Weekly picks for April 6-12

I’ve been doing little else but – OK that’s not quite true – I’ve been doing a lot the last week. A team of superb health-care professionals knocked me out safely, grafted a piece of ligament from my shin onto my torn ACL, fixed the torn meniscus, and closed me back up. I was sent home that same morning.

Lost poster for season oneWhen my daughter couldn’t get there right away they seemed impatient to get me dressed and ready for when she did arrive to get my groggy butt out to the car. I guess they needed the bed for someone else? Anyway, still very loopy from the anaesthetic, my daughter and I stopped by a pharmacy to get my prescriptions filled. While we waited she took some (I imagine) hilarious video of me which she has promised not to share on any social network.

No worries, I recuperated at a friend’s place on the Island for a few days, then Ken drove me back home to Vancouver, where I’ve been trying to do my exercises and get rid of the need for medication that makes me foggy. Mission accomplished on both counts. No, I can’t bear all my weight yet, nor walk more than a few steps. But I’m working on it. And I’m onto Tramacet only, soon to be Tylenol only for pain relief.

Huzzah modern medicine.

While I’m on crutches, you’d think I’d be reading a lot, right? Well, yes. That and binge-watching Netflix. But here’s what I have been reading:

Frequently Asked Questions following Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Surgery (PDF), Rebalance MD. 

Here is the only motivation I need for doing my icky, painful exercises. According to the FAQ: “In general, between 80-90% of people are able to return to their pre-injury level of activity after a primary ACL reconstructive procedure.” And it’ll only take 6-9 months!

So I’ve graduated from the seemingly endless wait, despairing of ever being able to run again, to the work of learning now to walk again. I get stronger every day, and I expect to ditch the crutches in another week or two. Hoo. Ray.

The Psychopath Inside, by James Fallon.

A funny thing happened when Dr. Fallon, a brain researcher, compared a bunch of brain scans as a favour for a colleague. He asked the colleague, who was studying Alzheimer’s disease, to mix in scans from Dr. Fallon’s own family, and make all the scans anonymous (Because science!). Fallon found the scan of a psychopath mixed in with all the others. Odd, because he thought all his psychopath brain scans were in another study, another pile. Turns out (spoiler alert!) the scan was his own, shaking his idea of what makes a psychopath, what makes people violent criminals, and the role of nurture versus nature in socialization and personality development. It’s a pretty interesting read, but gets a little bogged down in self-aggrandizing detail at times. But then, what did you expect from a narcissistic scientist with psychopathic tendencies?

Prepare to be Shocked! What happens when you click on one of those “One Weird Trick” ads? Alex Kaufman, Slate.com

I’m just endlessly fascinated with what makes people do what they do, and make the choices they make; or rather how others get people to make the choices they make. I guess it’s part and parcel of my profession. The One Weird Trick marketers know their audience, is what it comes down to. And it isn’t you or I.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to, watching:


OK I admit it. I’ve listened to no podcasts in the last week. Ken and his daughter urged me to watch LOST so I could share in their fandom. (No, I never did jump on the bandwagon while it originally aired.)

So, still on pain meds and drugged up the wazoo, I started watching. Now I can’t stop. Sayid, what were you doing with Shannon in the first place? You like ‘em shallow and dumb? I expected more from you. Kate, get over your daddy issues and go for the good guy for once, will ya? Jack, you can’t save everyone, and quit running off into the jungle and leaving a settlement of 40 people behind, you’re their only doctor for crying out loud! Michael, you should have drowned Sawyer when you had a chance, and I’m sorry about your boy.

And Locke. John Locke. The very first episode sent me running for my old philosophy textbooks (oh right, individualism, natural rights, no absolute monarchy, we’re all free, etc). By the third episode, Tabula Rasa (!), I was thoroughly hooked. I imagine there have been graduate papers written already about the significance of this character and what he represents in the human political psyche. I’d look them up, but I have several seasons to get through first …

The one culture shift that can make a good workplace great

By the time I started my fourth year working for the government in the communications department, I knew I didn’t necessarily want my five year pin. I knew it was a great place to work. I knew I had done some of the best writing, relationship-building, and learning of my career. I worked with some fantastic, hard-working, and creative communications professionals. That was the best thing about it, working with a team of communications people, most of whom are much smarter and more creative than I.

I saw first-hand how government works, how conscientious public servants are, how policymaking is difficult, multifaceted, and better left to professionals who have years of experience behind them. I enjoyed it – not every single minute of it, but eighty per cent of the time I enjoyed a meaningful, productive, and at times fun workplace.

But I knew I wanted to experience my profession from outside government, and outside a government town, at least for a while.

So, in my next job, I spent five years contributing to open online learning and student services in the post-secondary sector. I had a unique, system-wide view of British Columbia’s colleges, universities, and institutes. I got to do some really cool stuff that I’m very proud of, with people I was stoked to call colleagues and friends.

But you know what made those two jobs among the best experiences of my life?  Permission to make mistakes.

I love learning. I thrive on taking on new projects, learning a new skill, delving into a new product, technology, or method. Learning is only possible when you’re OK with making mistakes – OK with yourself making mistakes, with others making mistakes, and feeling safe and supported enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

Others call this “failing forward.”

