Death and Life

When you love your city you want it all to succeed. Every city boosting initiative, every idea that worked somewhere else, every person that has the energy and initiative to put it on the line.

They don’t all work. Many, or even most, fail and out of the ashes comes new energy, new ideas and new lessons.

Many people here in London have been aware of an initiative that’s been kicking around for years – a centre for social innovation for our city. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my role models, Mark Kuznicki, a few years back at Toronto’s CSI and have been excited to see this kind of space happen in London. Why? I hate silos. HATE them. And the city that I love is full of them. We need a space to bust up some of these silos and to get our very best and brightest working together.

We were invited to be an anchor tenant in London’s CSI a few years back. A number of locations were investigated, we were committed to the idea and wanted our skin in this game. Time marched on and our lease was coming to an end, things looked promising with the centre but we had to find a new home and we needed certainty. Backing out of the project was one of the tougher decisions that we’ve had to make.

We were very excited to hear the news this week about the pending deal for a home for the Social Innovation Shared Space (SISS).

This doesn’t come without some mixed feelings for me. Although we are gaining a potentially groundbreaking centre in our city we are also losing a century old retailer from the core as well. We’re at a crossroads of heritage, traditional retail and social innovation; all things I care deeply about.

Kingsmill’s was already up for sale but it always felt like it would be a long shot. It’s amazing that they had survived so long in this day and age of big box stores, suburban shopping malls and online retail. The clock was always ticking and we all knew it deep down.

So, while I feel a lot of joy at the birth of something extraordinary and celebrate that an extraordinary piece of our heritage will be preserved., I’ll also mourn the loss of something special.

Life’s like that.

A Moment of Clarity

Twenty six years ago I was seconds from death. I was speeding down the road in my parent’s car and as distraught as one can get. It wasn’t worth it anymore. I saw a huge truck in the oncoming lane and braced as I prepared to swerve and hit it head-on.

And then a moment of clarity.

The guy driving this truck doesn’t deserve to live his life with my suicide in his memory. Nobody does.

So I stayed in my lane and I drove to school to tell my councillor what just happened. I spent the next few weeks in the hospital “getting better”.

I’m not going to tell you that the years since have been all wine and roses, there have been some really dark times but there have been way more really amazing times. I should have given therapy a chance but never did. Life could have been much easier.

I cling to that moment of clarity, that millisecond that saved my life.

Maybe one day you’ll be there. That thought, that moment, grab it and don’t let go.


FYI: I don’t know what I’m doing

This is my journey.

My journey is to try to make my community better, to find other people that want to make this place better and to make others realize the potential in themselves to make it better. That’s it. Nothing else. I’ve no aspirations. Every project and group that I’ve ever belonged to have focussed on this single goal. Most have failed, a couple have had victories and one has met with some success.

There never was a plan (there still isn’t a plan) because I’m discovering the terrain as I go. Sure I could sit back and figure out every little detail, set a plan and execute it but I have chosen to live this journey openly so that others can share in it (not because I think it’s something remarkable but because I hope others will travel this path – hopefully for the right reasons). Every failure and success is out there. Every enlightenment, frustration and misstep.

As with all journeys you get to know people along the way. And on this particular journey you also get a peek behind the curtain. Some of it will make you happy, some will make you angry and lots of it will make you feel utterly helpless.

The anger and helplessness is enough to make most people avoid this particular path. After all, who invites this stuff into their lives? You’d need to care about something a hell of a lot to deal with this stuff.

And so I’ve come to discover how much I love London. And so I’ve come to discover how much so many other people love London. And THAT is what makes the journey worthwhile – in the end it is the people that make it awesome.

But the frustrations still get to me. The helplessness still gets to me. Sometimes I manage to keep all that poison inside and sometimes a little slips out.

Here’s the important bit: I’m just a regular guy. I have a hundred thousand faults and absolutely no plan. I’m fumbling my way through this shit as I go. I’m trying to expose myself to ideas and other valuable points of view that might help me along this road.

