Landlord of the Year

What makes the Centre for Social Innovation so cool is two fold; the creating and the sharing.

CSI has a mission to make the world a better place so it actively incubates projects, initiatives and even new organizations in order to achieve its mission. It’s like there is a giant cosmic suggestion box that CSI responds to, using laws of attraction to pull in people and resources and solutions to build such legacies as the Ontario Nonprofit Network and Techsoup Canada. Better yet, some of these innovations happen on their own as tenant initiatives like Salad Club and Games Lunch.

The other half of the so:cool equation is that the shared tenancy is curated, like a fine exhibit, so that each member is contributing to the whole and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A space may have a mandate to only rent to forward-thinking tenants, and so you may end up with a building that holds all the cool people in town, but if they exist in their own little silos, if they only ever see each other on the way in or out of their own studios or offices, then while you may have action, you don’t have INTER-action. Interaction is where the magic happens; over the coffee pot, around the copier, at salad club. If you are building even the most cutting edge silos in town, it is still building silos.

Some spaces do work around shared resources, so that tenants are interacting with each other as well as saving money and outsourcing the management of these shared assets to someone with the appropriate expertise, but I notice that they are generally homogeneous industry-focused; all high-tech firms or only theatre companies. What you have then is a place where everyone is in the same boat and all the resources are taxed at the same peak period. They are all writing grant applications at the same time and effectively competing for the same pool of funds. When all of the tenants are the same, nobody offers what the other guy needs.

At CSI there are mission-driven orgs, like David Suzuki Foundation and Outward Bound, then there are people who support those missions through graphic design, online outreach, legal and accounting services etc. There is a mix of not-for-profit and independent entrepreneurs, which is good, because depending on the economy one or the other extreme is always in trouble – these days both!

In effect, the resource sharing that goes on between the tenants at CSI mirrors what exists naturally in the world; a whole lot of people sharing the same air, the same water, the same land and even the same piece of time. Maybe now is the time for these natural, organic models to filter beyond the mission-driven sector to all sectors; government, industry, private enterprise and even my back yard. There’s no magic formula for CSI, there’s just a beleif that change is possible, one innovation at a time.

On June 5th 2009, 200 people came out to celebrate CSI’s 5th Innovaresary. You know you’re not just a landlord when…

The Lunch Box

At long last I found a white hair and told myself it was the bathroom light. After seeing it a few times I decided to pull it out, and then saw another, and another. Better quit while I can.

Lately I find myself reacting very emotionally to things. I tell myself that it is all this new-found openness and sincerity in my dual environments and that I’m not really bonkers. It’s as if for years I have been packing the emotions of the moment into suitcases, unwittingly sending them to the future. And now I find them and go, ‘hey, what’s in here?’ Ouch!

In a strange parallel, I have been finding hard copies and drafts of my writing after having lost all the good stuff from my archival disks, literally, unpacking boxes from the past and finding amid course selections and empire-building plans my old stories, stage plays, tv scripts. Its as if suddenly time has caught up with me. Where was I?

I have spent so much of the last 20 years living in the future and I wonder if this business of connecting with the world around, being involved in communities, with people, with the present isn’t just a little bit bad for my health and longevity? Or is this what we call living? Does living make us old?

I found a story from my late 20s. Reading it, I was interested to consider that perhaps I have traded in my invisible jet for a smart car and am ready for a life in the present. It also makes me wonder, if you could pack a lunch box with all the things you would need to take to a new life, what would you pack?

The Lunch Box

Randi, Becky and Charlie sat in the back seat of the car. It was dark and snowy outside but no one was tired. In the front seat Mom and Dad were fighting.
“Stop the car!  I’m getting out!” was the only part they understood. The car came to a quiet stop and Mom got out and slammed the door.
As the car drove away, Randi, Becky and Charlie turned around and looked out the back window. It was too dark to see anything.
When they got home, everyone went to bed without talking.  Becky turned off the light and prayed to Santa for an airplane so that she could fly away into the desert.
She dreamt that she landed in the desert, in front of a brightly coloured tent whose door was flapping open.
Inside the tent there was a banquet.  Becky joined the banquet and then everyone danced.  Becky danced in the wind, around and around.

When Becky woke up it was two days to Christmas.
“What do you want for Christmas?” Dad asked.
“Barbie!” answered Randi.
“Lego!” answered Charlie.
“Never mind,” said Becky, “you can’t afford it.”
“Tell me anyway,” he asked.
“An airplane and flying lessons.”

