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.

A Break

A few weeks ago I was in a meeting and something inside of me snapped. I was angry, really angry, for almost no reason and I immediately knew something had to change, and fast.

Within a few hours I had lined up some time off, a LOT of time off (for me anyway) – six weeks.

Jodi’s been trying to get me to see something for a few years now that I’ve been unable, or unwilling, to see: I have an unhealthy relationship with my work. It’s my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning, it invades my thoughts every hour of every day. It’s actually stressful to not be in constant touch with everything that happens with the team. My life orbits around my iPhone, my constant tether to the office.

So today I cut off all of my access to the office systems: social media accounts are controlled by someone else, email is being auto-deleted, Slack is gone and JIRA is gone. Right this moment I’m feeling a lot of anxiety around that in spite of the fact that it was my decision and I’ve had weeks to come to terms with it.

This all started to come to a head last year after we opened the doors to the roundhouse and it’s been getting worse every month. I knew it was coming too and I even engaged a coach to help me get ready for it. It still hit me like a ton of bricks. “You’re done Shawn, you’ve played your part in this big, amazing thing and now it’s over. The team has moved ahead of you and you’re playing catch-up. It’s time to choose, what are you going to do with your life now?”

I do my little bit in the community sometime I wonder if it’s only a distraction from work or is this something that I truly love? What part of that community sets my heart and mind on fire? Where does my passion intersect with my creativity and my utility? It’s time to look down some dark holes that I’ve been ignoring for far too long.

And what if this is just my lifetime companion making me feel this way?

Right now I only have questions but maybe the next six weeks will point me down the right path.

Here’s the part that’s going to suck: I’m going to miss the team intensely. I get to work with some incredibly talented, caring, intelligent people and that ain’t easy to leave behind. But my burnout is causing me to be short tempered and that’s not good for this team that I love (nor myself).

Monday I start seeing a councillor to try to help me deal with this shit and try to find out what Real Shawn looks like, because I only know Work Shawn now and that guy isn’t happy a lot of the time.

Let’s do this. Six weeks. Here we go.


Tonight I attended a public participation session at City Hall to hear regular citizens talk about the LRT/BRT debate that’s currently happening in our city. I had it in the back of my mind that I might talk but I walked in completely unprepared. As speaker after speaker took the microphone I wrote down some remarks and then I screwed up the nerve to take my turn before council. Here are my remarks:

My name is Shawn Adamsson and I live in Ward 11.

I’m here to speak in favour of LRT.

Since the change in direction to a BRT-only solution I’ve spoken to more than a hundred people and even the most fervent BRT advocates that I’ve encountered can’t seem to get excited about putting another bus on the road. Practical? Sure, if you only look at the bottom line infrastructure upgrades. Game changer? It’s LTC 1.5. Not a chance.

Want to see what BRT can do for a city? Cast an eye to Winnipeg. Their five year old system has attracted almost zero private investment along their BRT corridors.

Want to know what an LRT can do for a city? Travel down the road to Waterloo. Short term traffic issues? Sure. But you’ll also find a community of people gathering to support businesses impacted by the construction. But there’s excitement, cranes are rising in the air along the LRT route and there’s an optimism about the future of the city.

Sure rapid transit moves people around efficiently but just as importantly it builds cities and, as we can see from Waterloo, it can also build civic pride.

A few other points:

Some say we can upgrade the system to LRT later. Ottawa’s doing it right now after-all. I’ve spoken to an engineer working on that upgrade and they were despondent that the city made the mistake of putting in BRT 25 years ago. The upgrade is an economic, traffic and environmental nightmare and it could have been avoided with a little bit vision from the council of the day.

Buses can be environmentally responsible they say. Forget the impact of fuel consumption for a minute, building a bus creates FAR more environmental impact than running the thing. Building 3, 4 or 5 times as many buses to serve the same number of passengers as LRT is far from environmentally friendly.

One last thought, I’m a business owner and every couple of months I have a one on one meeting with each member of our team. Today I sat with one of our Fanshawe co-op students that’s finishing up school in December, a brilliant guy, and when I asked him what his plans were after graduation he said he was looking to leave the city. The naval gazing around things like uber, food trucks, green bins and rapid transit is pushing him to look to progressive cities. This is not the first time I’ve heard this from students. This is who we are to a lot of young people. You should be deeply concerned about this.

Is this who we are?

