A warm welcome at VIU

I started a position as Director of Communications and Public Relations at Vancouver Island University a couple of weeks ago.

My brain is full keeping up with new names, positions, regional politics, social landscapes, local business leaders, now also cross-Canada partners, colleagues from other regional universities, and international linkages. It’s incredible how much VIU punches above its weight.

But what makes all this whirlwind/learning curve so worthwhile is that my heart is full as well, and I am learning – learning deeply. Coming from Saskatchewan, and having experience with (and friends within) treaty first nations, it never really hit me until now that most BC land is completely unceded. They’re not just words you write them in a speech (which I have been doing ever since I moved to the west coast: “I acknowledge we’re on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people [or insert appropriate first nations here]” – it’s in the boilerplate). They mean something. The west coast land we all live on, the real estate we buy and sell, was never handed over, relinquished, or surrendered in any way.

That realization has dawned on me since coming to VIU two weeks ago, as I learned about the relationships VIU has with First Nations on the island, and the meaningful steps we have taken in aboriginal education. Then yesterday Elder Geraldine Manson gave a welcome as we opened the Health and Wellness centre on campus yesterday. In her remarks she said “Each and every person who sets foot on this ground is sacred.”

With my new, deeper understanding of what that word “unceded” means, Geraldine’s gentle, unreserved, and very genuine welcome transformed me so much I am still tearing up a day later thinking about it. I am so grateful to have her permission to do my work at VIU.

I’ve been welcomed so warmly by everyone at VIU, in Nanaimo, in Parksville and Qualicum (I have yet to visit our Cowichan and Powell River campuses), from board of governors members, members of university senate, my colleagues in senior management, my colleagues in my department, all other staff in University Relations. Most of all to my president, and to the man whose shoes I can only partly fill as I take over so he can go on parental leave. President Ralph Nilson is a leader in the true sense of the word, and Dan Hurley set me up for as smooth a transition as he possibly could given the sheer volume of work there is to be done as a post-secondary administrator. Their confidence in me is heartening and inspiring.

Welcomed? Yes, I feel very welcomed at VIU, in the deepest sense of the word. I’m very glad to be here.

12 tips on collaboration from the powerhouse creative duo from Giant Ant

We attended our first (and hopefully not last) Creative Mornings Vancouver on July 3 at SFU Woodward’s downtown. Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for creative people, and the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts a perfect venue for such an event.

On this morning, the theme was Collaboration, and the speakers were Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson, the duo behind Giant Ant, which, among other things, has produced animation for the opera StickBoy (I’m kicking myself for missing that performance).

Jay and Leah have been collaborating in work and life since they met in 2004; they knew after their first date they were “done looking,” and have been together ever since. Their twins were born two months previous to this talk. Seeing as how it was 8:30 am, these new parents looked surprisingly alert. (in case you were wondering why I described them as “powerhouse”…).

After doing some work on/for MySpace (I wasn’t clear on the nature of that gig), couch-surfing through Europe via internet connections, they returned to Canada and did some freelance work. More travel ensued to, among other places, Tanzania to do a documentary on street kids, at which point they thought: Why not become business partners?

It is in Collaboration that the nature of art is revealedIn their words, they “found people who were better at stuff than we were,” to collaborate with, and brought them onboard to form Giant Ant Media.

Jay and Leah presented their story in an informal, accessible style, making a cheesy alliteration out of the letters of “OLLABORATION” that somehow made perfect sense:

Outhouse – somebody has to dig the hole: that’s the risk taking. The person at the helm digs, and the rest of the team is there to pull you out of the hole after it’s too deep to get out yourself.

Love – put love in your work or create context where that’s possible. Your values inform your business decisions, and you must love the work. If projects are shitty no one wants to do it, and you won’t put out your best product.

Let go – to a point. If you trust the collective intelligence of your team, then let go and leave them to do their best work.

Asshole – don’t be one! Disagree and argue and fight for ideas. Challenge people. However, do this without being a dickhead/jerk. Make sure feedback is in a “shit” sandwich, where the criticism is couched between two pieces of gratitude and positivity.*

Bad ideas – we all have them. Embrace them. The road to brilliance is paved with bad ideas that must be aired out. Create an environment where bad ideas are welcomed because there could be a germ of a good idea in there.

Orange flag –  let team know when you’re stuck. Just say it – I’m having a hard time. Know ahead of time if you’re having trouble meeting a commitment. Put up that flag while it’s still orange, don’t wait for a red flag that would stop a project from moving forward.

Room –  as in don’t be the smartest person in it. If you are, then you can go to your desk and figure it it yourself (lonely!). But you never are the smartest person in the room, really. [Ed. Note:  – this sounds a lot like Working Out Loud!]

Authorship – give people credit. It ups the ante for the team when their names are on the project, and besides, it’s really nice to get recognition for your work.

Throw it out – fear not, there are better ideas coming. Sometimes you just need a clean slate.

I Hate My Client – when scope goes sideways or they miss their deadlines for revisions, etc., you are likely to blame it on the client. However, 90% of client relationship failures are process failures. We (the creatives contracted to do the work) are the experts in our own process. We need to follow it, especially when we write it into our contracts with our clients. The client is hiring you because you’re the expert. Set it up the process so everyone succeeds.

Ownership – make sure everyone knows what part they own and when it’s to be done. If you leave it till the last minute, it only takes a minute (!)

Nobody Gets Left Behind: we succeed and fail together always. Check in with the team every day. Take headphones off and look around the room. Care about one another. Help each other out.

The audience had a small-group discussion after the talk, then some questions. This was the question I was most interested in: How do Jay and Leah choose their clients?

