Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

Choosing our words wisely

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It is one of those words that, through its overuse by bureaucrats, politicians and other members of the snake-charming family, loses its meaning in the company of rational men and women. That’s precisely why it is so easily misunderstood.

Still, we are informed, there can be no higher road on which to travel, no finer boulevard on which to set forth than the path of innovation. Wisdom’s lengthy annals are replete with expert advice on the subject.

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd,” said Winston Churchill. “Without innovation, it is a corpse.”

Naturally, Bill Gates would concur. “I believe in innovation,” he once opined. “The way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.”

On the other hand, Steve Jobs argued that “innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

At the same time, he added, “innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”

Meanwhile, America’s very own Commander and Chief Innovator, Barack Obama, put it this way: “Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.”

Clever, to be sure. But I wonder whether we are any closer for having perused the witticisms to understanding what innovation really means.

Certainly, the dictionary is of no help. One of them defines the word as simply “the act of introducing something new; something newly introduced.”

Other terms, similar in meaning, include: invention, excogitation, conception, design, creative thinking, creativeness, creativity, concoction, and contrivance.

Then again, innovation can also mean change, revolution, departure, transformation, and upheaval.

In fact, it may just be that real innovation has as much to do with the tearing down of things than with their building up; that true innovation is not so much an act of generosity than it is one of brutal, protean self-expression.

Innovation is dangerous, and that scares bureaucrats, politicians and other members of the snake-charming family, who dress it up in its Sunday finest and park it in the parlor when gentlemen entrepreneurs come calling for government “investments”.

But, on the subject of innovation, at least one famous private enterpriser knows what he’s talking about. Here’s what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told a gathering of his assorted acolytes in October:

“Without a willingness to fail, you cannot innovate because most innovations won’t work. . .I cannot overstate how important (the) incremental innovation is. But for the big innovation, you have to be willing to fail. Every startup company faces that. Even big companies, like Boeing building the 787, face this. . .Use the critics as a mirror and ask if they are right. If they are right, then you change. If you think you don’t agree, then you should be stubborn on your vision. Part of being an inventor is that you have to have stubborn enough visions that many will think are wrong.”

We have, in New Brunswick (and, lately, in Canada as a whole), a tendency to think that failure of any sort is not worth the risk of taking a chance; even when, by not taking a chance, we risk almost certain disaster anyway.

What are our elected leaders actually doing that is at all innovative about the fiscal morass in which we find ourselves? What actual steps are they taking to generate real diversity into the local and so-called knowledge-based sectors of the economy?

Words are talismans. They possess the power to transform – to destroy and to remake the world – if we are innovative enough to let them.

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The passing art of political oration

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When I die, it’s a safe bet former Prime Minister Jean Chretien will not attend my wake. But if – against astronomically long odds – he does, I hope that he will speak straight from the heart, as he did the other day about former Fredericton Member of Parliament Andy Scott, who passed away at the tragically young age of 58.

“You know,” Mr. Chretien told CBC Radio, “he was no shit disturber. He was a good guy. I liked him very much.”

In fact “shit-disturbing” is how I roll, and I make no apologies for it. But the point is that the “little guy from Shawinigan” demonstrates in retirement what Canadians crave, and no longer get, from their political leaders in active service: clear evidence that blood, not antifreeze, courses through their veins.

The zombieification of public officials, which has been underway for some time, respects no political boundaries and makes no ideological distinctions. It is an equal-opportunity malady that renders its victims cold to the touch.

Consider these brittle bromides from the Conservative Party of Canada’s website: “(We believe) in keeping families strong. . .Due to our strong record of tax relief, we’re helping the typical family save over $3,100 a year.  Going forward, our Government is committed to keeping taxes low for families and all Canadians.”

Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada declares on the same subject: “(We believe) that when individuals and families are given the opportunity to succeed, the economy grows and Canadians become stronger. That’s why equality of opportunity is a fundamental Liberal principle.”

Not to be outdone, the New Democratic Party of Canada also “believes” in families, specifically, “(we believe) in a progressive tax system, taxing capital gains at the same rate as salaries or wages, ensuring that large profitable corporations pay a

fair share of taxes, targeting tax reductions to help the middle class, working families, and the poor, and combatting tax shelters and money laundering.”

How so very brave of them.

Still, compare and contrast this to remarks British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered to the Canadian parliament in 1941 on the war effort: “There shall be no halting, or half measures, there shall be no compromise, or parley. These gangs of bandits have sought to darken the light of the world; have sought to stand between the common people of all the lands and their march forward into their inheritance. They shall themselves be cast into the pit of death and shame, and only when the earth has been cleansed and purged of their crimes and their villainy shall we turn from the task which they have forced upon us, a task which we were reluctant to undertake, but which we shall now most faithfully and punctiliously discharge.”

Granted, the world is no longer engaged in a conflagration of WWII proportions. But that’s no excuse for boring people into a torpor. Did tedium serve the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when he addressed the Royal Proclamation Ceremony of the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982?

“The Canadian ideal which we have tried to live, with varying degrees of success and failure for a hundred years, is really an act of defiance against the history of mankind,” he declared. “Had this country been founded upon a less noble vision, or had our forefathers surrendered to the difficulties of building this nation, Canada would have been torn apart long ago. It should not surprise us, therefore, that even now we sometimes feel the pull of those old reflexes of mutual fear and distrust.”

As it happens, the recently departed Mr. Scott was, himself, a pretty good speech-maker. Here’s some of what he had to say at the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly in 2004: “I’m a new minister in a new job, but you have my commitment that I will work with you as a partner in good faith. . .Generations that will follow us will look on this time in Canada and this leadership for how we responded to the new spirit of cooperation that was there for all to see at the roundtable. I say with the deepest sincerity and conviction: we will not let them down.”

Unlike many of his peers in political life, Mr. Scott never dulled his tongue lest he appeared too human.

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