Five Hundred

What happens when you write 500 site posts? You learn a lot about the world and yourself.

Today marks the 500th post on Censemaking. Wow.

Let me start and say thank you everyone who’s come to read, browse, and share anything and everything from the past decade onward. Your visits, comments, and contributions make this worthwhile.

Censemaking began while I was a full-time professor at the University of Toronto teaching behaviour change, evaluation, health promotion and systems thinking to graduate students in public health, many of whom are now on the front-line of the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was to create a learning platform where I could introduce ideas in practical terms and bring in examples from different aspects of life to help clarify what it means to truly innovate — to apply new knowledge to creating value, by design. I could share ideas with my students, colleagues, funders, and clients to help them learn more about all of this in an accessible way than through traditional academic means. A blog was the perfect way to do this.

Except, my students and close colleagues weren’t interested. They didn’t come and they didn’t seem to want to.

But a funny thing happened; many other people did.

Since that first post in 2009, Censemaking has had over 100,000 visitors and through all of this I’ve managed to generate 500 posts.

So what have I found interesting to write about 500 times over?

Topics

While much has changed over this journey, the focus has largely remained the same.

I write on design and design thinking because I want it to be less hype-laden and ‘flaky’ and more evidence-based, while also putting it into the hands of more people. I’m happy to say that the evidence is coming and the field is maturing. Design needs a rethink and it holds much promise. If we want anything to be different, we need to create it with some intention, creativity, craft, purpose, and skill — and design leverages it all.

I write about systems thinking and complexity to make it more accessible, practical and less opaque. This struggle continues; I don’t think systems thinkers have done a good job at all of advancing the field much further than it was when I was a graduate student. COVID-19 has given us the greatest living experiment in systems we’ve seen. Hopefully we learn from it and apply the lessons to build our capacity to think and act in systems, better.

I continue to write on behavioural science and psychology because those topics continue to be ignored in practice — in our organizations, policies, and communities. Just look at how little we see behavioural science guiding the pandemic responses from school openings to mask wearing to building resilience in our communities. Looking at ourselves is hard and we all have baggage, but we can learn, do, create, and change better when we apply the best science of behaviour to our plans.

I also write as a means of supporting innovators themselves drawing on the psychology of healing, mindfulness, and mental health promotion. Change-making is difficult work and that doesn’t get recognized enough.

I’ve stopped writing about the ‘K’s’knowledge translation/exchange/brokering/integration…etc…. – because it’s a lost cause to me. At its core, these are all about setting ourselves up for learning and sharing what we know, nothing more. That should be enough. Something so special and vital for our human development like learning should never be wrapped in so much impenetrable jargon that even those who are into the ‘K’s’ can’t agree on what it all means.

Evaluation means more to me than ever. While I’ve often joked that the term evaluation is the longest four-letter word in the English language, evaluation — engaging people in learning about what they do through inquiry about what they make — has never been more important. Evaluation is what keeps innovators sharp, designers honest, and systems thinkers relevant.

Tying it all together is writing on learning (and education, too — even if they aren’t always the same thing). How we learn, our curiosity, and our creativity has never been more important than it is right now. Whether its transforming higher education, continuous learning, or reflective practice — the world is changing and we need to change with it through paying attention and intention (and action or non-action).

Special Issues

Occasionally, I’ll write about topical issues that aren’t tied to any of these ideas. I annually write a reminder to the world that violence against women is still prevalent, harmful, and destroys much good in this world all around us. Yet, the resilience, perseverance, and dedication of so many to this cause provides inspiration and — I hope — motivation for all of us to do much better. Everyday needs to be International Women’s Day.

New Years’ tends to draw attention to things like goal-setting and the fallacy of much of what becomes of the New Years Resolution. Goals and setting them has become quite a popular sub-topic, including looking at the myths around them.

The subtle practices of self-care, creativity, and innovation often come into Censemaking posts. I believe that innovation is necessary for us to survive and thrive. It can be subtle changes or big, dramatic things , but no matter what: it doesn’t need to be mysterious or inaccessible. When so much changes around us we need to keep moving even if is just to stay where we are. It also can be challenging work and lonely, too. Innovators — changemakers — whatever you want to call it need to stick together.

