Three Lessons on Innovation and Adaptability

We’ve always had to innovate to thrive. From developing better clubs for bonking food on the head to wrapping wheels in rubber or miniaturizing on-off switches and building faster, brighter, and more shiny machines upon which we can design faster, brighter, shinier machines.

Now look out at your own organization. Chances are, unless you’re bootstrapping a start-up, it’s becoming increasingly large and complex with formal structures that don’t do a lot to foster innovation or adaptability.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and you’re the solution. Use these three lessons to improve your ability to adapt and innovate.

Journal with Purpose

Take ten minutes at the end of each day to write a reflective journal. Learning is adaptation – and it’s key to fostering a capacity for innovation. A structured reflective journal helps you move from being an actor to being an observer.

Kolb's ELM

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle (ELM) is a great starter format for a learning journal. Follow the 4 steps in the list below to write a journal that will help you improve your ability to adapt and identify opportunities for innovation.

  1. Concrete experience
    • Jot down a few quick sentences about something that happened that day. Write it how it is, not how you feel about it.
  2. Reflective observation
    • Here’s where you write a few sentences about how you felt, what you might have affected your actions or decisions.
  3. Abstract conceptualization
    • OK, so you know what happened, and how you reacted and perceived the situation.Write down one or two things you’ve learned from the experience.
  4. Active experimentation
    • Make a plan for action. Write down one thing you’ll do tomorrow to take an element of what you’ve learned and make it real.

Find out more about ELM

Ten minutes, eight to sixteen short sentences, applicable learning. Repeat at the end of each day and you’ll develop the ability to run this cycle during your day – you’ll be both the actor and observer. Brilliant.


There are initiatives across sectors to foster innovation, but a glance at what makes our federal list of innovative practices brings the sad state of innovation at major employers into sharp relief:

  • The City of Ottawa compensating employees for the time they spend using email, the internet, or text messages when responding to work-related requests outside of regular hours.
  • Oil Sands employers and the GPMC establishing “a joint sub-committee to investigate and discuss the competitiveness of the current general project maintenance, repair, and renovation industry in the province of Alberta.
  • Bombardier Transportation and their union retaining a women’s advocate.

Are any of these all that innovative? Exactly.

Disorganize for innovation by reaching across formal structures within your organization to create partnerships and drive change. Look outside of the system-within-the-system.

Your colleagues and competitors have great ideas that aren’t benefiting your organization because formal structures usually aren’t adept at using ideas from everywhere to inform practice. They’re too top-heavy.

To do this effectively you’ll need a disciplined application of the third lesson:

Build Positive Relationships

Adaptability and innovation are at the heart of positive change, and you can’t lead people across burnt bridges. You’ll need people to help implement all the great opportunities you’re finding through journalling. You’ll expand those insights tenfold through conversations with people outside of your office, unit, department, division, and organization.

This is true whether you’re at the top, bottom, or middle of an organization. Your colleagues and competitors at all have valuable information. Our world is too complex to think we can lead, adapt, or innovate alone.

Find friends, colleagues, and competitors all have skills and knowledge that compliment your own. Build your network and you build your capacity for adaptability and innovation.

Have other ideas on what makes a good journal or how to bend a formal org-chart to your will? Drop us a comment, won’t you?

Solve Problems by Crossing the Streams

Solving Problems by Fostering Community and Surfacing Innovation

We work in silos. The boundaries might be fuzzy like a Turner landscape, but community, collaboration, and innovation can suffer as a result. We can improve our ability to work together to surface and solve problems by learning from how we socialize with the help of technology.

Let’s take a step back and examine the way we connect and communicate socially has transformed how we work.

We start by identifying the commonalities across our work and social lives.

Streams and the Multitude of Answers

I’m willing to bet that most of you agree that your job environment is pretty complex. Really, if you work with other humans, and you have an inkling, desire or flat-out goal to advance over the course of your life, you are operating in a complex system. Things are changing all the time. As colleagues move up or down, come in and out of collaboration, as priorities and budgets shift, you will find yourself constantly adapting to new ways of doing business in order to survive and thrive.