Of course, a lot of little mistakes is probably better than making one honking big one, and there are ways of setting up systems so you learn (or fail forward) in smaller, manageable, non-catastrophic chunks. But even then, making a big mistake would probably be a lesson you’ll never forget. Here’s my example:

In government, as with any position of responsibility, where people with power are counting on you to provide them with quick, accurate information, the very first rule is “no surprises, and don’t embarrass the minister.”

One of my favourite bosses ever was one I had when I first worked for the economic development ministry. She would say: “Don’t worry about the small stuff. This isn’t surgery, or a trip to the moon. No one’s going to die from a typo.”

(Aside: If you’ve ever read astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield’s book, or are familiar with rocket science or flying higher jets, you’ll know astronaut/pilot training is all about making mistakes in simulations, over and over again, until you get it right without raising your heart rate even one beat per minute, before you get to the real life-and-death deal.)

My mistake was more than a typo. I wrote in a speech for the minister that the GDP in B.C. had risen by something like 8 per cent the previous year. I got that statistic from a table in a StatsCan report. All you economists know what my mistake was: that number was not adjusted for inflation. I should have known to look in the adjusted-for-inflation column (it was more along the lines of 3 per cent). After all, I have a masters degree in social sciences, and am very well acquainted with statistical analysis.

In my haste I hadn’t caught it (and neither did any of the six people who must have read that same piece as it went through the approvals process). Sure enough, it got into the minister’s hands. He was the one who caught it, phoned me, and asked for the adjusted number.

I was mortified.

Some politicians would have just read the erroneous information – not because they aren’t smart, but because they are so busy and work so hard they simply haven’t got time, or they don’t have a background in the subject area themselves and rely on public servants to provide them with accurate statistics. Some people would have been angry, and would have let me and my boss know about it.

Not this one. Both the minister and my boss were pretty chill about the whole thing. Based on my reliable work history, they trusted me not to do the same thing again. No harm was done, and we moved on. It was no big deal – except to me – as evidenced by the fact that I still remember that incident to this day.

The fact that my mistake was no big deal in the grand scheme of things made me want to work even harder for my boss, to write better speeches for that cabinet minister, and to brush up on my macroeconomics on my own time. I would be writing a very different story if I had been called on the carpet and berated for making a mistake.

However, I’ve learned letting go of the fear of making mistakes is tough, and those who are most hard on themselves are the most likely to take it out on others. As soon as I was able to give myself a break, and embrace mistakes as “failing forward,” that’s when I was able to myself be a better boss to people I supervised.

So go ahead. Make a mistake. Allow others to do the same. See what you can learn from it.

Weekly picks March 23-29

Here’s what I’m reading and listening to this past week:


Not Telling, by Alice Mattison

I wish I could say I am writing 2,000 words per day on my first novel while I’m between work assignments, but I’m not yet in that habit. Instead, I’m reading about writing and calling it creative procrastination. Truth is, if I ever am writing something big, I will probably tell no one until it’s done, not even my partner. That’s why I was pleased to come across this article about writing as a private activity: “I secretly do research, buy books and never say why, and don’t ask for information I need unless I can disguise the reason. I once went to an exhibit in a nearby city about trolley cars (I was writing a novel about them) and never told my husband I had left town that day. It is like having an affair.”

N.B. I read the New York Times a lot . So much so that I usually use up my ten free article per month. It’s probably worth subscribing. After all, I would love to get paid for writing, which means someone has to buy it, right?

I (re)learned one thing from writing 212 blog posts in 2014, by Jonathan Anthony

I saw Anthony @ThisMuchWeKnow speak at a holiday IABC event last December, and was mightily impressed. I’ve been devouring all This Much We Know posts I missed, mainly because from December – end of February I neglected my personal projects (including this site), to my own detriment. As this post concludes: “Here’s to more messing around and showing up in 2015.”

Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood

An actual, physical book, that I signed out physically from the public library. Don’t that beat all?  When I wandered into the central branch (AKA “Caprica City Hall” ) last week, I didn’t find any of the books actually on my list, so I put a couple of holds and went with a previously unread book by a reliable standby author. My motto is: there are so many good books I haven’t read, I don’t waste time on something that doesn’t grab me. Atwood always grabs me.


Reply All

On the recommendation of one of the other podcasts I listen to regularly, I’m catching up on Reply All, a new podcast about the internet, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. I’ve listened to the first four episodes and I’m a fan.

Los Frikis, Radiolab

punk guitarThis is an episode I would have expected from This American Life, as it is somewhat of a departure for RadioLab. I won’t give it all away, because it’s a compelling story that unfolds as you listen, but I will say it’s about the punk movement in Cuba (“frikis” is pronounced like the English”freakies”) and you should go listen to it right away.

The Journey Within, The Dirtbag Diaries

I hold onto my days spent climbing cliffs outdoors via the occasional DirtBag Diaries podcast. In this episode, Chris Kalman, a true “dirtbag,” who lives simply in order to climb more, faces a difficult choice after he commits to going to Patagonia on the climbing trip of a lifetime.

It occurs to me, after the post where I interviewed some friends about their sports injuries requiring surgery, that I could make some of my posts into podcasts. After all, Ken has a great mic around here that he uses in his teaching, and I did start out my communications career as a broadcaster …