Category Archives: Fisherwick Collaborations

Expanding my “Pitching Repertoire”

Sports are great for the metaphors.

How many times have you heard someone bring a point home (see what I did there…?) with a great metaphor from the world of sports?

As I gathered with hundreds of other people touched by the life and legacy of one awesome human being last week, one of his great friends (and eulogists) told a story that has caused me to reflect; a lot.

It has to do, fundamentally, with what’s in one’s “pitching repertoire” – what kinds of pitches do we (and, maybe more importantly, can we) throw?

Some of us can throw a mean fastball (pssst….type A people, that’s us). Maybe we get a little too used to that, and have lost the ability (if we ever had it) to toss a change-up, throw a slider, flip in a knuckleball or let a curve ball rip.

We tell ourselves it’s okay to be a one-pitch-johnny/jane in our increasingly specialized world…it’s what makes us effective and sets us apart from the crowd, that wicked fastball; right?

For me, the loss of a person who was intentional about how and when to throw what kind of a pitch – and who made so many lives better for it – is a good occasion to take stock of my own ‘pitching’ abilities.  I’ve found it helpful to think about it this way: what is in our pitching repertoire matters everywhere we are present. It matters in everyday interactions in a coffee shop; with family, friends and kids; sitting across the table from tough counterparties or important big-wigs; or just being one of the crowd in life.

And not because we want to be Machiavellian and manipulate people to our own ends by throwing just the right pitch at the right moment. But because when you practice something authentically and often it will come instinctively, and open up opportunities that would otherwise not have existed.

The result of this assiduous practice for my late friend enabled a kind of human connection, and personal and professional achievement, that illustrates what’s possible in a life truly, well and richly lived.

So as the Spring thaw sets in, whether you’re a baseball fan or not, maybe this is a good time for us all to pick up a ball, rub on some A535, warm up the arm and practice a few of our most underused pitches.

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Shout-out of the week:

A good friend sent me a podcast recommendation this week – and I offer it up for your consideration. Of particular interest to me was the recent one focusing on the Northern Irish community of Corymeela, where my cousin has worked, and beside which I often jog when visiting my father’s family home in Ballycastle.

Note: I snapped the photo for this article inside an abandoned building at the edge of Rathlin Island, across the strait from where Corymeela is located, while on a visit home about this time of year in 2015.

Let Them Learn From Our Example(s): Time for a Christmas Cool-off

What is it that we wish most for our children in life? Health and happiness. Fulfillment and joy. Challenge and opportunity.

If the youngest among us learn by example, then what are they to take from the past number of days’ events involving the Government and the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NSTU)? If you can answer that question without a look of deep and pained confusion on your face, I’ll buy you one of those fancy coffee drinks they only make at Christmas.

There have been barbed, pointed and angry comments about the Government’s moves that – their spokespeople say – were designed to ensure student safety during a planned work-to-rule by teachers; moves which, let’s be honest, have come off looking ham-fisted at best.

There has been hand-wringing, scratching of heads and accusations that the NSTU is continually raising the bar, seeking to maintain gold-plated benefits and get a wage settlement that the province cannot afford, and to which the vast majority of Nova Scotians could not lay claim.

On Monday, Nova Scotia became a national news story because, depending which narrative you believed, students were either unfairly “locked out” of their schools for the first time ever, or teachers were threatening to “leave them unsafe”.

The narrative extremes – and the actions they set in motion – serve to bring no one closer to a solution, and they shed no light for the many parents and Nova Scotians not privy to the discussions at or around the bargaining table. They just want this whole saga to go away.

And the cold, wintry reality is that we are an ultra-marathon further away from a negotiated solution than we were at this time last week.

The conditions precedent to a constructive dialogue, leading to a contract proposal which stands an odds-on chance of being ratified by NSTU members and adopted by the provincial Cabinet have gone south, just like the snowbirds.

So is it time to shrug our shoulders, and dig in for a long, hard winter of labour discontent, hardening resolve and an epidemic of stress throughout our school-aged children?

That’s hardly the example our children deserve.

Although a “charitable spirit” has not been much in evidence over the past week in this dispute, the parties would do well to offer all Nova Scotians this early Christmas present, in three hard but necessary steps:

  • Agree to a cooling-off period. To be effective, it needs to include a suspension of work-to-rule and a commitment to no government/legislative action against teachers. It should last long enough to allow the parties to do their homework, and begin to re-engage constructively in the New Year.
  • Get down to work on their homework:
    1. For the NSTU, the kaleidoscope-of-demands at the bargaining table, with no real evidence that the bargaining committee knows what the members want, has to stop. They don’t get to blame the government they need to own the fact that they have been tin-eared to their membership. Extensive consultation is required, which should include helping to close the gap between ambition and reality among their membership. There needs to be a (no-doubt difficult) reconciliation of what NSTU members want, and what it is they can fairly achieve through negotiation. If the emphasis is not on wages and benefits, but on working conditions – as every teacher I have spoken with claims – then all the time and money needs to be focused on that. If the emphasis is, in fact, more on wages and maintenance of certain benefits – then it’s time to drop the contrivance and say so.
    2. For the Government, they have internal consultation of their own to do. It’s fine for politicians not to want to “let down their side” publicly, and pledge fealty to their boss (no matter how far they have strayed off course). The clear reality on Monday pointed to strong currents of disagreement within the government caucus, which means they have work to do. The $10 million pot of money with a promise to address working conditions has been clearly rejected as a pig in a poke – concrete measures with a start date and implementation plan are required to overcome the deficit of trust made worse by this week’s events. The contrivance that some of these “working conditions” are not within the Collective Agreement, and should therefore be dealt with later is just that – a contrivance.
  • Develop an agreed schedule of talks that begin sometime into the New Year, with a commitment to stay at the table – and keep the cooling-off period in force – while students get educated, and the parties work-through matters with a renewed focus and internal mandates which better reflect where the parties want to end up.

