The Value of a Pivot

Often, we set out with a plan in mind and it seems crystal clear exactly how we are going to make that idea happen. In our minds, we have probably been playing with this idea in different forms and sometimes just saying it out loud can take it in an entirely different direction.

13127049044_d9bdb3a598_cWe work in complex problems and sometimes find ourselves as the ones who have to say, “hold on… what are we actually trying to achieve here?”

This is an extremely difficult conversation to have especially when it feels like forward is the only way to go. We have all been on a project where the bias to take action is imperative, time is of the essence, everything around you seems to be saying yes, yes, yes and yet this is the moment when reflection and feedback serve the greatest purpose.

The value of a pivot:

  • Take a pause;
  • Reflect on how you got here;
  • Question the process;
  • Develop a strategy to the strategy; and
  • Fundamentally challenge your assumptions.

Find your repurpose.

It feels simpler to listen to everyone that is agreeing and seek kind feedback to justify what you are doing. The complexity is looking for respectful and challenging feedback for an opportunity to react and pivot.

Momentum can be dangerous, as it pushes you in the only direction it can. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, we are huge fans of bringing outrageous ideas to fruition, that is how we ended up doing a Nuit Blanche exhibit in a truck and a ball pit in a park. We love to play with making ideas happen and undeniably we learn greatly from these ideas.

So, sometimes it is awkward to be seen as the one driving towards action and simultaneously having to put the breaks on.


It may feel like taking a pivot is going sideways or even worse backwards, but we strongly value the role and position of being able to embrace this moment and push beyond it. It is an opportunity to fail up (push to, through and beyond failure) to be able to see what you are learning and what you need next.

It takes great strength to be able to acknowledge what didn’t work. 

We appreciate that is difficult to both give and receive feedback, especially with every intention of being empathic and vulnerable. (I know that I am trying to work on this.) It is common to be defensive, this is a skill we have honed for years.

This is the messiness of the process. It is never as linear as it is on paper or as clear as it is in our minds. We understand that a pivot may feel disruptive or even abrupt. We admire organizations that can take the time to reflect on the greater good for the users as opposed what the designers want. It can be difficult to separate personal aspirations from project aspirations.


Through My Lens – reflections

Over the past 10 days as the themes rattled around in my head, I have been overwhelmed by how much more I have loved Toronto and more importantly – the PEOPLE! I have been blown away by the people who lead our neighbourhood walking tours, by the people who attended our walking tours, by the hundreds of pictures we have collected so far and the stories of people’s photography adventures.


Thank you for reminding me why we do this work! We started this project to get people to take a second look at the city and to be inspired to take positive action. And I know that the project has done that for many individuals already and for me too. I am buzzing with excitement and admiration  for the powerful moments and images that I have come across these last 10 days.

What is green? How does Toronto express itself artistically? Where do you see change? Where do you belong? What is your everyday? How do you move through Toronto? What inspires Toronto? What fuels Toronto? What are the secrets of Toronto?

These themes are the center piece to the beginning of our Through My Lens conversations, we started with the photography adventure and were able to capture so many perspectives and these images will now be the focal point of our Nuit Blanche exhibit as vistors curate them into a community exhibit in a rental truck. We are looking to the community to tell us what they are focusing on.

For me, the themes had me not only looking for great shots in my day to day, but also thinking about the bigger picture of how these themes mean to me. I was especially struck by the final themes of What inspires Toronto? What fuels Toronto? and What are the secrets of Toronto? I know that Toronto and I have its issues, but I really renewed my love for Toronto. From the Urban Affairs Library closing, to seeing Cirque du Soliel in a parking lot, to walking to work, I know that the good and bad are part of what makes Toronto Toronto and that is what keeps me wanting to do more.

Expect to see a lot more projects from us that are inspired by these 10 days.

Inspire Yourself,


What’s happening in Seattle?

Last week, I was in Seattle exploring and tasting new sensations. I love travelling and getting to know new places, I try and bring that feeling back home in adventure walks and taking new paths and thinking in new ways. While in Seattle, I saw many things for the first time that were inspiring and community focused and it made me wonder how many things might I be missing at home, since I consider them part of the day to day.

