Intelligent Futures Insights
Monday, April 26, 2010
  Back in the air

Just a quick entry. A great demonstration of how connected our world is today. Here’s a video showing the planes getting back in the air after the volcano-induced shutdown of European airspace.

Airspace Rebooted from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

Friday, March 19, 2010
  The Blog Cloud

I've been negligent when it comes to blogging over the past months. My time and attention has been taken away from the IF blog thanks to a new project I hope to launch in the next week or two (stay tuned!). In the meantime, I came across a cool tool called Many Eyes. It's a visualization tool that you can use free on the web. Just upload your data and choose how you'd like to present it. I've written a number of times in this space about finding new ways of getting your message across. Here's one tool to help you do that.

I decided to do a "word cloud" of my blog from the beginning to
the present day. Very interesting to see what has come up frequently. You can see it below:

Friday, January 29, 2010
  From the mouths of babes...
Last week was a crazy speaking week. Here's what it looked like:

Monday - Present an overview of planning in Calgary to the Architectural Technologies program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Wednesday morning - Three one-hour talks with grade 6 classes at Olympic Heights Elementary School about imagineCALGARY and sustainability.

Wednesday afternoon - Present on sustainability planning to a graduate seminar - "The Postmodern City" at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Environmental Design.

Thursday - Present planning history and sustainability to the undergraduate course I teach, "Planning the Canadian City" at the University of Calgary.

6 speaking engagements in 4 days. Needless to say, I didn't need to hear myself speak all weekend. A couple of thoughts on that diversity of audiences:

Don't underestimate the intelligence or insightfulness of kids. During my presentations at Olympic Heights Elementary, here are some questions I was asked:

"What is the single most important goal in the imagineCALGARY Plan?"
"How did you come up with the questions you used for your visioning?"
"Why did imagineCALGARY start in the first place?"
"We are concerned about the health of the forest next to our school. What ways can we get people to work on improving it?"

Not exactly out-of-left-field questions. It was fascinating to see how these kids - who are working on a multi-month project on the long term sustainability of Calgary - were able to cut to some core issues in a short time. Often times we get caught up in the minutia or stalled on semantics, rather than focusing on what is really important. I think the next time I catch myself in that mode, I'll call my niece or nephew for some advice.

Know your audience. A very basic premise, I know, but having such a crazy range of speaking engagements in such a short time, it only reinforced this idea. Yes, it takes more effort to consider what is relevant for your audience. Yes, it takes more time to prepare a new presentation. In the end, though, your audience will get much more out of it and you will benefit from an engaged group that you can learn from as well.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
  Back from Beijing
I just returned from Beijing where I was on the facilitation team for the LEAD (Leadership in Environment and Development) International Session. This annual event brings together the 13 LEAD regional training programs for a 7-day session on leadership, climate change and sustainability.

The diversity that came together in Beijing was incredible. In just my Working Group alone, we had individuals from India, Germany, Pakistan, China, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Malawi, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore and Indonesia. We had people in industry, education, banking, forestry, environment, and engineering, just to name a few of the professions and backgrounds of this group. Amongst other roles during the week, I facilitated this group of leaders throughout the conference. In 7 days, I learned a number of things from this amazing group of people, including:

When you have capacity in the room, get out of the way.

From the first day our working group met, it was evident that there was an immense amount of knowledge and capacity in the room. While many people are intimidated by the diversity that a group like this represents, I firmly believe that diversity is a key element of successful groups. Working Group 6 in Beijing affirmed that belief. The backgrounds, personalities and styles were diverse, but complementary. From the early stages of our process, it was clear that my job was to get the group comfortable with each other, the conference and their task (creating a 10-minute presentation for the conference participants on the last day). Once that was accomplished, I went into “un-facilitation” mode and let this group full of articulate, passionate and intelligent people move ahead.

Often times, folks in my position make everything about them and try to control every aspect of a process. That’s a bad move. In short, with everybody capable and comfortable, just get out of the way. Things will work out just fine.

