Once Upon A Time: August Newsletter


Perhaps you’ve noticed the change in our new and improved, 100% organic, zero-calorie, gluten-free newsletter. It also now provides 13 essential vitamins and minerals. Okay, okay … we just reckoned it was due for a wash and wax … hope you like it.

Stay curious,


How We’re Being Schooled

Politics has always been and may always be a blood sport with one goal: win, to gain and keep power. And I’m not suggesting that’s necessarily bad, you’ve got to get the job to do the job, but it’s different than governing which, in a democracy, usually means working for the greater good.
We try hard to stay out of politics in this little tome, but public policy (which we certainly get into) and politics are often conflated, sometimes for the benefit but usually to the detriment of the greater good. I’m confident in saying that the current U.S. administration has taken the use of public propaganda, misinformation, bullying, distraction, obfuscation and media manipulation to a remarkable level. This particular period of political time will be the subject of debate and psychoanalysis for years to come, and that’s what’s of interest to me – and probably you, who’ve had front row seats to this reality show, and who also work with the public. Why on Earth would we think people would trust government when they’ve been subjected to a carefully crafted and well executed campaign designed to reinforce fear, dread and hate of these institutions. We need to pay attention and learn from the covert and overt actions and nuances of these days because this new public communication and engagement reality is fundamentally effecting the way that citizens view public leadership, and how we’ll need to adjust the way we work with regular people and other more formal stakeholders. The following sums up quite nicely how we’re being schooled. Read More 


My colleagues and I have the privilege of working with lots of smart people and over the years we’ve seen inevitable changes supported by new research that shows we’re slowly losing some innate and critically important abilities. Interpersonal communication skills are waning in people who have been focused on pure science, technology or some other chosen specialty, especially when those people have now grown up in our constantly wired but socially disconnected world. Dealing with different people and their biases, unique beliefs and emotions is tough stuff, so oftentimes avoiding people, and the conflicts that they bring to the party, is usually everybody’s chosen option. Check your news feed to see how well that’s working. Almost everything changes … but some things that are actually 2000 years old haven’t – and shouldn’t. 
Communication of any kind persuades in some way by either adding to people’s existing understanding, changing perceptions or persuading people to take some action – like to participate in decisions that have some effect on their lives. Here’s another layer to consider. Read More …


This is a story about water allocation in Saskatchewan. Unless you happen to be a water policy geek, this probably sounds like a snoozer, but bear with me. This is actually a story about empathy and a lesson learned from a seemingly unlikely source. Creativity, adaptability, persuasion and empathy are (currently) beyond the capabilities of technology. The piece is kind of long and involved, so I’ll cut to the chase using a quote from the article: “As researchers, we need to promote interpersonal connections. This matters so that stakeholders communicate with each other about real consequences of poor allocation decisions and work together on solutions.” If you’re now curious about the details, please read on.
I read a great quote from Jamil Zaki: “Being a psychologist studying empathy today is like being a climatologist studying polar ice. Each year we discover more about how valuable it is, just as it recedes all around us.” He’s right of course; research and empirical evidence says that people are less empathic than ever before, primarily with people who are different from them. We might empathize with people in our own little tribe but not so much others. But on the heels of that comes research suggesting that babies as young as 6 months have shown signs of empathy. Does that mean, like hate, that we actually learn to be less empathetic? Read More …

Defusing a Confrontation

Once again, the following article feels like it focuses on internal business problems, but the fact is that it works in just about any kind of issue. Whether you’re working with difficult people in your office or facilitating a public meeting full of upset people, many of the principles are the same. Read More 

Once Upon A Time

Roger Schank is a cognitive scientist who said, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.” The days of experts delivering data and facts to educate and motivate people are over. We love stories because we’re able to inject ourselves into them, we relate to what we’re hearing and project … imagine ourselves in them. Here’s the why.
Smart public sector managers understand this phenomenon and now use it to their advantage in communicating with their citizens. Read More