A Failure to Lead

I walk almost everywhere so my household only needs one vehicle, last night you didn’t fail me. Nope.

Last night you failed the children that are still in school and you gave them a public transit system that’s only marginally better than what we have today.

You failed the responsible people who have already chosen to forgo a second car to save money or for the environment, you told them (again) that cars are more important than public transit.

You failed the boomerang generation who will return to London after gaining invaluable experience in other cities, people who want to come home to raise their families after experiencing cities all over the world who made serious, politically difficult, investments in rapid transit.

You failed our families who can’t afford a car, you told them they’re not worth it.

You failed the people who are already doing more to reduce infrastructure investments than anyone else in the city.

You failed the students who bring more than $5,000,000,000 into London’s economy every year.

You failed the environment (in spite of your commitment in the London Plan for this to be a green city) because the worse this system is the fewer riders it will attract.

You failed every company who desperately needs to attract talent from other cities.

You failed every parent who could have gotten to spend a bit more time with their families.

You failed all those people standing at the tracks in February as their bus drivers unceremoniously kick them off the bus to wait for a train to pass.

You failed all these people by declining to build a high-quality rapid transit system. You failed by kicking the hard decision down the road for political expediency. You failed to do something today that will only get more expensive tomorrow. You failed to listen to the evidence presented so well by Councillors Helmer and Steven Turner. You failed The London Plan. You failed to have vision.

Tonight you’re going to have the urge to think you’re about to accomplish something great for our city but I hope you remember this letter and remember all of the ways that you failed the city last night.

Maybe tonight you’ll do better.

The Turd in the Pool

I hear that you’re looking to get into swimming for some fitness? That’s awesome. Have you heard about the new pool that the City is thinking about building?

The concept drawings were so beautiful It was an Olympic sized pool with hot tubs, saunas and towel service! But after years and years of planning and debate they scaled it way back but they say it’s going to be amazing. Sure it’s way more basic now but it’s still a great pool!

There’s just this one thing, there’s a turd in the pool.

Why is there a turd in the pool? Well it was designed into the pool from the start, it’s always been there. Some people argued that it was too expensive to remove the turd but that’s ok because the other 98% of the pool is just great! You can swim around and around in there for hours and you’ll probably never have an issue.

Some people were concerned that nobody would use a pool with a turd in it but I think it will be just fine, it’s almost entirely turd-free after all. They say that if the pool gets enough visitors they’ll give us the saunas and hot tubs later so that will be sweet, right?

Will the turd always be in the pool? Well there’s a few really loud, rich people who really want it in there so I guess it’s going to be there for a while. Do rich people ever use the pool? No, but they think that removing the turd will make life worse for them so we’ll just have to live with it for now.

Anyway, let’s stop focussing on the turd and look at all the positive things about the pool, it’s pretty big, it’s got top notch lifeguards, nice shower rooms, lockers and it’s almost entirely turd-free.

So what do you think? Great pool, right?

The Future Tech Red Herring

London is going through an extended and divisive debate over bus rapid transit (BRT) right now. The project is extraordinarily complicated and I don’t pretend to have more than superficial knowledge on most of it. Actually, I kind of doubt there is any one person in the city that could claim to know everything. The project ties in to several other huge initiatives including Dundas Place, The London Plan, Back to the River, London Bikes as well as a major road widening on Wharncliffe and an underpass project on Adelaide street. These projects, taken together, will change the face of this city for decades to come. And everything is connected.

One argument that keeps popping up over and over again in this debate – why don’t we just wait until the next generation of technology comes along? Just wait a while and all our problems will be solved.

There are a number of things wrong with this kind of strategy (it’s a stretch to call inaction a strategy but we’ll let that go for now). First of all, what future? Today it’s autonomous cars, tomorrow it’s hyperloop, the day after that it’s flying cars, and so on. Tech is moving so quickly it’s hard to know what’s vapourware and what will actually hit the market. You know what doesn’t move quickly? Governments. And society. And that’s not going to change any time soon.

All of these technologies are going to shake the foundation of our society. Even the tech that seems like it’s right around the corner like autonomous cars aren’t going to be embraced by the various levels of government any time soon. Why? Because there are a myriad of complicated issues to struggle with – tens of millions of people out of work across the continent (every truck, taxi, bus and forklift driver potentially out of work), redefining vehicle ownership (why own a car that sits idle for 95% of the time?), automobile insurance (who’s at fault when a driverless car kills someone?), ethical quandaries (what does it look like when a computer tackles the trolley problem?), transportation unions and a lot more that I’m not going to get into here. I can’t even begin to imagine the legislative and political agenda around these problems.