The answer: ultimately it is their call, but if one or more of their team members has an issue with a project or client, generally they don’t take it. They do have an initial client/project checklist to guide decision-making, which includes items like:

  • Would we show this to our mother?
  • Would we use this product ourselves?
  • Is it a creative opportunity?
  • Is it a financial opportunity?
  • Are we proud to have our name attached to this?



Image is Chris DuToit’s Creative Mornings remix, licensed under Creative Commons. 

*Note: Jay didn’t say the words “shit sandwich,” I’ve heard it called that before. He used the term “Feedback sandwich.” Much kinder and kid-friendly. He is a dad now, after all.

Five reasons to love Vancouver

Since this post from three years ago continues to gather readers, I think it’s about time I cook myself up some crow pie, grab a fork in each hand, and double-fist a big ol’ mea culpa.

I’m back in Vancouver. I’ve been back here for seven months, and I love it. I love this city with all its problems, because the great things about Vancouver outweigh her faults, and besides, I have always had a soft spot for this city. You’ll note, in that post from three years ago, I said “I quite like it and, given other circumstances, I’m sure I could happily live there.” Here’s why:

1. I get so much done on my commute to work

Haha just kidding. I’m working from home most days as an independent communications professional. But when I do commute (and when I’m at the gym), I listen to podcasts and audiobooks – all my favourites: Radiolab, This American Life, Reply All, Criminal, and now Where There’s Smoke. I recently listened to all 14 hours of Neal Stephenson’s latest novel: Seveneves (highly recommended!). Honestly, when I look back at the namby-pamby 35 minute commute to downtown I was complaining about three years ago, I laugh at my formerly whiny self. If I worked downtown again I would probably take my commuter bike at least some of the time. Speaking of which …

2. Have you seen all these gorgeous bike lanes?

The City just completed new road surface for the bike route I would take to downtown from here. A nice, slightly hilly 10K to downtown, where there are separated lanes throughout. Before we moved into my Marpole condo, we lived in a small apartment on Main Street, where it was a barely sweaty, absolutely, stunningly beautiful 5 km jaunt around False Creek to downtown. Vancouver, like Victoria, is cyclist heaven.

I hope, when they build the new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, they also have plans for a separated bike track all the way from Tsawwassen into Vancouver. That would be amazing, because I do still love to get back to Victoria once a month or so.

I also can’t believe I was complaining about no running routes three years ago, when I routinely ran False Creek/Stanley Park, and look at those North Shore mountains for trail running! Also, just over the bridge into Richmond are some really nice stretches by the airport.

people doing yoga on paddleboards  just off Kits Beach in Vancouver

Why yes indeed, those are Vancouverites doing yoga on paddleboards.

3. The weather is really nice. Even when it rains.

No really, it is. I’m writing this at the start of a heat wave, and we’ve barely had rain for a month now, but that’s not clouding my judgment (see what I did there?). This past winter was not bad at all, weather-wise.

Shut up about climate change* for now, I’m trying to enjoy this.

4. Proximity to new friends

I make friends easily. I admit, the first six months of my return I felt like a bit of a recluse, but I’m putting that down to the knee surgery I had in April, and before that, an incredibly stressful job. As I get further away from both (I found a wonderful physiotherapist and I’ll be running again soon – RUNNING!) my circle is expanding. I threw myself into my professional association (IABC/BC), I have volunteered for the next Interesting Vancouver, I went to a LikeMind meetup that stoked my creative side (I’ve been writing like crazy since then), we’ve invited friends over for dinner. Who says it’s hard to meet people in Vancouver?

5. Family

My son and my youngest daughter are still in Victoria, but as my youngest turned 21 last year, I realized she’s really, truly OK and ready to launch. I was so glad to have the past three years with her though! She now has a plan and she’s going for it (she got into a nursing program, I’m so proud of her). My son got his B.A. and is going overseas soon.

I was at the Open Textbook Summit a few weeks ago, talking with Clint (a colleague from BCcampus), and someone else; explaining that I’d moved back here.

“Why did you move back?” my friend said.

I started to go through reasons 1 through 4 above, when Clint interrupted me with a smile: “She moved here for LUUUUUV,” he said. And he was right.

Just over a year ago I met my partner, Ken, and my life has been so much better since then. Within months I knew without a doubt he is the one I want to be with. He’s my family, my support, my collaborator and co-conspirator, my anchor. He’s been on the lower mainland all his life and he loves teaching at BCIT and Emily Carr, so it was a no-brainer that, with my career mobility, and with my already owning a home here, that I would be the one to move.

6. Bonus – it’s all about the one per cent, the things you can control: yourself.

Last week we attended a talk by Brett Gajda, who, with Nick Jaworsky, does the Where There’s Smoke podcast. Something he said smart-bombed straight into my soul and exploded with comprehension. It’s one of those things you hear for years, and you think “yeah, yeah, that’s right, I agree,” but you don’t really comprehend how it affects your life until suddenly one day it burrows into the space inside where you need it most. I’m paraphrasing, but here it is:

“Things outside of your control are so big you sometimes can’t help focusing on them. After all, 99% of the problems you have in the world are outside your control. The only thing you can really control is – yourself. Your actions, your attitudes, your values, your choices. But the moment you focus on the 1% right in front of you, everything is different. EVERYTHING.”

So yes, there were reasons to leave Vancouver, and there were reasons to come back to Vancouver. But more than that, there are reasons to be comfortable and happy with the person inside, so you’re content wherever in the world you find yourself next. And that’s the most wonderful place to be.


*Seriously though, I am worried about climate change. That’s why I take transit and ride my bike.