Complexity gurus David Snowden and Mary Boone have called this “The Domain of Emergence.” Their seminal article, A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, ( Harvard Business Review*)  gives a great introduction to the Key characteristics of an increasingly complex workplace, including:

  • Flux and unpredictability
  • No right answers;
  • Unknown unknowns
  • Many competing ideas
  • A need for creative and innovative approaches
  • Pattern-based leadership

Think about your work and colleagues and nearly all of those should feel immediately familiar.

Now think about your social circles and how you interact through the tools of social networking.

When planning something as simple as a dinner out with friends the boundaries of decisions have become extremely soft. Plans can – and often do – change right up until the last minute as DM’s, texts, tweets, and pin-drops influence our ability to stick to a hard plan.

This can feel frustrating for those of us accustomed to locking-in our decisions early, but it opens the door for experiences and last minute discoveries that can only be found by embracing emerging opportunities.

Those experiences are the unknowns that only come to light when one of your group texts or tweets that en route to the restaurant they heard a great band playing a few blocks away, or when the first person to the theatre sees a line a mile long and can reach the rest of the group to organize a last-minute backup plan.

Social networking has improved our ability to adjust to the unpredictable and quickly explore competing ideas (where to eat, what to wear, who brings what for the potluck). We can probe (suggest something), sense (see how others react), and then respond, and our ability to identify patters is heightened because enough information is shared openly that they emerge.

So how can we take those abilities and apply them to our workplace?

Start by tackling a project through any one of your socially enabled platforms. Google docs with google + and circles, or a Linkedin group limited to your partners in collaboration, or just by agreeing as a team to have the conversations around the project through any one of your social-streams, tracked by a hash-tag or equivalent so you can move through probe, sense, and respond much more quickly.

Use your streams as a group to probe, sense, and respond. It’s a lot like being able to challenge the ideas of an “outsider” because of the veil of security afforded by the stream. Laying out some ground-rules in advance can strengthen this advantage, allowing you to challenge assumptions as a team very rapidly and use ideas from across the group to form solutions.

Social media is moving away from being every leader’s biggest fear to being one of our best opportunities to foster community and innovation at work. Get cracking.

*Just google the titles if you don’t have access to a library. Lots of organizations have pdf’s on their website.


Canvassing the Country

A cool story came to me across our virtual editor’s-desk that couldn’t be more fitting for a feature on the ‘boot.

It’s a community, using ideas from across Canada, coming together for a cause.

The bonus – it’s a community of artists, as a recovering painter and printmaker myself it’s exciting to get to talk to inspiring people working on a really cool project.

Here’s the skinny:

The MFPA (That’s the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists) have selected artists across Canada to work together on a canvas. It’ll travel the country as each artist paints a portion that is representative of their region. It’s like the Voyageur guitar, but less like a guitar and more like a tapestry of Canadian inspiration all in the name of supporting disabled artists and showcasing what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

That a group of artists are coordinating a collaboration across Canada is noteworthy enough. That the group of artists are all facing significant challenges, have found drive and inspiration through art, and are using that to inspire others is fantastic.

I got to talk with the painter Cody Tresierra, he’s got the canvas first and is painting a scene of the Stanley Park totem poles and coastal mountains as a representation of the West Coast. He says most of what he paints for the public is representative of the West Coast, and that lots of it is kind of a diary of where he goes. For himself and friends he does portrait work and experiments with really pushing colour.

Learning, seeing others progress and the ability to meet people from all over the world through the MFPA have been key for Cody. He was inspired to take up painting himself when one night, about two years into rehab at Pearson after a motor vehicle accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, he saw a lady painting with her mouth. The ability to produce something real you could look at and share had him hooked.

Cody’s perseverance in the face of adversity is inspiring – and his work is fantastic. Take a moment to connect with the group making this happen and use their dedication as inspiration to get something creative and constructive done yourself.

Go check out the MFPA – The association supports artists through selling cards, calendars, books and more, and  bookmark the Canvassing the Country page – each artists is also recording their work and you’ll be able to follow it as it develops and travels across Canada.

Canadian Films at VIFF

The Vancouver International Film Festival has just started, and already some great films have hit the screen in this celebration of fantastic cinema from around the world.

Aside from being one of the best ways to explore truly great film from around the world, VIFF is the biggest showcase of Canadian films, bar none. There are 86 films in the festival this year, here are my picks of the maple-tinged flicks:


Mammalian Film Trailer from Frank Wolf on Vimeo.

