Courage and Transformation

picture of a rollercoaster
Photo Credit: Giraldilla

On Saturday, July 20, 2019 — in the blistering heat — my son Bennett and I joined Sheridan alumni at Wonderland for a day of fun. Though there was little opportunity to interact with grads and their guests, I always enjoy the opportunity to engage with the people who continue to drive Sheridan’s enviable legacy.

Before I comment further on the day, let me underscore that Bennett is an amazing kid: smart, funny, resilient, talented. On the specific issue of courage, I’ve written before about how his athleticism and perseverance inspire me.  My favourite boy, however, has always been petrified of anything that spins, drops, rolls, lurches or goes fast.

You’ll immediately appreciate that this makes Wonderland a tough sell.  He came along because I asked for a favour and brought his friend Evan — a teammate with similar inhibitions — to provide moral support. Together, they found three rides suited to their risk tolerance and, to my delight, emerged afterwards triumphant about having conquered their fears. They were so excited and empowered that I didn’t have the heart to note that, although they weren’t officially labelled ‘kiddie rides’, they were darned close! Nonetheless (and despite feeling nauseous), Bennett proudly announced that he wanted to come back another time to try the bigger roller coasters.  As someone who grew up riding the Flyer at the CNE with my friends, I was immensely proud of him.

There’s a lesson here for all of us about developing and demonstrating courage. 

At Wonderland, Bennett followed a purposeful path to tackle something he wanted to do but found scary.  Essentially, he leveraged an “incremental mindset”, something The Harvard Business Review (Bonchek, 2016) defines as a focus on “making something better.”  Without question, this orientation positions people and organizations to make progress toward their goals and aspirations.  It’s also a gateway to adopting an “exponential mindset”, which “makes something different”.

In, “The Power of 10x:  Why The Exponential Mindset Will Make You Insanely Successful”, Kaplan (2018) notes that the keys to this orientation are stretch goals, a tolerance for failure, a willingness to be uncomfortable, patience, and bold decision making.  Bonchek described the outcomes of incremental versus exponential mindset this way:  “Incremental is satisfied with 10%.  Exponential is out for 10x.” 

As we dig in to the Integrated Planning processes that will enable our Sheridan 2024 priorities, I know that many members of our community are anxious about the Plan being unapologetically bold and ambitious.  As the person who is ultimately accountable to our Board of Governors, students, faculty, staff and communities for delivering results … I feel that too!  The antidote, in my view, is the cultivation of an exponential mindset combined with a relentless focus on our mission and first principles.  To that end, we –- as a community — are setting stretch goals, consciously adjusting our risk tolerance, and proceeding in a way that’s methodical.

I also think we need to bolster our courage by focusing consciously on our enviable record of success and putting our aspirations in context.  Simply put:  what we aim to accomplish over the next five years rests on a solid foundation of trailblazing and impact.  This is exemplified by the Animation Career Review’s 2019 rankings that positioned Sheridan as the top international animation college in the world.  Think too about our ground-breaking work in Creativity Studies, Athletic Therapy, Sustainability, Information Security, Experiential Design, Social & Community Development, and Applied Research to name a few.  Further, we have fundamentally changed the game in college academic governance by creating a Senate and adopting Intellectual Property and Academic Freedom policies. 

Rest easier colleagues.  For fifty years, we’ve been leading transformation.  Through that lens, Sheridan 2024 is just a nominally bigger roller coaster.