Working Group 6: A study in intelligence, passion and capacity

Respect = progress

After I took a back seat in the Working Group 6 process, one key attribute of the group kept surfacing: respect. Throughout the week, the members of our group showed each other a tremendous amount of respect. They went out of their way to ensure everyone’s voice was heard. They listened intently to everyone’s ideas. They acknowledged each person’s strengths and contributions to the group. The group created a situation where everyone felt valuable and welcome.

Without this respect, the group wouldn’t have progressed as quickly and effectively as they did. Aretha Franklin would have been proud.

We need to use creativity and passion more often.

The end result of Working Group 6’s efforts was an incredible video discussing the economy and the need to shift to a more sustainable way of doing business. Tapping into the diversity of the group and respecting each other, the video demonstrated the power of creativity and passion in communicating and motivating people. Too often, we get bogged down in bureaucratic, stale ways of communicating. The term “death by PowerPoint” comes to mind.

A good demonstration of how creativity and passion motivates can be found in the video’s main editor - Rogelio Canizales Perez from Mexico. With only 24 hours to create and develop the presentation concept, the group had to put in a late night. After a certain point, though, it came down to editing the video clips and ideas that the team had put together. Rogelio stayed up until 6am editing the video to ensure it was ready for the 9am start time for the presentation. Rogelio later told the group that he felt so motivated by his teammates that it wasn’t a chore for him to stay up all night to create the video.

That’s the power of respect, creativity, passion and teamwork.

People are the solution.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that the conference participants could be put into one of two categories: those that saw people as the source of our problems and those that saw people as the solution to our problems. While both are right in a sense, those that saw people as the solution were able to communicate in a way that connected with the audience on a much more profound level that just blurting out facts and figures. Often times, discussions on sustainability and climate change become too technical, too abstract. The LEAD International Session participants used humour, music, drama, video and even dance to get people thinking and acting in a new way. Remember that if these issues are to be addressed, it’s people that will do the work, so try to connect with them in a meaningful way.

All in all, it was an incredible week and definitely worth the jetlag and fatigue that I’m feeling upon returning back to Canada.

(And I’ll try to track down the Working Group 6 video from Rogelio and post it here as soon as possible!)

- John, November 19, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009
  Check your mindset
I just saw a very interesting episode of the PBS show Frontline, entitled "The Warning." It looks at how a woman named Brooksley Born - the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission - attempted to warn the powers-that-be that the economy was headed for trouble and that the derivatives market should be regulated. At the centre of the story is Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and his insistence on clinging to his beliefs and mindsets. It's a fascinating (and frustrating) story in and of itself, but it's also a great lesson about mental models.

Often, we get our mental models of the world confused with reality. We think the way we see and interpret the world is the way it is. Think about the glass-is-half-full versus the glass-is-half-empty as an extremely simple comparison of two mental models. One views the world in terms of plenty, the other views it as wanting. In Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind, which I recently wrote about, mental models are discussed at length. A couple of pertinent quotes from the book:

"Very little in life should be viewed as incontrovertibly real."

"Contented (mental) model defense is by far the most prevalent (conceptual) model - it is the factory setting for most people, who are generally unconscious of its operation. When we engage in contented model defense, we adopt a theory and then seek to support and defend it. As we accumulate data in support of the theory we've adopted, we become more certain that our theory represents the truth and more content that we have achieved our ultimate goal, certainty." (p. 125)

With that in mind, let's go back to Alan Greenspan. In a remarkable Congressional hearing from last year, Greenspan articulates his error in mistaking his mindset for reality and failing to critically check his assumptions. The direct relation from Martin's quote above and 1:15-1:32 of the video below is quite astounding.

Lesson learned: Try to go less than 40 years before you check in on your assumptions of how you view the world.

-John, October 23, 2009

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Thursday, October 1, 2009
  The Opposable Mind and Getting Things Done

I just finished reading a terrific book by Roger Martin called
The Opposable Mind. Using a series of case studies, Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, breaks down the concept of integrative thinking and looks at those who have successfully navigated in between opposing ideas to come up with a creative and effective solution.

