Tag Archives: Gumboot Army

Why count salmon? trying to get the salmon story straight…

Dr. Suess wisdom

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…

There’s some wisdom in this great old rhyme. And for some reason it is also a very popular search term to find this website which leads folks to this post from last year — Why count salmon?. (Whether folks stick around or not is another story…)

As mentioned in that post:

I haven’t seen the book in awhile; however, I don’t think there were any rhymes about “mark-recapture” sonar hydroacoustical  split-beam single-beam DIDSON data capturing salmon counting wonder tools.

See if Suess’ fish on the right were captured by one of these techno-gizmos utilized for counting salmon they’d show up as some grainy fuzzy blob resembling a baby ultrasound image.

See that silver streak in the image on the right… that’s a sockeye… red and green fish… can’t you tell?

If you go to this site (Using Sound Images to Count Salmon in the Fraser River, 2004) you can watch a little movie of this blip going by.

That paper also explains: Why would a fish biologist use an imaging sonar system to count fish?:

…Fisheries managers first allocate a portion of returning sockeye salmon to meet annual escapement goals (the number of fish returning to their home stream to spawn to sustain each stock) and then the remaining fish are allocated to harvesting by First Nations, commercial and recreational fisheries.

Reliable escapement data is a key requirement for effective management of sockeye salmon. Historically, the escapement of sockeye salmon stocks for which pre-season forecasts predict more than 25,000 fish will be returning is measured using a mark-recapture program (MRP).

These programs involve capturing and marking returning salmon below their spawning grounds and then constant monitoring of the spawning grounds to determine the ratio of marked to unmarked fish. Knowing the ratio of marked to unmarked fish recaptured and the total number of fish that were marked downstream, the number of fish that return can be estimated.

As a result of stock-rebuilding efforts that were initiated in 1987, the number of stocks exceeding the 25,000 fish criterion (changed to 75,000 fish in 2004) has increased, placing considerable pressure on the resources available for assessing sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River. A mark-recapture estimate requires a large field crew and since sockeye salmon begin returning to their streams in July and may not finish spawning until late November or early December, these programs are both labour-intensive and costly to operate. [my emphasis]

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Hmmm. So let’s recap:

Reliable data is a key requirement of effective management… mark recapture studies are labour intensive… we are still “estimating” regardless of method… AND we have changed the threshold of what runs are considered important enough to try and enumerate — it was 25,000 but now it’s 75,000.

Does this then mean that we are only concerned about the larger runs and are focusing less and less on the smaller runs — those smaller runs which are the key components of biodiversity?

And… now our data is actually less reliable because between 1987 and 2004 we were trying to collect data on all runs larger than 25,000. After 2004, it’s now only runs greater than 75,000.

What happened to all of those runs that were less than 25,000? And all the runs that are between 25,001 and 74,999?

And what’s going to happen to runs that were greater than 75,000 after 2004, but have now dwindled to less than 75,000 — do we stop counting?

What happens, for example, if all the Fraser sockeye runs become less than 75,000? Do we stop enumerating?

At that point, the status-quo measurement of ‘economic values’ of the sockeye fishery would be next to nil — and so why would a Department of “Fisheries” and Oceans be concerned about these fish if there were limited “fisheries” focusing on them?

Say for example… like North Atlantic Cod… what is the comparison of resources spent on enumerating and counting cod stocks when there were intensive industrial fisheries — as compared to now after they were “managed” into oblivion?

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One of the main questions I might ask here is: WHY?

For data to be “reliable” it needs to be collected in some form of similarity or compatibility… doesn’t it?

As one meaning of “reliable” suggests: “Yielding the same or compatible results in different clinical experiments or statistical trials.”

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In the same paper, the authors suggest:

What are we doing? We are investigating the dual-frequency identification sonar (DIDSON) technology as alternative method for counting fish in sockeye salmon stocks that are assessed with mark-recapture programs, i.e., large returning stocks. Sonar is a non-invasive, non-destructive technique for monitoring the abundance of fish populations and this is an important advantage given the high esteem for sockeye salmon in British Columbia.

And so… as stated, the DIDSON technology is meant to replace those pesky labour-intensive mark-recapture programs — on large returning stocks.

So what are we doing for the small stocks — vital to biodiversity, and bears, and birds, and bees, and so on?

As the article points out… there are only a few rivers on the entire Fraser (of the 150 or so in the Fraser that support sockeye) that are conducive to utilizing DIDSON technology.