A film by Frank Wolf, it should prove to be an illuminating experience. Frank and his expedition partner Taku Hokoyama travel 2,000 km across northern Canada, the largest wilderness in North America. A portrait of both the last great wilderness of Canada, and the people and cultures clashing over exploration and protection of that space.

Guido Superstar: The Rise of Guido

A ballsy charicature of an Italian going undercover against Canada’s drug underworld. I don’t know much about this film other that the trailers look awesome. Plus, it’s a good break from being all serious about artistic merit and the like.

Breaking the Silence: Burma’s Resistance

A challenging undertaking, it took the team months at the Thai border to convince a humanitarian agency to take them to meet displaced people hiding inside Burma.

When the Devil Knocks

An exploration of a life-long battle with Dissociative Identity Disorder, this film is a rare look into a “fragmented life” and, a mix of home-video and taped therapy sessions, deeply personal and startlingly challenging.

There you have it, from a portrait of a uniquely Canadian landscape to the jungles and refugee camps in Burma, and from a caricature of a Canadian immigrant to a deeply personal portrait of a Canadian fighting DID. Get thee to the silver screen.

Back To School / Back on the Bus

There are a few stories you can set your calendar by.

First day of spring / summer / fall, you’ll get a look back on how amazing, terrible, or just a little warmer the last season was compared to historical averages.

Tuesday after Labour Day, traffic.

Regardless of where you live, if you read the paper or your local outlet’s website, you read that roads or transit lines across the city were “crowded Tuesday morning as students head back to school.”

True-dat. I saw people waiting for buses on my way to work, it looked sucky.

Also true, is that there’s no better time to ditch the hassles of driving and transiteering by either quitting your job to go climbing, or if like me you’ve got this whole pesky family-you-love-and-want-to-support, biking to work or school.

There are but a few stumbling blocks to joining the super-awesome community of cycling, and I’m here to help you overcome.

Not having a bike

This is a bit of a roadblock, but thankfully just as students are headed back to school they tend to flog their summer bikes on craigslist. There are deals to be had right now more than ever as returning college students realize they won’t be sponsored by textbook publishers, no matter how snazzy their matching rims and grip tape are. Look for older steel frames, single speeds, or internal-hub geared bikes if you want to go cheap, or start scouring the bike shops for deals as summer stock is being cleared out like mad right now.

Not having the right clothes

Until it gets cold out you can commute, even in the rain, for a good 10km in shorts and a decently waterproof jacket. Keep a dry set of clothes in a plastic bag in your backpack and change as soon as you get to work. In two months it’ll be October, and you’ll have saved enough on transit fare or fuel to get a proper set of rain pants and jacket. Avoid the fancy Tour de France tights. You’ll feel way better when you pass someone in full race regalia if you’re just cruising in raingear and layers, and you won’t feel bad when you get passed.

Plus, awesome-commuter-oldguy seems to do fine year-round in gumboots and a plastic-bag poncho. I’m sure your regular rainwear will hold up until it gets really heinous out there.

Not knowing how to ride

If you’re in or around Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, or the Okanagan there are courses for adults available from CAN-BIKE.

Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and pretty much every other major Canadian city has an adult cycling program. However, if you do live in any of those places it might just be worth it to move to Vancouver for beautiful scenery.

No, not the mountains and ocean. Once you’re riding you’ll find our cyclists are the best looking in the world.

See you on the street.

Backcountry Mojitos Done Right

It’s summer, and with August long weekend nearly upon us I thought it time to share a camping tip that’s near and dear to my heart.

Eating and drinking well is one of my primary concerns when attacking a wilderness adventure. Actually, it’s one of my primary concerns in life.

Whether I’m camping with a big group of friends in a nicely groomed federal or provincial park or trekking in the backcountry, good food and drink is right near the top of the list of priorities.

wide mojitoIn the city, sipping a mojito on a patio is a fantastic way to enjoy sunset, and it’s no different when you’re out camping.

Mint tastes cool, so regardless of whether there’s any rum or not you get a tasty treat even if you don’t have any ice left in your cooler, or a stream/lake/glacier to cool your bevies in.

Here’s a trimmed-down trekking version of this patio-classic. It makes 4 mojiots and only adds about 750g to your pack.

Set aside 20 minutes at home to the mint syrup get the lime juice ready.


