Nest City Blog

A Time and Place for Ego

Last week I was invited to join a friend at a University of Alberta Athletics breakfast gathering.  As a last-minute invite, I was surprised to find myself sitting at the front of the room with the guest speakers – the director of Athletics, Georgette Reed, athletes Lauren Gillespie and Tyler Metcalfe – and in the middle of a healthy dose of feel-good ego fanning. 

We often think the ego is a bad thing, that it leads only to selfish acts and violence.  But the stories of our speakers revealed something different.  They revealed how sport has provided them the opportunity to develop as a person, to achieve things they never dreamed possible.  How there is room for anyone to achieve more than they think they can – especially with the support of others.  And these very same people continue to give back, endlessly. 

The ego tells us that we can get people into a room and tell them stories to gather the funds to create more stories. (the Athletics program needs more more money from people like you to keep and produce athletes and people like these!)  I assume most people in the room are/were involved in sport in some way – athletes, former athletes, coaches etc – and now in a position to give back.  Our egos compel us to be in the room and feel that familiar competitive camaraderie.  In a healthy way, our ego feeds our desire to ensure that others have the same opportunities.  It feeds our purpose.  It helps stabilize the purpose: funds for ongoing excellence in athletics. 

The irony – I did not attend U of A, let alone their athletics program, but I could not escape feeling great about the program and intensely feeling that I was part of the family.  I resisted the urge to pull out my wallet on the spot, but the envelope is sitting on my desk waiting for my next round of community giving in August.  It certainly fits my criteria of giving to the things that feed the heart and soul of a community.  

 

NOTE – A Spiral Dynamics integral reading of this event:  by design, a very well organized BLUE event that generated intense, healthy egocentric RED to support the BLUE desire to find meaning and purpose and provide stability.

 

 

Fearless Planning Practice in Service of Community

 

Over the last few weeks I have been working with colleagues who have chosen to put themselves and their work out into the community in an unusual way.They have openly asked the public, stakeholders, and their peers to scrutinize their work.Moreover, they have the intention to let their work be changed (and take longer to get to their political masters) by what they hear in conversation with these folks.

The City of St. Albert is seeking a new way to develop its physical environment.Instead of conventional methods and densities that are not fiscally, socially or environmentally sustainable, they are aiming to create a place that puts people, and design for people, first.They are seeking a new win-win-win.But to do this, they recognize that they have to get there without using the traditional methods.They have to be willing to ask for help.They have to accept (and tell others) that they do not have all the answers.This is not a usual practice for municipal staff.But it is a good practice. dsc05870

The other good practice is to take the risk to propose something different – to get a new result you have to try new ways of doing things.For St. Albert, it is a hybrid of conventional and form-based zoning, to be found in their draft Form-Based Zoning Regulations, a document quite different from what people (planners, developers, citizens, builders and politicians) are used to using to guide development.

St. Albert invited the wisdom of the people that will be using the document, external to the City of St. Albert, to test how it will work.Does it make sense?Does it contribute to improving quality of life for residents? Planners, engineers, technicians, a land owner and developer, a landscape architect, and a builder, rolled up their sleeves. St. Albert’s next endeavour – pull in the stakeholders with whom they need more conversation. Though counterintuitive, their intention to be willing to change will get them far.

"Smart" Hands at Work
"Smart" Hands at Work

Change, of course, is difficult, and the jury is still out on whether the initiative will fly. Whether it will be practical and marketable.Whether the political will is in place to allow change to occur.What is meaningful here, is that staff have taken the risk to create something new.They have also taken the risk to seek conversation about what they are doing.Their intention is to prepare for Council and the community the best tools to ensure quality of life for their residents.To do this, they balance their ‘expert’ role with acceptance that they do not have all the answers.They expect their work to be changed, and being open to criticism, without fighting it, is fearless.This is essential to a meaningful professional practice, and they embrace this.

More information about St. Albert’s initiative can be found at – http://www.stalbert.ca/smart-growth.

Design to Plan, Plan to Design

Last night I moderated a public session on behalf of the University of Alberta City Region Studies Centre.  The speakers were George Crandall and Don Arambula, and architect and landscape architect from the firm Crandall Arambula out of Portland, Oregon.  The topic – Regional Transportation: Lessons from Portland.