This book is important for those trying to come up with holistic solutions to issues - whether in business, community or government. In Martin's words, "the most common failing of conventional thinking is the tendency to lose sight of the whole decision. It may be easier to dole out pieces of a decision to various corporate functions, but that ensures no one will take a holistic view of a particular problem." In a world where issues, people and decisions are increasingly connected, the art of integrative thinking will be a most valued trait.

Throughout my reading of this book, I continually thought of one person: Barack Obama. There are a number of admirable characteristics about President Obama, but his ability to not fall prey to the oversimplified view of either end of the political spectrum has really stood out for me. One of the most impressive examples of this is his speech in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008. Rather than selecting a side on racial polarization, he addressed the complexity of the issue with honesty and eloquence. As Martin points out in his book, it is this ground in between the poles that real discussion can happen and where the most effective solutions are found.

In addition to having a current, high profile individual that exemplifies integrative thinking, the good news coming out of Martin's book is that the ability to use integrative thinking is a process that can be learned and improved upon. At Intelligent Futures, this is something we try to bring to our work all the time and The Opposable Mind is now a tool that we can share with those we work with.

- John, October 1, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009
  UNEP Executive Directors Panel
Two months after my time at the Global Environmental Governance Forum in Glion, Switzerland (see my postings from July) and I'm still reflecting on the discussion on a regular basis. Just recently, a video of the panel of the five Executive Directors of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) that occurred in Glion was posted. As someone who works more regularly at the local level of global issues, what stood out for me looking back on this speakers panel is how many of the themes I work in - cooperation, shared vision and goals, interdependence - are all front and centre on the international scene as well.

This panel discussion provides a unique insight into issues of environment, governance and collaboration by a group of folks representing over 40 years of experience and reflection.

- John, September 7, 2009.
Monday, August 24, 2009
  Tell the story in a different way

A message that I continually hammer home for the students in my Urban Studies class "Planning the Canadian City" is that they need to find interesting and imaginative ways of telling their story. Rather than have a series of exams where the students just regurgitate information, only to forget it the next week, the class is one large group project, with various assignments asking them to study a community and come up with recommendations for its future. In order to emphasize the importance of getting their message across, a 20 minute presentation is worth 40% of their entire term mark. The related paper is worth another 40%. The entire semester, I continually try to get them away from the standard, double-sided, 12-point, Times New Roman paper that they are forced to do in every other class. Outside of the classroom, that kind of report would be used as a coaster.

I have recently come across two excellent examples of sharing information in innovative and powerful ways. Good magazine has a remarkable series of "transparencies" as they call them. They are graphics that help portray information - from bankruptcies to sports mascots to the use of water - and are some of the best I have seen. In the example below, they look at the most used words in two books on either side of the American political spectrum: Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (in blue on the left) and Ann Coulter’s Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right (in red on the right). Fascinating stuff.

For a complete listing of the graphics, go to their Good Transparencies Archive on Flickr. Trust me, you'll come out of it with some great new ideas of telling your story.

The other fascinating way of portraying information I recently saw was a TED Talk by Chris Jordan. Using "large-format, long-zoom artwork," he portrays daunting statistics - like the fact that 1 million plastic cups are used on US airline flights every six hours - in a thought-provoking way. His work really does an incredible job of putting these facts across in a way that people can relate to. This is something we all need to do a better job of.

Here is the talk:

- John, August 24, 2009

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Thursday, August 13, 2009
  Sustainability Initiative Top 10
My colleague Blythe Butler and I were just discussing our work on sustainability and were trying to come up with a summary of key things to think about when getting into a sustainability initiative. We decided on a Letterman-esque compilation (minus the backup band and dramatic drumroll, of course). So, without further delay, here is:

The Top 10 List of Things You Should Know When You’re Getting Into A Sustainability Initiative