The educational challenges in the classroom and in our schools are real. Teachers deserve our respect for the work that they do, and the care they provide, to our children and youth every day. My father-in-law retired from teaching 20 years ago, and continues to be approached by former students about the extent of the impact he had on their lives and development, often to his great surprise.

The financial challenges we have as a province are also very real. To dismiss them out of hand, and to ignore the debt-burden of the province and the high level of taxation we pay, is to do a disservice to these same youth and children; for they will inherit a rusting hulk of a province if we can’t keep an eye to the future when making financial decisions today.

As a parent I can definitively say that this dispute – and the current work-to-rule action – is impacting our children, and not for the better. 

It needs to stop, and fast. Children thrive in a predictable, consistent environment where expectations are clear and trust is built through following through: what they expect from their teachers, and what their teachers expect of them.

This situation did not develop overnight. Solving it overnight is neither realistic nor plausible. But ending the blame game, rolling up some sleeves and making an honest start – without suspending our students in the middle – is an example our kids will learn from.

Fisherwick-ism #3: Where your eyes go, the car goes

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I took this photo in Naples, Florida in 2015 – under the fishing pier.

I didn’t actually “read” this book – the Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein; instead I listened to it as an audiobook.

I honestly thought the plot (essentially about this man’s life from the vantage point of his dog) was a little wonky, but I had known people who raved about the book, so I went for it.  And, in spite of myself, I really enjoyed it.

As soon as I heard those words spoken during the audiobook, I knew they’d stick with me.  I shorthand them these days to “where your eyes go, the car goes.”

I think about these words often, now, and share them with clients and colleagues.

I don’t think they are simple, or simplistic.  I don’t believe that observing their meaning is solely about some twisted form of manifesting destiny, either – if it is, in fact, possible to manifest one’s destiny.

I do believe, however, that they speak to framing.  Framing a challenge, framing an issue, framing how we choose to see, perceive or address something.

Frankly, I think a strict interpretation of these words in either direction is unwise.  If Interpretation A = eyes toward the ditch means we go into the ditch, and Interpretation B = eyes on the centre line keeps us on the straight & narrow…I choose Interpretation C+.

In my humble opinion, Interpretation C+ equals some variety of these actions: give your head a shake, have a look around, survey the landscape, observe the oncoming traffic, be aware of the road hazards and think before you act.

Don’t stay blindered toward the status quo believing it’s the only route forward.  And don’t cock your head toward the ditch, throw your hands up and proclaim that the arse is out of ‘er.

In a sense, then, these words can become a talisman against extremes in either direction – over-confidence, or defeatism.  Proclaiming victory, or admitting defeat.

And we haven’t even added the factor of weather to the equation.

Fisherwick-ism #2: The Power of Compromise

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I took this photo of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in the Summer of 2014.

Happy to have some ‘found time’ to post – sitting in Ottawa airport after a productive part-day of meetings here, and now en route to Vancouver for a short sub 40-hour business trip there.

I’ve been thinking of this quote a bunch lately – and not just because our family is catching up on episodes of “The Voice”, where Adam Levine (lead singer of Maroon 5) is a judge.

I had a conversation with a friend/colleague today where we talked about the ‘judgement culture’ we seem to live and breathe these days.  The one ably aided-and-abetted by social media where the speed of your pronouncements is a (somewhat perverse) measure of success.

It’s a very male thing — or at least, in the gender-stereotypical vernacular, it is held out to be — to have a need to “be right”.  Being a man, I can attest that the facts weigh heavily in favour of the prosecution on this – a summary judgement wouldn’t be out of the question; we men have a hard time admitting being ‘wrong’.

But it’s not only a guy thing; it’s an all-of-us-kind-of-thing.

The idea that giving in, reducing our take, giving over to the ‘other’ in any given discussion, or relationship, is somehow a sign of weakness is a pretty tough test for anyone to measure up to.

Having standards that high leads to inevitable feelings of embarrassment and shame.  And, as Brene Brown would remind us, that keeps us from living a full and open life – and experiencing Joy.

I worked in and around politics for a long time – a decade and a half.  Too often I saw, lived, embodied and gave life to the stereotypes about why compromise is ‘weak’; why it’s a bad thing, and why we should judge those who do it; those who refuse to hold firm, and give no quarter.

