This too shall pass

Oh Discouragement, your visits are like a time-out in a sensory deprivation tank filled with peanut butter. Redundant. You try to convince me that everyone is small minded, that they only care about the short term. I ask you, what about the often touted “live in the now”? You tell me no one has passion or zeal for what they really want so maybe they don’t really want it. I ask you, what of all this moderation we are urged to embrace?

Oh Discouragement, I don’t know whence you came, but while you are here there is one thing which, like a pill or a cross, gets me through your visits; the idea that you are temporary. That you are a phase or a stage. That once you’re gone I can get on with my zealous moderation.

Discouragement, if I didn’t learn so much from your visits, I am sure I would find a way to banish you forever.


Power and Leadership

As I sat at the Health in the Hubs meeting the other night I observed that it was a room full of leaders and wondered what happens when everyone at the table is a leader with their own urgent issues?

I had been thinking about stages of leadership/power lately, which probably already exists and has a name in circles that study this sort of thing. I contemplated how we outgrow (hopefully) certain uses of power and wondered what, ultimately, we are working towards as leaders? This question collided with the previous question today and I have the beginnings of an answer.

Observations on the Stages of Power & Leadership

1 – Might is Right. I am tempted to call this Entry Level. What comes to mind are young men who feel like they can’t walk home at night without a knife. The problem is, the knife is no good if you encounter someone with actual authority, like the police, and it’s no good if you encounter someone with a bigger knife, or two knives. So it’s only good on weaker people in which case you don’t really need it. Many of the weapons in this arsenal are intangibles, like bullying and intimidation. When people boast about their weapons of choice it makes me think they don’t have other tools at their disposal. There can only be one Boss in this scenario, so conquests are perpetual until the Boss is overthrown. Sadly, even at international levels we are still playing games of “My gun is bigger than your gun.”

2 – Authority: Military, Corporate and Religious models use hierarchical authority to designate power and leadership, chiefly because it is efficient. It becomes inefficient (and a pain in the neck) when a person’s authority exceeds their intelligence. (It becomes barbaric when people use their authority to wield their Might is Right.) Authority is the most prevalent form of leadership in our society but I sometimes think that we are only ever one disaster away from falling back into a Might is Right world.

3 – Engaged: The New-School models perceive the untapped potential of people so leaders try to engage them in the quest. It is goal-oriented and favours thinking outside the box, particularly when the resources are all gone and the status-quo is threatened. It is creative and rewarding beyond monetary fulfillment. It is overthrown by Authority (Martial Law) when efficiency (often masked as security) is the priority.

Next is the exciting part – don’t you think?!

4 – Collaboration: This is about recognizing that it is a big world and there is enough pie to go around for everyone. It is about cultivating the leadership qualities in others, however they may emerge. The answer lies in working together, in using everyone’s strengths towards shared goals.

Not only would it work for Neighbourhood Planning Teams, I bet it would work for international affairs as well. I think about bodies like the United Nations perhaps representing the Authority stage and wonder what an Engaged Earth might look like, to say nothing of a world governed by International Collaboration.

I suppose first we have to recognize that many of the goals really are shared.

Rally for Code Red

What happens when our attitudes become unionized? What happens when fighting the good fight becomes more important than the outcome?

I was at the Hamilton Spectator for the Code Red 2.0 presentation on Wednesday. I was very moved by many of the speakers, by their understanding and compassion and willingness to take an unpopular stand, find answers, forge a new path.

I noticed that it wasn’t a recap of any sort. No one said “Here’s what we’ve done in the last year,” (which is plenty) and I’m ok with that, cause lots of people work tirelessly all the time.  I noticed that no one said “Here’s what we’re going to do now,” and I’m ok with that cause I think the work involves all of us, and is not about “them” fixing “us”. So while I was emotionally affected by the evening and came away feeling as if Hamilton was in good hands, my mind kept asking, “What was this?”

And I realized, this was what it needed to be: another step toward building consensus among all of our leaders and all of us that these issues are priorities and need to be addressed. It was a call for help to you and me to make sure our representatives at every level know that we care, that the health of our communities matters and that broken systems need to be fixed. And I was ok with that, because the alternative might be more of the same solutions, and more of the same problems.

On my way out, someone remarked at the irony of a panel of privileged, white, men who were addressing an issue that is, by the numbers, about women, about minorities. “And don’t you think we need to have an alternate meeting with appropriate representation?”

No. No I don’t. I think this WAS the alternate meeting. I think that sometimes we fight the good fight so long, we don’t know help when we see it. We get caught up in the how and loose sight of the goals. This IS the beginning of the future we’ve been talking about, for all of us. It is collaborative. It is caring. We don’t need to fight each other; we need to join forces and spread the word to stop this terrible trend of tragedies, no matter who is suffering them. No matter who gets credit.

I am confident that Hamilton is in good hands; yours, mine and ours.

Get Your Assets in Gear!

When we talk about assets, as in, asset-based community development, we’re not just talking about the neighbourhood. We’re talking about you. And you. I know you think you suck, cause you know what things you’re no good at and they rattle around in your head, popping up just when you wish they wouldn’t. You try to fix them, get better at them, hide them. It doesn’t really work that way – unless you’re a type A in which case I don’t envy you your road!