  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • ½ cup torn-up mint leaves

What to do with them:

  1. Add sugar and water to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until reduced by about half. I really like ginger so at this point I chop up a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger and drop it in too, but be warned, it’ll make your drinks spicy, which may not be so good on a hot evening.
  2. Juice a couple of limes into a little container like this, or just pack the limes with the rest of your food – the lime juice comes in handy for cleaning greasy dishes too!
  3. Remove from heat and add the chopped mint. Let it steep for a few hours or overnight in the fridge, then strain with a sieve or coffee filter into a container you can pack for your adventure.
lucy in the wild

My daughter's first caping trip - just because.

Finally, get two cans or a bottle of sparkling water or soda water, and if you’re of-age and responsible, some good rum.

I use cans because one can make two nice drinks from each can, and then use the cans for candleholders to up the romance factor after the sun sets. Rawr!

Plus, they crush down so they’re easy to pack out.

That’s it – once you’re out there it’s as simple as splitting the sparkling water between two cups or glasses, adding the juice of half a lime each, and syrup (and optional rum) to taste.

Stir with a twig, and enjoy.

Discovering a Town Square

It rained, and rained, and rained.

Early spring on the west coast can be like that.

Somehow we’d managed to be on the ball enough to all be in Squamish on the same weekend. That in itself was a major triumph for a group comprised of a dad, a gypsy pirate with no fixed address, a serious diver who lives on the island, and a Northerner with two massive (and massively high-maintenance) dogs that need a dedicated sitter if he’s away for more than 5 minutes.

Yahoos, the lot of us.

So there we were, on the best granite around, but it was wet.


Even the bouldering, half-protected by trees, had gone damp.

Smearing was really smeary, more like spreading butter than sticking rubber, you could aid up a crack that would normally be a walk in the park, desperately fighting for every inch of vertical progress.

I should mention we’re not the supermen and superwomen mountaineers who climb massive mixed routes or redpoint/onsight/free climb. We’re regular humans who got bitten by the climbing bug a few years ago in Northern BC, when dragged out to a little top-rope crag outside of Chetywnd.

We’ve led 5.10’s, but been scared as hell doing it.

tea in a cave

Cave tea is good tea

So, being in a climbing locale and not being able to climb, we did the next best thing,  maybe the next-next-next best, it depends on how you feel about trundling, rock-fights, and tea-in-caves) we invaded public swim at the rec-centre.

Only, we weren’t really invading much, because a good three-quarters of the people there were yahoos too. Mostly concentrated around the hot tub, conversations started with nods and “hey weren’t you working on…” questions.

We soaked our battered selves in the tub, and as we sat there it dawned on me that this was the town square of a community focused on active living – and a beautiful thing.

There’s been a lot of debate in Vancouver over where the real Town Square is or ought to be, even here on the ‘boot, but the more I connect with communities of practice or interest, rather than of physical space, the more I find a town square can be anything from your local haunts, to the dog-park, or even your own home.

Dear readers give some thought to your communities and let us know, where’s your town square – the hub of your community? Is it more important during your downtime, or is connecting there part of your daily routine?

Hijacking or Highlighting – is a facebook “Community Page” a Community at all?

You’ve just joined a heap of new communities! At least, that’s what facebook is telling me on all of these new community pages.

Your New Home!

Community, or Collection of Crap?

Check this one out – Cooking, a lot of people like cooking, 2.5 million have it as a “like” in their profile. By facebook law that seems to mean they’re / you’re members of the facebook cooking community. That’s regardless of whether you’ve been notified that your posts are being scrubbed for keywords and presented as contributions within this new format.

This section from the intro is particularly surprising, “…the best collection of shared knowledge on this topic.”

To me this seems like a very underhanded way to extract monetary value from the userbase. That best collection is actually a collection of posts not intended for this page, given some sort of context thanks to a description and image ripped straight from Wikipedia.

I’m undecided on whether this is a move to shift how we use facebook, moving users from personal networking to community-publishing, or if it’s just the next logical step in facebook’s growth. After all, we started with individual profiles, then we got groups and pages, and now we’ve got communities built on top of all of that.

Truthfully, I suspect these are just a step towards refining search and portal components to better compete with google and the like. That’s where the money is in terms of serving targeted ads and sponsored content.