Based on a combination of in-stream testing and site visits in 2004, we found that the physical characteristics and fish behaviour at 9 sites on 6 rivers in the Fraser River watershed permitted effective use of the DIDSON system for counting sockeye salmon…

…We identified six river systems in the Fraser River on which the DIDSON imaging system can be effectively used to count returning adult salmon. All six rivers (Chilko, Horsefly, Mitchell, Scotch, Seymour and the lower Adams River) support large and important sockeye salmon stocks.

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This isn’t to take away from the potential value of utilizing technology like DIDSON in some systems… the fundamental problem here is this automatic focus on “large and important” stocks.

Who is making these assessments on what stocks are “important”?

And based on what criteria?

“Large and important” seems to automatically assume that stocks which are the focus of commercial fisheries — are the “important” ones; simply because they are “large” runs.

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What is the fundamental conclusion of the paper?

Using the DIDSON system to estimate the escapement of some of the major sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River is likely to improve data quality in terms of its accuracy and precision and this improvement may be achieved at lower cost to existing stock assessment programs because the labour and operating costs of a DIDSON system are lower than similar costs for a mark-recapture study on the same stock.

So was there a time when the people of BC and Canada suggested to the federal government that certain departments better find a ‘cheaper’ way to enumerate salmon?

Was there a time when folks said: “hey Department of Fisheries and Oceans, could you please just focus on the large and important stocks only please”?

Could one safely assume then, that if we are only doing enumeration programs on “large and important stocks” that we’ve largely given up on the small and vital stocks? That habitat for all stocks is not really all that important? That when ‘economic’ commercial fisheries have largely disappeared that there will be little purpose in counting salmon?

What would the 100,000 or so strong Gumboot Army in BC — folks dedicated to local streams, streamkeeper groups, volunteer NGOs, etc. — have to say about this?

The trend of counting salmon in BC — is brutal — cuts, after cuts, after cuts have meant enumeration programs up and down the coast of BC, all through the interior, and so on have disappeared.

Often meaning we have little year-over-year comparisons to see just how bad the salmon collapses really are — especially in the millions upon millions of small streams in B.C. The small streams that collectively may represent more salmon than any of the big systems, e.g. “large and important”.


Fisheries management is not about “managing” the fish… it’s about managing us.

Vancouver Sun image

Yesterday, Dr. Brian Riddell had an article printed in the Vancouver Sun.

A ‘sea change’ for wild Pacific salmon

As Dr. Riddell suggests:

This historic sockeye run is providing a wonderful “teachable moment” that should restore hope in the face of what has been a growing sense of disillusion about the future for wild salmon in British Columbia.

It could also usher in a much-needed “sea change” in our appreciation of wild salmon and our willingness to invest in a better understanding of this resource.

He continues:

…If nothing else, these past two years should be cause for humility about our understanding and management of wild salmon…

…Our immediate response must be to investigate the causes of this extreme change. If we don’t respond and simply monitor next year’s return, then we are only watching salmon and not managing them.

It is this phraseology, this paradigm, this giant assumption — that causes things to go off the rail for me.

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To “manage” means: “To direct or control the use of; handle.”

“Management” means: “The act, manner, or practice of managing; handling, supervision, or control.”

Now if we look at the roots of this word it comes from Italian maneggiare “to control, train (especially horses)”. This evolved from Latin manus: hand.

See…now, my wife is a horse trainer by profession. She has spent a good part of her life with horses; her adult life ‘training’ horses. And thus she has a good understanding of the Italian roots of the word “management” — in relation to training horses.

And I think I can safely say that she would be one of the first people to say that ‘training’ of a horse does not in turn give one outright “control” or “management” of a horse. As the old rhyme goes: a horse is still a horse of course… (or something to that effect).

I can tell you quite honestly that horses scare the crap out of me. They are damn big animals, they could squash me like nothing, and the whole idea of getting on their back, many feet off the ground, and thus at the whim of their instincts and temperament… it’s not my first choice for adrenaline kicks. My “management” of horses sucks.

My wife’s “management” is much, much better. Yet… yet, these are still beasts of the animal kingdom with wild instincts and she’d probably be the first to suggest this.

The whole reason for “managing” them  — e.g. ‘handle’; ‘control’; ‘supervise’; (in my humble, non horse trainer opinion) is simply for the simple reason that we (humans) would like horses to operate to our (human) benefit. Be it work, kids pets, transportation, racing, entertainment, and so on.

