January 13, 2014

Time to Ask the Tough Questions

Amanda Lang’s book, “The Power of Why,” was written to demonstrate the role curiosity plays in fostering innovation in business and our everyday lives. Innovation is not necessarily about coming up with big, revolutionary ideas. Instead, it can arise from small improvements, the combination of existing ideas, and continuously asking questions. For instance, the Four Seasons hotel chain was based on founder Izzy Sharp’s question of why hotels were discomforting and customers were considered temporary and anonymous. Instead, he felt customers should be treated as honoured guests and the rooms should be equipped as if it was what he wanted in his own home. He was also known for adopting McDonald’s idea of consistent service, though certain employees ridiculed the idea of a luxury hotel chain learning from McDonald’s.

It is possible for anyone to be an innovator, given innovation can be based from even the smallest of improvements. Innovation can be nurtured by encouraging failure as a learning tool, acting on ideas with the appropriate follow through, and collaborating with those from different backgrounds. Expertise is not truly necessary and can sometimes be a hindrance to innovation. A good example is BlackBerry, which was a dominant player in the smartphone industry when the touch screen phones such as the iPhone and Android-based phones started gaining popularity in 2008. BlackBerry insisted on sticking with their physical keyboard and business expertise, but saw their market share collapse to a point many app developers no longer support BlackBerry and the company’s future is uncertain.

Why is innovation relevant to politics?

While reading this book, I ended up being curious about how curiosity can play a role in politics and civic engagement. Politics requires the recognition and negotiation of differences in order to achieve political outcomes. That in itself leads to the need for collaboration, which is essential under minority governments where the governing party needs at least one opposition party to pass legislation or face an election. Collaboration is also needed between elected officials, non-government organizations, and the general public to address local concerns the best way possible. Through collaboration, all parties are able to take each other’s input and continuously improve for future situations. Before one can go explore new ideas and collaborate with others, there needs to be a basis for such ideas and this is where asking questions comes in. For instance, a free trade advocate may ask why companies are hindered from selling their goods in certain countries, or a cycling advocate may ask why cycling is unsafe on certain streets.

How can you exercise political curiosity?

One of the most effective ways you can exercise your political curiosity is to attend a public hearing on a topic that is relevant to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions or make comments at such hearings, and always identify yourself and the organization you represent (if applicable). Depending on time constraints, a brief personal impact statement can make your deputation more effective. These tips would help provide panelists and other attendees an understanding of the perspective you bring, as well as possible opportunities to network after the hearing, which could lead to further opportunities to get involved.

As stated in previous posts, you can also get involved by contacting elected officials, joining community groups, attending rallies, and volunteering during political campaigns. While it can be difficult to find opportunities at first, it gets considerably easier once you get your foot in the door. With a new year under way, I encourage you to make exercising your political curiosity your goal for 2014!

I’ll close this post with a classic clip from Royal Canadian Air Farce!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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