Here are a few things that I found amazing during my trip:

I love this image, the idea that people are being asked “Do you want to see THIS on this street?”, with sketches that are visual and attention seeking. This message is invitational, it asks you to come to speak to this image and to know what the potential is. I would have liked to go to the community consultation to see what how the session was facilitated and how attended.

This advertisement was in the local newspaper calling the community to help clean up after the fourth of July celebrations. It really gives me a sense that there is community ownership and pride. There isn’t an expectation that someone else should do it, but that we are all responsible for the city.


During our trip, we went and did all the touristy things – aquarium, Space Needle, boat tour and the underground tour. The underground tour is a historic tour of Seattle. The part that really captured my heart is the fact that Bill Speidel started the tour after a building was torn down to make a parking garage and to save the other historic buildings in the area, he started the underground tour. While people were lured to the mysterious underground of Seattle, Bill Speidel would have people sign a petition to save the buildings, but then to his surprise once the buildings were safe, people kept coming for the tour. So, to this day the tour is still a family run business and a shining example of “How Do you Exhibit Change?”

Changing up my scenery always changes my perspectives.

Inspire Yourself!





GovCamp, CitizenGov, OpenGov…

Whatever you call it, GovCamp, CitizenGov, OpenGov…it is about getting people involved in the government systems and opening the government systems to innovation. On June 8, I attend GovCamp to join the conversation between community and government in an unconference model to collaborate on multiple concepts. The morning opened with  plenary from Microsoft, brief description of the day and lightning talks about government processes, did you know it takes 24 signatures to get a white board marker? There is a flow chart to prove it! This really set the mood for the day.

Through the sessions and the networking sessions, I discovered that there are a lot of people trying to work with systems, but also lots working against systems and then of course some working from within the system.

I attended a session on “Changing the Education System in Ontario” and learned that there are a lot of players in action, but that there are tons of ways to get in and it is going to be different depending on the project and to think about those players that aren’t always obvious. Media? Parents? Trustees? City Councilors?

In the afternoon, I attend a session on “Exploring Citizen-led participation in policy-making” and chose to be in the “Don’t stop believing” group. I chose to be in the group, because I am optimistic about what can be done and how the people can lead us. I was happy to see that we were by far the biggest group in the room and there are a lot of other fellow believers!

Lastly, the best find of the day… @OPS_innovates – Ontario Public Service innovation and ideas happening from within. They hosted an unofficial TEDx event with their staff. How cool is that??!!?!?!

Planning & Unplanning – Future of Toronto?

For a little while now, we have been attending fabulous educational events at the Centre for City Ecology on Wednesday nights at 401 Richmond Street. On June 1, the session was “John Van Nostrand Planning — and Unplanning — for the Future of Toronto”. John spoke about the history of planning in Toronto and then his future plan for Toronto.

According to history and John, Toronto has gone through cycles of being planned and unplanned. We are in the unplanned stage now. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for planning. I think what it means is that it is time for the traditional forms of planning to let go a bit. And this means we can take planning to the people!

This lecture stuck with me and it made me really start thinking about what is going on and how are we asking people to participate in planning. I live in a condo building where there is a new condo being built around the corner. In our elevator was the vaguest poster that said you could attend the “development application process meeting”…this made me wonder, how many people in the building are going to:

  1. pay attention to this poster at all
  2. know what the meeting is for or why to attend
  3. have something to ask for at the meeting or know their rights at the meeting

In any case, I did not attend the meeting, I had no reason to, I know nothing about the building that is being proposed to be built, I don’t know how it will impact my property value, I don’t know what the land is currently zoned for and really, I don’t know that it would matter. We are under the impression that we don’t really have the power to ask for anything and even if we do ask, we don’t think we will get what we ask for. So who is planning the unplanned? Or what do we need to do to make sure the unplanners are planning? As an unplanner, I would like to know.

Busy Bees

I have been so busy since the Global Service Jam, it has been amazing! I think it was all the creative juices that flowed through me that weekend has brought forward projects, ideas and opportunities have just sky rocketed.

