November 30, 2013 3 Comments
As planners, we decide what are passions are. Others like myself learn along the way. I was once an ardent transit advocate turned transit planner. Working in the transit profession, or maybe all planning in general, the only way you can effectuate change is if you’re at the top and have the eyes and ears of the politicians. Very few politicians understand how their decisions influence good planning, or at least someone like Karen Stintz thinks so.
Nevertheless I come at this post from the angle of a professional planner who is looking to make a change. I have always been one who wanted to make change happen the way I see fit. But I am not alone in this mentality. Some settle in their careers for the fear of change and innovation. After I posted one of the most successful blog posts to date on Hamilton’s rise to success, Gracen Johnson, a young planner who moved to New Brunswick, forwarded me a post from her blog “Another Place for Me” titled “Moving Against the Grain.” A quote from Sarah Kendzior, an Al-Jazeera journalist, resonated with me:
Fear inhibits innovation. In expensive cities, people live in constant fear. A small wrong move can upend everything, so they conform, terrified of losing their jobs, apartments, health insurance. They conform intellectually, and they conform in behavior. They cling to a career ladder with a drop-off to hell. I don’t judge them. People do what they need to do to survive. But when survival is an aspiration, society has failed.
I have been there. Just moving back to Toronto from a short stint in Los Angeles and upended from Mississauga. I moved to Edmonton and for what? Employment. A job knowing full well that I wasn’t in it for the long haul and being miserable. I’ve always come back to Toronto. I was that conformist.
But the one positive I left with from my experience in Edmonton was not necessarily gained from working as a transit planner, but the leadership course I was glad to have attended. Sure I learned about coaching, mentoring, empathy, etc. But one of the sessions that resonated with me was something very similar to “The Five Levels of Leadership Agility.” Achievers for the most part are those who are afraid of innovation and change and are satisfied with the status quo. This isn’t about having a status as a manager, supervisor or a director. Many try to fit you into a box and others want to see you excel and progress. I saw myself as a catalyst and wanted to break that mould of being pegged as a conformist. I always had the vision to become that servant leader who is the synergists or catalysts.
Charles Marohn, an engineer cum planner, I believe, is a catalyst. As I mentioned earlier, planners want to make change. Many come right out of school and want to apply what they know right away and that isn’t the right approach. After reading his post “To AICP or not to AICP” on whether to maintain his professional designation, he realized that he was out to make change:
I do think the letters (AICP) behind your name play a role in the Strong Towns message. A reminder to listeners that you too came from the system you’re working to change. (via Erika Ragsdale)
As planners we must not be fearful of change otherwise we become redundant and time will pass you by. Nevertheless, we must embrace it. Innovators are not all within us and planners, especially most public sectors planners are not comfortable with that. Make change in your own way with some leadership guidance along the way. We are all catalysts. We are all leaders.