after I was looking for a phone number for a mutual acquaintance and phoned Griz to ask for it. 

A woman's voice answered his cell phone, which had never happened before. I remember knowing this meant something was wrong and making the choice not to admit it to myself. I would play along with this reality, this scene, and wait to be told that something was wrong. Griz was dead. He had died May 21, 2017, the day after he had replied about setting up lunch or beers.   

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Cities

Intercontinental cities I have visited: Beijing, Shanghai, Brussels, Paris, Venice, Florence, Palermo, Rome, Manila, Bangkok, and Tokyo. 

That's actually not a bad looking list of cities. There were actually seven others in China, but I don't count them. If I can't even remember their names (Wu Xi? Ching An?) then I shouldn't count them. What I have forgotten doesn't count.

But the things I do remember, those don't really count either. My trip to Beijing was the year after the Chinese government cracked down on the pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, so the memories I conjure, sitting here this morning, based on those experiences are about 28 years old. Has China changed at all in three decades? 

According to the World Bank, over the course of 30 years, poverty in Thailand declined from 67% in 1986 to 7.2% in 2015 ~ certainly, a remarkable achievement. That 7.2% translates into 7.1 million people, so there should be no laurel resting, but an almost 60% change is worth mentioning. 

What I'm reflecting on this morning though is the way tourism seems to iconify the poor. The more incomes seem to rise due to globalizing forces, two things seem to happen. On one hand, lifestyles become more like wealthy lifestyles anywhere. High end retail shopping areas in Manila do not look that much different from the ones in Las Vegas. The Bangkok food courts are cool for their distinctive menus, but the decor is a lot like West Edmonton Mall.

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Starting Stories

As I mentioned, April 28, 2018 was Amandi's first EPL Book Sale, and she enjoyed the event as much as I do. Twice a year, the Edmonton Public Library sells off surplus and low-circulation items at bargain prices: hardcover books and DVDs $2, paperbacks $1, special items as marked. And apart from the prices, because the source is a library, not a store, the items available have been through a profoundly different curation process than the discount shelves at Chapters. Would Murder Under Trust: the Topical Macbeth and Other Jacobean Matters ever be offered at a big box retailer? Deborah Howard's The Architectural History of Venice? And the real prize: The Blade Runner Experience!   

We were especially amused to see copies of two Bernard Cornwell's novels, Copperhead and Battle Flag, amongst the books laid out on tables in the atrium of Enterprise Square; amused because at a 2012 EPL Book Sale, I'd purchased the first three of the four books in Cornwell's Nathaniel Starbuck's Chronicles, carried them through two moves, and ultimately lost Books II and III, without reading any of them. 

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Asia Tour 2018

My sister, Donna-lee, had a mile-stone birthday this year and observed it with a tour of rural Sri Lanka. When she invited Amandi and I to come along, as she had joined in on the 2015 Myles-Stone birthday in Las Vegas, we wound up deciding to meet for four days, post-Sri Lanka, in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Amandi and I had flown into Suvarnabhumi Airport from Manila, Philippines on Thai Airways which provided gracious service and the nicest plastic cutlery I've ever seen. We cabbed to the Hua Lamphong Hostel to stay and rendezvous with Donna-lee. 

Hua Lamphong Hostel is easy to find being near the historic Hua Lamphong Station, and our room was spacious, with a smoking balcony and a very artful look coming from one wall bearing a mural of the train station's exterior.  

Everything I had known about Bangkok prior to April 4, 2018 I learned from Spaulding Gray's monologue, Swimming to Cambodia, and Murray Head's declaration that one night there would make the world my oyster. I've heard it said that the difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller visits a place to see what there is to see, and tourists see what they expect to see. By the old title of this blog, you already know that consider myself tourist, but think my expectations are more ideosyncratic than just what is published in guidebooks, and I think remain open to seeing beyond them.

Yesterday we went to the 2018 Spring Book Sale at Edmonton Public Library. It was Amandi's first and she had a great time there. I was thrilled to find for sale ($1), a copy of The Blade Runner Experience, edited by Will Brooker. The first paper in the collection, also by Brooker, subtitled Pilgrimage and Liminal Space, discusses the journey of pilgrim-like fans who seek communion with their "texts" by visiting "sacred sites", in this case, the Los Angeles shooting locations of Ridley Scott's 1982 film. FanPilgrims undertake these journeys in a quest to transcend the habitus of ordinary life through a personal and connecting experience with their fictional world. The paper makes me think, then, that there is a third option: traveler, tourist, and pilgrim. 

A religious pilgrim undertakes their pilgrimage to connect with the stories in their scriptures. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, or Hannibal by Thomas Harris, or even The Marilyn Monroe Encyclopedia, do not qualify as religious scripture, but I have definitely journeyed to Springfield, Oregon; Florence, Italy; and the Banff Springs Hotel in order to connect with narrative promised lands.  



"You should write a post"

That's what Amandi said before she slipped through the door to the bathroom. She returned to the main room of our studio apartment a few moments later to ask if I had moved the bubble bath to a new heuristic and arcane location. 