Lastly, all of this has culminated into a newsletter. I’ve loved preparing, learning, and sharing a ‘snack-sized’ package of what I learn on specific topics to hundreds of people every two weeks. The Censemaking Innovation Newsletter has been a great innovation (for me) and allowed me to extend this blog to new audiences.

Gratitude

While the practice of commenting on blogs has declined across the web, many wise, considerate, and generous people provide insights, contributions, healthy criticisms, and cheers through other means. I want to thank a few people who’ve made a notable contribution from this glorious Peanut Gallery that is my audience and community:

Liz Weaver, the Co-CEO from Tamarack, has inspired some posts and amplified many more. It’s wonderful to have colleagues who ‘get’ you, but also ‘give’ to you to, too. These exchanges have even translated into webinars as part of Tamarack Institute‘s program of learning, posts, and new insights. Liz’s team through Tamarack do the kind of things we need in our community, when we need it, even when sometimes we don’t even know we need it and that comes through in what she shares — including my posts, thankfully. Thanks, Liz.

Allison Titcomb is perhaps the best Twitter promoter (along with Liz) that this blog has ever had in addition to being a great evaluation colleague. She’s been a frequent guest to the Design Loft every year that I lead at the annual American Evaluation Association conference. Sadly, we won’t see each other ‘In Real Life’ this year, but I know she’s always just a tweet away. I appreciate all of it, Allison.

Another peer who has provided much inspiration for blogging and sharing is Sheila B. Robinson, a brilliant educator, evaluator and presenter, who also curates the American Evaluation Association’s AEA 365 blog. Sheila’s work, her newsletter, and dedication to teaching and sharing what she knows with the world has inspired me many times to do the same. So many evaluators benefit from her generous teaching, including me. Thank you, Sheila.

George Shewchuk — a design colleague, strategist and brilliant visual thinker — helped shape the visual identity of this site and always brings something fresh to any project we get to work on. His craft and skill helped me see what could be possible with this site, the newsletter, and project what I want Censemaking to represent — like a great coffee break. George, this site feels better and does so much more because of your help. Thank you!

My long-time, dear friend Geoff Wilson continues to read and promote my work while also inspire my thinking about it. Geoff’s professional work spans finance, sales, technology, media production, and MMA sport – not topics I cover much on Censemaking — yet he demonstrates how curiosity, passion for learning, and a mindset for innovation can take ideas far from his own practice and apply them. He’s a model learner and do-er. Thanks for everything, Geoff. I’ve appreciated your support, encouragement, and the laughs over the years. Your passion for learning has inspired greatness in me my whole adult life.

Let me thank Seth Godin. I’ve never met Seth, but when or if I do, I will tell him that his generosity, storytelling, and persistence in writing — and writing messages of meaning — has done more to shape this blog than anything. Seth’s work is about cultivating artistry in our craft, doing the work, and making a ‘ruckus’ out there. Seth, I hope one day we can meet. You make a big difference to the world.

Lastly, if you’re reading this you probably represent those I hope to connect with, provide some useful thoughts and tools, and a spark that ignites your work making a difference through innovation. Thank you.

On to the next 500 and much more. There’s a lot coming, but I’ll leave that to you all to read about in future posts.

[Facts and Figures: It appears that Monday is the most popular day to publish (24% of posts are on a Monday). If you’re reading this, it is also more likely to be at 11:00 am than any other time. The average post is around 1000 words.]

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

2 thoughts on “Five Hundred

  • August 24, 2020 at 6:34 am
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    Congratulations on your 500th blog. I particularly appreciate the evolution of your thinking. I’ve been reading and sharing for years. Thx

    • August 24, 2020 at 9:46 am
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      That’s a wonderful comment to make – thank you. It’s great to hear that from someone who’s been with me along this journey and remained interested. I appreciate you taking the time to share this. Let’s hope the next 500 posts are even better.

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