And thus, I can see where the roots of the word “management” make sense in this case — and that the ultimate Latin roots of “hand” also make sense. We have a “hand” in dictating the relationship between humans and horses…

Wild salmon, though…?

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Returning to one of Dr. Riddell’s comments: “If we don’t respond and simply monitor next year’s return, then we are only watching salmon and not managing them.”

It’s an odd statement really… truthful on one side; in that, yes, if we mean ‘manage’ as in the definition of the word, then watching is not: “controlling”, “supervising”, or “handling”… it’s simply watching — or observing, pondering, seeing patterns, and so on.

Well, gee, that kind of sounds like how salmon were cared for well before “fisheries management” and its good buddy “fisheries science” came around. Traditional and community knowledge all around the Pacific Rim — throughout the historic range of Pacific salmon — had an amazing amount to do with watching and observing.

Actually, that’s the fundamental base of all biology, or even science isn’t it?

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“1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws…”
But, what is “study”?
1. a. The act or process of studying.
b. The pursuit of knowledge, as by reading, observation, or research.
2. Attentive scrutiny.

Curious… that sounds like “watching” or “observing”…

And oddly enough, a second definition of “science” suggests:

“2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation

However, this doesn’t seem to fit with fisheries scientist Dr. Riddell’s view:

Watching and waiting isn’t management, ignoring issues won’t resolve them, and not investing in science simply generates new costs down the road.

But ‘watching and waiting’ are an integral part of salmon science — aren’t they? And isn’t investing in ‘salmon science’, simply mean, investing $$ to watch and observe?

And isn’t watching and waiting an essential component of salmon management?

We watch, and/or count, salmon through a wide variety of means. Eggs go into the gravel, we watch and wait… baby salmon come out of the gravel… we watch, and count… they go to sea… we wait… we watch… we count as they come back… We wait… we count… we watch…

It seems that maybe “fisheries science” and its practitioners is making this a heck of a lot more complicated then it needs to be.

As — in between all the watching and waiting… there’s computer modeling, and conferences, and Commissions, and lawyers, and managers, and meetings, and Ministers, and more meetings, and lobbying, and forecasting, and modeling, and a whole heck of a lot of paper pushing, paper filing, paper copying, papering in general, and jet flights, and per diems, day rates, and hotels, and conference centres, and pre-season forecasting, and jet flights, and waiting, and managing, and spending, and in-season modeling and forecasting, and, and, and, and…

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And… SO… after all this.

What is “fisheries management”? What is “salmon management”?

Couldn’t say it any better than a definition on Wikipedia:

Managing fisheries is about managing people and businesses, and not about managing fish.

Fish populations are managed by regulating the actions of people.

herring seiners

If fisheries management is to be successful, then associated human factors, such as the reactions of fishermen, bureaucrats, scientists, and government officials are of key importance, and need to be better understood.

Well phrased.

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And as such, I could not agree with Dr. Riddell’s comment more:

…more time and energy must be invested in the volunteer organizations that do the hands-on work of wild salmon conservation and habitat restoration in British Columbia.
Exactly right!

Included in there is the thousands of people around the Pacific Rim that have intimate traditional, local and community knowledge about salmon — brought about by generations of watching.

We can not, and never will, “manage” salmon. We can simply observe, study, and watch… and marvel at how much we just don’t know.

It’s the managing people that is the toughest piece of this puzzle. Investing more and more money into science is not the solution. And curiously enough… the culprits out there for the dire situation in the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) are pretty darn well known.

It’ us… again.

6.5 billion cubic metres of waste water every year out of Vancouver alone might have something to do with it. Over 100 small streams lost due to urbanization. Over half the population of BC flushing their toilets into outdated, underfunded waste water treatment plants, in turn dumped into the Salish Sea.

Fisheries management is not about “managing” the fish… it’s about managing us.

too much talking – not enough doing.

A fitting post over at one my favored morning blogs Good at talking vs. good at doing — at least in relation to marketing…. But then… pretty much everything is marketing these days. Consider my post from yesterday which discusses recent news articles surrounding an effort to have salmon as our Provincial fish.

barriers to migration

What is this? but little more than marketing.

Some folks figure that by having a fish as some provincial or national icon that this will change how we treat them. Fair enough; however, I see it as little more than marketing — or talking about things rather than actually doing things that matter.