"Like goes with like," is one of my rules for organizing space, along with, "everything has to fold or do two things" although the latter has relaxed somewhat since we moved out of my 300-square foot bachelor's apartment into this 750-square foot studio in one of Edmonton's nicest vintage apartment buildings, the Hecla Block.  When I lived in the Gallagher Boarding House, my chairs and my table folded, my bed was the Freiheten sofa-bed from IKEA, my electrothermal kettle charged my phone, etcetera, all to serve the effort to cram as much functionality into 300-square feet as possible. My landlord said I made it into the cutest apartment in the building. 

"Like goes with like," I say. But the similarities between two things might only exist in my head. 

I haven't written much of anything since 2016, and it is amazing how much has changed. 

 

 

niagra

A Strategy for Culture

I scrolled back to July 2015 looking for a story set on an office building floor where I worked. Going back that far means that the building would have had to have been the Baker Centre on 106 street south of Jasper Avenue because my Branch moved to the Forestry Building in February 2016 in advance of a Divisional re-organizations in April that same year.

I scrolled back that far and did not find a story. I have not written a story about my work in a long time. But I've been thinking about it lately because stories about life at my office are beginning to become my work. My Department has been conducting employee engagement surveys since at least 2012 when I started. They are a popular tool amongst management as the Edmonton Journal reported on the findings of a similar exercises at the City only this past week.

Stories about work are becoming my work because there is increasing awareness that organizational culture is a powerful force that affects employee engagement, loyalty, satisfaction, and productivity.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," is an axiom of organizational behavior. It is attributed to both Peter Drucker and to Mark Fields, though I first read it in the book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, by David Maister. The importance of stories has been clear to me since I first became capable of thinking about Disney critically, but the potential for narrative theory to be applicable to my job was introduced during my very first year when Mary Jeffries and Lisa Grotkowski gave me a copy of Believe Me by Michael Margolis.

When Amanda Kohl interviewed me for the position of strategic analyst in 2012, I told her then that my goal was to work in a place that had a poster of the World Business Council's Pathways to 2050 on the wall, and felt like a cross between Pixar Studios and the Central Intelligence Agency. Today I would describe it as a mash-up of the Walt Disney Company and the CIA.

Who Said You Could Do That?
The nominal authority I will cite to justify my attention to these topics is in the Innovation Framework and the Environment and Parks People Plan.

Does Culture Change?
Pam Brinkley is fond of telling me, 'you can't legislate culture" but even she would have to admit that culture is malleable. If it wasn't, how could it change? She must be see that our organizational culture has changed. And if something can change, then it can be changed.

What do I mean by "culture"?: The Walt Disney Company and the CIA
When I was a child walking down Main Street USA in Disneyland, I would look up at the second story windows above all of the street-level stores, many painted with the names of real people and fictitious companies to honour the services of notable staff members, and I wondered who lived in the apartments behind the glass. I hoped that one day I would get to live there. But when I learned that the second and third stories on Main Street aren't even real, and that no one lives there, I realised that the only way I could live in Disneyland was to make my world more like it.

The DNA of culture is story. The same way DNA is the information which organizes amino-acids into proteins to create life, story organizes tangible and intangible elements of culture to create meaning. In his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Columbian novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, "What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” We are, every one of us, story-tellers. We tell stories to both ourselves and to others. We tell stories about ourselves and about others. Stories we tell ourselves about about ourselves shape our sense of identity. Stories others tell themselves about us shape our reputation. And these stories influence what we experience and what those experiences mean.

The cultural change can be brought about by influencing both what we experiences and the meaning we attach to those experiences.

Reaffirming the Name

I've been staring at my blog title; thinking about how it should be changed. "The Ephemeral Strategist". Does that still say what I am about? I am still take my ephemera as seriously as I ever did, but things have deepened.

I'm behind in my third course of the Culture-Driven Team Building Specialization program offered through Coursera by the University of Pennsylvania, but that isn't really an indication of my enthusiasm for the content. I am as interested in organizational culture today as I was interested in strategy in 2008. It seemed like a shift, hence, I was thinking about changing the name of my blog.

But maybe I don't have a problem. "Strategy" is one of those words that many people use without carefully thinking about what they mean by it. The two most common uses, in my observation, are as a synonym for "plan" where the steps for how a goal or objective is going to be achieved are laid out and assigned. Or as a synonym for "approach" to describe the default characteristic that an agent (i.e. any party with agency) will adopt in pursuit of a goal/objective. "Press your advantage" is a strategy which directs that all opportunities will be aggressively pursued without being specific about the circumstances, goals, or objectives at hand.

I remember organizing a strategic summit for the Alberta Environmental Network one sunny afternoon on the back patio of the Environmental Resource Centre on Saskatchewan Drive. Martha Kostuch, Griz, and Cindy Chiasson were among the participants that day. This means I have been trying to understand "strategy" for over 15 years now since we moved out of the ERC in November 2002. I might have progressed faster if it had been my full-time vocation, but it as it was more like a hobby with the bulk of my attention paid to administrative matters and advocacy, my grasp on the topic has been very slow.

Strategy operates at the level of "context", "circumstances", or "millieu". By these words, I am trying to say that unlike tactical methods, strategy does not try to induce change directly. Instead, resources are applied to operating environment in order to induce desired effects through others acting favorably, but fundamentally of their own volition. Understood this way, strategy is about inducing changes in culture and then culture induces change in actors.

Peter Drucker and Mark Fields are both famous for saying that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". I think they meant that any strategy that is at odds with an organization's culture will fail.
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