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The Lainie List


  1. What!?! I’ve never heard of this before. Poor baby bunnies.
  2. A look inside a designer treehouse
  3. A free online course I just took
  4. Why Your Kids Just Need You
  5. My Gram, the meaning behind my Writing Acts of Kindness: 30 Day Challenge
  6. Sweetery: Canada’s Largest Sweets Festival in Toronto
  7. The Dough
  8. My anaconda don’t…
  9. Yay! A friend just opened her new ice cream shop.
  10. I need to stop eating this. So good.
  11. Take the Quiz.  Which one are you?
  12. Cook this Page: Parchment Recipes.  Those sneaky Nordic geniuses at Ikea.  
  13. Raspberry Sangria Recipe
  14. Figuring out my word for this year


Hope you’re having a great weekend!  If you’d like to see more of my everyday life, follow me on Instagram.

Two Questions You Need to Ask a Stranger

There are two questions that will get total strangers laughing and sharing stories.  I experienced it first hand at a conference a couple years ago.

There were hundreds of us in the room.   Some knew each other and most did not.  The facilitators asked us to divide into groups based on the decade in which we were born. 

If you were born in the 70s, move to the back corner…the 80s, over here at the side…

We were asked to talk about these two questions:

1. What do you remember wearing as a teenager?
Do you remember the first record, 8 track, cassette, CD, or download you bought?

I met a lady who grew up in the Ukraine.  As a teenager, the first cassette she bought was AC/DC.  She even put an AC/DC patch on her bag that she carried around school.  Funny thing was, she had no idea who they were.  Everyone talked about them so she played along.  Secretly, she loved classical music and went on to study it.

It took a while for the facilitators in the room to bring us back together.  Yes!!! I remember that… Oh my god, I did that too…

You might be wondering if it’s a good idea or not to divide people by age.  I found that it was actually a lot of fun because it brought people together around some similar experiences. We also had choice with which group to join.  Depending on your workplace and group dynamics, you’ll know whether it’s an icebreaker to try or not.

I decided to bring this icebreaker into an online course I was teaching.

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Sharing what we wore and laughing about our bad fashion sense brings us together.  It makes us more than a name on the screen, but rather another person who also made mixed tapes from the radio or used wwaaaaaay too much hairspray back in the day.  It creates connections.

It encourages us to open up to strangers and share a little bit of ourselves.  Which in turn, makes it more likely for us to comment on each other’s work, ask questions, or reach out with an email.

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Me rocking  a loon sweatshirt, turtleneck, and bangs (I can’t even explain) – back in the early 90s

So if you also wore a Northern Reflections sweatshirt or loved a good bodysuit (not the ones for swimming folks), share a comment to this blog!  What did you wear as a teen?  What album did you first buy?

We don’t need to be strangers anymore…

Top 5 Reads for Thinking Differently

In no particular order, here are five books you need to read to challenge yourself to think differently in your personal and professional lives…










1. Change By Design, Tim Brown

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, will get you thinking about the experiences you provide for others, regardless of the profession in which you work.

Rather than assuming we know what’s best for others, design thinking has us put our opinions aside and involve consumers in the design process.

This book is my favourite in this list.  It challenged me to think differently and to seek input from others.













2. Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, Biz Stone

I knew nothing about Biz Stone prior to reading this book.  I rarely even read autobiographies, but decided to give it a try because I was curious to know more about how Twitter came to be.

This book is so much more.

Yes, you’ll read about why tweets are only 140 characters and where the idea of hashtags came from.  But what makes this book, is getting to know Biz Stone and how he sees the world.

This book is inspiring. Read it.



3.  A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, Adam Morgan & Mark Barden

I had to read this book.  When we often hear things like, “Yes but…” “We can’t because…” in our workplaces, it’s pretty refreshing to read a book that views constraints as beautiful.

This book is full of real life stories of clever people who were able to adapt and think differently to provide great experiences for others, all using constraints to help imagine something new.

This book will leave you thinking about your current challenges in new ways – personal and / or professional.  The prompts and questions they share will stick with you and you’ll start to find yourself trying to approach your own problems with a more open mind.  At least, it has for me.




4. Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, from Stanford’s Design Program, remind us all that there isn’t just one path for us in life.  At any time, we can create a life that is meaningful and fulfilling.

The writers encourage us to stop worrying about making “the right decision” and to get out there to experience new things – as that’s when we come closer to finding what we truly enjoy and were meant to do.

Whether you’re someone who is in a job or career that doesn’t feel like a right fit or someone who strives for work-life balance, this book is a must read for you.

It’s one that I looked forward to reading at night and has encouraged me to think about my own life and possible pathways.



5. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in All of Us, David and Tom Kelley

David and Tom Kelley, co-founders of the global design company IDEO, describe how design thinking can change the way we work in our organizations.

Rather than spending a lot of time trying to envision the perfect end product/service, design thinking has us taking action rather than having another meeting to discuss options.

I read this book three years ago when I was a web designer and e-learning consultant.  It inspired me to get out of the office and actually talk to those who would be using the resources I was creating.

Creative Confidence is still one of my favourite reads and continues to inform the way I think and work.

If there’s another great book you’ve read that you think I might like, please share it in the comments section!

Learning Made Better with Design Thinking

Starting a new job can be a humbling experience. There might be a new building to find our way through. We try to understand who’s who and what we’re supposed to do each day. Training or orientation might happen right away or months later, and despite good intentions, only bits and pieces may stick with us.

There has to be a better way.

One telecomm company tried. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently shared an interesting story of a company who chose to approach onboarding differently.

Rather than trying to teach new employees everything they need to know all at once, they designed an experience that would span a full year. They used elements of design thinking to create professional learning that was customized for a specific role in their company.

To begin their planning, the company studied the job of a retail sales agent over the first nine months. Brilliant. In the design thinking world, this is starting at the ‘empathy’ stage. Spending time observing and speaking with others to better understand whom we’re designing for…

  • What are their urgent learning needs? What needs to be addressed immediately?
  • What systems need to be learned?
  • What products do they have to understand?
  • What processes will they need to learn over the first year? (e.g., getting to know customers, product experts, fundamentals of sales and customer service)

With this information, the company could get a sense of what learning is imminent and what might be offered over time. And time has been found to be an important facet of effective professional learning…

From the report, Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability (2013), in order for professional learning to be effective it needs to:

  • Take place over time
  • Provide support at the time of implementation
  • Be active, and not passive

From the article, it sounds like the company’s design thinking approach did just that.

Learning Over Time

Rather than learning everything they needed to know in a few days/weeks with no follow up, there was a planned progression to the learning based on agents’ needs and their work.

From the company’s observations over nine months, they developed a “journey map” that showed what agents needed to know the first day, the first week, the first month, and then over the first few quarters. True, deep learning could take place over time.

Providing Support at the Time of Implementation

To help us truly understand new information and develop our skills, we need multiple opportunities to use it. As the old adage goes, “use it or lose it.”

To support employees implement their learning on the job, the company built an app that looked more like a game than a learning system. They could access videos on demand, add social connections, sign up for coaching sessions, and share their learning with others online. Rather than receive an overwhelming amount of information in an isolated training session (maybe months before they’d use it), they could access exactly what they needed and when they needed it. Just enough, just in time, just for me.

Active, Not Passive

There are lots of different ways we can learn something new. We might watch how-to videos on YouTube, read, listen to podcasts, sign up for online courses, observe others, discuss… we learn in varied and active ways. Sitting passively and being told what we need to know doesn’t work for us all.

Although the HBR article didn’t share the specifics of how each learning session was designed, we can begin to imagine how we might make learning more active for those we design for.

All in all, I loved reading the HBR article, Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs. It was encouraging to read about a company who was interested in understanding the experience of new employees and were open to taking a new approach to previous practices.

I recognize the article is a snapshot and I don’t know whether the company created an onboarding process that made a difference for employees. I do, however, appreciate how the article inspires us to approach learning and onboarding differently through the lens of design thinking.

