A Note to Future Shawn

Four months ago, after years of sitting on the fence, you finally became a vegetarian. You dragged your ass on that decision for far too long, try to be a little more decisive in the future would you?

You made this change because you couldn’t reconcile the prolonged suffering of sentient creatures for your momentary satiation at dinner time. You did it because this kind of farming is devastating to the planet.

You may reach a point where you will consider switching back to eating meat so I’m writing this to (hopefully) give you pause. I’m writing this down so maybe these reasons will stick in your head. Next year when this pops up on your Facebook feed (assuming Facebook still exists) I hope it will serve to act as a reminder that you did this for solid, carefully considered, ethical reasons. And if you need a reminder of these reasons go back and check out Sam HarrisYuval Noah Harari and Peter Singer.

Your life was undergoing a lot of change in 2016 and 2017 and you’ll almost certainly be a different person when you read this again but I hope you’ll have the strength to carry on with this decision. Maybe by next year you’ll be eating cultured meat and maybe another year or two later society will be embracing it as well. You can’t change the world Shawn but you can keep trying to give it a nudge.

Keep walking, keep meditating, stay vegetarian, be kinder to people, be kinder to the earth, be kinder to yourself, and try to live a good life. Be a better Shawn. And give Jodi a kiss for me.

Begin Again

Last year, after 15 years working at a place that I loved and helped to build, I knew it was time to move on to something new. Most folks get a grip onto something new, something safe, before they let go of the familiar but that wasn’t in the cards for me. It was time to let go so I let go.

Now I’m letting go again but this time I have a hold on something meaningful, something special to me, something that I’ve been close to for a long time (before it was even a thing really). So I’m announcing that I’ll be joining my partner Jodi at her business CityMatch. We’ve been talking for a while about how her business could navigate the fantastic growth that she’s been experiencing so a few weeks ago we got methodical and sat down to look at the gaps that need bridging and how to effectively scale and manage this growth. When we looked at the areas that needed help: strategy, marketing and project management. We both agreed that I would be a natural fit with the added bonus of knowing the business intimately.

Now leaving a new business that Chris, JP and I have been building since last December isn’t easy either, after all these aren’t just business partners, these are longtime friends, close friends. But unlike CityMatch, our partnership didn’t have gaps that needed filling, as a matter of fact we had really great overlap. You see JP has years of experience with marketing so he’s in an excellent position to backfill my skillset so as I step away JP will step in.

It’s a day of mixed feelings but it’s a day of new possibilities for everyone too. It’s hard to let go of of an idea that’s so filled with challenge and potential but I’ve been on the road with CityMatch since it was just an idea and I’m seriously chuffed about lending my talents to support Jodi’s growing business (and luckily for me, so is she). I’m a big believer in meaningful work and have loved watching Jodi bring all her passions and talents to make newcomers feel truly at home here. This is great work that will make me happy to get out of bed in the morning.

Chris and Jean-Paul are starting anew so we’ve agreed that I’ll take the Wyrd brand with me. I will continue to do digital marketing work for special clients, it’s a passion that I just can’t walk away from completely. Recently I had a lot of fun working with the team at Polishuk Camman & Steele and I hope to be able to participate in more collaborations like that. There’s real joy in that work for me.

I’m really looking forward to the road ahead. It’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to take a lot of patience as Jodi and I find a groove working together but I can’t wait to get started. Thank you Chris and JP for your energy and support, I can’t wait to see where you go from here!

All In My Head

My old life is six million seven hundred thousand steps, six thousand kilometres, fourteen months and four pairs of shoes behind me now and I don’t know if I’ve gotten closer to any answers. If anything I have more questions, a lot more questions, than when I started.

Walking saved me when I needed saving.  Everyone knows that sunshine, fresh air, exercise and spending time in nature are all positively correlated with better overall physical and mental health, right? I never gave any of it much thought but now I was going to be off work for a while and I needed a new way to occupy my brain. Fortunately the office was participating in the Global Corporate Challenge and that was the shove I needed to get out walking.

For the first while I stuck close to home and listened to music on my walks but the novelty of that wore off pretty quickly and I pivoted to fiction audiobooks like The Martian, American Gods, Ready Player One, World War Z, The Shining (and its sequel) and the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.

I never considered listening to business books on my walks but I was feeling the need to dive into something serious and I soon started dabbling in Cal Newport, Steven Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, and Ori and Ram Brafman.

It was the listening to the last four of these authors that started to spark my interest in deeper subject matter; genetics, neuroscience, behavioural economics, behavioural and cognitive psychology, and philosophy. I started chewing up Daniel Kahneman, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stuart Ritchie and Yuval Noah Harari.

This is all pretty heavy stuff for me so when I was in the mood for shorter form brain food I switched to podcasts like You Are Not So Smart, Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, Philosophy Bites, Revisionist History, Waking Up with Sam Harris, Freakonomics and, my personal favourite, Very Bad Wizards.

Now I find myself waking up before 6:00am every day hitting the Thames Valley Parkway for a ten kilometre walk with the brain trying hard to absorb all the information coming through my headphones. I’ve overcome some of my self consciousness and gotten used to laughing out loud as strangers walk past (Very Bad Wizards is as funny as it is deep). I occasionally lose track of time (and my location) but I’ve gotten a new appreciation for the beauty of my city along the way and to top it off I’m feeling more intellectually stimulated than at any other time in my life. I’d walk four hours a day if I could.

I set out with the intent to keep my black dog on a chain but my feet have taken me to this wonderful, unexpected place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t purport to be any smarter than I was at the beginning of this journey, I’m still a big dummy where most of this material is involved. After all I’m living with a 48 year old brain that just doesn’t process these concepts like a 20 year old brain would, but I’m loving it, right here, right now.

Every week someone asks if I’ll start a running routine but walking isn’t in my body, walking is all in my head.

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.