Barn Raising Lessons from Halifax

Question: Is it possible to discover game changing ideas in just one day?

Answer: Yes, if you have the right people, purpose, process and passion, in one room.

You would be amazed what you can do with some time, space, experience, tools and people.

This past Sunday, I flew to Halifax to join in on a Barn Raisers’ strategic ideation session for Habitat for Humanity. Full disclosure: I volunteered my time for Habitat for Humanity. The Barn Raisers paid for my Porter flight and Airbnb room. These are the guys who launched The Give Agency. Who would not want to spend a day working with this amazing team?!

My approach in life and business, is that you need to give to get, and this experience did not disappoint. The truth is I should have paid them. If I could buy the company, I would. :)

The Halifax Experience

I flew Porter, which is always a good start (and yes, for further disclosure, I did work for Porter in a past life.) Flying Porter within Canada feels like a getting a ride from your hipster friend who is all things cool and all things Canadian. No customs. No border angst. No hassle. Everyone is welcome, everyone is friendly and everyone is cool. Halfway there, a hockey fan got on in Ottawa, and proceeded to tell us all about the awesome Senators game against the New York Rangers. Yes, they rocked it on Saturday 4 to 2. Woohoo!

We celebrated with a glass of Jackson-Triggs Black Reserve. As we descended into Halifax, the flight attendant poured the remainder of my wine into a plastic glass. My other seat mate, who had said nothing up until now for the entire trip, observed, ‘Well I’m glad if we crash, at least you won’t cut yourself.” Indeed.

Who does not enjoy visiting the East Coast?! I was on the ground mere moments, when a lovely lady volunteer in a beautiful blue tartan vest, grabbed my arm and raced me to the downtown bus stop, singing ‘we need to Go. Go. Go!’ in an east coast accent, followed by a final command to, ‘be sure to hold the bus for the next guy’. The next guy turned out to be an older man from Dartmouth with a humongous suitcase, who insisted on paying my fare and his. The driver accepted a discount for two strangers collaborating. You gotta’ love this town.

The People

Yes, transformation is about people. And besides having an incredible music, food, and craft beer movement, Halifax is rich in people - smart, passionate, insightful people with big hearts. Just what you need for an accelerated strategic ideation session! I was invited to join a team of strategic and creative rockstars - Brian, an empathy-driven creative leader, Mike, a PR pro and collaborative communicator, and Chaz, a business strategist and cinematic storyteller. The Barn Raisers believe that ideas can change the world and have recently dedicated their lives to proving it. And yes, it works. And yes, Barn Raisers also now do this for corporate clients. The team is collaborative, high energy and incredibly inspiring. Their work is now attracting national and international clients.

The Habitat for Humanity team also arrived in full force, in all roles, from development, to marketing to operations. These are the folks who believe in a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. Imagine that for a moment. Well, this is the team that works with this purpose, every single day. The Habitat team believes in the power of all of us to change the world, one brick, one two-by-four, and one piece of Re-Store furniture at a time. Let’s do this.

The Space

For building Barn Raising ideas, you definitely need a room with a view. The right space, energy and light is crucial for discovering ideas. Some of you may have been imagining a wide open field for a ‘barn raiser’ session, but no, I was instructed to be at the Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Road, at 9:00 am. And what a library it was!

A design lab, jutting out into the street scene on Spring Garden. An organic cafe and roof deck with an ocean view. This library itself is living proof of the power of re-imagination. It’s green. It’s innovative. It’s award-winning. It’s absolutely beautiful and I feel creative just walking in here. I want to read here! I want to write here! I want to build here! I want to change the world here.

The Purpose

The Barn Raisers agency was designed to empower client teams to dream, discover and develop real ideas, with real outcomes in real time. And while the Barn Raisers team is open hearted, open minded and open to any challenge, they are militant about speed, process and customer-focus. It’s about big ideas that are based in reality, on brand, and insight-driven. This is the team who dreamed up Nova Scotia’s Biggest Potluck for FEED Nova Scotia and many other game changing initiatives for both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. Our challenge for this Barn Raisers’ Habitat for Humanity session was to re-think how to build awareness, engagement, re-store sales and revenue, all in one day. Good ideas led to great ideas and universal themes bubbled up effervescently. One change leads to another, and good begets good. As local Halifax butcher, Chris de Waal wrote in the Spring Halifax Food & Drink magazine, “Would you think I was crazy if I suggested to you that I think we could change the world by changing Nova Scotia?” (No, Chris, I do not think you are crazy and will you come to our next Barn Raisers session?) Barn Raisers is about being human. It’s about working together. It’s about making the time to see the way forward. It’s about empowering your people to make change.

The Ideas

I signed an NDA this morning, so I can’t tell you any more about the Barn Raising process or the ideas, or even the tools (except for the beautiful and fun giant stickies), but let me say this. Habitat for Humanity will take Nova Scotia by storm and change how people think about shopping, building, and decorating. The Habitat team re-imagined how they sell, how they operate, how they share, how they build understanding of what they do, and how they change the world.

We all had a riot all day long and left with ideas, empowerment, and the passion to make it happen.

Sign me up for the next Barn Raisers event!

Building ideas, like building a barn, like building a Habitat for Humanity home, is about putting people first. It’s about empowering the people who build and the people who live there - your team, your customers and your community. As Steve Jobs once said in my favourite ad of all time, “the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Bravo, Barn Raisers!

When are you coming to Toronto?

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