As I walked in the door of suite 303 for the first time I was overwhelmed with the feeling of frantic creativity. The walls are filled with post-it notes, diagrams, pictures and half-formed ideas. The make-shift dining table/work station is covered with laptops and literature, and a welcome sign made of even more post-it notes hangs above. There is a hum in the corners of the constantly running printer and pockets of conversations as the team debriefs one-another, discuss new challenges and share highlights from their night before. The small bedrooms double are film studios in an effort to ensure their colossal work, and the process of their work, is documented in the deepest possible way. It is chaos, maybe organized, but I can’t yet see the pattern.
After a few hours of sitting on their couch, enjoying some ice-cream on the building’s patio, and knocking on a few doors, I begin to understand the challenge the InWithForward team is facing, and really appreciate their passion, dedication and talent. Part of their work is to immerse themselves into the lives of their neighbors at 7575 Kingsway. As evidence of their success, some of the building’s residents seek them out—sometimes just to say “hi”, or to make sure they are still coming for dinner—others just sit and chat on a bench for a while. Then, in the late afternoon, as my energy wanes and I wonder how they keep it up all day/every day, I smile as young boy runs over to tell them that he had just gotten a role in his school’s talent show.
I am impressed by the work done. But also share the team’s apprehension about the road ahead. While they have met and shared so much with many of their neighbours, there are others who avoid them in the halls and can’t wait to escape from the elevator when they try small talk. They want the perspective of people from different demographics, but feel stuck in having the same conversations with the same people who are willing to talk to them. A sense of having reached a “plateau” at the mid-mark of their project looms as a cloud that soon they will have to begin prototyping new programs but don’t feel they have enough information yet.
Throughout the day I can feel the building tension. An afternoon scrum helps to assign tasks and work for the next few days, but the frustration is still in the air. Sarah decides to take it head on. She explains that this is part of the process…in fact part of every process she has been a part of: “you begin to get saturated by the information, but that is when you know you have dug deep enough”. Janey admits to being overwhelmed by the data and hasn’t had time to process it all. Jonas thinks there just isn’t enough time in the day to get all the work done. Sabrina feels disconnected from the work that others are doing. Yani struggles to be part of the meeting while talking to one of their neighbours and worrying about an dinner appointment she is late for. Laura wonders about her place in the team and wants to contribute more. This cathartic process, of laying out all of the emotion and attaching meaning to it all, is the heart of their work as they observe others, and I am watching them go through it themselves.
In the end, there is a return to comfort in the process, even though the goal still seems obscure. The task the InWithForward team has taken on is enormous. And, while it is overwhelming, it is also a regenerative organism—only by breaking-down can you rebuild….only be losing yourself in the problem can a solution be found. The project is evolving, changing, taking on a life of its own. I don’t know what the next day will look like for them, nor do I know what challenges and successes the next week will bring. What I do know is that it takes courage to be so open to the unknown, to embrace the chaos, to suspend judgment and look for meaning rather than blame. I can understand their frustration and admire their perseverance.
And as I walk away after a long day (exhausted, more than a little confused and extremely inspired), I send Sarah a quick email message asking if I can visit again soon.