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CCE in brief

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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Designing the Perfect Get-Away Space

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The story of Elton McDonald, the Toronto Tunnel builder, fascinates me.  

Here's a guy that dedicated a massive amount of time learning skills, iterating, experimenting and constantly working to create something unique.  These are all the talents employers theoretically want in employees; it's also the sort of experience a millenials wants in employment - the ability to learn new skills, grow as individuals/professionals and be an active part of building something.

I've been near the centre of a growing number of related conversations over the past couple years on youth employment, youth engagement, civic engagement, open government/data, open data, digital tools and back to youth employment.  The common theme from all these conversations is building something new, building something collaboratively, building something that people feel they have a stake in, but that can benefit others as well.

The CODE Hackathon is a great example of this - so is Ontario's Budget Talks or TGIF Tuesday, a policy hack I did with Toronto Youth Cabinet.  I believe (and I'm not alone in this) that the trend line is this: all these separate acts of engagement, creation, community-building and digital connectivity/tools is laying the groundwork for our next big social revolution, like the Industrial Revolution or the Green Revolution before it.  Change is clearly in the air, as is disruption - the question is #howmightwe move more quickly and productively, plus less painfully, from where we are to where we're going?

At the same time, of course, there are many who are uncomfortable with change and want it to stop. We have politicians who are determined to resurrect the manufacturing economy, employers who insist that traditional top-down hierarchical leadership is the way things should be, parents who reject their kids learning new things and all kinds of people rejecting social changes from empowered women to diversified socio-cultural norms.

Displaying IMG_20150310_221116.jpgIt goes without saying that society is simply busier, too - we're crowded by people, words, images, even when we're in our own homes.  There's real value in having spaces that we have at least co-designed as refuges, places to think, to iterate, to unplug, or process, or discuss.

Every year there's enough snow, I build a quinzee - essentially, an igloo made from piling and digging.  The building of this relaxes me, gives me an outlet for my energy, something to do with my snow, an opportunity to play with my kids outdoors, but it also gives me a quiet space I can hole up in and feel 100% comfortable in, because I made it with that purpose in mind.  

I've similarly built a "me zone" for my wife; it's got a comfy couch, a fireplace, a big-screen TV, a bar and a couple other amenities.  It's out of Lego, so not a physical space she can really retreat into (I don't have enough blocks for that!) but I know the concept will make her happy, feel a swell of gratitude for the effort and that feeling alone will help ease some of her daily stress, even if just for a bit.  Plus, I got to create, and better than that I got to create something that will make someone happy.

Elton McDonald has decided to turn his 15 minutes into an opportunity to empower others - essentially, to create opportunity for his peers.  Rexdale Lab, The Workshop and countless other community-generated initiatives are trying to do the same thing.  Citizens Academy focuses on capacity-building for civic engagement, Techsdale for digital/tech skills to help youth develop the skills they need to succeed in the modern economy, but they're all variations on the same theme - motivated individuals creating spaces that empower people to learn, grow, experiment and develop the tools they need to build themselves.

Kinda like schools.

It's not a coincidence that the TDSB is in conversations about the future of education (what do we want schools to provide for youth, what kinds of abilities do we want youth to have when they emerge?), that John Tory is all about empowering the disenfranchised/harnessing creativity, learning from models like the South by South West festival in Austin, Texas.  It's simply fortuitous that we also have increasing calls for youth-oriented spaces while our student populations are dwindling to the point that schools need to find new purposes.  

So, here's a challenge for you - #howmightwe tie these threads all together, starting small and working big?  Could we have spaceathons that teach youth about the design thinking process, then facilitate discussions on what the perfect youth incubation/thinking space could look like?  How would you mix shared and quiet space?  How would it work time-wise?  What would be security measures, accessibility measures, how would it be accessed, who would it be targeted to?

Then, those spaces could become hubs for the next tier of discussion - how do we design public spaces and services to be more conducive to social business - and what does that business look like?  From there, we can expand to the sorts of conversations happening at global Open Data events or the Americas Forum - what should governance look like?  What should the economy look like?

Co-designed space, tools to build with and mentorship/opportunities to learn how to build with them, breathing room for contemplation and creativity, things to aim for, then ways to connect; that's all it takes.

Perhaps designing the perfect get-away space is where it starts.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Stephen Harper Should Read Alan Moore

I'm not so sure Stephen Harper's CPC is leaning more heavily on the fear button because they are fearful themselves.  I think it's more a matter of looking at the political landscape through an opportunistic lens and seeing what's there that should by all rights work to their advantage.

Then, it's a matter of holding hammers and seeing nails.

That being said, I don't think Harper's organizers realize how vulnerable they've made themselves.  

Harper clearly doesn't.

By the rules of the game they're playing, the prize is government and the players are those who could become government, namely the Opposition parties.  This being the case, there are only certain levers that can be pulled to shape electoral fortunes.

As a sidebar, there's The Harper Agenda, which is to remake Canada into a country that reflects his world view, that is a comfortable, safe place for him to be.

Team Harper is playing the fear game on two main fronts:

- make the people fear external and internal threats, including the Opposition, so that ONLY HE can keep them safe

- kindle fear among your opponents, the public service, Not For Profits, etc, so that crossing the Harper Government results in 21st Century forms of exile.

I can't watch this play out with remembering this quote from a comic book movie:

Imagine a meme'd parody of this being sent through every social media feed, being picked up by every newspaper desperate for a controversial story and stoking every political conversation around water coolers and dinner tables.

If people are being encouraged to fear, what could possible be more frightening than a government that has abandoned the principles of democracy?