Plus… how has this changed things for bald eagles in the United States? — a national icon. (not much…)

(This of course leads back to salmon — ironically enough — as some estimates suggest that over 75% of North America’s bald eagles migrate to the NW coast of this continent to feast on salmon every summer and fall — riding the thermals of the Rocky Mountains and other sections of crashing land masses.)

So then let me ask you this — with the decent little nugget of a post from Godin first:

Good at talking vs. good at doing

This is the chasm of the new marketing.

The marketing department used to be in charge of talking. Ads are talking. Flyers are talking. Billboards are talking. Trade shows are talking.

Now, of course, marketing can’t talk so much, because people can’t be easily forced to listen.

So the only option is to be in charge of doing. Which means the product, the service, the interaction, the effluent and other detritus left behind when you’re done.

If you’re in marketing and you’re not in charge of the doing, you’re not going to be able to do your job.

My question is: what is the Cohen Commission (the public inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye)?

Is it little more than a marketing exercise?

What will be “the product, the service, the interaction, the effluent and other detritus left behind” when the Commission is done?

The Commission is not to find fault with any particular organization (e.g. Department of Fisheries and Oceans) or individual — and Justice Cohen will simply make non-binding recommendations.

Here’s to hoping the detritus left behind is substantial, not simply marketing, and includes a whole lot of doing. That “doing” (in my mind) will hopefully include a fundamental overhaul of the federal department responsible for looking after wild Pacific salmon.

As you may notice in yesterday’s post — it appears that the department is failing salmon on both coasts: East and West. As I’ve suggested in past posts, there’s a disease it’s called East Coast cod-itis.

It’s symptoms include: change lethargy, repeated public inquiries, bulging of employee budgets, and an overall bureaucratic malaise. It does not appear to be terminal, and cures are as far away as cures for the common cold.

inspired by Saul Steinberg

And thus, I suppose when it comes to wild salmon we might as well settle into a prolonged period of snotty noses, sniffling, and fishy smelling sneezes when it comes to wild salmon…. or maybe — just maybe — the overall approach to looking after wild salmon may move from a mass marketing exercise to a mass doing exercise.

For example, further empowering the thousands upon thousands of folks involved in salmon stewardship (there have been short whiffs of this in the past from Fisheries and Oceans, things like the late 1990s $100 million Habitat Conservation and Stewardship Program) — as opposed to spouting off about “ecological mysteries” when Fraser sockeye populations have gone from highs of 160 million in the 1800s to devastating lows of 1 million last year.

The “ocean productivity” story is getting a bit old and stale… is it really so bad that we can go from 160 million to 1 million (remember of one species of salmon in one river) in about a 150 years?

If the productivity is really, truly that devastatingly bad — what does this mean for us? Aren’t we simply just one more critter in the ecosystem?

Crabfishing wisdom…and salmon management

There are three ways that this business operates:

Make things happen. Watch things happen. Or, sit there after and wonder what the f*#k happened…

I don’t want to be the latter…

This is the wisdom of Bering Sea crab boat captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie — who was made famous by the impressive show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. I watched the first episode of season six last night and had to write down that great tidbit of wisdom.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wild salmon and the institutions established to look after them — there’s a whole lot of the latter two.

Case in point:

  • Wild Salmon Policy.

In 1999, I was reviewing early drafts of the proposed Wild Salmon Policy. I still have some of this material sitting in boxes for future reference. There was some decent ideas and language in early iterations — and there was some crap.

Six years later, this Policy was finally legislated in 2005.

Eleven years later, ie., the present day. There is very little of this Policy enacted on the ground (and of course some folks in the Department might take issue with this). Nice language such as “conservation” is plastered all over the document, and “ecosystem-based management” and “conservation units”.

However, Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff complain about lack of resources to implement – and “challenges”, and “challenges”, and rinse and repeat if necessary…

Sure some things are happening – like “Pilot Studies” in Barkley Sound, the Skeena watershed, and the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI). Yet, there is some serious lack of “making things happen” and actually focusing on implementation (not for lack of staff).

“Conservation” remains a nice thought staring down from the top shelf of government offices that gets dusted periodically by cleaning staff every now and again; and ecosystem-based planning… well… it’s gone the direction of NASA’s lunar program: It got filed under: “lost”…

As, really, how does a department of “fish” and “oceans” start dealing with at least 137 different species that depend on salmon returns just in the freshwater environment alone:

Isn't it time you put your carcass to work?

