I still need you in my life.

Last year, I wrote about how I was breaking up with a company that I started… it was difficult and rewarding all at the same time. I knew that I wasn’t giving up on what I had built, but rather looking at all I had learned and gained and striving for a new level of appreciation.

At the heart of the matter, I could put what used to be Exhibit Change in a box marked “Life MBA, in progress” on a shelf and pull out the box at shift through old mementos and notes and remind myself of an old version of Exhibit Change. It has been over 6 months since I wrote that initial blog and I am ready to open up the box and take out what still works and put back what doesn’t.

I can still agree that I don’t need to do this all on my own. The hardest part about being a solo entrepreneur is doing it all on your own. No matter how hard I tried to bring others into the fold, I was still left making a lot of the decisions on my own and I didn’t like that weight on my shoulders.

I can also agree that it feels amazing to be able to put what I was teaching into practice. Over the last few months I have been able to do design thinking and foresight in ways that I had only imagined before.

And one last thing, I’m not done teaching yet. Last year, I was feeling burnt out from doing a lot of teaching, but not a lot of doing and felt limited in my capacity to make impact. Now that I am getting to do more, I am seeing the value of teaching again. How I have been approaching my work for nearly 10 years now is unique and it would be unfair and counter to my principles to keep those methods proprietary.

All this to say that I am ready to bring Exhibit Change back into my life and keep using this platform as a way to share a way of doing work, learning and sharing.

I am breaking up with you.

Can you break up with a company you started? What if you still want to be friends? Exhibit Change and I have a complicated relationship.

It all started in 2009. I thought I needed Exhibit Change. It was a relationship created out of dependancy. We have had our struggles. Our relationship status didn’t always make sense to the outside world. People would ask if we were together, and sometimes it was a firm yes and other times, it was like we were seeing other people.

People would ask, “Is this an Exhibit Change project or a Jenn project?”

I wanted the two to be the same, but the problem was Exhibit Change had to be something other people could get on board with. It had to be scalable. It had to have a business model. It had to be focused. It had to be something that was bigger than me.

This is why I started referring to Exhibit Change as “we”. Even though the majority of the time it was just me. It was like having a multiple personality disorder. I was told not to let Exhibit Change look too much like one person at the helm and instead act like there was a big company behind the logo.

This summer I realized something. Exhibit Change isn’t a company anymore. To be honest, it never really was. I was trying to force it to be something it wasn’t and in turn, it was trying to change me. That isn’t a good foundation for any relationship.

Here’s what I have come to realize. I don’t need Exhibit Change the way I did when this all started. I don’t want to be a founder anymore. I don’t need to be the boss. I don’t need to make all the decisions. I don’t need to worry about growing my company. I just want to do the work. 

Looking back, I thought starting a business was the only way I could make a commitment to the type of work I wanted to be doing. I wanted to use my design facilitation and experience in community engagement to give voice to stakeholders, especially the ones that don’t usually get invited to participate. So I had to look for organizations that wanted to do that too, but didn’t know how or have the time to do it. This was a HUGE challenge. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a desire or need for this work, but to find the right clients, work with them to shape a project and then find budget, this meant I spent a lot of time doing client management, business development, sales, administration and accounting. This usually wasn’t a good use of my skills.

It also meant that I didn’t share everything I was working on through Exhibit Change. This was always hard for me. And made me feel like I was cheating on Exhibit Change. I was out having relationships, learning and growing from them and obviously bringing back that learning and yet I couldn’t share the way I wanted to. It made me feel dishonest. I didn’t like that. It always felt like I had to hide a part of myself from you.

One thing that I have always loved about Exhibit Change, is the people. The people who I have gotten to work with, to collaborate with, to learn from, to fight with, to ask for help, to share with – that’s YOU! You are what has kept me from leaving.

Over the last year, I have had numerous conversations with social entrepreneurs, with service and design thinkers, with systems change practitioners and mentors and this is what I want. I want to be a systems change facilitator. I want to continue to share with the Exhibit Change community all that I am learning and I want to feel like I can be my whole self here.