This will be your legacy. We’re a big city, the time for baby steps has passed. Take a leap.

Make us proud. (end)

Speaking in front of people terrifies me and I was shaking through the whole thing. It was disappointing to see the mayor leave the room at the beginning of my remarks and return at the end but other than that it went better than I could have hoped for.

Kudos to all the excellent people who stood up and made their voices heard tonight.

A Debilitating Inferiority Complex

Anyone who reads my blogs could come to the conclusion that I have a hate-on for this city. I’m the first to admit that I didn’t love this place for my first 20 years here — London was not an easy city to love. The great news is that it was very easy, at least for me, to fall in love with the people here and that is where my passion for this place grows.

Why is London so hard to love?

I think part of it is a lack of identity. Sure, some neighbourhoods have developed fantastic identities for themselves: OEV, Old South, Woodfield and SoHo, to name but a few. We lack an identity as a city, though — I don’t really see anything that binds us together or that would be notable or remarkable to anyone from outside our city. What is London? I’ve been here for 31 years, and thought about it for 10, and I have no idea. There is one thing that I can point to, though — we have a crippling, possibly terminal, inferiority complex.

“The big city that thinks it’s a small town” is a label that I heard bestowed on this city only a few weeks after I arrived here in 1985, and it’s the closest thing that I can find to an identity. And it is it killing us.

London literally doesn’t think it deserves nice things. And don’t even discuss investing in anything good or different because that’s a non-starter.

Politicians know that they’re going to get clobbered by citizens if anything exceptional makes it anywhere near Council Chambers. So how does Council placate the enthusiasts and the naysayers all at once? They do their damndest to wear both the naysayers and enthusiasts down. Debates, reports, referrals. No matter what flavour went in, what comes out of the process is almost always vanilla.

Inoffensive, palatable, vanilla. Safe vanilla.

And that might be okay. Vanilla isn’t so bad, right?

We don’t live in a world where vanilla is going to cut it. We live in a world where cities must rise to face the challenges of the future and cannot be solely mired in the mundane practicalities of the present. The manufacturing economy that London held so dear has faded and there’s no reason to expect it to come back. Our economic drivers have changed, and we, and our city, have to change too. We’re positioning ourselves for a new kind of economy pitted against cities with a decade-long head start on us.

That’s the world that we’re competing in. Yes, it’s a competition and a brutal one. It’s a contest for hearts and minds and it’s been waged across the planet over decades. We need to position ourselves to retain our best and brightest; we need to attract an influx of new talent and new Canadians to offset a declining birth rate and the impending loss of the Boomers. The decisions we make today will echo for years, and we’re making safe, inoffensive, palatable choices while the world races ahead. We need to be looking up and ahead, and we need to stop navel gazing.

So when we face big decisions and ideas, like The London Plan and Shift London, and we know we’re going to need help bringing them to reality, we need to think bigger than “safe.” We need to stop being meek and we need to demand the same kinds of things that our competition already has. We need to start thinking 30, 50, even 100 years in the future and not 30 years in the past.

In the late 1990s we made big, risky and ultimately successful investments in our city through the Millennium Plan. We need to keep making serious investments in our city’s future. We need to get in the game with the big folks. And we need to get over this notion that we don’t deserve the fundamental things that make a city attractive, desirable and competitive. It’s a fight and it’s one that we can’t shrink away from anymore.

Maybe if we start demanding to be treated better we’ll actually start believing that we deserve it and maybe then we’ll find out who we really are.


Special thanks to Laurie Bursch for her invaluable assistance editing this blog.

Better than Better

Why do I even care about rapid transit in London? I mean, after all, I’ll be in my seventies – or, more likely, dead – when this thing is built. I care because I love my city and I want to see it take a meaningful leap into the future present. And, I care because I’m tired of London acting like a third-rate city.

London needs to be more than “conveniently located along the NAFTA superhighway.” We need to be more than “halfway between Toronto and Detroit.” We need to be more than “that town near Waterloo.” Geography alone cannot be our biggest advantage because geography means less and less with each passing day. We need to start feeling our strength, flexing our muscles, and taking calculated risks to become the city we want to be.

Last week, city staff put forward a recommendation that the city implement a bus rapid transit (BRT)-only solution for London. This was a big change from the initial staff recommendation for a hybrid light rapid transit (LRT)/BRT solution that council unanimously endorsed last fall.

