Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Proactivity and 'the commitment to progress' trap

As a buzz word proactivity has been around for quite some time. It is right up there with synergy. While I am not a fan of buzz words I am a fan of giving strict
definitions to common words to make them more useful. I am finding that a good definition for proactivity is "engaging in a 'worse-before-better' campaign." As before 'campaign' is a collection of actions. "Worse-before-better," as it suggest, means going through a bad time to get to a good time, closely related to 'sacrifice'.

Now if you try to characterize 'commitment to progress' in similar terms it comes to mean an adherence to 'better-before-better'. This is to say that things must always go in the right direction.

Both of these probably seem like pretty good principles, so which one are you going to choose? And you do have to choose one (at least at any one time). As you may have noticed a commitment to progress precludes all proactivity. Or to put it another way proactivity violates a commitment to progress.

But it isn't always stated explicitly. Commitment to progress can be the result of an unwillingness to engage real issues, an unwillingness to deal with issues (worse) to realize new opportunities (better).

A commitment to progress is a policy that leads to, at best, a diminishing returns plateau. As you become unwilling to take steps back the options available become less and less progressive. There is talk of perfection, doing things right and mistakes. The result is a focus on routine and crisis management. In the worst case the crises are not managed and the organization stumbles.

A focus on proactivity is different. There is talk of opportunities, doing right things and vision. The result is a focus on leadership, innovation and education. This is the kind of environment I like. Not so stable but more predictable in its own way. It provides room for unlimited growth, though miscalculations can be painful if not enlightening.

There ought to be a word in here about metrics. It is impossible to talk of worse before better, or even better before better without having some idea of what worse and better are. While many philosophies of life and management differentiate themselves on what these metrics are, money, love, environment etc, the same rules for proactivity and progress still apply. Markets correct leaving a foundation for a stronger economy;incompatible lovers leave to let us look for a better partner; fires burn and make room for more vibrant forests.

Regardless of our measure if we are not willing to embrace worse before better we limit opportunities in all areas of our world.

Friday, April 25, 2008

SCC were off on drug sniffing issue

CBC Story: Random use of police sniffer dogs breaches Charter: top court

The Supreme Court of Canada now says that random searches with drug sniffing dogs are unconstitutional. Such searches violate protections against unreasonable searches and seizures says the SCC.

Opposition to the decision says that sniffing cannot be considered an unreasonable search since it is not a search at all. The scents are in public space, much like your garbage once on the side of the road.

The SCC says that because of the quality of the information gained from sniffing it is equal to a search and must therefor pass a test of reasonableness.

What seems not to have been taken into consideration is what unreasonable search is supposed to protect. Civil liberties are to protect privacy. It is to protect the right to engage in unpopular practices that are not illegal. Unreasonable searches may bring to light information about such practices, but a drug sniffing dog may not.

Drug sniffing dogs are not a civil liberties issue because they do not suppress unusual, unconventional or unpopular practices. They are targeted to illegal activity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Definition of Commitment

The idea of a commitment has been something that I have come back to consistently for a while now. Understanding the nature of commitment seems important as it plays a strong role in organizing the world around me. In my thoughts about commitment I have come up with a definition that I find useful:

A choice is committal inverse to the degree that a simple campaign can return you to similar choices

Simple and similar don't need tight definitions, but merely a sense of what is more or less similar or simple. I will leave that up to intuition. And a campaign is a collection of choices or actions.

To restate my definition, you are making a bigger commitment the harder it will be to get back to where you are.

Is taking one step forward a commitment? To figure that out we would need to know something about the environment. Will that step take you on a 40-story free fall? If so it is a commitment, if only because you will have to climb 40 stories to choose not to take that step again.

Are the choices you face when you take that step forward similar to the choices you face before you step? If so then the campaign that gets you to similar choices has a length of zero. That is pretty simple.

This may also help to explain why visualization can be so important. If you can see yourself having made the step, having no desire to go back to the choices that are now less accessible, then physically making the step is of little consequence. Yes, those options are less accessible, but they were of little value to you anyhow.

Consider a job offer. You would have to quit your job. That sounds like quite a commitment, but if you can visualize the new job with no desire to return to the old one, the real action of leaving the job becomes trivial and can be made confidently.

Through visualization a big commitment has been reduced to a trivial formality.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why cutting diesel tax is a bad idea

There is a CBC story that says groups are putting pressure on government to reduce diesel tax.

This is a bad idea. For the businesses involved it may provide some temporary relief, but we would be fooling ourselves to think it was anything more.

Oil is getting more expensive. Petroleum products are getting more expensive. Diesel is getting more expensive. If you think it is bad now wait six months.

A tax cut will never be enough. We regulate diesel prices on PEI, we could force a lower price, but that would be an even worse idea.

If we can't get off diesel then, as the story suggests, we should charge more for petroleum intensive products. Either way this will not be the last call for a tax cut and it should not be the last time the government says 'No' to a tax cut.

The golden rule for 'polluter pays' taxing is if you want them to buy more the tax is too high, if you want them to buy less the tax is too low. Right now we collect 20 cents per litre [History of PEI petrol tax]. I wouldn't want to have to make the case that at 20 cents per litre Islanders want to sell more diesel.

On a side note, does anybody know why the tax is linked to volume rather than price? The tax is 20 cents/L as opposed to 20 cents/dollar. In this way they are already getting a tax break as the price goes up.

At a dollar a litre they would be paying 20% tax.
At two dollars a liter they would be paying 10% tax.
Right now the price (before the tax) is $1.17, so the tax rate is 20/117= 17%.
So as a linked to price, as the gst, pst and property tax are, they are already paying less tax than they were before.

I would think that a good step in dealing with the petrol issue would be linking the tax to price. And let those that consume diesel intensive products pay for the diesel, not the tax payers.