Bye-Bye, I sit and Cry, for CSI, the Heart Don’t Lie

Those of you who have been reading regularly may have seen this coming. But I didn’t. Those of you in Hamilton may be glad to hear it. But I’m not.

February 28th will be my last day in my beloved office at CSI.

I know, I can hear all the people saying “WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?? Throwin’ so many balls up in the air, you, who don’t even know how to juggle,” and ” Just get an office here, or work out of your cafe!”

But people, it’s not about an office (beautiful though it was!), CSI is an INCUBATOR, and I’m not fully INCUBATED yet! I’m like a chicken without feathers, fallen out of the coop too soon! Wrinkly and rubbery and I can’t even feed myself and nobody else is EVER going to understand me! I’m afraid I’m going to slip into a pit of despair and never get out.

Here is the Love Note I sent the the membership for Valentines Day:

Love Note for CSI: I found my voice at CSI, in the course of becoming myself. Now I am learning to speak my truth. What I know for sure is that the Journey is best shared. How glad am I to share it with you, the people at the Centre of it all.

The CSI folks were great, trying to find a solution with me but none of the solutions are near-future enough. And so my heart is broken. This is not how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to get too big for the space and be forced to move somewhere else, with shrubbery and marble fountains. I have this sense that maybe, in the big picture, it’s all good. But right now I just want to put my head under a pillow and never come out. And I don’t want to go to the party on the 26th cause everybody hates me. And nobody even knows me anymore. Whaaah!

And where’d my sense of community go? Was I buying it?


Wanted: A Heroes’ Hero

People have perceptions and expectations around money that continue to amuse and amaze me. If they think you’ve got some, then you are suddenly attractive on some level, if they think you haven’t got any, then they treat you like you’re contagious. And yet, it’s all perception.

A recent email debate on the subject of Free Food at CSI revealed to me that even Hero Central has plenty of people helping the world on empty stomachs. We put on a brave face, focus on results and count our lucky stars when some event or other has left-over muffins or Indian food.

This is almost a little too hard to think about. Somehow you get into a groove of thinking of things in terms of us and them or those in need and those who help. And the reason this is hard is that if you’re working on fighting poverty, there is some plan to get people from A to B to C. But the people doing the helping are already at C. They already have an education and certain developed-world expectations of themselves and are generally doing the job they love to do, but financially speaking, they’re at the c-for-ceiling.

If you live in a large city and have a spouse and two kids, the poverty line is $37,000. (2005 stats) And yet it is fairly common for someone working in the social-sector-white-collarish jobs to earn, say, $27,000. (2009) If your spouse happens to be a stay-at-home parent or an artist or some other low-income situation, this could very well represent your total family income. I know we live in a free-marketish world, certainly in one where we are privileged to choose our careers, but we all benefit so much from the work that our social sector people are doing.

I wish I knew how to launch a campaign to find us a Heroes’ Hero.

We all make choices. Some people buy fancy cars and live in tiny little condos. Some people rent big houses and have no car. I pay a cleaning lady but can’t afford home internet, cable tv or a car. Everyone makes choices and the differences in our choices is what makes us interesting to each other, and what creates the opportunity for relationships. Mike bought a tall ladder so now neighbours can borrow it when they clean their eaves troughs. One neighbour has a weed-wacker so Mike borrows it to trim the yard. You see where this is going. (I have an office with a wine rack, so other people store their wine there!)

Sometimes people say to me “You don’t know what it’s like!” And I want to say, “Yes I do,” but what I don’t want to do is have a race for the bottom, play the game of who suffered most. I’d rather say, “What do you need? Where are you going?” And help you to find a path or the strength to take it.

In the mean time, some people are doing what they like to do and going where they want to go and helping other people tremendously, and they still only get $27,000 a year. For that, I wish I could find a Heroes’ Hero who could somehow issue Christmas bonuses to everyone, an annual trip somewhere warm, some new technology for their home or a kitchen makeover. Or just feed the heroes. Imagine what a difference it would make in the morale of these Everyday Heroes? (Not to mention their grocery budget!)

So next time you meet someone with $40 million dollars, send them to me. We’ll invest it, and the interest can put about $20,000/year to each person at the League of Canadian Justice; the people who make school breakfasts possible, who keep rivers clean, who advocate for the voiceless. You can be sure that it isn’t going to happen on its own.

And I beleive that the Heroes are as deserving of some joyful perks as the next guy.

Love me – Love me not

I’ve been a little flaky with my time lately, double-booking myself right and left. I hate having to choose between two good things but it’s even worse if you’ve already committed to both.

