Saturday, October 10, 2015


GGCLC 2015 ...

When I was invited to apply for a spot on the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, I must admit that my conception of the experience was limited to having read several articles in national periodicals and a few firsthand accounts of the experience from several acquaintances. It certainly seemed to be an excellent opportunity to learn more about our country and expand on my own leadership practice. There also seemed to be elements of the experience that resembled an endurance race, conjuring up ideas in my head of a political version of “tuff mudder”. Having been fortunate enough to be selected (along with 224 others) from a countrywide competition of over 4000 applicants, I experienced this uniquely Canadian leadership challenge this past spring and I can say with confidence,  the experience greatly exceeded my expectations.

Beginning in St Johns, Newfoundland, The group first assembled at the Sheraton for 3 days of plenary sessions and lectures by notable Canadians such as Col. Chris Hadfield-Astronaut, Dominic Barton - Global Executive Director for Mckinsey Institute, Heather Monroe-Bloom - Principal of McMaster University and Wab Kinew- First Nations Teacher/Musician/Broadcaster. The theme of the 2015 Conference was Leadership and Innovation. The study tour, which lasted 17 days, spanned the entire country in scope and ended with 3 final days of report preparation and delivery in the nation’s capital. Sixteen teams covered each province and territory with the mission of finding out how Canadians are innovating to keep our country competitive in an increasingly connected and globalized world. As we set out to crisscross the country, we were charged with reporting back to His Excellency, The Governor General- David Johnston on where we were winning and how we thought Canada could improve. This was no small task and we knew it.

Our team (Ontario-2) was comprised of many different personalities from all across Canada. This diversity afforded us much opportunity for lively debate and some uniquely Canadian humor. We travelled with a military escort by plane, bus, street car, taxi and by foot – across Southern Ontario. She (Lt. Carrie Topping, DND) was our guide through the maze of speed-date like meetings we would encounter. Toronto was home to many of our stops, however we did venture throughout the golden horseshoe visiting 13 different cities. We attended over 45 different sites throughout the tour that varied widely in terms of their mission and raison d’etre. From corporations to idea labs, hospitals and homeless shelters, universities and community gardens to factories and boardrooms- they all constituted a rich playground for the exchange of ideas, debate and curiosity. Although I now know more about Canada than I did before, I am more curious than I am certain about what I still need to know about my own Canadian life. 

When the travel portion of the tour finally came to an end, our team was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. We averaged only 5-6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks straight. Sleeping on the bus was not uncommon as we traversed from city to city. Opportunities to call home or “plug-in” to work by remote access were limited to almost nil. Each night after reaching our newest destination, we finished our day by reflecting on our experiences as a group and making notes from the day in preparation for the assembling of our presentation to the GG. Needless to say, we were all far removed from our comfort zones and for those who were ready to learn and examine their own beliefs about what it means to be Canadian – the moment was ripe with opportunity for personal growth. We were regularly encouraged by our two fearless leaders (Greg Wright and Laurel Garven) to explore the differing viewpoints presented and to try and understand the why behind them.
Upon arrival in Ottawa we were given only three days to complete our presentation which was based on consensus decision making about content and format. With sixteen very different people, all with unique world views contributing to this effort – the experience looked quite different in many ways to all of us. We were able though to find some very common themes on our journey. The process of working through the assembling of our presentation was at times stressful, but the finished product was something we were all very proud of and confident in its relevance to our mission.

The presentations took place at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa over a period of two days -in front of an audience of about 300 people. Some groups sang their presentations; some gave theatrical performances and others simply gave a report on what they saw along their journey of discovery. Over the course of two days, each of the groups was given opportunity by the GG himself to defend their position once their report was given. His Excellency’s questions were pointed and went straight to the substance of the issues raised. His inquiries were seeking solutions to the challenges we brought to the fore and it was like no other test I had experienced before. You either knew your material cold and could speak intelligently on the topic you were raising - or you failed on a national stage in front of 225 future leaders of this country. This gave new meaning to the phrase “Stand and deliver” for me. His Excellency was impacted by our presentation such that he sought out our Ontario-2 group on day 2 of presentations to have lunch with us and ask a few more questions about our tour. This was of course a welcome surprise and perceived as somewhat of a reassurance that we hadn't missed the mark in our presentation.

Once it was all over and we had said our goodbyes, still missing home and the calming voice of my lovely wife Jeanne - I still chose to spend one extra day in Ottawa to just reflect upon the experience and really digest what this conference had meant for me on a personal level and better understand what I had learned. I also took the opportunity to connect with a classmate and good friend of mine from grad school and bounced ideas and observations off of him over lunch as we lazed around downtown Ottawa on a sunny but quiet Sunday afternoon. He reminded me of a key question one of our Profs (Dr. Stephen Long) at Royal Roads had repeatedly drummed into our heads during the perilous times of the financial meltdown in 2008 and that is, “So what?". Not so what as in who cares, but so what as in – so what does this mean and what have you learned? It is through this lens that I chose to frame my experience on the GGCLC.

