Category Archives: Complexity

O Canada and the Mathematics of Change

I just read in the paper Canada is changing its national anthem to make it gender neutral though I prefer “gender inclusive.” Real change means changing our symbols and our icons when necessary to reflect society’s ever changing sensibilities.

I imagine there will be some kafuffle about this. Traditionalists will articulate traditionalist stuff, rationalizing where there is no longer rationale, if there ever was any. The reactions of many others will be something akin to a shrug of the shoulder or a 1-second read on Facebook, a click on Like, and a scroll down to a video of someone’s barking dog.

Some of us will sit before our humongous flat screens and  watch 4-headed debates that are a testimony to the betrayal of the word, “expert.”  I have never really learned anything listening to talking heads, other than the ends to which people will go to not make one whit of positive difference to what is happening in the world.

Still others will say the changes did not go far enough. The song remains “Christian” and therefor unrepresentative of the Canadian reality when it comes to religion. A few might argue any reference to religion should be struck out, end of story. Yes, there is more to figure out, but not changing until the change is complete is not how change works. You don’t lose 10 pounds and criticize the change because you have 40 more pounds to lose. It’s the same thing with transformational, societal change, just more complicated.

And many others, thank goodness, will have a little dance, if not raise a fist into the air. It’s about time. How we see one another must change. I know. There has been progress, but not enough; so, there is work to do.  How we talk to, about, and with one another has to  change. Talking for others has to change as well, perhaps most of all. Once the Canada’s gender-inclusive national anthem is official, the flag will wave its Maple Leaf above the same landscape it did the day before. Gender biases, disdain for the impoverished and the different, hatred of Indigenous people — all of that  and so much more like it will rear their ugly heads like monsters in a bad dream that continues even when we wake up.

We are still just waking up. It’s very early in the morning. Let’s greet the decision to change our national anthem as something more than an editorial statement or, worse, nothing more than the sum of so many markups from what we expect these days in an excellent proof reader.  We are not making this change because it is the right thing to do as much as we are making the change because things are not right and most Canadians are tired of it. Most Canadians want to be better than that. Than this.

So, the morning after the legislation becomes effective, sit on the edge of your bed, have a stretch and let loose your morning sigh or groan and take a look out the window to check the weather like you always do. But regardless of the cold front’s persistence or a clearing sky,  that day will be a new day – another new day.

Change is made one act at a time, one day at a time. New days are generative. They create more new days and the more new days we create, the more there are. Ironic, don’t you think? The human change we need and deserve eventually comes down to mathematics.

(Oh, my data-crazed friends and colleagues are going to love this.)

About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Collective Impact is multi-sector approach to large-scale collaboration that is authentically inclusive of citizens in its development and implementation – in particular citizens who have life-experience with the big problems or issues being addressed, such as poverty, climate change, family violence, and so many more.

Collective Impact is not an approach aimed at creating program changes among a few agencies or undertaking collaboration in order to compete with other community initiatives. Rather, it tends to be focused on efforts to leverage talents, existing services, innovations, and resources in order to effect significant changes to policies and systems and where needed, significant programmatic changes. Such changes might occur within governments or government-run institutions, within education and health institutions, within business, or within service providers.

At recent sessions and workshops I held in Vancouver (Community Change Institute) and in Edmonton (Upside Down Thinking) , I shared a perspective on three types of problems identified by Brenda Zimmerman and how they connect to three types of change, three types of learning, and various types of thinking required in addressing each type of problem. My intent is to help our collective thinking about significant problems/issues facing our communities.

Simple problems are those we can fix easily and are sometimes called kaizen (the Japanese word for “continuous improvement”). Solutions to these kinds of problems are akin to tweaking a recipe or adjusting a process to improve quality or reliability of performance. Typically such changes are incremental. Continue reading About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Democracy is dying. Time to get to work.

I came across an article by George Monbiot ( that appeared in the Guardian this July. In this article, Monbiot writes about James McGill Buchanan, an economist influenced by neoliberalism and deeply funded by billionaire Charles Koch, the 7th wealthiest person in the world.

According to Monbiot, Buchanan was an advocate for what he called the public choice theory. The general gist is that “society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

“Any clash between what he called ‘freedom’ (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defense of freedom. Continue reading Democracy is dying. Time to get to work.


Note:  In addition to writing about community change and penning commentary, I am a story teller. I write fiction and spoken word. This piece is a mix of fact and fiction, often called “faction.”

One of my small luxuries in life is having someone come to my house weekly and clean it. I tell myself I need this service because I am so busy, but truth is it’s a luxury for me. I can afford it and to be honest I have the time to take care of my own mess; I just hate doing it.

Karen is the one who takes care of this for me. She is 24 and nearly always cheerful. She does an excellent job and in good time as well.  She is a friend of a friend and when I heard she was interested in providing this service, I decided to give her a go. Continue reading LIVING POOR: KAREN’S STORY

Simplicity and Complexity

The top drawing suggests there is complexity to the journey from A to B. That journey requires numerous loop backs before moving forward and takes the traveler up and down and back and forth along the way until the destination is reached. Who knows the reasons why the journey was somewhat unpredictable or if there were side trips that were either necessary or just taken out of curiosity.

I have taken journeys like that one and some were enjoyable. (I was once drove half way from Edmonton to Vancouver taking dirt roads through farmland and forests and loved it.) But sometimes the complexity represented in a diagram like the one above is caused by necessary diversions, distractions, or even arguments about which way is the best way to go. In other words, sometimes complexity is a good thing. It factors in different view points and it allows us to see more scenery along the way, perhaps learn more as well.

But sometimes getting from A to B can be quite simple and straightforward. Could be we need to get there as soon as possible. Could be the straight path is the safest path to take or more economical. Maybe there is some correlation between having a sense of urgency and getting to where we want to be as completely and as quickly as possible.

The reasons abound if we really think about it – for both scenarios.

Complexity and simplicity are not at odds are they? They just offer us a different perspective, offer options that perhaps the other doesn’t.