Stephen Harper is no Adam Sutler, for a variety of reasons.  Yet he insists on making the comparison easy.

So here's the dynamic - Team Harper is framing the political narrative as on of a narrowly-defined view of Canadians and Canadian Values under attack by a growing rogues gallery of villains. 

Terrorists who would bomb our towns and scientists who would question the policy choices of the Harper government are being attacked with similar rhetoric by the same party spokesfolk.  Home-grown Jihadis and anyone who criticizes Harper's economic policy are equally dangerous to the future of Canada - at least you'd think that's what Team Harper wants you to feel, given the way both are vilified.

Then, there are an increasing body of non-political actors, including public servants, who are suggesting Canadian Politics - the institution that gives Harper any claim to legitimacy when defining what constitutes Canadian Values - is broken.

If it's all about winning government and being government gives the legitimacy to shape Canadian values, then does an attack on the institution itself count as a threat to Harper's power to define our views for us?

Were this not a democracy, the growing assault on the government's claim to represent the people could be viewed as insurgency - surely, a threat to the well-being of Canada.

Of course, if Canada wasn't a democracy, one may find speaking truth to power and exercising one's right to disagree, to protest and to question could result in the individual being branded a threat to the state.

Not the safest narrative to weave if forming government is your objective, perhaps, but then that's not everyone's goal, is it?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Be David

David - the little guy who did not accept that a challenge that daunted others was to big to tackle.

He beat Goliath.  He used a stone to do it.  And he changed the world.

Monday, 9 February 2015

CCE on Hiatus

            - @StephenKing, On Writing

Of late I've had a problem with my eyes.  They constantly pulse with an ache like muscle burn and have essentially gone dry.  You know the expression "no tears left?" My eyes have gotten so bad that sometimes, when I close my lids, my eyeballs stick to them.  I've been taking fish oil pills and eye drops to remedy the problem (and thankfully, they're starting to accomplish something), but all that's really doing is treating symptoms. 

The truth is, my eyes are sore because I've pushed them past safe limits of usage.  Working on this or that, always more hours, always more demands (which almost always originate within), I've forced them to stay open when they wanted to close, squeezing every drop of productivity I can out of them, both through reading and in writing.

It's fun to say "work hard, play harder" and all that and suggest that sleep is for the weak.  It's not such a good idea to actually believe it.  You can truly push your body's limits to the point where you snap the rubber band of resilience and don't bounce back.  My eyes are case in point; I broke my body's instinctive reflexes.  Now I'm periodically told I will go for long stretches of time, especially in anything involving mental engagement (like a conversation) without blinking at all.  Creepy, is how it's been described to me.  My unblinking eyes, unwavering focus is creepy.

This is half of why I'm taking a hiatus from blogging; my optics issues just happen to provide an excellent metaphor for the other half.

My eyes, through internal pressure, no longer close of their own volition.  It's not a conscious thing to rest, to take a break.  The same holds true for my writing.

I am well-known as a prolific, insightful, occasionally brilliant writer.  Occasionally, because sometimes, but not all the time, I'll craft a phrase as profound and powerful as it is a delight to read.  Considering how many thousands of words I write, daily, I would certainly hope this to be the case.  It's a bit like the stopped clock, only in reverse.

That's what I do; I write.  I wrote lots, I play with ideas, I play with words.  The more I put out, the more I find the essential narrative that weaves the various threads of my interests, concerns and hopes together.  I have disciplined myself to crank out more content than almost anyone I know.  Other people look at my record and only wish they could match the output.  Which is a bit like a casual drinker wishing they could their liquor like an alcoholic.

Therein lies the problem.  Like my unblinking eyes, writing has become a reflex, the state that in most people is reserved for pause.  I don't write, then pause - writing is the work, the pause, the alternative, the everything.  I will often sit at a computer, cranking out content, straining my eyes, fingers wrists for hours, during hours that would be better used sleeping. 

Thing is, writing isn't supposed to be a state of rest - it's an action meant to serve a purpose.  It's a craft meant to serve an audience.  While I do have a decent audience - hundreds of people from around the world visit this blog daily and I couldn't begin to tell you how many look at my slideshare, or other blogs - I couldn't in all honesty say I'm writing for them.  I'm not writing for myself, either; I just write. 

If I'm going to be egotistical to assume I've got something worth saying, I should be narcissistic enough to make that writing accessible for my audience.  Brevity, clarity, strong through-lines of though without an unwieldy amount of tangents.  I'm not doing that.  My essays read like On the Road, a rambling, burning bush of tumble weed criss-crossing my mental landscape.  It invites no one on the journey, it just blazes along.  Writing has become breathing, only more like breathing in paint fumes to dull the cognizance of something else.  What that is, I don't know, but I owe it to myself to figure out. 

I also owe it to you, dear and faithful reader, to re-learn how to write with you in mind.

So, CCE is going on a writing hiatus.  If you see a piece pop up on this blog in the next few weeks or so, consider that I've fallen off the wagon and feel free to poke at me to stop.  Social media will be different; I'll do less, but my SM also serves a purpose.  If I'm producing content for other spaces, it damned well better be paid, or I've simply fallen into the same trap in a different location.

If you're reading this, I do hope you miss me.  I hope my eyes recover enough that they remember how to close on their own. 

When I'm back, I hope both my words and my eyes will be worthy of your attention.



Friday, 6 February 2015

War Room Language, Reality

Just words, of course; you know, the playful, aggressive, trash-talking banter of politics.  If you can't take some idle threats and tough words, the you clearly don't belong in politics. 
Survival of the fittest, etc.  War room politics, get in early, keep 'em down and keep 'em scared.
All's fair in war and politics, right?