Some people are concerned there would be insufficient ridership to support LRT in London. To address this, the recommendation put forth by council proposes that after BRT is up and running and ridership increases, we could take the BRT infrastructure and lay down tracks to install LRT. They’re positioning this as a sensible, phased approach.


In a time of record-breaking citizen engagement we’ve decided to ignore the wishes of the citizenry who overwhelmingly voted BRT-only as the least preferable form of rapid transit.

In a time when other cities are investing in meaningful leaps forward, our city is setting the bar for success so low that anyone who’s actually paying attention to us has got to be laughing.

While we’re writing ambitious plans for the future of our city, we’re pulling punches on the most impactful infrastructure investment that can be made in our city – and for our future.

In a time of practically free money (near 0% interest rates), we’re nickel-and-diming investing in London, and in ourselves.

In a time when federal and provincial governments are both ready to match investments, we’re arguing in favour of the least ambitious rapid transit proposal possible and not even trying for something better.

Is this really how our City Council sees London? Is this how we see ourselves? Do we not deserve nice things? Do we lack courage to demand that we be treated equally with other cities? Are we utterly unwilling to expend any political capital to accomplish something great for our city?

Still, why does any of this matter? Well, I’m in tech and we have something close to eight hundred job vacancies in the London tech sector because we can’t attract and retain the talent we need. Conservatively, that’s well over $50,000,000 annually that these companies could be pouring into the local economy in just these new hires. That’s for one small industry. We’re losing talent to KW, Toronto, and Hamilton every day because London can’t won’t compete.

Bottom line? If I were a 20 or 30 year old starting up a company right now, I would start it elsewhere. I would go to a city that sees itself for what it can be. I would go where people scream “hell yeah, let’s do it!”

We need to take a leap. We need to set the bar higher for ourselves. We need to demand more for our city. Let’s not just demand to be at the big table, let’s be missed when we’re absent.

I love this city. Let’s not strive just to be better together, let’s be bold; let’s be amazing together.

If this resonates with you, please consider signing Jesse Helmer’s excellent petition.

Even the Dogs Know Ron

I’m not actually sure how long Ron was in our lives but I can still remember his face.

When I was a kid my folks broke up and my brother and I lived with my Mom. Dad was in the Canadian Forces and got transferred out west so it was just the 3 of us living together in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

My brother and I had Big Brothers for a while which was kind of nice. But after a while Mom met a really nice guy named Ron and they started dating (I guess that’s what it was, strange to think of my Mom dating now). I wasn’t even a teenager at the time but I remember spending time with Ron and I remember that he seemed to know pretty much everyone in the city, we couldn’t go anywhere without running into people that he knew and I only ever saw them greet him with a smile and a hearty handshake. My Mom used to say “even the dogs know Ron” regarding these frequent meetings.

I know now that having a man around when you’re barely 12 can have a formative effect on a kid. Ron always seemed like a stand-up guy and I’m sure that had some kind of impact on me.

And so it was for a while, Ron was often away as he worked in the oil industry doing exploratory drilling and he would be gone for many weeks and then back for weeks (I can’t recall the exact rotation) but it was good to see him return.

Then, in early 1982, Ron shipped off for another tour on the rig. It was the last time that I would see him alive.

At 7:00pm on February 14 his rig was struck by a rogue wave and his offshore drilling platform, the Ocean Ranger, was severely damaged. At 1:30am on February 15 the last communication came in, the crew was abandoning the platform. They were in the middle of a terrible storm just off the Grand Banks. There was probably never much hope for survivors, the Atlantic Ocean in the winter is an unforgiving place. All 84 souls were lost. Ron’s was one of the 22 bodies recovered.

Not long after a memorial service was held at the Basilica. I barely remember that day, it’s hard to know whether that’s just age or if it was grief but I do recall walking up to the side door of the church and seeing a dog, ownerless, quietly, sitting in front of the door.

A year after that Mom and Dad got back together and remain together to this day.

What’s the point? None really, I just woke up this morning and felt that I had to type that out.

(This whole blog is subject to change as I’m sure my Mom will refresh my 35 year old memories on this whole thing)

B Minus

One year ago London elected a new council and it was a pretty great night.

I backed a number of candidates that got elected and my hopes were high for some real change. 365 days later and I am unimpressed.

