Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ego, Arrogance, Incompetence and Crisis

The last week should have been a big eye opener for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It began with a stark, and sudden warning that the province would be plunged into rolling power black outs during extremely cold winter weather. People reacted with shock and disbelief when they discovered the outages were caused by "maintenance issues".

At least that was the original story. Planned maintenance on two generators and the breakdown of a third were named as the reason for the rolling black outs. Then it was the extreme weather - which wasn't that extreme. Then a switch yard blew up. Then it was the extreme weather and the maintenance. Then it was planned maintenance that had been delayed due to repairs of another generator. Then it wasn't planned maintenance, but rather maintenance caused by breakdowns. Then it was just plain repairs. As the week progressed so did the story.

The people were enraged. They've been told that the province's energy crown corp, Nalcor, was run by "world class" people, and they didn't need any uppity outsiders telling them what to do. It's a common refrain since Williams became premier here in 2003. They castigated the people who dare spoke in opposition to the obvious flaws in their power concepts and plans as "nay-sayers" and "known critics". Here, castigation is the best form of marginalization. In other words, to dare challenge the plans and actions of the government is somehow being anti-Newfoundland. Williams used to call them "traitors". Dunderdale has stuck with the "nay-sayers". A very small-minded response by very small-minded people.

Then reality hit when the rolling blackouts started happening during normal winter temperatures, and people became infuriated. They wondered out loud why their "world-class" system was not adequate. Nalcor came out with "no worries,its just planned maintenance". The government was absolutely silent. People were not satisfied. The talk talk shows lit up, and began running almost 24 hours a day. The provincial radio station VOCM  began running coverage like a mix of CNN and talk-show. People's outrage escalated as a sense of betrayal, and an absence of leadership combined to fuel the fire.

The explanations kept changing, and it became very clear that, instead of being given a clear picture, spin was the order of the day. A deliberate attempt to manage the truth. Mask it. That all changed when the switch yard exploded and three quarters of the Island's population were plunged into darkness and cold. Luckily for rural Newfoundland wood burning stoves are common, and people were able to keep themselves warm. In the urban centers things were different. They suffered more rolling blackouts and the severity of the mass outage was pronounced with their reliance on electrical heating.

Sadly, at least one person, and perhaps more, died during these events as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning - trying to keep their homes warm, but not ventilating them properly. So many people were admitted to hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning that one Eastern Health doctor called it an "epidemic".

Yet, despite the collapse of the fable that the government and Nalcor was in complete control of the "manifest destiny" of the province, Ms Dunderdale and Nalcor refused to accept responsibility. There was no one to be blamed. There was no flaw in the electrical system. There is no flaw in the government's "energy plan". All was as it should be and the people needed to do their part and not use the power that had been trumpeted as "endless".

Confidence has been shaken. The propaganda-like nationalism surrounding electrical power has been severely shaken. The trust with government and Nalcor has been destroyed. After not making one appearance in the first 48 hours of the crisis, Dunderdale suffered so much criticism she held three press conferences in one day - damage control that failed. Yet the government and Nalcor clung to the myth that they can do no wrong. That the whole fiasco was not a "crisis" - even though 71% of the people believed it was in a province-wide radio poll. Dunderdale called it a "critical time" but not a "crisis".

It's all a symptom of the same thing really. Arrogance and incompetence. Too arrogant to admit incompetence, and too incompetent to admit arrogance. Media and some talk shows continuously call this a "bad PR" plan, or the government "out of control of the message". In reality, it's just the most recent example of a crisis in leadership through out the political and, in some ways, business circles of the province. Egos inflated by nationalism, bolstered by arrogance, and rooted in incompetence.    

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