Take a second and check out your profile. Chances are you’ve listed at least a few interests, and now when your posts contain keyword matches they’re being pulled into these community pages.

What do you think?

[poll id="7"]

Spinning Wheels

Happy Tuesday everybody, and what a Tuesday it is.

The 1st of June, one of the best months on the books, four to five days from some important birthdays, and it’s day 2 of Bike to Work Week.

The wheels on the bus bike go round and round…

Biking in the Rain

cc image from oedipusphinx on flickr

There have been a few posts here about how getting out of your car and traveling through communities by bike or foot or skate is an amazing way to discover your communities.

While that’s true, in the pouring rain it can also be one of the least pleasant, especially if you’re traveling through your and other communities early in the morning on your way to work, and are totally unprepared for the realities of self-propelled commuting.

A recent change of employment has meant that rather than living 5 minutes from work I’d be traveling from Burnaby to West of Main for work.

Friends, family, readers, learn from my mistakes. I give you:

Pointers for Practical Pedaling in the Land of Persistent Precipitation

1. Get thee nikwax

Seriously, go spend the $15 and enjoy renewed water repellency. I’ve used both TX Direct spray-on and wash-in and they work wonders. Nothing spoils a super fun blast in the rain faster than soggy sous-vêtements. Remember to do your pack or pannier too!

2.  Give yourself extra time

It’s not a race unless it’s actually a race. Being all hot and sweaty can be awesome, but it looses it’s appeal at 9:45 or so when that hot sweat has transformed into a crust of salt.

3. Get out during bike week and Velopalooza

You can start riding anytime, but rolling around during these celebrations is intoxicating. There’s about five-thousand things to do over the next few weeks. Check out and and get yourself connected.

4. Spend some time and very little money at Our Community Bikes

Their experts will help you wrench on your ride, and their parts are practically unreasonably low in price. They’ve got all the tools your could need, and their mechanics are an awesome resource. You’ll learn to maintain your ride in an awesome environment, meet some serious characters, and support a great group of people in the process.

5. Smile and wave, especially at kids

People are cool, especially kids and people on bikes. I’ve learned some great tricks for generating good on my way to work:

- Make goofy faces at kids under the age of 10 or so. Also, get really wobbly and pretend to nearly fall while waving enthusiastically, and then wink, kids love it.
- Give cool-kid head nods to kids older than 10, they’re totally way to cool for goofyness.
- Unplug your headphones. Music is cool, but you can’t hear the awesome old-guy say high or tell you your backpack strap is about to get caught in your spokes.

6. Have fun

That’s it, the final tip is to remember that biking is awesome, fun is awesome, and you’re awesome for having fun on a bike. The world is a playground, come out and play!

Leaving a Job & Building Connections – Part 2

Previously on Lost in this series:

  • We avoided self-righteous indignation
  • We said nice things to people
  • Locke totally isn’t Locke, he’s the smoke thing OMG AMIRITE!!1!ONE1!

Ahem… Focus

Part Two

Put on your blinders and blinkers boys and girls.

One Track Mind

Maintaining focus during the wrap-up period is one of the most difficult, and most important, parts of successfully leaving a job.

As much as it’s tempting to start taking it easy and wind down to the last day, actually cranking it up is by far the better option.

The reason for this is twofold:

  1. You won’t look back with any guilt over your last few weeks or days.
  2. You’ll leave with a much stronger foundation for your reputation.

You won’t be able to complete everything, and what you can’t complete will need to be handed off.

With that in mind get a notepad and pen, and keep it with you 24/7. A notepad is simple, reliable, and perhaps because of it’s lack of wifi, one of the best ways to keep yourself focused.

Out of Focus


Starting at the front make lists of projects and how you’ll finish them off or at least prepare them for the next person. Starting at the back, write down a tips list for your replacement.

A good list of tips and lessons learned will be invaluable to your replacement, or replacements if your work is being spread across several positions.

On your second to last day go through that notepad. Transcribe the tips, and make a special note providing brief details for projects you just couldn’t complete or prepare for handing-off.

You’ll have kept yourself focused, and left a solid foundation for both the person(s) taking over your position, and your reputation. Much like the tips from the first post in this series, it’s all about building your professional network the right way. You’ll probably meet your colleagues again, do it as friends and mutual admirers.