Lessons in Creativity: Waterlution’s Transformative Leaders of the Future Program

Logo_WaterlutionHighResCircleI am extremely fortunate to have been part of Waterlution’s Transformative Leaders of the Future program. Between September 2014 and June 2015, I was part of the Region of Waterloo TLF team, one of ten groups across the country, including Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Durham, Toronto, Guelph, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. The TLF program focuses on developing skills and building a network of students and young professionals through the cultivation of creativity, facilitation, and leadership training with hands-on practice and self-guided learning.

This opportunity toIMG_20150112_201512 work closely in our teams over the course of months taught me a great deal about what it means to be a leader and the importance of clear communication in addressing fears, taking risks, and trusting one another in order for a co-led team to thrive. We had monthly meetings to update one another via sharing circles, share our ongoing projects, actively discuss different facets of being a leader, and take turns running creativity exercises for the group (frequently with hilarious consequences!).

Our group also became close friends and I have been so lucky to have their support over the last year, talking through uncertainties, celebrating milestones, and sharing our ideas on anything and everything. Marie Claire, Nicole, Sylvie, Katie, Shane and Ehsan – I am so glad that we all met and I look forward to planning events and going on adventures with you in the future! What do you say – definite reunion needed in 2040?


As part of TLF, each team ran events around the theme of WaterCity 2040. WaterCity 2040 is a multi-city and multi-stakeholder scenario planning initiative that brings together community and decision makers to collaborate, envision, and design plausible scenarios 25 years into the future and identify the necessary steps to create these futures. As part of running and participating in scenario planning, I was struck by how difficult it was imagine 25 years into the future (especially considering how minute that is on a geologic timescale!).  For me, Waterlution’s Karen Kun framed this challenge best – in order to shape the future, we have to talk about the future. And to do this, we have to stretch how we think. The technological and social advancements that have happened in my lifetime are remarkable and that level of change is anticipated to accelerate. When considering life 25 years from now, something completely unimaginable will be common place – think about how much the internet has changed things! To help our ability to think about the future, examples are incredibly helpful; in the year 2040, we may be able to take a pill that will teach us a new language. Whoa, that’s crazy! Now we’re thinking. It is with this mindset, open to possibility, that scenario planning can take root.

Waterloo’s TLF team ran three events over the course of the year along the theme of WaterCity 2040 and imagining the future for our community. Our resource guests spurred on discussion as we started thinking about different possible futures, the challenges standing in the way of those realities, and the steps we need to take to realize them. Thank you to Tammy Middleton, Tony Maas, and Kevin Eby for participating as resource guests and offering your expertise and insights to our group!

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WaterCity 2040 events was where our TLF team really had the opportunity to shine and put our facilitation skills to work. For one of our events, I helped to put together an icebreaker activity that I was particularly proud of. I created puzzles for each table of participants. They had to work together to build and then answer the questions on the completed puzzle. I tried to make a team-building activity that involved a physical task and conversation, while keeping things introvert friendly (which if you know me, you understand the challenge I might have with that!). I’ve included a gallery of the puzzles at the end of the post (because I think they are pretty).

Ultimately, we distilled all of the ideas that were shared into four scenarios. Waterloo Region focused on the scenarios of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,’ ‘Resource Aware Individuals,’ ‘Forest Region,’ and ‘Mini Cities” – all very optimistic scenarios, with an emphasis on people coming together to form strong, engaged communities. Having lived in Waterloo, and now Kitchener, over the last eight years, the emergence of this theme of community is unsurprising given how much people in the area work together to inspire action. You can read each TLF team’s scenario summary here.Scenarios

I believe that we can use creativity and inject personality into what we do to make it come alive. For a scientist, this can be a scary premise – we’re taught that if we become too personally attached to our work, biases may form. But when it comes to discussing issues at a high level, ignoring personal views and suppressing passionate responses will limit our dialogue, thus hindering progress. Learning how to channel my energy and feel confident in my ability as a facilitator has been rewarding beyond words. I am so thankful to have had this chance to grow and learn from so many people, never ceasing to be inspired by all of the TLF teams across Canada. It has been so wonderful meeting and chatting with so many of you over the last year! I look forward to continuing self reflections and applying these transferable skills to my personal and professional life. Thank you so much to Julia and Karen, for putting so much effort into making this program a reality, keeping it going strong through groan zone times, and for appealing to all of our different learning styles. It is so exciting to think about what awesome collaborative work will result from the connections we have all made! Stay in touch and #elevate.


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