  1. Sustainability is not just about the environment. Don’t forget about the economic, cultural, built, social and governance elements of your community or organization.
  2. Sustainability is a collective issue that requires collective action. Have a dynamic, exciting and effective engagement process.
  3. Be clear about your objectives. Design a well-defined but flexible process.
  4. Be prepared to listen, learn and adapt. Facilitate the process to maximize the collective wisdom of your participants.
  5. Know where you’re coming from and where you are. Do a situational analysis.
  6. Follow the momentum. Engage champions early to build commitment.
  7. Your process, decisions and documents should be transparent. Design a credible and accessible governance structure.
  8. Encourage personal responsibility. Give participants the tools to own the process.
  9. Communicate the context. Use language and stories that participants can relate to.
  10. Focus on getting it right versus being right. See all of the above.
Monday, July 13, 2009
  Brain-Expanding Days on the Road

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks.  First, I was up in Iqaluit as part of my climate change adaptation project.  Then, I moved onto Switzerland to participate in the Global Environmental Governance Forum.  After that, I headed to London to meet up with some friends from the LEAD Network.  I’ve been writing as I go, but frankly, by the end of each day, my brain has been too full to do spend time uploading my thoughts. 

The result is this super-entry – a collection of writings on my experiences over the last few weeks…..

 Become the sponge

 June 29, 2009

I’m in Glion, Switzerland at the Global Environmental Governance Forum.  Developed by Yale University and the College of William & Mary, the Global Environmental Governance Project “seeks to link thought and action in an effort to improve environmental governance at multiple levels. Through grounded historical research, contemporary policy analysis, and track two diplomacy, it aims to lay the foundation for an effective analytical and political process for reinvigorating global environmental governance.”

This event is a unique look back at the development of the global environmental movement and institutions – particularly the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  I have been fortunate enough to be selected as part of a group of “emerging leaders” that were selected from 10 countries.  The intent of this event is to hear reflections from the architects of the current system, look at current challenges with key players now in the system and then bring together the “emerging” generation to look at ways of improving the system.  This event marks the first time in history that the five Executive Directors of UNEP have been together at the same time.  To witness the discussions is a real honour.  As I told many of my colleagues in the Emerging Leaders group, I’m going to be in sponge mode as much as possible over the next few days.

Here is a news report on the event produced by one of my emerging leader colleagues, Joe Ageyo:


There are approximately 80 people gathered here in Glion and the credentials of the people are astonishing.  Just to give you a sense, here are some of the participants:

During this retrospective view, one primary thing stood out for me:

The issues haven’t changed.  The timeframe is just more urgent.

The issues that resulted in the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the eventual development of the United Nations Environment Program are still with us.  Tensions around development between developed and developing nations; degradation of natural resources; lack of coordination and cooperation amongst nations.  These issues are as relevant and pressing – if not more so – that they were almost 40 years ago when these visionaries tried to forge a new way forward.

So if the issues haven’t changed, then the “what” is the same.  It’s time to look at ways to build a new “how.”  That’s always the toughest question.


June 30, 2009

We had a full day of listening to many of the current players in the global environmental governance system – most of whom work in the United Nations.  Just like actors in many other systems, once they are imbedded, it’s difficult – if not impossible – for them to get perspective on what they do or how they fit into the bigger picture.

Rather than discussing how the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) fits into a larger system, they were talking as if UNEP was the system.  I just kept thinking back to my entry from March 18th about the worm and the sauerkraut. A colleague of mine from the emerging leaders group – Jason Morris-Jung, a doctoral candidate at Berkeley – shared a similar saying from Vietnam that I think applies just as well with the folks in the UN system, based on my perspective of the last couple of days:

“To a frog in a well, the sky is very small.”

Gaining this perspective is vital, especially for an issues as complex as the global environment.  There are so many actors, perspectives and solutions that one single organization – no matter how capable – can’t possible solve the issues alone.  Gaining a perspective of how UNEP fits into a larger system would go a long way to determining how to build on its strengths within that context in order to create the most effective change possible.    

When Bill talks, just listen.