After those pesky little issues have been tackled you’re still facing another biggie – governments don’t do “cutting edge”. Governments don’t take risks, mostly because constituents don’t want them to (not with tax money anyway) and public transit is not going to be an exception any time soon. Governments want reliable, robust equipment with a proven track record. Every now and then a city will take a calculated risk but that’s the exception, not the rule. So even after this next generation of tech gets past all the regulatory hurdles it’s going to take a while to hit the public transit fleet in any serious way.

Another thing about early adoption? It’s bloody expensive. You know that the corporations that make this stuff are rubbing their hards when they think about all the extra money they can make. We’re going to have to wait a while before the price gets to a place that we can seriously look at integrating that into our system.

I think we’re going to see this tech appear for the first time at the edges of transit systems. We’re going to see solutions for first mile/last mile – small microbuses that pick you up at your door and shuttle you to the nearest rapid transit station. When you arrive at your destination you’re going to hop in another that takes you to your final destination. Leveraging mass transit between different areas of the city makes far more sense and is far more efficient than having 25,000 microbuses on the road, doesn’t it? These could be private microbuses or they could be an extension of the public transit network. But that’s not going to happen for 15-20 years.

The pro and con of buses is that they don’t have a huge life span and they aren’t long term investments. They age out relatively quickly which opens the door to adopting new tech as it hist that sweet spot: reasonably priced, well tested and not too risky. Diesel buses lead to electric buses lead to autonomous buses lead to light rail transit or hyperloop or something that we haven’t even dreamed up yet.

So what should we do? Well I think we should invest in those rapid transit corridors that will eventually integrate with that kind of tech. For London that’s BRT today and maybe upgrade that to Light Rail Transit (LRT) when we see where future tech is leading us.  Fortunately that’s exactly the plan that we have in front of us today: London BRT v1.0. Start small and grow.

We’re the very last large city in the country to implement a rapid transit system, that’s not because we’re smarter than the other guys, it’s because we’ve been overly cautious (green bins anyone?). I was a big proponent of LRT when this system was first proposed but I’m beginning to see the benefits in a phased approach to rapid transit in the city given the new technologies that are in their infancy.

What we cannot do is spin our wheels for another 20 years and make no mistake, that’s exactly what “wait and see” proponents are putting on the table. It’s time for London to get on the bus.

One more thing (and it’s kind of a big one) … you know what all that future tech has in common? It’s being designed and tested in California. I could be way off base here but I’m pretty sure that California has significantly less snowfall than Canada. Of course by 2030 maybe snow won’t be a problem anymore if climate change takes its course. Maybe autonomous boats are the tech we should be looking at?


The Hero London Needs

Staying positive and upbeat about rapid transit is hard. We’ve gave council a mandate for rapid transit and we asked for light rail. But they initially have us a hybrid LRT/BRT system before yanking that away and now we’re fighting tooth and nail to even get simple BRT. This isn’t what we wanted but this is what we’ve got. I know it’s hard to get excited about 3rd choice but you’ve seen some of them waffling in the news. Without strong leadership I fear we’re looking at the very real possibility of not getting a rapid transit system at all.

That means it’s on you and me, we’re going to have to get in front and give them the courage to lead. You have the ability to do this, to fill our council with the courage to get this done.

BRT isn’t sexy, it’s plain vanilla rapid transit but ANY rapid transit system is still going to be THE most important project that we have ever done in this city. Last year I heard someone say “If it’s going to be BRT then let’s make it the best BRT around”. So f**k yeah, bring it on and let’s get this city moving forward.

I know a lot of people who love London (I hope you’re one of them), people who want to leave a better city behind them. This is going to be OUR LEGACY.

So I am asking you to show up, I’m asking you to speak up. I’m asking you to come out next Wednesday, May 3rd to voice your support for this project. I ask this knowing that it’s going to be scary for some (I’m crapping myself already) and I know more of you are just tired of hearing about this project. I’m asking you to find your courage and your passion because it’s important for the future of this city we love, and because what London needs right now is YOUR voice.

You don’t need to say a lot to have a big impact, and if you can’t make it you can still write your councillor and the mayor to show your support. I have it on good authority that they are getting a lot of mail on this and a lot of it is asking to cancel this project. YOUR voice is important and we need to hear it NOW.