One morning I had booked myself at two conflicting community-building events; one at the office and one in the neighbourhood. At first I thought it was a no-brainer. The office one was just a breakfast party, while the other one was a pow-wow involving the Hamilton Spectator, Mohawk College and Trivaris coming together with social entrepreneurs of all stripes to see what kind of partnerships might be possible to help build stronger communities. All three of these organizations are tremendously generous, industrious and visionary in their conviction that communities start with people, and I love them for it.

You too, on reading this, might conclude that this second opportunity was a goldmine of potential, ripe for idea expression (my forte?), resource tapping, and yes, an ulterior motive to pitch my community blog as a Community Column to the Spec. Until almost the last minute, so did I.

But when I asked myself what these two events had in common, it was the community-building. And when I asked myself what differentiated them, it was the community-building. I have been at the Centre for Social Innovation and with the South Sherman Hub for the same length of time, but because I see the work people daily-ish, my own integration, sense of belonging and commitment has progressed a lot faster and further than with the neighbourhood group where we meet only monthly and with a rather high turnover of attendance.

I realized that at work, there would be people expecting me (since I had sent out the invite, if nothing else) possibly even missing me, whereas at the Hamilton meeting, no one actually even knew me as an individual. As a representative of the hub, they might expect someone, but not me in particular.

So I went to work and we had waffles and eggs and home-made jam and freshly squeezed orange juice and an unbelievable number of people showed up early and everyone kept saying “we have to do this more often!”. I wonder if choosing the CSI Breakfast is one of those things that Philip would call “not a business decision”, meaning, I suppose, not founded on sound business principles. I wonder how common it is and if there really is a payoff to choosing the sound business principles over the  people we love and who love us back? And therein lies the answer to what motivates me; those people.

Maybe it was Seth Godin, or possibly that other guy, who claimed that what we all want most is to be missed. I beg to disagree. If that were true, I’d have gone to the high-potential meeting while enjoying being missed at the low-stakes breakfast.

I think what we all want most is to be wanted.

Business Development Bootcamp… or Bust!

I can’t possibly overstate the benefits of working out of a great place like CSI; the people you meet, the magic that happens when you do…

I took over my new office in July and it has taken me over two months to get it set up the way I want it. I have also taken on a room mate at the office and at long last he can do his work without hunching over a file cabinet to do it. Of course, being me, part of the room mate deal was, “but we do things my way, right?” When I refer to ‘my office’, there are any number of people at CSI who will say, “Isn’t it Dimitris’ office too?”, well, yes, I meant that in a descriptive way, not a possessive way. Really.

I have no idea where I’ve been all summer, but it wasn’t at my desk. So now I’m rubbing shoulders with the room mate on a regular basis, our office is beautiful and we’re both getting things done. Dimitris Stubos, aka CSI Finance Guy specializes in accounting etc for artists and non-profits. It’s the ‘et cetera’ that’s getting interesting in his case. Like all great Super Heroes, Dimitris has his day-time costume that he wears on the job, posing as a money-guy who understands artists. But when he takes his costume off, he’s really an artist who understands money.

He says I have a great relationship with money. All of you who know me will laugh at that, but his explanation made a lot of sense: “You give it away like you have an endless supply, it comes to you out of nowhere when you need it, debts don’t bother you, big numbers don’t bother you. It’s truly a means to an end for you.” I like that.

Between Dimitris and Linda (administration and book keeping at Bestseller Bootcamp) I feel like my cash-flow is in good hands, though it took me a while to convince them that the best plan for the Bootcamp was to put six degrees of separation between me and the money. Now I go to them and say, “Do I have $200 for a file cabinet?”, and that way I know I’ll always have enough for the things that really matter – like wine on the rooftop!

So Dimitris and I headed out for a ‘Back to September’ brainstorming breakfast which means me coming back with more accountability than I can handle in one day. Our conversation went something like this:

Dimitris: Have you ever thought of blah blah blah?

Rebecca: Yes,  yes but not until I have blah blah blah.

Dimitris: Why can’t you do it now?


Dimitris: Why don’t you do a this n that?

Rebecca: I need to have a thingee first.

Dimitris: Why can’t you do it yourself?

Gees Louise. It’s all about accountability. I have my personal Business Development Bootcamp going on right in my office, and with Idea Guy an elbow length away, he knows how much time I spend on Stumble Upon (it’s research!) so I have no excuses. This week we got serious about a monthly newsletter, weekend writing retreats, week-long exotic writing retreats, the youth program, an author reading series, an internship program and more(!).

“Dimitris”, I said, “I am having proprietorial feelings towards you,”

“Wow,” he said, “I don’t think anyone’s ever had proprietorial feelings towards me before.”

…I doubt that very much!

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…