I am finally at a place where I am doing the work I want to be doing and while I couldn’t have done it without everything Exhibit Change has given me, I am not longer doing the work as Exhibit Change in the same way I was before.

So instead of holding back from sharing all that is happening because it isn’t happening under the Exhibit Change umbrella, I am going to be opening up my boundaries and sharing all the systems change work I am participating in moving forward. It only makes sense as my work keeps shifting and I continue to grow in this work.

In the weeks to come, I will start sharing more of what I am working on, ideas I have on the go and just generally projects I think are awesome. There’s a lot going on and it is pretty freaking exciting!


Bringing a design lens to re-designing an entrepreneurship program

Here’s the problem: entrepreneurs need support to think through their business while simultaneously launching their business
Here’s the solution: a program that fits the needs of where entrepreneurs are at and is as adaptable as they are
Here’s the impact: a community of entrepreneurs that can support each other through the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur
Currently working on re-designing an entrepreneurship program for pre-launch ventures. The program is built around developing entrepreneur mindset and helping the entrepreneur work ON their business while working IN their business. Trying to offer a 30,000 foot view and strategic advice in a choose your own adventure model.
This came after evaluating and recognizing that a curriculum-based program gave the false sense that all ventures (no matter what stage) could benefit from getting content on a week by week basis and that at the end of 12 weeks ventures would be launch-able.
So instead we are prototyping a program:
  1. That is supportive of each entrepreneur with a weekly cluster coaching session where entrepreneurs support one another with feedback and share experience and knowledge about starting their own ventures; 
  2. Offering Open Studio space for entrepreneurs to have a focused time and place to work on their ventures with access to advisors, strategy support, creative energy and basically to not feel isolated;
  3. Testing out a mentorship model experiment to figure out model that works for both mentors and ventures in an adaptable way. One model, dubbed the “holistic health model” where 2-3 mentors work with one venture for a group mentoring approach. The second model is a one-on-one model where ventures and mentors will connect through speed-dating and then carry forward a conversation;
  4. Supplemented by design strategy workshops every two months. The workshop content will be adaptable to the current needs of the participants, but will likely focus on talking to customers, prototyping ideas, and bringing your whole self to work; and
  5. Lastly, participants can get custom facilitated workshops if they have proven a business case for one. This could be for brainstorming with advisors, pivoting their initial target markets or analyzing data to sort through insights. Primarily, these workshops are additional supports to help an entrepreneur get unstuck when they have spent too much time going at it alone.
While prototyping this new program, we are still trying to work on some larger than us social design challenges:
1. How might we recruit more current students and alumni who want to start ventures or support other ventures?
2. How might we build supports and networks for female entrepreneurs?
3. How might we share resources that match the ongoing learning nature of being an entrepreneur?
Please feel free to share any ideas that come to mind on getting started with tackling these larger than us social design challenges, we cannot do this work alone.

Introducing the 2016 Designership Cohort

Announcing this year’s undeniable group of shift disturbers! Called to the opportunity and uncertainty of being the inaugural cohort of the Exhibit Change Designership, this group is without a doubt taking a leap of faith and embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.

This group has courage, heart, passion and creative enough to imagine their role in a program that has never happened before.

They will be the captains of this journey. They are Shippers! We are headed off without a map, just a guiding star and our intuition to guide us.

Check out their bios here. 


Getting Community Voices


One of the key goals of The Designership is working with shift disturbers from inside and outside the norms of education. So what does that mean? What is inside? What is outside? What is the norm? What is education????

Holy smokes! Those are some seriously loaded questions!

These are questions and definitions that we will try to define and create boundaries for throughout The Designership but for now here is what we are looking at.

Teachers = inside

Parents = outside/inside

School Administrator = inside

Community Developer = outside

This is one of the biggest thorns in my side when it comes to being a part of the education conversation. I have participated in several community projects from concept to implementation, many of them with youth who spend a good amount of their time in a community organization or look to a community organization to help them in some way. Whether it be for a summer camp, after school program, job training program or anything in between. These community organizations could be well established like the Boys and Girls club or could be a start-up group filling in a unique niche in the community, either way their goal is to serve the community youth and help them thrive. Not unlike a school. And yet there is often a huge gap between these two stakeholders.