I choose not to look too deeply into the dark, ugly places. I choose not to be someone who looks on the bright side all the time. I choose to live with one foot in idealism and one foot in pragmatism. Depending on the day you catch me I might be more in one than the other.

If you happen to be on this road and we walk together for a while I’m bound to piss you off, confuse you with incomplete thoughts, champion your amazing ideas, cheer your victories and on the rare ocassion maybe inspire you to be a part of something bigger than either one of us.

But there’s no plan. I’m tryng to get better at the journey but I stumble, fall and backtrack all the time.

“Who does that guy think he is?”

I’m no different than you or anyone else. I have no more potential, intelligence, creativity or energy than you do.

I know the obstacles, I know the futility and I know the insanity of this journey and I hope you’re crazy enough to walk the road with me a while.

Didn’t ask to be this guy, didn’t want to be this guy but this is who the journey has made me (for better and worse).

How to completely fuck up your life.

Maybe you’re an average person,

and maybe you go home at five, get dinner ready, clean-up, flip on the TV and go to bed a few hours later,

and maybe one day you hear about some ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you’re going to shake your head and say “that’s nuts, why would anyone do that?”

and maybe there’s a 95% chance that you’ll walk away and give it no thought,

and maybe there’s a 5% chance that you’ll have an amazing person in your life that will talk you into giving this ambitious, stupid idea a chance,

and maybe you’ll just be at that perfectly susceptible time in your life and say “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?”

and maybe you get involved in this ambitious, stupid project,

and maybe you believe in it,

and maybe you get a friend involved too,

and maybe it fails,

and maybe you get your heart broken,

and maybe you find out why it failed and it was for a stupid, senseless reason,

and maybe you get pissed off,

and maybe you say “I did my best and this wasn’t my fault so I’m going to try again”,

and maybe you find another ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you roll up your sleeves and try again,

and maybe you meet a cool person who’s trying again too,

and maybe it works this time,

and maybe it doesn’t work out like you hoped but it worked,

and maybe you hang with this cool new friend,

and maybe you learn cool stuff,

and maybe you make a few cool new friends who’ve done other ambitious, stupid stuff,

and maybe some have succeeded,

and maybe some have failed,

and maybe they do it so they can try to succeed again,

and maybe they do it because of all their cool new friends,

and maybe they do it because of YOU,

and maybe they fail,

and maybe they succeed,

and maybe you don’t measure success like you used to,

and maybe one of these cool new friends turns into something much more,

and maybe you cancel your TV because you don’t have time for it anymore,

and maybe other people see that you were just like them not so long ago,

and maybe you inspire one other person to try out their ambitious, stupid ideas,

and maybe your life is full beyond your wildest dreams,

and maybe you’re out to dinner with a neuroscientist, an artist, a flute player, an ethicist, an entrepreneur, a writer, a photographer, and a bunch of people that you just want to hug for being so awesome,

and maybe you look across the table at your beautiful partner,

and maybe you think “I’m glad I tried”.


A Friendship Evolves

Seems like forever now but just a few years ago our company was just a code shop. We took designs from other firms and we made them work on the web. That was who we were and we were somewhat content.

Then we heard that someone was thinking about making a change. One of London’s most creative people was entertaining the notion of changing careers after 11 years. It would be a big step for a bunch of code geeks but we knew it was the next stage in our evolution. We took the leap.

While we knew this would have a profound impact on our company, I had no idea how much it would impact my life. Every relationship is complicated and forming a close friendship with a colleague more so. Share a small office with a good friend for 3 years and you go through pretty much everything together. You share your heartbreaks, victories and everything in between.

None of us were surprised when nik told us it was time to go. His girlfriend had a job of a lifetime opportunity and nik would join her in KW.

