Here’s a description of some of my themes and topics — the categories of this blog. I’m not necessarily sure how they’re connected (it’s possible that they’re connected uniquely by virtue of being interesting to me). This is also by no means a conclusive list. In fact, I’m easily distracted by intellectual shiny objects.
My interests are pretty wide-ranging, and I believe that a life fully lived these days involves challenging the Renaissance man (or woman) in all of us to emerge, and to engage in the public conversation, however marginally. That means not being afraid to engage in cultural, political, civic or business discourse, “qualified” or not. More and more, I think that’s what a blog is for. I used to think that I had to somehow tailor my content to different audiences, compartmentalizing what I thought and wrote about into different blogs. In 2011, I merged everything into a single blog at this address, realizing that the majority of my readership found me via Google anyway, and that the few people who specifically either look me up or follow me either know me personally or are comfortable with my contradictions for other, more mysterious reasons. I believe that the quality of my writing here is how I will get your attention, not because I know how to perform social media or SEO wizardry (which I don’t).
Work: This theme is both a broad exploration of the “condition of work” and specific commentary on issues in the consulting business, and business in general. I’m interested in exploring ways we can create a more authentic relationship to “knowledge work” by finding motivation that is intrinsic to the nature of the work itself (not extrinsic because we have to pay a mortgage). For example, can we take our work seriously, especially if it seems trivial or unimportant? Is it possible to derive pleasure and satisfaction from knowledge work tasks such as writing reports, attending meetings and managing a project? Why don’t we think of knowledge work as a skilled trade? In addition, I’m very interested in helping eradicate dysfunction in all its forms in the workplace. I believe that anything we spend this much time on should be much more positive, conflict-free and supportive of the individual than it typically is (while at the same it shouldn’t require us to check our critical capabilities at the door). Working, for most of us, is the most important “public interface” in our lives, and to interact in a consistently authentic manner requires each of us to do our own work, on our own issues. Because of this, I’m also interested in self-exploration and self-improvement — yet I’m not generally a believer in (or reader of) self-help books (although I’ve occasionally encountered some excellent ones). The condition of work remains a mystery for most of us — we choose to remain ignorant about many of its important truths because we’re unwilling to face them, or because we’ve bought into the various ideologies of work (“company culture,” anyone?). I fundamentally believe that a conscious worker is a better worker: becoming clear about what you’re selling to whom, under what conditions and with what limits is the first step towards being personally at peace and performing well in your role.
Anthropology: I completed a “mid-career” graduate degree in anthropology at the University of Toronto in 2017. My primary research interest is in the anthropology of business and organizations, both in the sense of exploring the potential of ethnographic fieldwork methods to support my management consulting practice, and as a field of study. I’m interested in studying organizations (places of work) and the people in them; in how power in organizations is enacted, exercised and performed; in how organizations do (and don’t) make change, how they innovate or fail to innovate, etc. But my anthropological interests run deeper than just these specific research interests. I enjoy thinking about science and technology (both STS and digital anthropology); epistemology and ontology; suffering subjects and the moral imagination; and have a political interest in “studying up,” to use Laura Nader’s term. I think of ethnography as the Swiss army knife in my intellectual toolbox, and if I could learn to use it only half as effectively as Slavoj Žižek uses “ideology,” I’d be pretty pleased.
Technology: I’ve been involved with, and excited about, technology for almost as long as I can remember. Shortwave radios, cassette recorders, cameras captured my interest as a kid; computers, gadgets and stereo equipment continue to excite me today. Above all, I’m an internet guy — I believe in the transformative nature of the internet and that it continues to change fundamentally how and who we are as humans. I’m not blindly enthusiastic about it, though. I have a hard-to-substantiate hunch that — despite our pretence to the contrary — we are still in a kind of “Wild West” phase of the internet’s future history, surrounded by snake oil salespeople out to make a quick buck; purveyors of freak shows looking to assault good sense and taste; and digital pickpockets intent on threatening our basic rights and freedoms. As a consultant who has worked in IT for almost two decades, I may be specifically qualified to comment on certain kinds of software, but here my commentary is always informed by a practical, real-world understanding of (and enthusiasm for) my subject matter. I comment pretty broadly on all different aspects of technology: there are posts about enterprise software and methodology; websites or software-as-a-service sites that I find useful; how-to’s and instructionals for very specific things; and general comments about the state of the industry.
Music: I love music and voraciously ued to collect CDs (of course, it’s all digital downloads of late). I roam genres freely and can find something to love in almost all types of music. I grew up listening to classical music and learned to play a number of instruments (recorder, piano, trombone, clarinet). As a rebellious teenager trying to find his place in the world, I had a high school metal/punk band with a few buddies. I sang (yelled?), played keyboards and sincerely hope there are no surviving recordings. If I had to identify a pattern of my last few years of listening, it’s been a consistent journey towards warmer, more acoustic, more authentic sounds from all corners of the world (which does not, however, exclude “electronic” music in any way). I’m also a meticulous “ingester” of music into iTunes because in one way or another, almost all of my actual listening these days takes place on digital devices. Connected to my love of music is my ongoing exploration into affordable high-end (digital) audio equipment. I am thoroughly enthusiastic about all the new DACs and other equipment that actually makes digital music sound like “real” music. I’m not nostalgic for vinyl, nor do I believe (like Neil Young) that all current digital music formats are terrible (although I can hear their limitations and would like to see them evolve). I manage a rather large iTunes library, and I take pride in managing it well (8,700 albums and counting). I find that organizing and labelling my digital music properly and consistently is a kind of meditative hobby for me, and I’ve written a surprisingly popular blog post about how to manage your iTunes metadata for classical music.
Politics: The longer I live in a developed country (you’ll remember I spent my younger years in the decidedly skewed surrounds of living in a developing country as a comparatively privileged person), the clearer it becomes to me that civil liberties — particularly in relation to our newly emerging digital world — are the most important principles of social living, and therefore the most important parameters of society that need our unwavering commitment and vigilance. Other social parameters can, should and do shift (religion, marriage, economics, the politics of the day), but the bedrock principles should remain the same: the rule of law, the separation of powers, the separation of church and state, fairness and equality, the right to privacy, social justice. Yet governments and corporations habitually chip away at these rights and freedoms — small infringements here, large transgressions there — as a matter of conducting the business of power, and I believe strongly that it’s everyone’s duty to keep an eye on them. It shouldn’t — doesn’t — matter which end of the political spectrum you subscribe to. The means of speaking truth to power (big or small; habitual or once in a while; because we’re committed to a cause or just because we’re outraged) are at our ready disposal now — everyone owns a smartphone, many are on Twitter, Facebook or maintain a blog. I used to be a member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and would like to become one again, but the organization mysteriously doesn’t appear to have a membership category for “lay” people anymore (only lawyers).
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