Nest City Blog

Making Monster Stories

This is the closing debrief in yesterdays creative process session at the Authentic Leadership in Action Institute in Halifax.  We were exploring story:

Our similar stories

Got better as we told them

When I wrote mine

It was all about me

When I told it

I found some distance

I can see the monster

When I get out of the way

When I whisper

Transported to a garage and toolbox

A love of listening

With sadness

Pure negativity is not evil

It is the pleasure we find in negativity

That is

We make decisions

About our personal stories

The evil and the good in our hearts

The passion without definition

Random meaning

In our lives

When we get out of the way

With imagination and insight

The storyteller is a guide

Letting the story unfold

Each time

With the prince

The wolf and the horse

What do I do now?

That’s up to you?

Crush the Giant’s heart

Or put it back?

And live happily


ever after…

Worldly Wealth Cafe

I am attending the Authentic Leadership in Action conference in Halifax this week.  A thread throughout are the notions of wealth and currency.  Below is a poem created while listening to this morning’s debrief after a world cafe discussion…

How the hell did it happen

That money is more important than people

How do we stay so confused

Every day

Trust is the heart of


A core

Of investment in future

Sustaining savings


Poverty for all

Do we perceive ourselves as being poor?

Complexity measures community

Wealthy when intention and reality are one

What drives our actions

Isn’t real

2 of us came to the table

without talking about money at all

Can you make money of money

Culture, class, gender

Are at the heart of the matter

In social transformation

A shifty mood

Where I put my attention

What if I just put trust out there

In the university

In giving my needs will be provided

Wikipedia, linnux, what’s next

When wealth is genuinely exchanged?

Without fear of scarcity

In touch with humanity


Together in

Homes and communities

My back hurts

What am I willing to pay?

ACE Volunteer Experts in New Sarepta

On June 16, 2009, volunteers from New Sarepta, Sherwood Park, Leduc and Leduc County gathered to explore volunteering. Their goal – to sustainably recruit and retain volunteers.  Again, in my work with ACE Communities ( I facilitated the creation of their goal and identification of strategies to reach the goal.  Their main finding: we  know what needs to be done, we just needed to take the time amongst ourselves (as individuals and together) to find it.  We just have to do what we forget we have to do.

Here is their work and what their conclusions:


I was burned and sick and tired

Reminded why I will continue

A boost to run a festival!

Appreciating people where they are

I reemphasize the importance to reinvest

Taking time to consider

What we are doing right

I will mentor others and transfer the best I can

I found categories of why we volunteer

Making it easier to work with my agencies

I take away this process

In organizations

We will know what we are about

And what is expected

Keeping board members with more effort

I will mentor

An interesting thought

Why do I volunteer?

Oh, ok.Now I get it.

I bring connections to my volunteers

I don’t just say be intentional

I can be intentional

I actually know

That I am an expert

ACE Volunteer Experts in Thorsby/Warburg

In my work with ACE Communities ( I had the pleasure last night of facilitating a workshop with volunteer experts – the people who showed up to learn about how to recruit and retain volunteers.
With ACE leaders at Leduc County, we designed an experience that brought out the experts in Thorsby and Warburg. Here is their work and what they concluded at the end of the gathering:

The value of the conversation and commitment:

Sharing it all, networking
We know more than we thought

We renew positive
Remembering why
With inspiration
To appreciate

Encouraging community
Still cares
We don’t let the nay-sayers get me down
We keep trudging along
Walking with more support
With people like me
Not alone

What wonderful work we do
As volunteers
We do all those things!
It’s nice to hear once and a while!

We will appreciate volunteers more
I will appreciate myself more

Good to hear what others are doing
Hearing from other volunteers
I have taken in a lot
I can’t say just one thing

We are out of the box
With 39/20 networking
When we need it
We are out there

We are impressed
So many with similar ideas
We know what works
We’re on to something

We will find more people
That don’t know the word no
Always the same faces
But there are lots of kinds
Of volunteers
Worker bees and people like us
Start saying no to no!

We have lots to take home
Actions to remind myself
Once and a while
Fanning connections
What everyone said is what I was thinking

Try harder
The Terry Fox run will be running
Playing off one another
Making the connections between us

Here’s Jessica


Last week I joined a decade-long conversation about values, culture and leadership in Dallas, Texas.We were 35 people from Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, the United Kingdom and across the United States.With the sweltering weather outside, we found ourselves creating some cool experiences. Top of mind is Jessica Roemischer’s contribution: prior to gathering, she asked us what music is most meaningful to us.Once gathered, she sat down at a piano to describe what she has been exploring – the connection music has in culture, using us as examples. (For more on Jessica, see or

Below is the meaning I made of the experience…

Here’s Jessica

Heeeeeeerrrrrrrrre’s Jessica

with culture

from who we are

from where we are

Enlightened epiphany

personal and universal

as one

Musical meme spirit

intangible power


to divinity


Music reveals

dynamic human nature


forged to future

Old Joe in the room

in the world

in the garden

in a house like I have


Improvising voice

and crawling skin

crazy love

in lineage

an unchained melody

loving loch lomand

This is called trust

new consciousness

without fear

makes possible

single notes

in twinkling melody

played perfectly

flying free

Improving life conditions

makes music possible

frees deep spirit

catalyzing beauty

I’m Jewish by birth

don’t know What by life

What women are we talking about?

You can watch anything on YouTube

Nonlinear blend


Palestinian purple sparks

my dear beloved


How are we doing for time?


I’ll add something

then let it be


We will all be

as one

Wherever I go

I feel at home

in transition

in harmonic exodus

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 –

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


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



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.