Please come out on Wednesday, May 3, please email your councillor TODAY, and please ask your friends and family to do the same. I’m asking you to stand up for something game-changing, for YOUR legacy and for the best damn BRT around.

See you next Wednesday and thank you for being the hero that London needs.

A Life Worth Living

I’m writing this just a few minutes before we launch a new company into the world. You would think that would cause a lot of jitters but it’s not … at least right now. I feel good, not happy, something bigger than happy. I feel like I’m about to embark on a meaningful journey.

Some would say that life’s all about finding happiness, well I gave up on happiness last year, it’s not good enough to be happy. Happiness is fleeting, gaining happiness for myself could mean misery for others and what the hell is happiness anyway? I don’t want to be lying on my death bed thinking how happy I was, I want to feel like I made a difference, like I tried to make a dent in the universe. That’s not happiness, that’s fulfillment.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on life over these past 10 months, there seems to be no end to the depth you can look if you really want to and it all starts with one simple question … “Why?” At some point most of us (I can think of a few exceptions) end up on this treadmill of life and we start going through the motions, looking for all the things that people have told us are along life’s path. How many of us stop to really examine where we are, how we got here and what makes us feel fulfilled?

Make no mistake “why” is a very hard question to answer and the pursuit of the answer will have you asking all kinds of uncomfortable questions, it will cause heated discussion, “why” is uncomfortable. Why is purpose. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Why doesn’t this make me feel happy? Why am I feeling this way? Why am I not excited to get out of bed today?

I don’t think I know my purpose entirely, even after almost a year of hunting around on my hands and knees with a magnifying glass, even after staring into the void for hours, even after pushing my body and mind farther than any other point in my life. But I can feel it, it’s getting closer, and today I’m taking a big leap forward.

I will share this journey with two incredible comrades (and friends), Chris, Jean-Paul and I are very different people but we share a common purpose and vision. If we can pull this thing off it has the potential to bring this feeling of fulfillment to other people and organizations. Is that a goal worth investing life in? Is that something that will make me smile at the end of my days? Yeah, I think so.

A D(r)aft Mistake

Earlier this week I messed up on Twitter and I wanted to set the record straight in long form because it’s clear that a tweet ain’t gonna cut it.

I’m one of a team of people working on a project to try to clear up inaccurate information around the rapid transit proposal here in London. I’m handling the Twitter account which mostly entails retweeting things from Londoners and trying to clear up misinformation where possible.

Early Thursday morning I received a list of businesses who had signed a petition expressing concerns over the BRT project. I published this list on Twitter via a Google Doc and later shared the actual document that I had received (I had to await permission to share it). I published this tweet on my personal Twitter account (which I continue to stand behind):

Why? A group opposing the Shift proposal has been spreading inaccuracies about the project to galvanize businesses against the proposal and I think that those same businesses should be made aware of how many people use public transit and would benefit from this service improvement. Taping a note to a business seems like a pretty simple way to do that, it could show the number of people impacted by the project and no damage is done.

After thinking a while I also thought it might also be appropriate to encourage people to ask those businesses why they were supporting the petition. After all these folks put their name on the public petition and asking them why they support something is perfectly reasonable. But I’m not the only one working on this project and I wanted to be sensitive to the opinions of my teammates so I composed a tweet with the intent of saving it in draft form (a feature of my Twitter client) while I awaited feedback. I frequently use these drafts as a Twitter to-do list. What ended up happening unfortunately was that I mistakenly hit “publish” instead of “save”. Here’s a copy of the tweet that someone kindly screen-capped.

After a few minutes I got a notification of a response to the tweet and that’s when I realized my mistake. I deleted the tweet immediately.

Do I regret the content of the tweet? Absolutely not. Questioning people and businesses who take a public stand on topics of importance to an entire city is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I’m prepared to defend opinions that are important to me and so should others who take a stand in the public realm.

Do I regret tweeting it without properly running it by the team? Definitely.

Should I have deleted the tweet? In hindsight, I gave people the impression that I was trying to hide something or that I regretted the content and that’s not the case at all.

My apologies to the members of the Shift Happens team.

A Year of Learning

Back in January I remember looking back at 2015 and thinking how crazy the year was and how I was looking forward to putting life on cruise control and really letting life just settle down for a while.

Clearly that never happened. This has been a year of radical change, reflection and personal development.