Now I’m not an idiot, I knew going in that a number of the folks that I was backing weren’t what you would call progressive. Some of them will be career politicians and this office is just a stepping stone so those councillors weren’t going to be blazing any new trails. But even then I thought that there were some no brainer decisions that they would get behind.

They’ve managed a few small victories but nothing to write home about yet.

Their biggest failures in my eyes:

  • Food trucks: D-
  • Uber: F
  • City Strike: F
  • Police Carding: F
  • London Plan: C-

The first 2 items showed just a complete lack of vision and innovation and that was what I was really looking for from these folks.

My councillor, Stephen Turner, has been especially disappointing on the carding issue.

In spite of that I’m still giving them a B-. Why? Well, they haven’t torched the city so I’m giving them a lot of latitude for not being a complete disaster. I still have some real hope for a few of them.

There are a couple of standouts in this bunch: Jesse Helmer is doing an amazing job and I’ve been impressed with Virginia Ridley as well.

Some people tell me it’s too early to tell what their real legacy will be and maybe they’re right. But I would think if they were going to make any really progressive decisions we would have seen some kind of sign by now.

Let’s face it, the last council was a spectacular embarrassment so pretty much anything was going to be an improvement but this council sure isn’t making the grade in my books.

Hopefully I’ll come back to this in another year and I’ll be singing a different tune.


UPDATE 2: It’s all over. Was the experiment a success? Nope. Lots of traffic to the blog but little participation. I never thought it would do that much but hoped that it would do more than it did. I’ve put more money towards less worthy causes though so I’m ok with where things ended. Thanks to everyone who voted and helped spread the word.

UPDATE: I’m increasing the prize amount from $25.00 to $50.00 for the remainder of the day. Nothing else has changed.

If you’re under the age of 34 here’s a small incentive to vote at the advance polls today (Thanksgiving Day 2015).

  1. Take a selfie OUTSIDE the advance polls when you vote today with an Elections Canada sign clearly visible in the shot.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the pic with the #ThanksVoting hashtag (make sure the post is public so I can see it).

That’s it. Every hour that the advance polls are open today I will select a random #ThanksVoting poster and I will send that person $25.00 $50.00 (transferred via Interac eTransfer, iTunes gift card, PayPal, or even a cheque).

Rules (subject to change today if people try to game the system too much):

  1. You must be eligible to vote in Canada and between the ages of 18 and 34 (why? Because they have the worst turnout numbers and those are the people that I want to incentivize) .
  2. Don’t violate anyone else’s privacy.
  3. Listen to the nice Elections Canada officials and don’t break any of their rules.
  4. No photoshopped pics.
  5. No pictures of ballots (either blank or completed).
  6. Be Canadian. Be respectful. Be nice. Offensive/disrespectful photos or messages will not be considered.
  7. Your face AND an official Elections Canada sign must be visible in the picture.
  8. This contest may be cancelled at any time if it becomes too much of a hassle (but I can generally tolerate a lot of BS).
  9. Encouraging people to vote is the whole idea here so your picture must be public and include the hashtag #ThanksVoting.

If anyone is interested in financially assisting me with this I would welcome the help (but only up to a total of $250 – this isn’t a money making venture).

If you want to match the prize that would be swell too.

In either case you can email me and we can chat.

My Lifetime Companion*

I’ve lived with this guy for years. He & I used to have the most brutal fights imaginable. On 3 occasions he almost killed me.

When I was a teen he ruled my life. He was everywhere, all the time, screaming at me, insulting me, pulling me into the mud.

The first time he tried to kill me I got help and spent a month in the hospital. I decided that I had enough of his shit.

But there’s no shaking him. I’ve learned to live with him. Most days he stays at home by himself but some days he follows me.

Some days he’ll walks into the room when I’m laughing with my friends. Most days I’m lucky and he’ll just sit in the corner.

But sometimes he’ll whisper poison in my ear and sometimes he’ll slap me hard across the face. Fortunately not often.

And when my friends ask “what’s wrong” I’ll say “nothing” because that’s what we say isn’t it?

I’m on the wrong side of 45 now and I’ll live with him until I draw my last breath, because he is me. There’s no running away.

But knowing that gives me some kind of messed up certainty. I know there are fights ahead and I know when he’s in the room.

It’s taken decades but I’m stronger than he is now. I’ll have my moments of weakness and he’ll be there to take advantage.