Global Service Jam was a risky move that definitely paid off. We took a leap of faith when we decided to plan a 3 day conference on an unproven idea, but I feel like that is what we do most of the time and the reason I keep doing this stuff everyday. I will post a more indepth blog about GSJ shortly. (even though it is already WAY overdue, eek)
Shortly after GSJ, I co-facilitated a 2 day work retreat for Skills for Change. They asked that we talk to their interns about getting a job and networking. Well, this is an area that I really enjoy working in, this gives us a chance to talk about passion and purpose and why are we going to our jobs everyday, other than for the money. We spent the two days talking about ideal workplaces, everything from your commute to work, to your desk, to your staff, to your boss, to the way you get coffee or have breaks. This opened up a discussion about creativity and innovation and the way our company culture can dictate our moods and our perspectives. I also got to think about how much I love what I do and that I am truly lucky.

In addition, I am also co-creating 2 projects this upcoming year and doing volunteer management for 2 conferences. And all I can think about is, it is only April….keep the good stuff coming!

2010 Wrap up

I have seen a few blogs outlining the year in a one word wrap up and I really like that idea.

So, my single word for 2010 is exploration.

Exploration of ideas, of networks, of knowledge, of market, of resources, of mentorship and of self.

So, what happened in 2010. Here is a breakdown of an amazing year. There were events, there were programs, there were conferences, there were coalitions, there were meetings. In the year, I attended 40 professional development events or course, I went to over 100 meetings, I hosted 4 events and 1 camp. Now there are tons of ideas and tons of excitement.

I got to design, create, facilitate, met, schmooze, learn, discover and ultimately grow.

Starting 2011, I am going to make a prediction that this year is going to be really busy and really foundational – according to the lunar calendar, it is the year of the rabbit and as a dog, I am told it means that there is good energy coming my way.

I wish I had a beautiful picture to capture this with…

So much learning…

In the past two weeks, I have been growing my brain over and over by going to amazing events, each one so different but each one with great new information and the ideas are already brewing.

  • Common Ground – Social Planning Toronto symposium on schools as community hubs
  • Getting the Most out of Your Brain
  • The Power of Collective Wisdom – hosted by United Way, delivered by John Ott
  • TEDxToronto – watched it streamed live at the Centre for Social Innovation
  • The Art of Public Health conference – held at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana school
  • Treehouse Talks – hosted at MaRs Discovery District

Each one of these events, has made me reflect on all that is happening in Toronto and all that I want to do. I know that there are multiple axis and intersections here but to me they are all part of what makes Toronto healthy,vibrant and strong.

I am fortunate to be able to go to these events and to meet amazing people, hear truly inspiring talks and discuss in peer to peer breakout sessions.

It is overwhelming but at the same time I love the fuel to my brain.

Mayoral Debate

On September 17th, the Design Exchange hosted a Mayoral Debate on design and sustainable thinking.I was hoping for answers.

On September 29th, the AGO and ArtsVote hosted the Mayoral Arts Debate on arts and cultural planning. Again looking for answers.

As the candidates answered question after question, I could hear passion, anger, confidence and most certainly strong egos. As the candidates bantered and argued back and forth I tried hard to listen for key answers and platforms I can support.

Moving forward I am going to have to do some more research and gain a better understanding of what is being said and what is going to be done. I want to ensure Toronto gets the best leader possible. Toronto deserves a lot of things, but empty promises is not one of them.

New Secret Find

I really like going to museums and talking to the security guards. They have such unique experiences from watching and maintaining the museum floor or a specific exhibit. Often out of people watching or boredom, they have the funniest little tidbits of information.

Some good examples:

1. At the Canadian Centre  of Architecture, the security guard pointed out to me that a model that was illustrating light and circulation patterns was made up of 96 layers of plexi-glass, something you would certainly need time to notice.

2. At the New Museum, the security guard who seemed intent on staying very serious let down his tough exterior when I asked him which “I Wish” ribbon he liked best. Each “I Wish” ribbon had a unique statement that represented wishes that people had contributed to a participatory exhibit. He had to think hard about it, but he said that his favourite was “I wish to be a famous baseball player” which he took for his son, one of 5 children. He also took several for his other children and his wife. I told him about a few new ones and said he would have to check them out.

3. At the Art Gallery of Ontario, a security guard told me about how the artist had very specific requirements about keep the piece intact and maintaining the integrity of the piece. The security guard took it upon himself to protect the installation process. The artist arrives after the piece is installed perfectly and takes a walk around the installation, picks up a hammer and smashes a mirror. The security guard was not impressed.

I look forward to more discoveries.