"Continuously search for all the stories within and without your organization that fill your big story with proof and bring it to life – credibly and authentically, verifiably and true. No matter how small or irrelevant they may seem: They are the only currency you have that differentiates you from your competition. Messages, Brand Ambitions, Visions, and all those bullshit-bingo Whatchmacallits are interchangeable, just hot air, written by expensive agencies to make you feel special. What truly makes you special are your stories, and your people or the people who make up your target audiences, for they are your stories’ heroes." Robert McKee
And so begins our "story train". The stories, like cars in a train, are distinct units, but linked together in their journey that will define Ember Advisory. These are stories about our experiences but some are also metaphors about the shifts underway in technology,
The Old Man & the Blackberry
Murray River is a little hamlet on the east coast of PEI. Like most small places, it’s built around a harbour. One summer my young son and I were invited aboard a commercial fishing boat with nearby residents to try our hand at catching something memorable. Instead, it was an afternoon of technology salesmanship.
The captain of the boat was a guy named Gabe Gormley. Gabe was right out of central casting: a big burly fellow that liked his beer and got down to the business of fishing in an easy, gentle but no-nonsense way. Not quite Captain Quint of the movie Jaws fame, but close.
Once out of the harbour we dropped our lines in the flat seas and did what most fishermen do: waited and talked. I was interested in Gabe’s business, so I starting asking about the season so far, the weather, the market prices for product, labour etc. As a gear guy, I was also checking out Gabe’s rig and electronics he had on board. Fishing wasn’t cheap. There was diesel fuel to buy, endless boat repairs, beer of course and equipment like the GPS system I was playing with. “Break that and we’d be in trouble” he said. It was a big, old clunky system with a green and black screen showing his boat’s location in the Northumberland Strait. It did the job, but it was pretty basic.
The conversation switched to me whereby I told of Gabe about my career at BlackBerry at the time. He had heard of the company but never had handled a device before (this was several years ago). I showed him the sea grey coloured Pearl model (appropriately) I had with me and demonstrated it’s built in GPS receiver and native maps application. On the device’s little blue screen, there was his boat slowly moving along the map surface. I switched to satellite view and the screen came alive with roof tops of the village, trees and other boats. Zoom in and you could see waves and currents. Gabe saw his house. I switched to a weather app and showed him the forecast (rain was coming) with animated Doppler radar. Gabe was pretty captivated.
He asked what this handheld wonder cost. Depending on your plan, under two hundred bucks plus a monthly service contract – itself, maybe thirty of forty dollars I said. He eyed the existing GPS system installed on his wooden cockpit. No doubt it did a bit more navigation wise, but cost thousands of dollars. It was a dirty grey box, it wasn’t a phone, didn’t hook up to the Internet, and didn’t have a camera or a neat game called Brick Breaker. It was a handy place to put his beer. I let him play with the BlackBerry and he let my son and I work the boat.
“Keep it to the right young fella” I heard from behind me a little while later. I turned expecting to see Gabe’s grisly chin and oiled sweater over my shoulder, peering ahead at the navigation buoy off Gordon’s Island – a meaty hand ready to take the wheel. Instead, Gabe was sitting well aft of the wheelhouse, a beer in one hand and the BlackBerry in the other, gazing at our progress by watching his boat on the phone’s screen. It was like he was piloting a sea born drone from afar, his big thumb flicking at the buttons, and rather liking it.
Sometimes the barrier to technology adoption is veneer thin (in this case, as thin as an oyster shell). You just need to put it in their hands and then you have them hook, line and sinker.
LowTech vs. HighTech
RCAF Ground Observer Corps. The Eyes and Ears of the RCAF
“Canada is many things to many people…but in all of us it is something precious enough to be protected”
This is a true story. And that statement was made in the St Maurice Valley Chronicle April 10, 1958. In the 1950s the world was a scary place. Our American friends to the South were convinced that the Russians would launch a nuclear attack coming over the North Pole. This made Canada’s unprotected North a priority in defense circles. The US lobbied Canada to install a massive radar defense shield across this huge expanse. This would take serious time and money and the perceived threat was imminent. Canada was forced to come up with an alternative plan. The “Ground Observer Corps” was born in 1951. The slogan was RCAF Ground Observer Corps : "The eyes and ears of the RCAF". At its peak 50,000 Canadian volunteers leant their eyes and ears to the effort.