The more distance I get on that phase of my life, the more I confirm my belief in how we have the wrong frame on success, the wrong frame on what authentic leadership is (and can be) and the wrong frame on what comes from creating — rather than claiming — value.

So – yeah, compromise.  The world could use a little more of it, wouldn’t you say…?

Paul

Annie, drop your gun(s)

Industry: They are wiping us out; thousands will leave.  And they don’t care.
 
Government: We’re going broke; their tastes are too rich.  And they’re exaggerating.

It’s tempting to caricature, and reduce to sound-bites, the rationale and impacts of the public policy decision contained in last week’s provincial budget on the Film Tax Credit (FTC).

This policy/tax measure defies over-simplification and was born and bred in a nuanced and shifting industry, financial and policy environment.

The long-standing position of the Department of Finance staff on the make-up of the FTC is well-known to both stakeholders and within the halls of government in Nova Scotia.  Naturally, they rely on their training and experience to assess the “effectiveness” of various tax measures in an imperfect world of statistics, numbers and outputs, in an effort to meet demands to keep provincial taxes down and services intact.

Similarly, the industry has heralded its growth over the past few decades, turned its thoughts to continued success and maintained a watchful eye on its competitiveness.   Naturally, they have sought the kinds of incentives, evolutions and updates that they believe helps Nova Scotia keep the proverbial credits rolling.

While you can measure taxes paid, revenues generated and associated impacts, you simply can’t reduce the contribution of artists, and the vibrancy of a culturally-rooted community to numbers alone.
This tension is at the root of the decision to significantly change the FTC in the 2015-16 budget.

Should the government – and by that, I mean the politicians who both make the decision and ultimately have to defend it – have approached this situation differently? 

Should the industry, recognizing the budget challenges and with the Ivany and Broten reports in mind, have proactively sought-out government to modernize the FTC?

“Should-ing yourself” is always messy.  And it is never a comfortable position from which to figure out a reasonable path forward; it inherently dwells on the past.

How realistic is a wholesale reversal of this change?  The odds are longer than a Nova Scotia winter.

For the government, then, what choice but to defend the turf you’ve staked out?  And for the industry, what choice but to fight for the status quo, and your livelihood?

Fighting is inevitably a temporary way to ride the cortisol train to the sinking realization that, when the fight finally ends, everybody ended up a loser.

If nothing changes, a hollow victory to both sides is all but assured.  The government achieves budget reductions, and the industry fights the good fight but loses the vast majority of everything they have worked to build.

The government will test the threats and forecasts of the companies, and thousands of now-disillusioned professionals.  The industry will test the resolve of the government to push through a measure that they maintain is a necessary element of a balanced economy, and budget.
But this weekend proves that from underneath even a harsh Nova Scotia Winter, Spring can emerge.

One thing I have learned, both in government and in life, is that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
 
And it’s never out of fashion to acknowledge and reinforce people when they do.

And I don’t think there’s one person in the province today who could be trusted to script just what that “right thing” is.  Certainly no one in government, or in the industry, can lay claim to that for understandable reasons.

Cue the cooling-off period.

The industry and the provincial government have much in common – though the Spring fog that has settled in around the Legislature makes it exceedingly hard to see that.  Giving them both the benefit of the doubt, it’s a safe bet that:

  • They both want a vibrant film industry in Nova Scotia;

  • They know Nova Scotia has poor demographics and a shrinking tax base;

  • They both want to attract and retain talented, creative people; and,

  • They both believe this is a great place to live and work.

That should be enough to get them in the same room and get the small talk rolling.

In order to take one of the many off-ramps, they need to put the calculators and pitchforks away, look each other in the eye and agree on a few more things:

  • The FTC of today can’t be the FTC of tomorrow, it needs to change – after 20 years, and a series of tweaks, it’s time to look to the future in a new way;

  • In order to maintain a vibrant film and television industry, and all the incredible culture, people and intangibles that go with it, the incentives in Nova Scotia need to be, and remain, competitive;

  • The current level of government support is comparatively high, and our ability to generate tax revenue is declining; the value of the FTC needs to be reduced; and,

  • A more collaborative change in three, six or nine months – all within this budget year – that has even lukewarm industry and government support, is better than a first draft today that begets white-hot anger.

Most decisions are not irreversible, but their outcomes can be.  In this case, there is still time to move from a positional stand-off to a shared-interest solution.

The so-called budget bill, the Financial Measures Act , will be the place this change is actually effected.  It usually comes in within a week or so of Budget day (last Thursday).  Until that bill is brought in, and frankly until it passes Committee of the Whole House and receives third and final reading in about 3 weeks – the budget decision on the FTC remains a ‘statement of policy intent’, not a hard-and-fast decision.

But once it’s done it is very hard to undo.  Cue the toothpaste analogy.

Speaking as an uninitiated, I suspect the process of making a film or TV episode is not unlike a place where I have a little more experience: the process of making a law or building the provincial budget.  
 
It can be messy, complicated, and it will take hours of production to gain seconds or minutes of tape that make it to the big screen.

But just like in the movies, until the final cut is done, it always remains a work-in-progress.