But I’m a stubborn sunnovabitch and I’m not going to let him win. Of course … that’s the strong me talking isn’t it?

Tomorrow’s another day and I’ll face it as it comes. Because that’s life with my depression.


*I posted this on social media as part of Bell’s Let’s Talk effort but wanted to capture it here and World Mental Health Day seemed like a good occasion.

Photo credit: Douglas Keddy.

Post Emergent

I reacted emotionally when I heard that Emerging Leaders was on the brink. I got angry and I judged and then I took some time to reflect on what impact they have had on me and on our city.

I remember being there the day Emerging Leaders came out to the public, wandering around The Arts Project packed with youth and ideas. My skin was tingling with the energy in the place. I remember thinking that this was the future of London, right here, right now.

Of course the cocktail crew was there to network and be “seen”, they always are but there was something else too, people on the fringes of the room, people listening intently to conversations, people thoughtfully sharing their vision for the future of London. You could pick them out if you looked. People who deeply cared about London and were willing to put skin in the game.

What’s happened in the intervening years has been remarkable; a citizen renaissance.

Was what happened in the room that day the start of something? No, probably not. Was it a catalyst for what followed? Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind.

Here’s how it impacted me that day … I advocated hard for our company to support an initiative called Ambassador London and we worked our asses off for it. Ambassador London was a great idea that failed spectacularly and showed me all the ways that silos, personal interest and politics have failed this city for so long. So I held a ChangeCamp to examine that stuff. It was the most terrifying thing imaginable for me but it had some very tangible results. That led me to lead a failed voter mobilization initiative called Hack the Vote where I met many amazing people (some of which are leading this city today). That led to another ChangeCamp, a citizen engagement initiative called CitizenCorps, 20 Pints & Politics meetups  and now to a grassroots engagement initiative around our history and heritage.

Anyone who has been inspired to action by anything that I’ve done owes that to Emerging Leaders.

How many others were inspired to action because of Emerging Leaders? How many others donned the mantle of leadership either as a direct result of EL or of the environment that they continue to nurture to this day?

I’ll forget the community stuff for a minute and look at it purely from a business perspective. We’re starving for tech talent in this city. Neither the City of London nor the LEDC have any holistic, ongoing initiatives to attract and retain the demographic that is quite literally the lifeblood of the exploding digital media sector in this city. There are hundreds of tech jobs unfilled today and large companies are cannibalizing the smaller firms right this second. $70,000 isn’t a THE solution but is that small investment for the only initiative we have in the pipe too much to ask?

The mission of EL, the attraction and retention and engagement of our youth, is no simple task and EL isn’t the only ingredient required for success but it is a critical part and the success or failure of such a complicated task is not easily measured (no matter what chart you throw at me).

Some will argue that this could be folded into other organizations to which I counter that this isn’t a part time job for a subcommittee that meets on a bi-monthly basis. I can’t think of another group that would be willing to be such an outspoken, unflinching advocate. Not one. I can’t think of another that can inspire and speak to this demographic on their terms. Not one. Who’s enthusiastically and unabashedly putting their career on the line for the future? Where are the people putting skin in the game?

Is EL perfect? Far from it. The ED (a friend of mine) is maybe a bit too polarizing, the current board is largely ineffective and many people should have seen this financial crisis coming. It’s still valuable, it’s still fixable and letting 9 years of incredibly hard, inspiring work die for those shortcomings?

The current cry to “pull the plug and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards” seems incredibly shortsighted and completely dismissive of what the organization has done for this city.

So how forward? I’m not the best guy to ask but my gut reaction is that the organization needs a stronger board with more advocates – everyone needs to be active. The organization needs better balance – if everyone’s agreeing on everything then a bunch of those people are redundant. And if you have an outspoken ED then you need a strong board chair that can work with that and balance that out*. Finally, they should set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable Ambitious, Realistic, Time-Bound) goals and report on them annually (they may have these already but I couldn’t find them). Not everything that can be measured is of value but there needs to be a good mix of tangible and intangible outcomes.

While the energy that we had in that room 9 years ago will almost certainly never be recaptured in the same way, Emerging Leaders continues to to be the oxygen that will allow out future leaders to grow. It’s worth a small investment and it’s worth fighting for. I encourage you to write, call or tweet your Councillor and Mayor Matt Brown to voice your support for this important organization.

* I can speak from first hand experience here because David and Josh bring a great deal of balance to our business partnership.