Regional planning is regional planning, wherever it occurs.  And there are some lessons for Alberta’s Capital Region and the government of Alberta.  The lessons I drew out for Capital Region planning as well as the Land Use Framework:

  1. There is a place for provincial government to ensure that local governments are  not only cooperating, but ensuring that they are producing a plan that is useful in the end.  This means what is “useful” needs to be well defined.
  2. Creating a growth management plan is not about just creating a plan, it is about creating ownership for a plan.  This occurs by working with the public.  Not just polls and workshops, but engagement where people roll up their sleeves and have an impact on the outcome.  Particularly if this process marries the interests of builders and developers (ie practicality) and citizens.
  3. Mechanisms to make a regional plan a reality are essential.  It is not enough to have a big plan and leave it up to local governments to implement.  Sample mechanism – public transportation authority, regional waste disposal strategies, regional land use design expectations and authority.
  4. Clear implementation plans and commitments are as much as the plan itself.  This implementation must factor in design front and centre to ensure the product created is what is desired.  A design purpose is front and center.
  5. In times of growth, we rely on Silver Bullets, to “just get us through”.  What we need is an overall plan.  That plan, must indicate what is to happen where.
  6. A plan that indicates what will happen where clearly delineates priorities for public infrastructure investment – best use of tax dollars.
  7. A plan that indicates what will happen where offers predictability and stability for developers and builders.  This will work well for some, and not well for others, but the direction must hold.
  8. It all revolves around great political intrigue – the creation of any plan is necessarily messy.  If it isn’t tough to create, then that is a sign that it isn’t the right plan.
  9. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle – each piece comes with a shape and a piece of the picture – is that clearly articulated for each piece of the region, or will it be for each region of the province?

In the end, we must design planning processes with the above expectations.  Then we must plan to work in design to make it work.

Creating a Solid Foundation for Community Conversation

 

On Friday May 1, 2009, I offered a workshop in Calgary as part of the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners’ AGM.   The subject was public engagement.  Below are the participants words in answer to the following question:  What is the value of today’s conversation.  Enjoy.

New faces and players

This is my passion

Developer

Municipal planner

New tools

I see in new ways

Ditto ditto

I am on the learning cliff

In a new world

My gut applies

An open house is one component

Other things to integrate

Looking for the silent majority

Looking for ways in

Different backgrounds

Similar issues

Under lying threads

Risk management

Practical strategies

Solve problems

Constant learning

Student of life

I’m glad I’m not sitting over there

My intuition is correct

I learn by doing

I appreciate

An evolution is going on

Engaging more

Perhaps better decisions

Develop and show respect

Develop trust

Reinforced for success

Values and strategies

I think about why

Engagement differs

From person to person

The constant:

Open, honest communication

With room for a voice

Engagement is the new norm

Bricks and the mortar

Passion to collaborate

Processes are valuable

I share experience

With many backgrounds

New ideas

I have to check my assumptions

How do we know where they’re at?

Not what they say, what they do

Always a student

Gaining perspective

What works with one

Does not with another

More learning

Understand audience

Appropriate approach

Experimenting

Transitioning

Thinking about where I am

Where are the people coming from?


The Runaway Train, The Dinosaur, and the House of Cards

 

Ronald Wright, in A Short History of Progress, highlights Joseph Tainter’s three factors that lead to a civilization’s collapse:  the Runaway Train, the Dinosaur, and the House of Cards.  An illustration of these phenomena are in PBS’ just concluded production of Dickens’ Little Dorrit.  Illustrations with a direct connection to today’s world.

Dickens illustrates the Runaway Train in Merdle’s Bank, where debt pays debt, and that debt pays more debt.   Merdle alone, as the conductor of the train, sees the inevitible crash.  He despises the Dinosaurs that seek his favour to “invest” with him, yet takes them on as passengers.  The Dinosaurs continue to believe in his wisdom and prowess.  ‘Society’ has complete faith in Society, hence Merdle.  For Society, the financial returns will continue.  This is what is owed to position, prestige and privelege.  Status is taken for granted.  There is nothing that can go wrong.  But it does.