One story in particular sticks out for me. I was at a school who was hosting an open house on a new community plan they had spent a few months developing. They were pretty proud of themselves for inviting parents, community organizations and others to a breakfast meeting to show off their new plan for connecting with the community. It was obvious that it was well intentioned but what came next was a testament to how community organizations feel about these kinds of events. After the principal had kicked off the event and breakfast was served, the community plan was shared and distributed. Some chit chat started to fill the room and then this comment happened.

“Why is this the first time we are hearing about this?”

The comment came from a community development worker from a neighbouring community centre.

She went on to explain that the youth from this school spent after school hours at the community centre and some even skipped school to come to the community centre during the day. It was their safe haven. It was a place they chose to go to.

These sharp comments have always stood out to me as a clear divide between community and education. One that I think decreases the impact that both could be making together. Imagine if community and education were working together to tackle some of the most wicked challenges that face our young people today and tomorrow.

The inaugural Designership will look at addressing the gap between community and education. And to do that, we need a variety of community voices and their intersection to education. In my work I have met so many talented community-based educators and this is a specific call to extend the application process. For applicants who can demonstrate community-based education experience with youth, for example organizing a camp, organizing a conference, developing a program or running a drop-in centre the deadline for applications is September 10. There are 3 FULL scholarships available. 

Here is the application form. 



Co-designing the designership


This week we started conducting “interviews” with successful applicants for the designership. The reason there are quotations around interview is because it isn’t really an interview at all. To me an interview implies that there are specific answers I am looking for to decide whether or not an applicant is right for this designership and really what I would rather do is start a conversation with applicants to co-design this designership. It is important that this designership understands the needs and goals of the applicants as well as delivers an impactful resource to the community.

Co-designing is key to the kind of work Exhibit Change has been doing since day one. Motivated by the desire to bring stakeholders into the solution process often and early as a way to ensure authentic solutions are delivered. In the beginning, it was about building ownership and addressing the paradox of receiving funding to implement a program/service/solution before checking with stakeholders if that is what is actually needed. As this work continues, co-designing has become a part of Exhibit Change’s DNA and it is a mindset that we advocate for with every client and every project from the get-go. It takes continuous reflection and iteration to figure out how to balance what is integral to a project and what is malleable.

This seems to be the biggest challenge to explain/ get people on board with. Time and time again, I hear “So we are going to get people together but we aren’t sure what they are going to do?” The answer to that is partly yes and partly no. We always encourage clients to think about the big questions they would like their stakeholders to answer. Often these questions start out as assumptions about what a stakeholder wants or needs. Even assumptions that are rooted in the best intentions can easily send you down the wrong path if you don’t stop to ask is this really want they want or need.

There is a methodology and art to co-designing, it is not a willy-nilly process that leads you on a wild goose hunt. There need to be established boundaries of what can be offered, obviously resources needed to be considered – time, human and monetary. It helps to think of the boundaries as spectrums of comfort, what are stakeholders asking for and what is the organizations willing to do. Then the boundaries need to be examined, how flexible are they, how negotiable and how do-able. Then these boundaries can start to establish some order to the uncertainty that lays ahead.

Ultimately, the first step in co-designing the designership is figuring out working styles, timelines, commitment levels, and initial goals. So that when we do meet face-to-face we have boundaries to examine.




Why designership?


Ok, designerships are not that common. You have probably heard of internships and fellowships. So why designership?

A designership is about taking action, using human-centred tools to do problem framing, understand users, ideate new solutions and ultimately to create new thinking in the education sector.

On the one hand, this designership will be open, flexible and co-created by the participants and on the other hand there will be formal pieces in place to make sure we get a final report. What happens in between is up to the participants, how hard they want to work and our collective goals.

Creating a new kind of education problem solver: A designer and strategist that integrates empathy, collaboration, critical thinking and re-thinks existing systems; An innovator who learns with questions. 

To read more about the program outline of the designership – go here. 

Designership Birth Story

10554511256_99842b55dd_zA journey has to start somewhere.

Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment in time when an idea started to gain its legs. And more often than not, it is not really the moment that you remember but a combination of moments before it. This is what is tricky about asking someone to start from the beginning of the story. But if I were to try to, I think it has to do with a series of stand-out moments that fit together like a puzzle that caused me to get to where I am now and spark this designership into action.

For me, it all began back in 2011 when I first started joining in on education conversations. I approached these conversations as I had approached community development before that, exhibit design before that and architecture before that. I wanted to contribute, I wanted to be a part of changing lives, I wanted to make a difference.

And for each one of these conversations there was something that gnawed at me, something that didn’t feel quite right and kept me looking for more. And finally I realized what I needed was to weave these conversations together rather than try and fit myself into each conversation separately. It is this systemic approach that I have that makes things complicated and clearer all at the same time.

One conversation in particular always sticks out for me as a moment I look back on as fuel to my flame. During a set of introductions, someone looked at me puzzled and said,

“Wait, you’re not a teacher or parent…why do you care about education?”

This has always been a catalyst for why I am a part of education conversations. I think everyone should included, heard and want to be a part of shaping the future of education.

This moment and many more like it define my position and place within this work. I believe that the designership is the place where all kinds of minds, perspectives and ideas can convene around the future of education.

I am proud to be known as an “outsider” to education and yet still push people’s thinking and perspectives. I find myself lucky to be able to do that. To have the confidence to say, I am not like you but my voice still belongs here. It took me time to own this position and to take it on as my brand.

And then there are the multiple times I have had the same conversation over and over again with people who want more; more tools to come up with solutions, more than just one day to connect with other thinkers, more commitment from others to do more and more from themselves. I want that for myself too.

Let’s take all the moments that have led to this moment and start something new. 

So the designership was born to start a network of thinking partners to create time, space and resources to take action, provide resources to activate systems change and hone in on the gap between community and education. We cannot do this work alone and the designership relies on problem solvers coming together in new ways to test out the theory that different minds, design tools and forward-thinking can ignite new solutions. This inaugural year of the designership is just another part of the journey and the first cohort will be pivotal in shaping the future of education, both inside and outside the designership. If you feel like I do, that you have more to give and you want more then apply for the designership today. It is your time. #learnwithquestions


This is how we will work


Last week was the official launch of the inaugural Exhibit Change Designership . It is undoubtedly exciting to announce the project and to see interest brewing and spreading already.

Applications are open NOW until August 15th. Spots will be filled on a rolling basis, so there is no reason to wait to apply. 

This designership will be about work, hard work. There is no coming here and coasting through, the cohort won’t stand for it.

Working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress, working hard for something you care about is called passion. 

This work is driven by passion. The passion burns inside you like a fire just yearning to be stoked.

When the passion is high, so are your emotions. It is expected that this cohort will get into debates, good healthy (sometimes loud) debates that are fuelled by our inner values and desire to be heard. We are not always going to agree, we may not even like each other sometimes; but we will respect each other. We will discover shared goals. We will come up with better solutions because we will listen to perspectives that are not necessary the same as ours.

Having conversations, passionate and critical, will be one aspect of this designership that will be crucial to getting deeper into some icky territory. Yes, icky being the technical term. It is only in the icky space when you can draw on your empathy to understand that your way is not the only way. You might get some bumps and bruises along the way, but it is worth take a trip there.

Conversations are not enough. They are the start to something more. We will capture conversations and look for insights. This is the hard work. It is easy to capture what was said and maybe even what is under the surface, but it is making the connections between what was said and looking for the opportunities to offer a solution that is challenging.

We will show our work. We want to combat the trend of only displaying final products and instead we will invite others to give us feedback often and early. We will iterate and reflect. We will work together in small groups and on our own to stretch our thinking. We will produce and prototype as a way to test our assumptions. We will put our heart and soul into our work but not be so in love with our ideas that we can’t let go.

We will be working with “wicked problems”, by definition these are problems that don’t stop changing and evolving just so you can work on them. They keep moving, so it is like hitting a moving target. So we have to be patient and understand that we cannot solve the whole problem at the same time. That would be taking on too much at once. This work is hard. Especially when it feels like change is slow moving and all you want to do is bang your head against the wall.

Luckily we will have each other.