So what did I learn? First and foremost, I learned that Canada is not just a country; it is a dream for many people around the world. As a native born Canadian this thought had rarely ever entered my mind, but it was driven home by the GG himself when he recounted a conversation with a university president from Sweden in his closing speech who stated that, “Millions of people go to bed every night around this world, dreaming about becoming Canadians. Yet, as great of a country as we are here in Sweden, you just don’t hear people saying that about us”. What we represent to the rest of the world as an advanced democracy (in spite of all of our flaws), is the hope that a population of 35 million people from diverse backgrounds, origins and ideas can peacefully and prosperously co-exist and freely pursue our individual dreams. Quite simply, our shared goals and values are what bind us together as a society and it is our differences that make us interesting.

 I also learned that we still have a long way to go in our journey as a country. Justice Sinclair’s Truth and Reconciliation Report was delivered to parliament on the week of our arrival in Ottawa and it was sobering to say the least. It made me realize that even though we welcome new Canadians from around the world to our nation daily (and we invite them to bring their cultures with them), we have a history with our own First Nation’s people that deprived them of their own culture and that account is yet to be reconciled. In my view, how we undertake to settle this historical injustice (in this generation) and move forward, will be the seminal test of our greatness as a nation. 

In closing, the overarching theme of Innovation and its necessity in modern times showed up at almost every stop we made during the tour. Whether it be advances in medicine, social policy or technological advancement and big data – the message was clear; societies that do not invest in innovation will fall behind those who do. It was clear to all of us that as leaders, it is our role to guide the innovation process in our communities, our homes and our workplaces.  This means embracing change in all of its complexity and helping to shape a better future ahead for the next generation of Canadians. Built on a platform of respectful dialogue, the mutual appreciation of our differences – actually brings us closer together as we collectively solve our societal problems and advance our shared Canadian experience.

Finally, I want to thank my GGCLC peers, all of the alumni who volunteered their time and especially my Ontario 2 teammates for their passionate participation and friendship throughout this amazing journey. We learned as much from each other as we did our hosts along the way. I also want to thank my employer Kootenay Savings for sponsoring me to attend this incredible learning adventure and most importantly my wife Jeanne for her unwavering love and support throughout this entire process.
I look forward to connecting with our Ontario 2 Team and Conference Alumni over the years to come and giving back to this uniquely Canadian experience as the opportunity may arise.

Kevin Jolly
The Jolly Blogger

*Photo taken at Rideau Hall, - Ottawa, Ont. June 4,2015




Sunday, April 12, 2015

Get Smart … or be left behind.

During the winter this year, I spent a significant amount of time researching developments in technology and the impacts those advancements are having on our society. In all realms of human activity from medical science to how we work, communicate and produce - technology is changing and will continue to change our patterns of behavior. One consistent theme woven through most of these articles or news stories has been humanity’s increasing reliance upon technology for our very existence. Developed nations have embraced technological advancements, to the point where we have great difficulty conducting our day to day lives without them. Imagine a week without your smart-phone or tablet by your side?

Modern communication (email, texting and messaging) is now prolific to a point of being a daily task that is never really “complete”. Large retailers are closing nationwide due to on-line shopping and other consumer trends. Future Shop is the best recent example. Social networks are now considered primary sources of news and in many ways - they have replaced the real life interaction of service groups and clubs that people would previously join. The average Canadian no longer hand writes anything other than their signature or a to-do list. These are fundamental shifts in human interaction that are changing the way we live. Most of these shifts have been for the greater good, some have produced negative consequences that were unintended. For those who choose not to or simply cannot keep up with these shifts – everyday life becomes more challenging to navigate. When translated into the realm of work and productivity, it becomes increasingly more difficult for those who are not tech savvy to earn wages that support a "middle class" lifestyle. The cost of living continues to rise as non-skilled wages decline and everyday necessities become harder for the under-employed to obtain. This lack of adaptation could result in an entirely new societal class born out of a form of techno-serfdom.

If you take nothing else away from this entry, please just consider the following questions:
1. What will the future of employment be like in 10 years for those who are not technologically literate?

2. What will my non-work life look like if I resist the systems that the rest of society is using?

3. What skills do I need to be productive in a society that is valuing consumption less, conservation more and knowledge as currency?

