When a referendum doesn't make sense

When significant change is in the air, there can be a natural reaction to say, "Let's poll everyone and see if a majority agrees." But sometimes, that doesn't make sense. Especially when anticipation of that change may bring rise to feelings of fear, perceived loss of status, or a conflict with long-standing tradition among the majority population. In cases where the proposed change is congruent with human rights, and is in the best interests of the health and safety of a population, great leaders need to lead. A referendum may be a very bad idea ...

Here is a simple case study that demonstrates this clearly. In 1955, a referendum in Sweden asked the population whether they wanted to switch from driving on the left side of the road, to driving on the right side of the road. The referendum result was that 83% of the population voted to stay driving on the left-hand side. Citizens voted this way despite the fact that many deaths resulted from head-on collisions of left-hand vehicles on narrow Swedish roads, all Sweden's immediate neighbours (including Norway, Denmark and Finland) already drove on the right with approximately 5 million of their vehicles crossing the borders annually, and Sweden was already manufacturing right-hand vehicles that were built for export (but many were ending up on Swedish roads). Driving on the left was an anachronism harkening back to days when people travelled on horseback and wanted their right hand free to greet passers or hold their swords in case of attack; moving to driving on the right began to happen with the rising popularity of horse-drawn carriage teams when the driver wanted to guide the reins with their right hand. But despite all data and reason ... the majority feared a change from the status quo.

Sweden's government leadership went ahead and decided to make the change to right-hand side driving, despite the referendum results and expressed fears of the population, for the sake of the population's and visitors' safety. It was a complex process as they had to create new government departments, public campaigns, innovative products, and even held a song contest to facilitate the transition. On September 3, 1967, or "H-Day," Sweden made the change-over which proceeded quite smoothly despite fears. Accidents and deaths were reduced immediately following the change. See this Wikipedia entry on Sweden's "H Day" and this 99% Invisible episode on H-Day, including video of the changeover.

Kungsgatan, Stockholm, on Dagen H, September 3, 1967 (Source:  99% Invisible, H-Day )

Kungsgatan, Stockholm, on Dagen H, September 3, 1967 (Source: 99% Invisible, H-Day)

As we consider legislative reforms in Canada that are in the best interests of giving voice to the disenfranchised, honouring the rights of minorities, and upholding our cultural value of egalitarianism ... let's reconsider if referenda are the best way to achieve this, or if we can avoid "the tyranny of the majority" by having our democratically-elected leaders collaborate with each other in a bipartisan spirit to do the right thing for all Canadians. 


When a Community is not a Community - and why getting it right matters to innovative brands

It seems that not so long ago, the word community didn't used to be so ... complicated. People lived in a geographic community with neighbours, family, and friends. Many found a sense of community through their collective work, pastimes, school, faith, and/or shared history. And people fostered community spirit through local volunteering, project collaboration, celebratory events, civic participation, supporting local merchants, and so forth. 

The proliferation of the internet and social networking has changed how marketers use the word community. While these traditional meanings of community remain, today, a group of strangers who all happen to use the same dishwashing liquid or telephone app are often referred to as a community. Why do brands refer to their passive Facebook page 'likers' as their online community? Where's the true community in a web-based customer panel that gets activated sporadically for a few days or weeks of facilitator-guided discussions and multiple-choice questions? Where's the sense of community in drive-by idea hunting forums that offer so little reciprocity for contributors? The concept of open-innovation communities is gaining popularity as a highly-desirable method to tap the ingenuity of customers, citizens, suppliers and employees – but which organizations have invested in true community building? And why are user group feedback sessions on brand-conceived product prototypes mislabelled as 'co-creation communities' when very little collaboration or co-creativity is evident?

Let's explore why we think marketers have replaced traditional descriptions of audience, group or segment with community in these situations ... [READ MORE]  LINK TO REST OF PAPER ON ACADEMIA.EDU HERE

Barn raising, Brampton Ontario, Canada, 1900, (PHOTO: LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA, CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE)

Barn raising, Brampton Ontario, Canada, 1900, (PHOTO: LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA, CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE)


New words for our times: What is "harshmallowing?"

Our airways and screens are teeming with talk about gender equality, misogyny, sexism, paternalism, old boys networks, equal pay, women's rights, glass ceilings, etc. Whether it's because of the American presidential candidates, chauvinistic advertising executives, a feminist Canadian prime minister, tone-deaf reporters announcing female Olympic winners, or something else ... #feminism is definitely taking centre stage in important discussions today. 

I was recently challenged by a friend to take the gender out of the term "mansplaining" after reading a satirical article entitled, "9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women" from TheCooperReview.com via The Guardian. While satirical, the strategies hit very close to home for many women who had actually been counseled to do some of the silly things such as "thanking a male coworker for stealing and presenting your idea" and "softening direct instructions to staff to make them seem less harsh."

I took on the challenge with gusto, and created the following neologisms to help people call out these inappropriate and/or unnecessary behaviours for all genders:

RESPLAINING - when someone explains a basic concept to you that you already understand, and does so in a plodding, pedantic manner.

IDEACARNATION - when your old idea gets presented back to you as their new idea

DOPPELSAYER - the person who hears you express an idea, then proceeds to immediately restate the idea as theirs, with no attribution to the original

HARSHMALLOWING - when you believe you have to pad a direct request or instruction with all kinds of soft/apologetic/puffy words so as not to appear threatening and 'harsh'

SANDBRAGGING - burying your idea in a opaque, diminishing, often self-deprecating statement so as not to appear boastful or 'uppity'

SHRILLINESS - when someone confuses bold, loud, declarative speech with yelling or screaming because the speaker's natural voice is in a relatively high pitch

Why not?

As the inspiring Zita Cobb of Fogo Island reminds us, you need to ask "Why?" but also "Why not?" when evaluating if/how to advance on a project.  Removing perceived barriers is as important as finding purpose.

Here's some background on Zita and Fogo Island


Image source: http://thisisnthappiness.com/

Image source: http://thisisnthappiness.com/