At breakfast, they fought over the prize in the cereal box and Randi won.
They played outside in the snow until suppertime. Becky dug a hole in a snow drift and curled up like a polar bear. She imagined flying across the desert, flying low over the warm sand.
Dad made pea soup for supper. Randi, Becky and Charlie dumped it down the sink when he wasn’t looking.
That night Becky prayed again for an airplane and flying lessons. She dreamt of a desert sky filled with stars. Music came from the brightly lit tent and everyone danced and danced.

Becky was awakened by shouting and she ran through the dark hallway to the top of the stairs. Randi and Charlie were already there, watching through the railings for a glimpse of Mom and Dad fighting downstairs. When they saw Mom start up the stairs they all ran silently back to their bedrooms.
The desert was dark and starless. Sand was blowing everywhere. It was hard to fly. Hard to see. Only the faint light from the tent far down below kept Becky on course. The sound of music and dancing and laughing over the rumble of the airplane engine guided her in.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Mom made a great big breakfast and Dad put up a Christmas Tree. Neighbours came to visit. Dinner was long and noisy and the kids were sent to bed early.
Becky lay awake all night wondering… maybe they could afford an airplane. Would they really give her one? Where would she learn to fly? How would she find the desert?

In the morning Becky found a present under the tree and opened it.
It was a Wonder Woman Lunch Box.
She looked from Mom to Dad and back to the lunch box. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Mom asked.
Becky looked inside the lunch box. Painted on the lid was a picture of an invisible jet.
She took the lunch box up to her bedroom and filled it with her treasures, the things she would need to take into the desert; tinfoil covered bracelets, headband and belt. Silver lasso, giant ruby.
She closed her lunch box, climbed into the invisible jet and flew off to find the desert.

“It came without ribbons; it came without tags!”

Twas the first dawn of spring, and all through the hood

All the people were stirring, all those who could

One Saturday morn, when they could have slept late

South Stipeley got up, for a nine a.m. date.

They came with their families, they came with their mugs

One neighbour brought doughnuts, one neighbour brought hugs

The city sent work-gloves and sacks for them all

So they hatched up a plan and poured coffee’s last-call.

Each group took a lane, and they stooped and they bent

Picking up garbage and junk as they went.

Then they piled all their sacks for the sack picker-upper

And gathered again for a mid-day supper.

And lo and behold it was not even noon

A hard day’s work done none too soon!

So with sausages, burgers and veggie kabob

South Stipeley Neighbours finished the job.

Getting beyond F*U

The difference with family is that you gotta see them again at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, so one way or another, you hafta get beyond F*U. There’s no recipe for this, no magic formula. Sometimes one thing works and sometimes another. We put up with things from our families that we don’t put up with from the rest of the world, perhaps because we are all in the same learning boat together. We file complaints at work or walk away from friends but with family, complain all you want they’re still there there at the next event, probably with the same old behaviours. I expect this is some kind of cosmic learning experience. Or experiment.

But what about when your family expands, per se, into your neighbourhood, into your workplace? What about when other places feel like home? I’m not into defending my boundaries, preferring instead to play with people who don’t trespass. Sooner or later I just walk away from people if I find I have to defend myself from them too much or too often. But what about when people walk away from you? How do you fix it? Especially if they’re still there, and you’re still there?

Once upon a time I applied for a job with the federal government and had to write a “Judgment Test“. It was a litany of situations in which you must deal with nasty co-workers; “Co-worker takes credit for your work; what do you do? Co-worker doesn’t pull his weight; do you work overtime, tell the boss or confront him? Co-workers are feuding and you are caught in the middle; what do you do?” All I could think was that I didn’t want to work in a place where people behave like that. Is that really what it’s like in the federal government? I failed the test of course.

Six months later, applying for another job there, an insider friend gave me the following advice, “Just don’t be yourself. Whatever you think is the right answer, put something else.” I passed the test that time and then wondered if I would have to continue to be not me forever if I got the job? Did everyone who got in pretend not to be themselves and answer what they thought they should say rather than what they really thought? What does this say about our society? About our comfort level in the workplace? Or perhaps just about my judgment in human relations?

Wouldn’t it be better if we could all just be like three-year olds in our dealings with each other, sincere, direct and in the moment? What would that be like, I wonder?

Mike, aka, the Best, thinks that I am the only one who thinks about these things, but surely, I am not the only one who feels the effects of them?