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Is That a Fact? - Second Edition

Is That a Fact? - Second Edition

A Field Guide to Statistical and Scientific Information
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Numbers, Hypotheses and Conclusions

A Course in Statistics for the Social Sciences
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Searching for Certainty

Searching for Certainty

Inside the New Canadian Mindset
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Navigating the New Canadian Mindset: A Dozen Rules of the Road

The future will be dominated by the competition for public trust. Canadians are increasingly turning to “trustmarks” to sort through the cluttered marketplace of an information economy. For organizations interacting with individual Canadians, trustmarks will supercede the trademarks of old. A trustmark goes well beyond a good brand name. The brand provides the entry point to the product. Today, people are seeking guidance of a higher order. We want to be able to judge quickly if the information coming our way — about products to buy, decisions to make, causes to support — is authoritative, credible, and reliable. We aren’t seeking a signal about the quality of the product as much as the trustworthiness of the producer — whether it be a corporation, charity, or political leader. The default position of the new Canadian mindset tends to be set on skepticism rather than trust. Therefore, the trustmark holder possesses an asset as rare and valuable as platinum. Trustmark stewardship will become one of the top tasks of modern ceos. Leaders must excel beyond the traditional management skills of finance, strategy, and marketing to master the political skills necessary to forge trusting relationships with the new knowledge consumers.

The marriage of the most highly educated generation in our history and the information technology known as the Internet places phenomenal power in the hands of a newly enfranchised class of knowledge citizens and consumers. Information has been democratized, giving rise to heretofore-unprecedented demands for choice in everything we do. The mentality of “there is no alternative” no longer suffices; we will create our own alternatives if the official offerings don’t satisfy. Indeed, the motherlode wealth of information now available to individuals and groups is giving rise to a revolutionary power shift from producers to consumers. Producers and governments are under pressure as never before to deliver results and be accountable for performance. Combine this heightened consumer assertiveness with a diminution of brand loyalty and you will see the potential for businesses, voluntary groups and political parties, which may have taken decades to build, to be destroyed in the blink of a cursor. Witness our swift abandonment in the 1990s of long-standing institutions such as the Red Cross, Eaton’s and the Progressive Conservative party. The challenges posed by the new knowledge consumer/citizen are obvious, but so are the competitive advantages for those who can relate to a more informed and wilful population.

What the new knowledge consumer most desires is a greater measure of control in an unstable and insecure world. Our craving for control is not an end in itself but a means of enhancing certainty of outcome. (Is this the best medical treatment for me? Am I receiving the training that will secure my career goals?) The new mindset demands to know how the story ends, and a means to intervene if the ending appears unsatisfactory. Canadians are less willing than ever to entrust the narrative to the powers that be. Producers and governments therefore are going to have to be able to articulate their vision and persuade consumers and citizens not just of their intended destination but of how they plan to get there. Those with a compelling vision and a convincing plan are best positioned to satisfy the search for certainty. Those, in contrast, who hide behind glib sales pitches will learn how swift and harsh public judgement can be.

Our traditional view of the three founding nations (French, English and Aboriginal) is becoming less and less relevant, especially in the cities where most of us live. We have succeeded in establishing a genuine rainbow society in this country, a model for the world in the twenty-first century. It makes us a more complex land, but a richer one. Our marketplace has become both more heterogenous and global at the same time. One example: the increasing pressure on health-care regulators to recognize alternative therapies such as acupuncture that are standard fare among certain ethnic groups.

As this multicultural Canada become more firmly rooted, we are learning that diversity and tolerance are not just social goods, but also a national advantage in a world in which we all want to be judged on our abilities and nothing else. The implications of Canada’s multicultural reality are huge for our concepts of citizenship, national unity, and commerce. Adapting to this new reality will prove one of the great challenges of the next quarter-century.

A new Can-global identity is evolving hand-in-hand with multiculturalism, especially among our youth. The most noteworthy characteristic of this new identity is its easy blend of love of country with a conscious external focus. Plugged into the world through the Internet and other communications technologies, our new Can-global citizens are programmed to be the best at what they do, wherever they do it. They shun mediocrity, increasingly benchmarking themselves not against the person in the next cubicle or apartment block but against the best the world has to offer. Can-global citizens can no more easily accept being second best in the economy than accept being second class in society. The Can-global citizen therefore pursues excellence and insists upon having an impact. Comfortable in their skins, they are much less moved than previous generations — but not unmoved — by appeals to nationalism and parochialism. While clearly preferring excellence at home, they are prepared, if necessary, to select excellence over home. Unless we lift the pursuit of excellence to a national passion, the potential for Canada to lose its most talented young people to the best of the world is very real.

