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.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 2.24.19 PM

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.

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)