Now if you hang around with nik for any length of time it will become very clear that his real artistic passion is in his painting. There’s something in that work that he can’t properly communicate to the rest of us. It’s not a landscape, it’s something more – you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He wisely decided to go freelance so he could spend more time with his art.

This move then was a fantastic opportunity for both of them.

Now I have some deep character flaws – some of those are self protection mechanisms. I’ve never had to deal with much personal loss much in my life – at my age it’s a bit like getting chicken pox – it’s devastating. So I do everything I can to push loss away and avoid it. It’s a survival instinct that serves me very poorly.

I closed up and put on a mask for 5 months.

Yesterday was my friend nik’s last day at our office. On Monday he begins a new chapter and today, as I knew it would, it’s hitting me like a freight train.

My friendship with nik has always had personal and professional very tightly intertwined and, while I hope our friendship will endure, I know that it will change. This blog is just a marker along the way.  It’s been a long road and not without it’s share of bumps but I’m glad for having the opportunity to share this part of the journey with nik.

Thank you nik for lighting the way, showing patience as I try to grow and for being my friend (I know it’s not always easy).

Love and respect, Shawn

A Resolution

“Being negative is easy. There will always be a downside to everything good, a hurdle to everything desirable, a con to every pro. The real courage is in finding the good in what you have, the opportunities in every hurdle, the pros in every con.” – Carolyn Hax

I stumble on this more than I care to admit to myself. If our community is going to be a better place it has to start with my own words and actions.

I’m going to try to find the patience and courage to see the good and find the opportunity.

It starts here and it starts now.

PS – I’m hyper aware that this blog is a bit too much “me me me” and I rewrote it a couple of times to get that out of there. What it comes down to is this … any change we want to see in others or in our community has to start inside ourselves. We have to accept responsibility for our own attitudes and actions and that starts with “me”.

Guess I Have to Read This One

I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin. HUGE. I’ve bought 5 of his books (the paper type) and another couple eBooks.

But here’s the thing – I haven’t read a single one of them. Seth gets my money because of his blog, his talks and his interviews. I’m buying the souvenirs of a great trip and I haven’t even gotten off the plane yet. I get something out of the guy almost every time he communicates with the world and for that I gratefully give him my hard earned cash.

So a month or so ago Seth announces on his blog that he’s going to do something a bit different for his new book Linchpin – he’s giving away review copies, not to the mainstream media, but to bloggers and fans. All I had to do to lay my hands on one of these was to donate a few bucks to a worthy charity, The Acumen Fund. My credit card was out of the wallet before I was done reading the blog.

I messed up the order – in spite of being given very specific instructions regarding checking my shipping address. I was so excited to get my order in that I missed it. Bugger. In spite of the fact that the website warned me that there was no recourse I called anyway and Seth’s team was very kind and made everything right. (By the way, how freakin’ amazing would it be to be on this guy’s team?)

I asked Titus Ferguson (our social media guru) if he would write up a review and he was on board.

I waited patiently. A few weeks later I received one e-mail from Seth’s team saying that Canada Customs was having issues and thanking us for our understanding. No problem. Another blog entry a week or two later apologized once again. I’m a patient man.

Well the book was released on Tuesday this week (turns out he released a bunch of bonus material as well) and my review copy still hadn’t arrived. I was a bit disappointed but I knew that it was out of Seth’s hands.

Today I received the book and as I expected there was a note included (there’s no way he’d send these out without a note). What the note said did surprise me – this wasn’t the book I ordered this was a SECOND copy of the book – a thank you present.

This blog is really for the fine folks at Canadian Customs – you can keep my other copy of Linchpin. Just please read it and pass it on to another person on the team when you’re done. There are lessons in there that could make for a world of change in your life and in your organization.

CONTEST UPDATE: A fellow Londoner Scott Webb at Nuwomb Creative is giving away a copy of Linchpin – Details on his blog


On the off chance that you read this entry I just want to thank you Seth – you’re a stand-up guy – much respect.