(click on image to see PDF document from Salmon Nation)

Over ten years of Wild Salmon Policy-ing and we still can’t implement simple conservation measures on some salmon populations in death spirals.

Take the graph below for instance… I have clunkily finished off a DFO graph showing exploitation rates of Fraser River Chinook 4-2’s (Early-timed Chinook).

The “conservation” goal (remember this is DFO’s number one priority when it comes to fish) for last year was to cut fishing rates (i.e. exploitation) by 50% on Fraser early-timed Chinook.(this is besides the fact the Wild Salmon Policy clearly defines “conservation” as very separate from allocation and use of populations…)

This means exploitation should have been down around 22% (the avg. of 2006 and 2007).

They had a significant whoops factor in missing the conservation goal by almost 30%. Worse yet, DFO’s own numbers suggest that during low productivity (e.g. look at drop of survival rates from 1999 into 2000s) that 8-11% exploitation is all these stocks can handle.

The unfortunate thing with fish stocks is that they don’t do so well with “whoopsees factors” — look at East Coast cod. Or Early Stuart Sockeye on the Fraser River — they’ve been a conservation concern for at least 30 years and aren’t showing signs of bouncing back.

And thus, here we are… unfortunately… in a “watch things happen” mode when we most certainly need to be in a “make things happen” mode. However, when the dust clears (off that Wild Salmon Policy on the top shelf) I don’t think many of us we’ll be stuck in the: “what the f#*^ happened?” mode. The picture is clear… it’s missing that first step…

(* on a side note, I didn’t realize it until today, checking the spelling of the boat, that Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie passed away earlier this spring. Regards to his family and friends… he’s quite a character on the Discovery Channel documentary that’s been following the crab fleet for several seasons now.)

Searching for One Percenters?

As I set out to finally compile and write a book or two on the topic of salmon and on the Wild Salmon Cycle (the 10,000 km bicycle trip I completed in 2003 through the North American range of Pacific Salmon) – and before launching this blog – I took a pretty good look around online to see what was being said about “salmon”.

I was pretty damn surprised to find… not much.

Sure, there are the usual advocacy and research-oriented websites – and interesting organizations like The Wild Salmon Center. Check them out they do some neat stuff around the entire Pacific Rim and world of Pacific salmon.

Search salmon recipes and you will find no shortage of results, or salmon fishing… look out.

Over the three years that I peddled away completing the Wild Salmon Cycle – and in the years of contract work before that; I had heard about, heard from, and met a rather impressive array of people involved in salmon-related conservation, stewardship, and/ stream cleaning projects. I met people active for years on salmon-related projects in the Sacramento River in California, the Eel River towards northern California, I saw signs for projects near Olympia, Washington, I worked on salmon stewardship projects in the Yukon on the Yukon River, I met people involved in projects in Alaska, and as I mentioned in a posting yesterday there is a veritable Gumboot Army charging around the streams of BC – some suggest over 200,000 strong.

So then why can’t I find so much more in this age of social media and social marketing?

I’m not sure why and I am set on finding out.

In earlier postings I have mentioned Seth Godin a few times – social marketing guru. I’ve also mentioned he’s a pretty neat guy, and also has one of the most popular blogs going. This month he released another free ebook called “What Matters Now“. It’s a collection of thoughts from a wide range of folks. It’s a good read, with links to all the writer’s blogs, books, and websites featured in the book (haven’t waded through all that yet).

One of the pages in the books is called “1%”.

The story is about a couple of folks who created a product called “Bacon Salt”. Sounds rather obscure and odd, however it’s bacon-flavored salt. The two folks who created it had no food experience and no marketing budget. So what do they do?

They go online and through social marketing they find bacon enthusiasts; strike up a conversation, and eventually through a small percentage of the people contacted word starts to spread. A few months later the buzz is increasing. All of a sudden articles, TV appearances and the coup de grace: Oprah. They launch a bunch of other bacon flavored products and a successful brand is created.

The key to the success is that it didn’t begin with a social network of millions of members, and even if it did those millions wouldn’t be the buzz-spreaders –  it was a tiny percentage of the enthusiasts that started the buzz.

Approximately 1% – these are the One Percenters.

The authors of this little piece suggest that the One Percenters:

are often hidden in the crevices of niches, yet they are the roots of word of mouth…. This year your job is to find them and attract them.

So in this Pacific Rim niche – I am searching for the one percenters of salmon enthusiasts…. I would like to feature stories, tell stories, read stories, and maybe even generate some buzz along the way.