Here are a few of the things that I learned in 2016:

  • I need to read more. I consumed a bookshelf full of books this year and my brain is LIT UP. I’m loving it.
  • I love walking, a lot. I walked over 2500 km in 6 months and can’t wait to get started again in the spring.
  • Exercise, fresh air, nature and sunshine do wonders for my state of mind. I’ve no doubt that I would have slipped into a deep depression without them this year.
  • 183 lbs is overweight for someone of my height and frame but walking alone can chop 30 lbs off of that.
  • Audiobooks are an amazing way to enjoy a 2-3 hour walk. It passes by in a flash and I can consume a book in less than a week.
  • How dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin impact our behaviour (and how endorphins make walking so enjoyable).
  • Why the notifications on your phone are so addictive.
  • The LRH project showed me that I need to focus more of my energy on things that are less ephemeral.
  • While I had a sense of purpose in the things that I did outside of work Pints, Urban League, LACH, etc I had lost my sense of purpose at work.
  • Not having a sense of purpose at work wasn’t something that I could just sweep under the carpet, not for long anyway.
  • I can live without a lot of things but I can’t live without a sense of meaning. I will spend my time chasing fulfillment, not happiness.
  • Trust, love and respect aren’t finite resources, the more you give the more you get.
  • Management and leadership aren’t the same thing and have very little overlap.
  • Trust is the cornerstone of leadership.
  • A leader’s most important job is to develop other leaders.
  • The roles of initiators, supporters, observers and blockers in organizations. While I do three of these things with varying levels of effectiveness I really need to work on the observer role.
  • How incentives trump altruism.
  • The language that we use to convey ideas can be really exclusionary.
  • Neuroscience fascinates me to the point where I’ve considered going back to school to learn more.
  • The day that you were born can have as much to do with your success in life as anything that’s under your control.
  • Mission, vision and values aren’t complete bullshit. They’re important for finding your tribe and staying on course.
  • I need to hold onto my strong beliefs a little more loosely.
  • I really need to be a lot easier on myself.
  • I’m surrounded by people that will break my fall.
  • I need to tell people how much they mean to me.
  • I need to hug people more.
  • I have the courage to start again.

I’m ready for you 2017, let’s dance.

Time Enough to Start Again

Yesterday marked my 15 year anniversary with the amazing rtraction team, today marks my last day with the team as today I start writing the next chapter of my life.

I could write a small book on my time at rtraction, the fact is that my life today in no way resembles my old life. The people that walked the road with me have radically changed my life – for the better. I can’t even begin to recognize all those people in this blog but you know who you are.

I had always intended to stay for the full ride – stick with it to the heights of success (or the depths of failure) but that changed last year with the move to the London Roundhouse. When I first stepped into the old Great West Beef I couldn’t have guessed that a project that brought so much purpose, passion and meaning to my life would result in an existential crisis at the end. While I was just a small part of the project it had become my life and my passion for 2 years and with the project complete I was lost.

Back in May I made the decision to change a bunch of stuff to try to break out of my patterns and try to find a new direction. I was hopeful that when I found “it” that I’d see another opportunity to bring something of value to the team but there was a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that the change would be profound.

I shut down the “noise” that kept me from facing the change that I needed (video games, social media, etc). I went on a crash course of radical self-care and that seemed to do the trick, I gained focus and started to find my purpose. Once you find your purpose there’s really no sense in fighting it, no matter what the consequences. And my purpose is going to take me down a different road from the team that I love.

So it’s time to start a new chapter.

If you gave me the chance to go back and change anything in the last 15 years I would politely decline your kind offer. No regrets. I have only love and appreciation for all those people who walked this road with me.

What a ride it’s been. Dave, Josh and I have been through the wars, three guys thrown together out of necessity that ended up making pretty damn good business partners. We might not have done it the way anyone else would have but we built something remarkable, a business with a heart and soul. I’m a better person for having known Dave and Josh. Thanks guys for all your patience and support. I’m proud of this beautiful thing that we built together.

I have to thank Jodi for supporting me emotionally through all of this, she’s a treasure and I love her more every day. Thanks baby. xo

So, what’s next? I’m going to spend a little while building out an idea with a couple of good friends. It’s going to be a scary time but we have an idea that we’re really passionate about and we think it can make a real impact. Time enough to start again.