June 30, 2009

The discussions during day 2 of the Global Environmental Governance Forum in Glion, Switzerland, often bordered on the hopeless.  The severity of the problems and the difficulty of making real progress can be completely overwhelming at times.  On this front, some gems of wisdom came from Bill Ruckelshaus, the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, who also returned to become its fifth Administrator.  Oh yes, he also was the Director of the FBI for a while and the Assistant Attorney General during Watergate.  I’m not kidding.  One of those posts would be the pinnacle of a career for most mortals.  Unbelievable. 

While much of the discussion focused on the United Nations and national governments, Bill reminded us that the only way things really move dramatically is if citizens want it.  He encouraged us to find ways to rally the citizens rather than the officials towards solving climate change.

Reflecting on his experience at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bill said, “I worked for two Presidents: Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  Neither of them were exactly charter members of the Sierra Club, but they made strong choices on the environment because the people were demanding it.”

Bill also made some terrific points about focusing on hope rather than despair.  Using Barak Obama’s campaign as a recent example, he emphasized that people will act and respond when there is light at the end of the tunnel.

These are really, really important points.  At every international session I go to I’m reminded of the differences in power that citizens have in various countries across the world.  Regardless, it’s essential that the average citizen rallies behind the environmental issues we face if they are going to be solved – whether in Canada, Brazil or Ethiopia.  The challenge – as is discussed often in this blog – is how to effectively communicate in a way that helps people understand the issue and inspires them to act. 

When someone with the knowledge and experience of Bill Ruckelshaus talks about hope, collaboration and engagement as the way forward, I’m even more convinced that these are the necessary ingredients to meet the issues of our time. He also pointed out that if we could create some sort of super-position that merged his roles as the Administrator of the EPA and the Director of the FBI, that would help too.

A wake-up call

July 1, 2009

Day 3 of the Global Environmental Governance Forum and it was time for the Emerging Leaders to become the focus and try to develop some ideas and actions for improving the system.  As it turns out, revising nearly 40 years of international effort in 8 hours isn’t all that easy. 

There was a lot of great discussion and lots of great ideas that came out of our discussions, but an interesting thing happened along the way.  Ambassador Di-Aping of Sudan stood up and told us in no uncertain terms that what we were proposing was the same-old, same-old.  And you know what?  In many respects, he was right.  We were unnecessarily limiting our discussion and ideas.  Despite not being imbedded in the system ourselves, we were thinking that way.  In talking with my colleague Kristen Hite, this may be understandable because we didn’t take the time to clearly articulate what our vision was.  Without this, it was fascinating how we turned into frogs in a well (see the June 30 entry). 

The time constraints were extremely tight and the discussions were very exciting, but without a collective direction within our group, we were unable to move our discussion beyond conventional thinking.  It took a wake-up call from someone outside our group to bring us to that reality.

Lessons learned/re-affirmed?  Vision is vital and so is diversity of perspective.

Finding the right music

July 2, 2009

At the Global Environmental Governance Forum, a stream of discussion was around whether this broad issue was like a symphony – where there are multiple players, but they need to work together to make great music; or was it like jazz – where you have a basic structure that is improvised around (see my entry from June 18th.  Great minds think alike.)

While I think both analogies are helpful, another one came from Mark Gold, one of my colleagues at the conference and the Executive Director of Heal the Bay in Los Angeles.  The institutions of global environmental governance don’t seem to be having a substantial impact on the key issues of our time. Our structures, decision-making and processes aren’t doing the job.

Mark suggested that in the light of what we learned over the past few days, we might need a different kind of music that is anti-establishment and will radically shift things in order to make new progress.  Symphony or jazz might not be the right tune.  In short, Mark recommended:

“Don’t forget punk.”

Climate change through the lens of art (or art through the lens of climate change).

London, July 3, 2009

I was able to attend a fascinating event at the Tate Britain gallery in London the other night.  It was entitled “What can Turner and Rothko tell us anything new about climate change?” and was run by some friends from the LEAD network – Sarah Hendel-Blackford, Steve Colling and Rachel Madan.  The intention of this project is to explore how works of art can express issues of climate change.

Steve, Sarah and Rachel discuss the issues with the audience.