If you focus on what you’re good at, give us more of that, give yourself more of that, then it’s not even about giving yourself a break, it becomes about reveling in your talents, skills, quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The Strategic Coach would have us delegate the things we are not good at, that is, if you are a highly successful entrepreneur and can afford to do so. For the rest of us that’s what family is for. Yay family.

If you look at the average anything you see a straight line, and yet that line is made up of dots above and below it, probably in equal number.  Nobody’s average at everything. And chances are the people who represent the dots below the line, are above the line on the next average. If you focus on your above the line skills and share them with the rest of us, you strengthen the average.

And anyway, averages are like money (and debt!) – it’s all imaginary. But those things you do so well, they’re as real as it gets. As Don would say, “More please!”

Creative Industries

When I opened the Heart of the Hammer it was to provide a space for the people involved in community-building in the neihgoburhood to meet casually, to get projects started and off the ground, to be comfortable and welcome and the enjoy some of the finer foods and beverage available to us.

I had no money and thought that I didn’t need any. (long explanation about THAT deleted) In the end I borrowed about 30K in start-up funding alone. If I had tried to borrow the money outright, people would have said “show me a business plan”. If I had shown them a business plan, it would have demonstrated that there was insufficient density/volume/revenue to support a cafe in our neighbourhood. It would not have been a wise investment. And yet, it was our neighbourhood that needed it.

As it happened I borrowed the money in incremental amounts as it was needed over the first six months, and it was invested not by people looking for financial gain, but by people who saw what was happening and believed in the necessity and the benefit of it. After a year and a half we have begun to pay back the loans and now find that there is a sustainable model emerging with new unforeseen benefits.

A lady from India went abroad to study and work and then returned to her village with the desire to preserve and share her cultural heritage. The area had no money and no industry, nothing but talent and skill and a rich community culture. So she asked some of the people to make paper and they made it from whatever grows there. She asked the story keepers to tell the stories and asked others to write the stories and they did so in wonderfully beautiful calligraphy. (I am envisioning reed pens and home-made ink.) She asked other people to illustrate the stories and they did with vibrant colours made from local resources.

As you can imagine, this took a long time. When the first book was only half finished, a publisher (Canadian?) was known to be in the big city and the woman knew that she could not pass up this opportunity. She took the half-finished prototype to a meeting with the publisher and asked if they would publish it? The publisher was so captivated with the work that she said she would take ten thousand copies (10,000!). The woman was thrilled but embarrassed to admit that she didn’t have the money for the printer and so must ask if she could have an advance. The publisher said, “You misunderstand me. I don’t want to print the book, I want ten thousand hand made books, hand illustrated and hand written.” And instead of royalties from books printed in the big city, the village became employed at using their talents and skills to share their stories with the world. They have made many books since that first one in the same way. (This is a true -as I remember it- story and the books are real. I forget the details.)

I believe that we are in the same position here in Hamilton; we need to leverage our art/talent/skill and merge it with our vision/energy/passion to share it with the world and see what new industries emerge. It needs to come from the ground up and if we build it, the benefits will come and the investments will follow.

We need to transform our creative art into creative industries. As they say at The Print Studio: Art is the New Steel.


When I was 11 I ran away from home and walked around downtown Guelph until after dark. This was pretty radical and I was sure I would get in trouble but it seems like no one noticed. Go figure, seven kids.

When I was fifteen I used to run away from home and sleep on the rocks at the Beach. No one noticed I was gone and though I spent the nights worrying about bugs and drunks and high tides I was pretty well hidden and enjoyed being alone.

When I was 28 and felt like I’d been looking after other people too long I took great big pieces of chalk and wrote all over the walls “How come nobody ever feeds ME?” I’m not sure this accomplished anything, though it may have spawned the chalk mural that became a feature of the apartment.

Last Thursday when I was uptomyeyeballs in unsolvable problems and ready to snap I left the cafe in the care of the neighbourhood and ran away again. I didn’t get far actually but I enjoyed being alone and able to think and sleep and relax and get a few things done. And I came back with some clarity and some direction that might lead to solutions.

And in my absence neighbours looked after the cafe and cleaned and shopped and entertained each other. We may not have a lot of staff, but we have a really big team. And somehow this feels like progress.

Morning Moms

Often, around 9:15 the cafe fills up with what I call the Morning Moms. Having dropped the kids at school they rendez-vous here for coffee or breakfast. They are all Beanerjunkies. Today both Josh and Gino are behind the counter and the Morning Moms are gobbling up Gino’s fresh baked cookies faster than he can bake them. Kathleen listens to their laughter and observes that we should all be so happy in the morning.

Andrea comes up from downstairs to announce that both toilets at the cafe are plugged. Celeste says to call Rosie’s husband who says that if it’s both of them it is probably the sewer pipes and not something a plunger will fix. Cindy goes down to try the plunger anyway. This is the kind of situation where I bang my head against the wall, knowing that the landlord couldn’t give a crap and this is going to be one more unexpected expense in a long list of space-related nuisances.

The morning moms are laughing again and I see that Cindy has succeeded where Rebeccas fear to tread. The washrooms are good to go, another batch of cookies is ready and Shelley Adams is still on repeat, which happily, no one but me has noticed.

Life is best approached collaboratively…