101 Days Ago …

It was May 24, 2016 and this was me:

  • I had just decided to take an extended break from work, 4 to 6 weeks was the plan, the longest break I had ever taken from work. I was feeling burned out, short tempered and WAY too connected to work.
  • I was feeling lost and wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do.
  • I was drinking WAY much. Just about every night I had a drink and for someone with a family history of alcoholism that wasn’t a good direction to be heading.
  • I was playing video games for 2-3 hours every day. I told myself that it was a good way to have some laughs and blow off steam at the end of the day.
  • I had just started the Global Corporate Challenge with others at Ellipsis Digital and Engine SevenFour.
  • I was 1 week away from turning 47.
  • I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life tipping the scales at 183 pounds.

And I knew it was time for serious change.

So here we are on September 2nd and what’s changed?

If I was going to fix anything I was going to need a little help or even just some reassurance that I was going about this whole thing the right way. So, on the first day of my break from work, I started seeing a counselor. It wasn’t life changing or anything but I was able to put a bunch of stuff on the table and start picking through it all. I told the counselor about my plans and they agreed that I was doing everything on the “how to set yourself straight” checklist: get fresh air, exercise, stop drinking, spend some time in nature, take a break from your routine, take some time for yourself and try to eat better (diet was the only thing that I had a pretty good handle on).

I jumped into the fitness stuff with everything I had but I blew it. I ended up hurting my knees and had to take it easy for a while. Finally, after buying good shoes, shorts, shirts and, most importantly, socks, I was able to really get it together. I did ok for an old man. I was out morning and night and walking pretty much everywhere.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 2.23.31 PM

Now normally I would be bored out of my mind walking for 3 hours a day but I really got into audiobooks and was blowing through a book or two a week: Armada, Passenger, Contact, Ready Player One, American Gods, The Martian, Girl on a Train and the list goes on. The time flies by and at the same time I’m warding off my black dog with fresh air, sunshine and all kinds of juicy endorphins.

All that and I’m now tipping those bathroom scales at 159 pounds down 24 pounds. None of my pants fit anymore.

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I know the chart shows my peak weight at 181. TBH I couldn’t bear to type in 183 into the app.

On top of that I quit playing video games. That might not seem like a big deal but I had been playing 2-3 hours a night for 7 years but I quit cold turkey. Now I’m going to bed earlier and sleeping longer. As much fun as I had playing games I also think they were probably just as frustrating as anything. Bottom line: I’m not missing playing and it’s all good.

And lastly I cut out the drinking. I was way into unhealthy territory and it needed to stop.

It’s been a big summer of changes but the most important things haven’t changed, I’m still surrounded by amazing people (especially Jodi) who support me and keep me moving forward.

And now onto the next 100 …

The Hard Work

It’s coming up on two weeks since I’ve checked out of the office and I’ve managed to stay clear of work with only a few exceptions. I busted into my email once to get a spreadsheet that I needed, I had one phone call and I attended rtraction day (our anniversary celebration) with the team.

I have managed to get out and exercise for an hour or more just about every day. I’ve invested in a Fitbit, good headphones for walking and some new running shoes. I’ve dropped 5 pounds as a result without having to make any major dietary changes except for one.

I’ve stopped drinking at night. I wasn’t a heavy drinker but I was having a drink maybe three nights a week after work plus whatever social stuff I was doing on the weekend. My father had trouble with alcohol when I was young so I’ve tried to be hyper aware of my alcohol intake and it was getting a little too much just before I took the break.

I’ve been reading quite a bit more but I was also getting very distracted by social media so today I made the really big change and am taking a two or three week vacation from Twitter and Facebook* (I’m sticking with Instagram). If you know me then you know this is a really big step, I’m used to being plugged in ALL THE TIME and now the apps are off my devices and there’s no reason to pick up the phone to check anything. This is uneasy territory for me. I may blog more to compensate, we’ll see.

Tonight I will also have my second visit with a counsellor since the break began. The first visit was a lot of “getting to know you” stuff but I think we may have caught a glimpse of something and I’d imagine that we’ll continue down that road tonight.

This is usually the point in my vacation where I would start thinking about returning to work but this time there’s still a month to go so we’re entering unknown territory now.

The hardest part of this whole thing is not being around the team. I hope there’s something down this road that makes that sacrifice worthwhile. I do need to thank David, Josh, Jennifer, Jordan and Alanna for making this possible and for covering my ass while I’m away.

I don’t imagine that I’m that different from a lot of folks when I say that the hardest kind of work is working on yourself.

And on we go …

* This blog is programmed to auto-share on those platforms but I won’t be there to see any feedback so please use the comments section below.