If your neighbour beside you was building a house, and half way through you saw compelling signs that he was building it on contaminated ground. Would you say to yourself, oh well he’s already half way there? Or would you go over and suggest he stop and take a closer look first?
A couple weeks ago back at Kik HQ, we we’re talking about how we needed to get more involved in shaping our community. Because if we were going to buck the trend of moving to the Valley and try to build a world class company here, we would need a world class city as well.
On the way out Heather turned to me and sparked this entire ordeal: “Start with the mayor,” she said, “ I’ve heard people say mixed things about her. You need to know who you’re dealing with.”
So this past Sunday morning I decided to take a look. I pulled out my phone at 9 AM and started to search. “brenda halloran disappoints”. “brenda halloran criticsim”. “brenda halloran lacks”. I did search after search trying to find any negatives I could. To find an issue where she had made a wrong choice. And the only thing I could find was the LRT. She voted against it, when ultimately it was approved 9 votes versus 2. Ha, I thought. What a fool. As Waterloo grows we’ll need to add transit to free up our roads. And because we can’t afford subways trains are the only way. Also, doesn’t she know how great trains are?
I set out to prove that she was on the wrong side of the vote. That she had made a mistake. Boy was I wrong.
I started reading everything I could find on the LRT. Trying to prove that Brenda had made a mistake. But the further I went, the further I got from proving her wrong. And after 18 intense hours of research it finally clicked: Brenda might actually be right.
I knew I couldn’t say anything. That it was too late. Hundreds of people had spent tens of thousands of hours working on this project, and speaking out now wouldn’t be fair. But then I read one more article that made me decide I had to speak up. You can find it here: http://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/2621462-rail-transit-was-never-up-to-the-public/
I sat there alone in my room, in the middle of the night. What should I do? I believed that we were about to make a terrible mistake. That the logic suggested that the LRT was a weak solution at best. And I knew that if I wanted to be heard I would have to say something bold. And I would have to put my face on this issue, something I have been incredibly conscious to avoid my entire life (if you are interested in reading about my story, you can find one version here: http://pandodaily.com/2012/07/11/ted-livingston-the-shape-of-canadian-tech-to-come/).
So I looked at the problem in the same way I looked at dropping out of University, or donating the million dollars: either I do or I don’t, and either the decision ends up being right or wrong. And instantly I knew. That if I chose to say nothing, and if it LRT turned out to be wrong, that it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I then considered others. What would I want done to me if I were in their shoes?
I thought about being someone on my team: Ted we need to focus, we are building such great things. Why do you bother? But at Kik I say we are building three things: a messenger, a platform, and a company. And recently I have already been focusing more and more of my attention on building the company. On our culture and values, and on our incredible team. And on the environment and city we live and work in. Because I know that if we want to build a world class company here, we will have to build a world class city as well.
I then thought about the citizens of Waterloo: this has been such a divisive issue already, and that at some point we need to decide and move forward. And here is this guy, at the absolute last moment, making a big fuss. But as a citizen, I knew that if the LRT turned out to be a disaster, and I found out there was someone who felt strongly that there was a better way, I would be disappointed that they didn’t speak up.
I thought about all the developers: but we have already spent, and now you’re changing the plan? But this is business, and with all reward there is a risk. And in business sometimes you need to sacrifice in the short term, to win big in the long.
I thought about our Councillors: who is this kid who thinks he knows? Why is he trying to embarrass us in front of our region? But I don’t actually think they campaigned against the LRT and then changed their minds because of some sort of conspiracy plot, but because all the emotion around the issue is simply making it hard to really know one way or the other. And if I were them I would worry that if the LRT turned out to be wrong, and case studies were one day written on when Waterloo let emotion beat reason, I would say to myself “ahh my gut told me this all along, I should have been stronger, I wish someone spoke up”.
And finally I thought about all the volunteers and staff that had poured their lives into this project: please, we have worked so hard, why do you come to us now? For this group I felt most. All these incredible people who love our city and are trying to do their absolute best. But I worried that all their work was based on flawed assumptions. And that if the LRT turned out to be wrong, that they would feel guilty about letting down the city they love, asking themselves for the rest of their lives, “how did we let ourselves miss this?”
And so I decided to let it rip. I posted a petition Tuesday at 2 AM, and then sent it to all the Councillors and CC’d all the press – no point speaking up if your voice won’t be heard. And a storm has been brewing ever since.
My goal is not to stop the LRT. My goal is to make sure there is rigorous mathematical analysis and reason behind the choices we make. We may find that the LRT is right for our city. That mathematically the LRT will solve the explicitly defined problem of “reduce the percentage of Waterloo citizens that drive as our region grows”. But right now I am looking over at my neighbour, half way to building his house. I have taken some samples of his soil, and taken them back to my lab for analysis. I can’t be sure of my results, but I am strongly suggesting to you my neighbour: I think we should stop and take a closer look first.