"red/yellow/green" system… maybe-proof your organization

So it’s 11 p.m. at night and I am up rocking our new baby to sleep, as he’s a bit confused about the difference between day and night.

As I was rocking, I’ve been  reading Seth Godin’s book: small is the new big: and 183 other riffs, rants, and remarkable business ideas. It’s a collection of Godin’s blog entries that he decided to publish once he reached one thousand entries.

I came across one that got me thinking about the Wild Salmon Policy – yeah apologies, another suggestion or two for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and/or the politicians that bring about political will for change.

See, back in the late 1990s I caught wind of this innovative new policy that DFO would be introducing. It would change the way wild salmon were managed on the West Coast. This was not long after the years of “zero mortality” on coho. In the mid to late 1990s, coast-wide in BC, coho declines had a lot of people more agitated than members of parliament exposing another ‘scandal’ – so a zero mortality policy was adopted and all coho caught were to be released.

(side note: I’d be curious to see stats from that year on seals, sea lions, and orcas that simply hung around sport fishing boats and fishing lodges and gorged themselves on the ‘catch-and-release’ coho that were released and either floated belly up or began sinking to the bottom. Next best thing than just having salmon injected intravenously.)

(not to mention the number of coho that accidentally landed in the back of pick up trucks near sunset…)

In 2000 and 2001 I began to hear a lot more about the Wild Salmon Policy. At that time I took on a contract with one of the larger environmental organizations in BC. My job was “Gumboot Campaigner” and I was to meet with community organizations around the Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and organize an active voice, which would then be coordinated to affect how and when the Wild Salmon Policy would be implemented.

Estimates at that time suggested that somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 people around BC were active in salmon-related projects – from streamkeeper organizations to weekend creek clean-up efforts. Regardless of the number; it’s significant. The Gumboot Army – as they were, or have been, labelled. (I’ll write more about this in future postings).

So it’s now the sunset of the first decade of the 2000s. In a little over a week we will be into 2010. The Wild Salmon Policy is still not fully, or effectively implemented in BC. Over a decade of consultation, changing (aka bickering) governments, watering-down, beefing-up, strategizing, visioning, brainstorming, break-out groups, PowerPoint, spreadsheets, lost agendas, and enter other bureaucratic bumblings [here].

Godin has a great little riff that could shift things… “maybe-proofing your organization”. The strategy is the “red/yellow/green system”. Godin explains it like this:

Is it possible to manufacture little emergencies so that everyone in an organization has to say yes or no? Is it possible to create … decision situations when, simply sitting there inertly isn’t an option? It is possible to create a “maybe-proof” organization.

Some of the best project management that I’ve ever seen has happened in companies that use the “red/yellow/green” system. It’s based on a very simple, very visible premise: Every single person in the division of a company that’s launching a major new initiative [or policy] has to wear a button to work every day. Wearing a green button announces that you’re on the critical path. It tells everyone that the stuff that you’re doing is essential to the product’s launch – that you’re a priority. If you don a yellow button, you’re telling your coworkers that you’re on the periphery of the project, but that you have an important job nonetheless. And wearing a red button sends the signal that you have an important job that’s not related to the project.

When someone with a green button shows up, all bets are off. Green buttons are like the flashing lights on an ambulance, or the requests of a surgeon in an operating room: “This is a life-or-death path,” green buttons say, “and you’d better have a damn good reason if you’re going to slow me down.” When a person wearing a yellow or red button meets up with someone wearing a green button, that person understands that it’s time to make a decision: “How can I help this green button get on with the critical job?” Or, at the very minimum, “How can I get out of the way?”

Of course, people can change their button color every day, or even several times during the course of a meeting. But once you adopt the button approach to project management, several things immediately become clear: First, any company that hesitates to make people wear buttons because it’s worried about hurting employees’ feelings isn’t really serious about the project – or about creating a culture in which decisions get made. In fact, if you duck the buttons, you’ll just keep ducking other decisions. Second, folks don’t like wearing red buttons: They’ll work very hard to find a way to contribute so that they can wear a green button. And there are plenty of people who are totally delighted to wear a yellow button. Third, the CEOs, project leaders, and team leaders can quickly learn a lot about who’s accomplishing what inside of a company.

Godin asks: “Would it make you take an important – if painful – look at your own decision-making style if you were issued a button each day that signaled your decision-making readiness?”