Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009- The Year The Boom Died

The year 2009 is in our rear-view mirror, and most Albertans won’t be sorry to see its’ headlights disappear around History Bend. It was the Year The Boom Died II, and it was a mean, cranky, son-of-a -gun who left the lives and dreams of a lot of Albertans upside-down in life’s ditch.
Deepening its’ nasty impact is the quietly-smoldering realization that a lot of the damage was self-inflicted. We Albertans were victims of our addiction to boom-time culture.
What is boom-time culture? It’s a culture that believes that the laws of economic gravity are suspended in Alberta- that what goes up will never come down. Boom-time mean that we can change jobs more often than we change underpants. Boomtime means that if something appears to be to good to be true; just suspend disbelief and get richer.
Now, the party is over, and 2010 in Alberta promises to be the Year of the Hangover. Alberta’s small businesses- those that have survived- will struggle to find their footing. Alberta government spending is again in free-fall, creating a whiplash effect for those organizations and communities dependent on government funding.
I use the word “dependent” deliberately. Many Alberta communities- particularly in rural Alberta- have become addicted to provincial government funding. In these communities, very little happens if the provincial or federal government doesn’t fund it.
This lack of local self-financing takes two forms. The first is the reluctance of local governments to exercise their power to raise money for community investment through their power to tax. Their reluctance hobbles their communities, placing them at a disadvantage.
The second factor is the absence of local private-sector investment in these communities. Even though many have a personal wealth base dwarfing metropolitan communities on a per-capita basis, folks with bucks in smaller communities don’t often invest at home. Rather than invest in that which they understand and can observe on a daily basis, they choose to place their money in investments far away from home. They choose the bullwhiz patter of promoters promising them a 20% per annum return on something that they know sweet-diddly about.
Will Alberta communities consistently choosing not to self-invest survive the Year of the Hangover and the years of government spending cuts to follow? Will they find the political will and investment smarts to stand on their own feet, or will they expect provincial and federal taxpayers to bail them out? Should federal and provincial governments continue to prop up communities that choose not to be active, creative and engaged in determining their own destiny?
These are questions that will surface in the Year of the Hangover. How communities respond could- and should- determine their futures.
As 2009 departs, it might be fun to sing a song in its’ memory. How about a rousing rendition of, “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone”? Before we start, however, could someone please pass the Aspirin?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Christmas Gift

At our house, Christmas arrived at the end of August. That’s when we gave ourselves a wonderful gift that has changed our lives. Since it arrived, life has been exciting, frustrating, fun-filled, challenging, and satisfying. We have learned lessons that are enriching our personal and business lives.
What was this amazing gift that we gave ourselves? Did we zoom off to a luxurious tropical retreat in Regina? Have we acquired a new computer or video gizmo or some other form of techno- whizzery?
Our gift certainly doesn’t have a hard drive and it doesn’t assess its’ environment with computerized sensors. It’s powered by a big heart and four furry paws, and surveys its’ world with a powerful nose and two floppy ears. The gift is an English Cocker Spaniel pup, and his name is Zak.
Both Barb- the wonderful woman who shares my life- and I owned dogs earlier in life. Interestingly, both of us spent a lot of time as “semi-only” children, and our first dogs and constant companions were both English Cockers. We learned to appreciate the Spaniel’s loving nature.
Later in life, as I lived the ranching life, my neighbors said I spent more time with my dog than I did with my family, which may or may not have been true. However, the ranch dogs were Australian Heelers- one-man dogs for whom the burning question seemed to be, “Which cow should I bite next, Boss?”
Prior to our first meeting, Barb and I had each gone through major life transitions, and our new lives involved a great deal of traveling. As we began our life together, we agreed that the life of “road warriors” is not fair to a dog, and we made the hard decision to live dog-less lives.
Today, as our lives change once again, we have the time and energy to share with a dog. Barb’s diligent research paid off in Zak, a handsome, happy red lad with eyes that could melt the heart of a Revenue Canada tax auditor.
Zak is not perfect. As is the case with most of us, his greatest strengths are his greatest challenges. His unquenchable spirit kicks in when he gets tired, and he will churn himself into a frenzy before collapsing from exhaustion. That powerful nose leads him into exercises in coffee table and pantry-shelf “surfing” that get him in trouble.
Zak has very one special attribute, and that is his uber-sensitive “radar” for human emotion. Being with Zak is like looking into a mirror reflecting your own emotional state. Give Zak rowdy, and you get rowdy back. Give him cranky, and Zak the Cranky Spaniel is at your service. Be a calm and loving person and you see the very, very best of Zak.
I’ve learned Zak’s Lessons, and now apply them in my personal and professional life. Spending thirty seconds doing a self-assessment of my emotional state can save hours of relationship repair down the road.
Folks active in community evolution might also benefit from spending time with Zak. Community activity often brings us head to head with others possessing different values and interests. An increased level of self-awareness followed by enhanced self-management will pay off big-time when dealing with difficult people and issues.
That’s why I’ve thought of using Zak in my customer service / conflict management workshops. Besides adding “bite” and glamour to the program, including Zak opens the door to deducting his dog food as a business expense. And if that Revenue Canada auditor wants to disallow the expense, she can discuss it with the merry little Spaniel at the front of the room!
Speaking of merry- Merry Christmas to all of the special people living and working in Alberta’s Ace Communities. I admire your courage and commitment as you build a better Alberta. From our outfit to yours, Merry Christmas!