A dedicated team recruited, trained and coached a team of volunteers from Canada’s native communities in the far North so watch the sky for planes. Identify them by their silhouette and report sightings via radio from the closest outpost, often a trading post or church. Detractors, particularly those in the South thought it could never work. People with pictures of Russian planes printed on paper, looking into the sky with bare eyes, running off by dog sled or on foot to find the closest radio in the event of an attack.
Did it work? One day in the late 1950s a call came in to the Filter Centre in North Bay, Ontario. A Ground Observer Corps member radioed in a report that a plane had gotten into trouble. The pilot ejected. He reported that it was not a Russian plane but a Canadian fighter on patrol. Impressed with the report, the officer taking the call asked the Corp member for coordinates where the pilot had landed. The reply came “Sir, I can’t tell you…. (pause) He has not landed yet….. (pause) I’m still watching him come down.”
So on that day the non technical solution showed that billions of dollars of the latest technology can be made irrelevant by well trained, well meaning people with some basic tools? How do I know it’s a true story? The officer who took that call, was my father, Warrant Officer, Bill Scott.
Peter and the Arc
Living alone on his island Peter wanted more. Each day he rose in the shadow of his two palm trees, and wished for adventure. He would start the day by shaking the tree oh so carefully and catching a coconut as it fell from the tree.
Each day there would be fresh coconuts ripe as could be on the two trees that were the only plants on the island. Each day he would shake the tree three times; once for breakfast, once at lunch time and once in the evening for dinner.
Also unexplainably, Peter could not remember when his time on his tiny island started. If Peter had parents, they had been lost from his memory. So now all Peter remembered was the day before. And each day was like the day before, so soon they ran into one another. Wake up in the shadow of the palm trees. Stretch. Shake the tree until a coconut falls. Eat the fruit of the coconut and drink the milk for breakfast. Spend the morning tidying the sand on the island and then have lunch. Same trees, same coconuts. The afternoon was normally spent walking around the island. Around and around he walked until he got dizzy and he had to sit to down in the sand. After a nap, he would wake, shake a tree, eat another coconut and watch the sun set over the ocean. Peter would then fall asleep under the stars wishing for something to change; something different to break the boredom.
One night he dreamed a strange dream. He dreamed of a great arc that sailed the seas. Aboard the arc were many people, animals and wonders of the world. Peter woke in the shadow of the palm tree with an uncomfortable feeling. Nothing had changed on the island, but Peter felt a little uneasy. He could not quite put his finger on it, but the memory of a dream was lodged in his mind. It was an uneasy feeling which lasted through breakfast, lunch and dinner. The memory was stuck with enough if it around to make Peter feel uncomfortable, but he kept to the same regiment, morning, noon and night. Three days later when he woke, he felt quite out of character; instead of shaking the trees for breakfast, he cut them down, tied them together into a raft and set out for adventure on the open sea.
As he floated on the sea he saw many tiny islands like his own; each with two palm trees and a sole inhabitant. Each shouted to him “what are you doing cutting down your only source of food and setting out on the open sea?”. I am looking for man building the arc. Come join me.” Peter replied. Most didn’t. Some did. They cut down their two palm trees and lashed them to Peter’s. This went on and on for some time until Peter and his growing crew came upon an island where the man was frantically cutting down his palm trees and waving at Peter and the crew. Peter shouted out what are you doing man those trees are your only source of food?” The man replied, “I see that you have built a great arc, and I wish to join you on your adventure”.
Sometimes great innovation is a surprise to the innovator, because he or she is focused on the vision. That vision was only be realized because Peter took the initiative to go “all in”. The story's relates to the move toward open movement in software. Note. I wrote this story at age 16 for a grade eleven English assignment. It was well received at the time.