Focusing on an exhibition of works by Turner and Rothko the discussion looked at how interpretations of art can articulate issues of climate change.  The interactive discussions got into specific elements like sea level rise, but really focused on the emotional side of facing a problem as daunting as climate change.  

I was intrigued by the idea of using new types of media to discuss climate change.  So far, the majority of non-Al Gore spokespeople on climate change have been scientists.  As a generalization, no one would accuse scientists of being the most inspiring communicators.  By using art to express the issues and emotions that climate change exposes, Sarah, Steve and Rachel have opened the door for new kinds of discussions to happen.  For an issue that is so complex, overwhelming and sometimes confusing, we need a lot of ways to get the message across.  My brain is full of ideas of how develop similar initiatives to expand the conversation. 

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Thursday, June 18, 2009
  Jazz in the Garden

In our work, we have benefited from using an approach of bringing together two seemingly unrelated concepts:  composting and jazz music.  Each applies to a separate phase of work, but they ultimately come together to create successful processes.

In the composting phase, you take the time to add the necessary ingredients for a successful project plan – timelines, tasks, responsibilities, and most importantly, frameworks and objectives.  At this time, you’re asking crucial questions like “What are we trying to achieve?”, “How will we approach the work?” and “What are the best methods to meet our objectives?”  Each one of these questions is like the green, brown and black material that you put into a composter to create vital, nutritious soil.

Take the time to "compost" in your process planning and it will pay dividends down the road.

I call this the composting period, because at this point in time, there is no big, exciting progress being made.  You’re learning about the project, the circumstances and any new information related to the community, organization or methodologies that you’re going to use.  A lot of people just want to get on with it and see this as a waste of time, but just like composting, if you are able to be patient and persistent enough in your project planning, you’ll see real benefits.

After a certain point, however, you need to stop planning and start acting.  In our work, this means the beginning of engagement with community members or staff of an organization.  Cue the jazz music. 

A key characteristic of jazz is improvisation.  The players in the band build off interactions with each other as they move through the music.  Our work attempts to bring out the collective wisdom of a community or organization.  The difference here is that we don’t prepare a plan for folks to comment on or approve, but we build something with them.  With so many diverse community or organizational members – the members of our jazz band – you really want to highlight and build off the views, experiences and talents that these diverse people bring to the process.  Unlike the composting period, you don’t have the luxury of reflecting and studying ad nauseum.  If the jazz musicians on stage stopped to discuss and think about a new direction they were going to take the music, it wouldn’t be much of a performance.  In our work, you have to be able to adapt and respond in a way that keeps the process exciting, engaging and moving forward. 

It’s at this point where the composting period and the jazz music come together.  When we start to build the music with the folks we are engaged with, we don’t make indiscriminate decisions based on rationale that changes from day-to-day.  Instead, we build off of the structures and key directions that we developed in the composting period.  Rather than creating an inflexible workplan, the time taken early in the process actually provides a level of clarity that allows us the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances while meeting our most important objectives.  Without this structure, it would just be chaos.  I’ll leave it to jazz legend Charles Mingus to conclude:

"You can't improvise on nothing, man; you've gotta improvise on something."

- Charles Mingus


Wednesday, June 3, 2009
  Seth Godin and Tribes
Seth Godin is my blogging hero.  In Seth's Blog, he "riffs on marketing, respect, and the way ideas spread."  What stands out for me is how thoughtful Godin is.  He talks about issues that are both current and timeless, but rather than provide the typical over-the-top-knee-jerk reaction to things, he provides real insight in how to look at issues from a different perspective.  The first line of his current post is "If you sell crack to kindergarten students, no need to read this."  You get the picture.

Seth recently spoke at the TED conference and it is one of the best talks I've seen.  Speaking on issues of ideas, values, leadership and tribes, Seth makes a compelling case that the power to lead change is in the hands of ordinary people.  We are trying to integrate many of these ideas into our work at Intelligent Futures and I'm sure that Seth will continue to provide great insights as we move ahead.  