I asked myself these questions and while the answers were unsettling, the solutions on a personal level are even more elusive. How do we prepare for the jobs of the future that have not even been created yet? My personal solution is that I have resolved to be a life-time learner. Not only because it is a fulfilling pursuit, but because I am of the firm belief that it is becoming a requirement for 21st century living. Those who are not open to personal growth and cling to the “Norman Rockwell” comfy ideals of the past may find themselves as a casualty of the technology revolution. When society no longer values certain types of work, the market wages for that work begins to decline as an oversupply of workers fills the job market. We are seeing this happen in the US right now and to some degree Canada. This is the thin end of the wedge in my opinion as robotics advance and the methods of production and retail change to “self-made” products. In five years you won’t be ordering your products online from Amazon and have them delivered by drones (currently being tested in BC), you will simply buy the design or pattern online and your 3D printer will build it on your kitchen table. This type of advancement alone will radically change the factories of the world, causing immense problems for countries like China and Mexico.

What happens then when this mass of unskilled workers cannot find jobs? Some will seek refuge by moving to another location to find work. I think we can all say that we know someone who has sought opportunity and prosperity in the northern oilfields of Alberta. What will they do now if oil prices remain stagnant? Where will they go? What if California’s increasingly severe drought begins to push workers north in search of employment? I know these thoughts are not necessarily causal to each other but they are relevant to each other in that they contribute to an increasingly more competitive job market with fewer places for the unskilled. Technological skill will rule the job market as society continues to automate and our lives are increasingly managed more by applications than human interactions. The societal imperative then becomes one of increasing the collective knowledge of our population at a rate that matches the pace of innovation in technology. On a personal level, the only way to keep pace is to constantly seek new knowledge, however you can. Look forward, not backward to a time when life was easier. Find a way to create value for others with your ideas. Learn to problem solve and think critically in your current job and you will at least be in the game as the wave of change continues.

No one can accurately predict the future but we can see the trends that are emerging and proactively respond. We need to accept that change is the only constant in modern life and not fight it. Only then can we begin to adapt and evolve to the best of our natural abilities and limitations, because we truly are now living in Huxley’s Brave New World – or at least a kinder and gentler version of it known as the “Knowledge Economy”.
My mantra for dealing with this rapid change remains – “Get smart … or be left behind”.
Don’t be the modern equivalent of that person who never figured out how to set the clock on their VCR.

Kevin Jolly


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Progress & Punditry …

It’s been a while since I have put pen to paper or digit to keyboard if you will. It has certainly not been for lack of substance to write about, the early pace of this council term has in fact been quite brisk. Workloads are certainly substantial and our council group is going through the natural process of getting to know each other and how we each work as budget season provides us our first test of collective will. I am happy to report that the budgeting process is going very well. Council is working collaboratively together on common priorities to establish spending levels and this will be further reviewed at our strategic planning session set for mid-March. A common goal was agreed upon to keep any annual taxation lift in line with inflation and so far this seems imminently doable, although final figures are still a few months out.  Council decisions are being released after each meeting in a summarized format via Facebook and the City’s website which seems to be quite popular with the public and the pundits alike.

On that note, a few words about punditry and context. For the most part we have a typical media presence in our little valley with all distribution channels represented; TV, radio, online journals and of course print. We are quite lucky to still have a daily paper in our area I might add, as many other communities our size does not. Each of these media outlets works with different deadlines, formats and goals. The prime objective for all of them would have to be to accurately report the news as they see it and to also report it in a timely fashion. This is where things can get a bit tricky. The constant battle for column inches, air time and the sheer volume of information available to report necessitates that the omission of information must happen in order to make deadlines and get the “scoop” published and into the hands of the people. This is no small feat and I have nothing but admiration for those who make up the essential function of the fifth estate. They are the check and the balance against the misuse of power. The power to question - is ultimately yours, but stewarded and cared for by the press. It informs the process and enables our democracy. I would argue that today we have a reasonably balanced and respectful core of media in our region. The editorial page however is a different thing.
 To my larger point. The editorial pages as we all know exist for the expression of public opinion. There is no worse a feeling as a citizen than to have your well thought out and carefully worded masterpiece edited down to a mere shadow of its former heft. This also must happen due to space constraints. The one thing however that the editorial section does provide  -is an opportunity to respond. What matters most is that the opportunity to rebut always remains. Albeit a few days after the fact. An alternate viewpoint or some corrected information still matters. The challenge with this though is that sometimes the damage is done by the time the counter-point makes it to the reader. This is why I prefer blogging; I am my own writer, editor and publisher. Column inches are digital. I can make more, as long as you care to take the time to read them, hence my typical 3 paragraph format. Present edition notwithstanding.

It is important to remember this; you will never have ALL of the information you wish to have, or perfect circumstances under which to form your opinion.Circumstances change rapidly and information moves almost instantly in a digital world. So the one final thought I wish to leave you with is this. Facts matter... a lot. Recognize opinion for what it is, someone else’s understanding of the version of the facts available to them at the time and informed by their own beliefs and attitudes. 
The late 4 term Senator from New York, Patrick Moynihan (D) described this idea quite well when he said,"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts". And of course we all know what Mark Twain had to say about them, -
"Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable".
Kevin Jolly