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).

On the Ropes

I doubt many people would deny that London is having economic challenges at the moment. Unemployment, while not the highest we’ve ever experienced, is high and most wonder when we’ll break free of this “forever recession“.

Many in our city favour the strategy of tackling these hard times through austerity. I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to have a deep knowledge of these matters but I have to wonder about the effectiveness of such a strategy.

I love analogies so you’ll have to forgive what follows …

If you’re a good (not great) boxer and you’re up against the ropes getting pummelled is it strategically sound to cover up, pull back and conserve your resources in the hope that the other guy tires out? Does it make sense to bet on having enough stamina to withstand the barrage of punches?

Or is it a better strategy to muster all of your resources and fight back?

If your coach was recommending that you to just take the beating and that it will get better soon would you consider that sage advice? Would that increase your confidence in a positive outcome?

This is our home so what are we going to do about it?

(this isn’t a new argument – see links in the second paragraph for deeper discussion)

The rules of engagement

Here’s the thing about civic engagement; it doesn’t happen only in a room in City Hall, it doesn’t happen only in committees and it doesn’t happen on a schedule dictated by city staff.

Most importantly civic engagement doesn’t start and stop at the ballot box. You didn’t give someone a detailed mandate on election day nor did you write them a blank cheque. You get to hold them accountable during their term of service and not just at the polls.

Engagement happens where, when and how you decide it happens. You don’t have to fit in a little box that someone else defines anymore.

Your voice is all you have, use to speak for the things you believe in.

Respect others, follow your head and heart and you cannot go wrong.

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”.


RCDR: Responsible Citizens Drinking Responsibly

This idea has been kicking around the Twitterverse (thanks to Matthew Beard, Scott Courtice and a number of other folks) for some time so now’s as good a time as any to kick it off. And yes, I know it’s not a great name but it’s a place to start.

Starting October 3rd, 2010 a few people are going to start gathering whenever Council meets to witness our city governance in action and then get together for a pint and a bite to eat.

For those unfamiliar with Council proceedings* (and I am in no way any expert on the subject):

  • Council typically starts at 5pm with a number of awards and or citizen recognitions (30 minutes or so) before it gets into the meat of the agenda.
  • Around 7 or 7:30pm it pauses for a 1hr dinner break** (this can vary a bit depending on the issues before Council).
  • Following dinner it continues until all agenda items have been addressed.

This social group doesn’t have a set schedule, pop by when you can and listen/tweet/Facebook/blog/whatever.

At the break we’ll meet near the elevators and quickly head over to Crabby Joe’s at Dundas and Wellington ( for a drink and a chance to discuss the goings on.

Show up for any of it, show up for all of it. Some people won’t be able to make it to the early session and some won’t be able to make it to the late session so this break will be a great opportunity for everyone to meet.

This group doesn’t have an agenda, isn’t affiliated with any organization and isn’t owned by anyone, we’re just a bunch of citizens who care about our city.

* If you have never been to Council Chambers, take the City Hall elevator to the 3rd floor. Turn left OR right at the Clerk’s Office and follow the hallways to the room. Public wifi is available.

** If you want to know exactly when we’re heading to the bar please monitor my Twitter feed at – or email me at adamsson at gmail dawt com and I’ll ping you when we head over.

Getting it Done

So that’s one idea. There are a MANY other great ideas floating around.

  • Mobilize creative minds to raise awareness of issues that tackle our city (sprawl, transit, urban renewal, livability, etc) – see and this cool video for No Tankers.
  • Brainstorm large community projects (like the Community Portal), acquire funding where available and guide the project to completion.
  • Pair creative and technical minds to broaden each others portfolios (creative designs portfolio sites for dev and artist and dev brings them to the web).
  • Pair creatives and techs with senior mentors.
  • Pair creatives and techs with charitable organizations. Provides portfolio work and experience and serves the community.
  • Hackathons (open data, scraped data, international contests).
  • Collaborative marketing projects for the community.
  • Work with community groups to find out where the gaps are in their needs and where the technical and creative communities can assist.

Can we build a corps of citizens to build projects that strengthen each other and the community?

London has some brilliant minds but many aren’t connected outside social events like the always excellent London Creative Network and Geek Dinner London.

Do you think we have the people and the passion to bring this to the next level?

(Take a look at this for a bit of inspiration –


Belonging and a Better City

I’ve been having trouble finding my mojo this year. Last year I was lucky enough to be involved in some great initiatives in the city. They weren’t all smashing successes but that’s ok. Failing is fine – learn and move on.

After my recent participation in the Community Engagement Task Force it became apparent to me that all of these incredible initiatives were engaging the already engaged. That’s a big problem.

I love hanging out with the true believers. Passion inspires passion. The problem is that we need more of these folks. Many more.

Where and how do you start to build passion?

A few months ago I met a brilliant guy named Michael Lewkowitz. He was interested in the election and why people weren’t feeling engaged so he did something pretty cool. He knocked on every door on his street and he talked to his neighbours about it. Michael’s excercise left a pretty big impression on me (and likely his neighbours).

Not long after the election Glen Pearson told me about a small street (not even in his riding) where a bunch of neighbours had gathered in a living room and asked Glen to come talk to them about politics.

I just found out recently that there is a group that gathers to jam on guitars in people’s living rooms.

So let’s start building where people have an interest already. Some people have a hobby, some have a club and some have a physical community that they belong to. Many of those people look for a good way to keep in touch and the web is awash in different tools for folks to use. But like our normal society these virtual gathering places are scattered and can be very difficult to find.

I’ll call this a Community Portal for now but here’s the idea:

  • a platform that allows any community or community of interest to have a free website
  • flexibility for the groups to customize and brand their sites
  • include all of the features that you’d expect to find in a web 2.0 site – news, events, blogs, social media links, galleries, etc
  • all of these communities feed back into a home page that highlights all of the energy that already exists in the community
  • partner with sites like LondonFuse and bring in an RSS feed of entertainment/event postings
  • make the whole thing location aware and mobile
  • build in a reputation system to reward contributions and reduce abuse/spam
  • tagging for groups and posts to cross polinate great events between groups (You might also like …)
  • open source the end product so that any community in the world can leverage the work
  • branding and advertising to bring this idea into the real world and into the other social media platforms

It’s not a comprehensive list of features but it’s a start.

Can small things like this build a sense of belonging? Does belonging build engagement? Does engagement builds a better city?


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.