Here's the talk.  It's 17 minutes well spent:

- John, June 3, 2009

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Friday, May 22, 2009
  Getting it right versus being right

I haven’t put an entry onto the blog for a while, as I’ve been busy wrapping up the completion of the Cochrane Sustainability Plan.  You can see the final plan here. 

The journey of developing the Cochrane Sustainability Plan has been quite remarkable.  Over a 4-month period, nearly 500 citizens contributed their views in the visioning process.  A group of 75 committed citizens were intimately involved in the process and were the real authors of this plan.  Over 11 months, these folks contributed over 700 hours of meeting time to help create a plan for the future of their community.  Most of that time was during a compressed 5-month period. 

In leading the process to create this plan, a key attribute of these citizens began to become apparent:

They were focused on getting it right as opposed to being right.

This is an important distinction – especially when trying to create a plan that an entire community can use to work together.  These citizens of Cochrane contributed a remarkable amount of time, knowledge and passion about their community, yet they were able to listen to one another and respect each other’s opinions.  Without this, the process would have devolved into a competition of superior ideas or views, rather than a collaborative effort for the future of the community.

Is this what you use to hold onto your ideas?

Often times, we tend to hold onto our ideas or viewpoints with a vice grip.  This is particularly prevalent with things that we care about.  Mixed in with this are elements of ego, open mindedness and past experience.  When the objective is to create as much common ground as possible, however, we need to take the long view of where we need to end up.  That’s what was so inspiring about the citizens of Cochrane in our process – they stayed focused on the long view and didn’t worry about being right all the time.  In your work, it’s an important question to keep in mind:

Am I trying to get it right or am I trying to be right?

- John, May 22, 2009

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
  What I learned from my high school basketball team

Late January 1991.  My high school basketball team from Regina was in a Saskatoon locker room waiting to start the final of a tournament against a tough team from Edmonton.  Our assistant coach was harping on his usual message: the five guys on the court needed to know:

As he finished his speech, he coined a new phrase for his message: samepagedness. 

For the rest of the season, before every game, he would stress the importance of samepagedness.  We went on to win the city championship that year and earned a bronze medal at the provincial championships.  Cue Bruce Springsteen singing “Glory Days.”

Fast forward to the present day.  I use this story all the time in my work.  Why?  This captures what we are trying to do in our work with communities and organizations.  Whether developing community sustainability plans or organizational strategic plans, the objective is the same: create samepagedness.  If we are trying to mobilize as much action as possible to address the issues of our time, we need to continually develop samepagedness.  Different members of the community or organization need to know what we are trying to achieve and what everyone’s role is.

18 years after that season, I’m still using that lesson I learned.  I don’t miss those short shorts we wore on that team, but I sure would like some of that hair back.  Mine seems to be disappearing.

- John, April 29, 2009

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Friday, April 17, 2009
  The lesson of the beer cup

A friend of mine recently conducted a waste management experiment while at a Calgary Flames hockey game.  Instead of throwing his recently emptied beer cup away and starting with a fresh one, he took his perfectly functional, but used cup to get a refill.   His plan was thwarted immediately.  Whether it was a Saddledome policy or a health regulation, he was told he had to use a new container if he wanted another beer.  He was thirsty.  He had no choice.  The poor guy.

Undeterred, he accepted his new beer in a new vessel, but tried to leave without a lid on his new beer cup.  He was told that he must use the lid if he wanted to walk back to his seat.  Waste reduction strike two.  

This is just a simple story that highlights the importance of understanding choice within a context.  Often, we simplify issues of sustainability down to personal choice - a do the right thing sort of argument.  The trouble is that we often neglect the fact that choices are informed - or in the case of the beer cup - directed a certain way because of the context in which those choices exist.  So whether it's issues of beer cup reuse or urban public policy, more focus needs to be put onto the context that influences individual choices.  Otherwise, we're asking hockey fans to make a choice between one less cup in the garbage and another beer.  Hockey fans get thirsty - I think you know which one would lose out more often than not.

- John, April 17, 2009 

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