The House of Cards. From the degradation and literal collapse of the Clenham household, to the rise and fall (and rise and fall again) of the Dorrit family.  The Merdles themselves who have enjoyed privilege find it gone.  The newfound wealth of the Dorrit family is gone.   “I might go back to dancing,” says Fanny Dorrit.  Her brother, Tip: “But what about me?”  All in which they found meaning is gone.  

Enter Arthur Clennam, in debtors’ prison as a result of inability to pay his creditors after having lost his fortune on Merdle’s Runaway Train. His despair is not from having lost his fortune, but from having let others down.  His happiness in the end is as it always was -enjoying, and in relationship with, people regardless of their status and position in Society.  Through Arthur Clennam and Amy Dorrit and the cast of characters that support them on their journey, we see that relationships are what endure in the world.   If you count only on riches and material goods, then you can’t have much to count on.  The House will eventually crumble. 

In today’s world, Merdle’s Runaway Train is the fall of Wall Street and even Bernie Madoff.  Dinosaurs refused to see that the economic train was heading fast down a path of disaster.  The harm for many is substantial.  The House of Cards is revealed.  What we have can disappear in an instant.

In the news this morning, 160 people are dead of swine flu in Mexico after only a handful yesterday. Travel advisories are now issued from the Government of Canada.  The World Health Organization views travel restrictions as pointless – it can not be contained.  Looks like a Runaway Train.  

It appears, if we stop and think about it, that our very existence is a House of Cards.  Our privilege in the West is a House of Cards, and perhaps a Runaway Train. Whether it is the economic conditions of our time, or the environmental and health stresses at this time, let us be wary of the Dinosaur.  It is what keeps us from noticing the Runaway Train and the House of Cards.

Then what is the opposite of Dinosaur?  Awake, conscious, in tune with the world.  In relationship with the world.  In relationship with others in the world to seek understanding and solutions.  A sense of happiness.  In Little Dorrit, the happy folk have relationships that cross (yet keep) many boundaries – jailed and jailor, poor and rich, female and male, servant and master, harassed and harrassor, young and old, unloved and loved. Perhaps this is the antidote to the Dinosaur. A way of being that  gets the best out of people for the challenges ahead.  

It can’t really be named, this anti-Dinosaur, but it seems this is what will cultivate our needed collective ingenuity.  

 

Doubting Susan Boyle

 

As I was enjoying the thrill of waiting for the play Doubt to start at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, I read the following by the playwright, John Patrick Stanley, and I knew I was in for a treat:

“There is an uneasy time when belief has begun to slip but hypocrisy has yet to take hold, when the consciousness is disturbed but not yet altered.  It is the most dangerous, important, and ongoing experience of life.  The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt.  It is that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or I become a lie.”

After the experience of the play, I looked at the world differently.  Stanley suggests that doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and I wondered how that plays out in the world.  Enter Susan Boyle. 

As I write this, the You Tube video of Susan Boyle’s performance at Britain’s Got Talent has been viewed over 62 million times. We watch Simon Cowell ask her a few questions before she sings.  Even though I know what is going to happen, it is perfectly clear she doesn’t fit the mold.  She doesn’t look or act “the part.”  When I watched this I knew what was coming, but I also knew in my soul that I would have reacted the same way as the audience.  I felt, with conviction, that there was no way this gal was going to be for real. Then she sings.

The judges’ chins drop, the crowd rises, smiles are everywhere.  Tears surface.  Susan Boyle, with the doubt she inevitably carried in people’s reaction to her, dreamed her dream.

Stanley’s words offer so much about how we see others.  Thank you to Susan Boyle for reminding us to renew our humanity, to dream our dream.  For reminding us that there are Susan Boyles everywhere in our world, should we choose to doubt our fixed assumptions and recognize them.  

 

Is it Time to Sub Off?

 

After a soccer scrimmage my coach made the observation that I was not subbing myself off the field frequently enough.  I had been playing but not as hard as my mates.  I had been keeping track of them and giving them a chance to sub out and take a break before me.  Then when I took my turn, I waited to make sure my mate heading back to the field had the rest she needed.

I explored this with my coach, checking my assumption that if I am not getting tired, I should let others go ahead of me.  There was silence, and I fully expected him to say, “yes, of course”, but he answered, “no.”  The reason – if you don’t take time for yourself, your teammates will see you as a workhorse and count on you to stay on so they can take their breaks.  It won’t add up to anything good for you or the team. 