The new Canadian mindset increasingly embraces a live-and-let-live philosophy, at least up to the point where it butts heads with the new equality principle. The stigmas attached a generation ago to homosexuality or mixed-race marriages have all dissipated significantly. We overwhelmingly embrace the unique qualities of individuals or groups of individuals, but anything smacking of special status — whether for a province or a demographic group — gets our backs up. That’s where Canadians come face-to-face with the limits of their tolerance. Equality used to involve the intervention of government to lift up the disadvantaged. Today, equality increasingly entails not affirmative action programs but the assurance of equal access to all, regardless of circumstances. Canadians are consequently highly suspicious of initiatives that disadvantage certain categories of individuals in order to right historical wrongs or perceived group inequities. Bottom line for the new mindset — distinctions that can apply to all, such as income, are acceptable arbiters of policy, but exclusionary criteria will not cut it. The new mindset holds that all Canadians should be treated similarly because we all must face the same challenges.

The concept of a “private” sector no longer exists in Canada. Canadians increasingly expect that corporations and professionals must be accountable to the public interest. Nortel merits no more of a free ride than the government of Saskatchewan. The professional misconduct of a doctor no longer is a matter between him and his College of Physicians. As knowledge citizens and consumers, we are prepared to enforce this accountability through whatever mechanisms are available; indeed, the collective actions of consumers are becoming just as commonplace as the collective actions of citizens. Moreover, this insistence that once-private players be held publicly accountable extends to what they do outside our borders as well.

Globalization was once widely regarded as a business issue. No longer. Since all Canadians are deeply implicated in the globalization process, we obviously all have an interest in its shape and direction. The Gemini twins of globalization are Davos Man and Seattle Woman. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Davos Man was ascendant. Now, Seattle Woman’s moon is rising. Canadians are troubled by the unrepresentative nature of globalization, its so-called democracy deficit. That doesn’t make them sympathetic toward anarchists running amok or woolly theories of world government. But we do want to ensure that mechanisms are in place for citizens to see their values reflected in the global agenda. The concept of globalization without representation is untenable in a knowledge age. Demands will grow to get our political and economic space into alignment. Davos Man and Seattle Woman can be expected to beget Democracy Child.

As stated throughout this book, Canadians demand choice and seek certainty in all matters. This very much applies to the workplace. The surest way for workers to achieve choice and certainty, as Karl Marx preached, is by controlling the means of production. Except that in a knowledge economy, the means of production resides between your ears. Control therefore comes in the form of education and training, which have become a kind of gold reserve of the new economy (particularly for employees of choice). Access to education and training promises to be the key political and workplace issue of the next decade. These developments obviously have major implications for employers, unions, educational institutions and governments. Look for life-long learning to dominate our public policy agenda and to also become a critical component of employment negotiations. Earning a living alone no longer produces enough certainty. The new workplace compact, therefore, will sound like this: I’ll work for you if you’ll help me grow.

In spite of the knocks that government takes, it remains the preferred vehicle for realizing our collective interests. However, our expectations of government have changed markedly as a result of our experiences with deficits, globalization, and the Internet. We expect our governments to be focussed on helping us resolve the big problems. We don’t want them engineering one-size-fits-all solutions on our behalf or striving to be all things to all people. Our elected officials need to understand that certain principles prevail for the knowledge citizen. First off, deficits matter. Governments that tolerate renewed deficit-financing risk being tossed out of the game by voters. There is virtually nothing, including a major economic downturn, that would convince us to once again journey along any well-intentioned road to fiscal hell. Accountability also matters as never before. The new knowledge citizen expects results in place of rhetoric, which requires the development of an unprecedented degree of transparency and new accountability mechanisms that allow us to keep track of outcomes. We want government to work, but not in the old ways.

At heart, Canada remains a compassionate society. Canadians don’t like to view themselves in terms of winners and losers; we prefer to see ourselves instead as winners and those who, with some assistance, can become winners. This means that punitive attacks on the economically disadvantaged find little fertile ground in Canada. However, while Canadians are prepared to be compassionate, they are not prepared to be played for suckers. We are both tenderhearted and hardheaded. We prefer the hand-up to the handout. Ours is a self-help form of compassion. Canadians always stand ready to assist the truly needy. As for those who have fallen on hard times, we are willing to lend a hand to help them get back on their feet. But we don’t think we owe them a living; we expect them to help themselves as well.

Canadians are patient investors in their future. If we could be one person collectively, it would probably be Warren Buffet, the legendary value investor. We are not by nature attracted to quick fixes or get-rich-fast schemes. We don’t demand instant gratification, but steady improvement and long-run returns. We love nothing so much as a long-term plan of action, articulated by a credible spokesperson. Canadians have been through a lot together over the past generation, not all of it pleasant. The process has imbued us with a remarkable resiliency. We’ve come out the other end of the tunnel a collection of quiet optimists, with an optimism based not so much on a confidence in the economy to perform well as a confidence in ourselves to endure whatever the economy throws our way. Our experiences in the economic trenches have cured us of the temptations of simple solutions. Today, we’re prepared to weigh the trade-offs implicit in any decisions; if anything leaves us cold, it’s being told there are no trade-offs. Like Warren Buffet, we’re looking for the best return tomorrow rather than the fastest return today. Whether it’s politics or the stock market, Canadians are neither bulls nor bears; we are instead a nation of patient owls.

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