I further digested this with a colleague of mine who revealed he is taking a 2-year break from volunteering.  We started thinking about how we know people we can rely on to pick up what needs to get done – regardless of how much energy they have to do it.  But we rarely find people who balance the need to step in with the need for look after themselves.

In a real game situation my coach will tell me when to sub off.  But in real life, if I wait for someone to tell me, it won’t happen.  And like in soccer, I will lose stamina over time, I will lose my mental agility to see what needs to get done, let alone be able to do it well.  I will cause harm to my team AND make it impossible for fresh legs to apply themselves to the cause.

Subbing off is an expected and necessary part of the game, but there is a conundrum to learn to live with: when you are off the field, you are still in the game.  

 

That Old Chevy Won’t Last Forever

At every turn, we fix and tinker, and I wonder if this is the most effective way to expend our energy at this time of economic crisis as Alberta releases its new budget.  

In the novel The Road Home, Rudi is in rural Poland struggling to keep an ancient run-down Chevy in operation.  Running it as a taxi is his only source of income.  He has put all his hope, energy and money into it, and when it fails, he as nothing left to hang on to in life.  There are no jobs.  The town will soon be underwater behind a new dam, the Central Office of Planning’s top secret initiative.  There is clearly danger in putting all one’s eggs, and hope, in one basket – or one old broken down Chevy.  
Alberta’s Old Broken Down Chevy is our oil and gas – our primary economy. By not making efforts to diversify our economy we put all our hope, energy and money into the Chevy.  At some point, we will be underwater as a result of our Central Office of Planning’s endless tinkering to make sure the oil and gas economy stays in operation.   Alberta released it’s new budget yesterday with a plan to run a deficit for four years.  Perhaps we are worse off than Rudi.  Our Central Office of Planning doesn’t appear to have a plan. 
I was reminded this week that the two Chinese characters that together depict the notion of crisis: danger and opportunity.  What happens if when we look at the economic downturn not only as a dangerous event, but as opportunity?  
A few missed opportunities in the budget:
  1. Spend on infrastructure during the economic downturn when jobs are needed.
  2. Spend on infrastructure during the economic downturn when the price is best – when thee is less competition for labour and materials.  
  3. Plan for the next phase of growth related to oil and gas.  From a provincial and regional perspective, know and understand what will happen where and what is needed to support it.  
  4. Plan and spend on the diversified economic drivers, rather than the old Chevy.
  5. Stimulate the economy with efforts that support diversification, something other than the old Chevy.  
  6. Take the time to reflect on how the last growth spurt was handled with the intention of learning and being smarter with time and money.  
Carbon capture is tinkering. Ceasing chiropractic coverage is tinkering.  While these actions address, in theory, some of the dangers at hand (bad image, spend less), it does not create opportunity.  Let’s find ways to balance our attention on the immediate (tinkering) with the opportunities to rebuild and restart our economy.  That old Chevy is good for while.  But you know, nothing lasts forever.  Whether in Alberta or on Wall Street, that old Chevy needs a little less attention.
(Originally published on April 9, 2009 at populuspractice.blogspot.com)

What Does Soccer Have to do With Leadership?

I didn’t think I would learn about leadership as I learn to play soccer with the gals in  my new neighbourhood.  I see now that there is a lot of wisdom to tease out of this experience.

Here is the picture I noticed the other day:  my mate is battling the other team for the ball in front of our net.  My first instinct is to stay close by, to help my mate if she needs it, but that actually makes her job more difficult because there are too many players in a tight spot.  Though it seems counter intuitive, if I move away from my own net, I will bring both myself and a player from the other team out of the melee, making my mate’s task easier AND putting myself in a more open place to become a part of the play.

The meaning I made out of this?
  1. My mate will only do her best if I give her the space she needs.
  2. To give her the space she needs, I must trust she can do it.
  3. My worries about protecting our net harm my team’s ability to reach our goal.
  4. Trusting my mates makes me open to the play around me.
Sometimes my mate will succeed in getting the ball, sometimes not.  The same will happen to me.  The same will happen to our team. Ultimately, it is how we show up that has the most meaning – choosing trust is the ultimate success on any field.
(originally published March 25, 2009 at populuspractice.blogspot.com)