We can do things differently.

We can learn more about the people we’re designing learning for. We can think about what learning might look like over time and say goodbye to the archaic practices of orientation days or isolated training sessions. From both our own experiences and findings from research, we know they need to be a part of a much bigger picture.

Design thinking has a role in our organizations, especially when it comes to how we learn. It’s a matter of asking ourselves, how might we get started?

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about the design thinking process, Stanford has a great overview and a video from 60 Minutes shows the process in action.

Design Thinking Process. Image from:

Smart Design, User in Mind

I admire people with clever ideas.  Those who notice what doesn’t work, who come up with a solution to make our lives easier and better, and then make it happen.   I appreciate smart design.


Here are five smart designs that I encountered in one week…


1. Packaging from LEGO
I ordered additional tracks for our son’s LEGO train set.  When the box arrived, I didn’t think anything of it.  Until I opened it up and saw this message…

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Smart!  I quickly looked on the outside of the box and there was no mention that the parcel was even from LEGO – nothing in the mailing address, on the box… no child or adult would ever know that a fun, colourful gift was inside.  Even when the delivery man handed me the parcel, he spelled out L-E-G-O.  “Never want to ruin a surprise!”  Apparently keeping LEGO a secret is a thing…

2. Online Chat Help

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 9.39.16 AM.png

I was teaching an online course and a candidate was having difficulties using a mind mapping tool.  I was in our son’s room, waiting to see if he’d nap in his crib, when I decided to look on their web page to check out their FAQs.   A customer service chat box appeared.

After typing in one sentence, within seconds I was offered a solution.  Not only is this great customer service, but an example of smart design.  A solution that provides access to support that might be helpful to people with hearing impairments, a Mom in a quiet room, or someone in the middle of a meeting.  It meets the needs of many.


3. Poke-A-Dot

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Our son LOVES this book!  From the moment I showed it to him in Chapters, he carried it around all day.  It’s a counting book where each animal has a “bubble” to pop.  As he gets older, it will encourage him to touch objects as he counts and he’ll know which animals he’s already counted.  Smart design.  A fun book that teaches early number concepts.

4. Jamie Bell Adventure Playground

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As soon as I saw this park, I loved it.  It looks and feels magical.  Imagination is the word that comes to mind.  So when I read the sign near the park, it totally made sense.  

This is a very special playground.  Children contributed to the design by drawing their ideas of a dream playground.  Then in the spring of 1998, children worked alongside parents, teachers and volunteers to build the Adventure Playground.  

It was designed by kids!  It also explains why every kid who approached the park that day, did so with screams of excitement.  Kids creating for kids.  Smart design.

5. Booking Appointments Online

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My new favourite.  I’m so glad that more travel clinics, dentist offices, and medical offices are beginning to adopt online booking of appointments.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being on hold for 20 minutes just to book an appointment, when I can sign in, choose my location, date, and time in less than five minutes amongst the chaos in our house. Smart design.


What I love about smart design is that it doesn’t need to come from engineers or a research and development department.   It can come from kids, from moms with simple ideas that become million dollar companies, or grandfathers with solutions to everyday problems.  This is probably the reason why I love watching shows like Dragon’s Den.

Smart design is about people who understand the principles of human-centred design. They recognize a challenge / problem.  They come up with a solution in hopes of making things easier or better for others.  They prototype, get feedback from their target audience to help make their product/service better, actually use the feedback and make changes, and in the end have a solution that is tailor made to meet unique needs.  
No degree or training required.  To use or facilitate a human-centred design process,  you just need to observe everyday life, have a desire to do good, and be open to what others have to say.  



Growing Up Small Town

With stands of trees lining the provincial highway, beautiful clear lakes for swimming and fishing, and an area known as “Sunset Country,” it’s home.

1,200 people.

One grocery store. One bank. A library.
One elementary school. Five churches. One arena and a curling rink.

Lots of trucks, more boats. A winding river that divides Canada from the United States. A 30 minute drive to the nearest movie theatre (in Minnesota).

Small town, Northwestern Ontario.


Clearwater Lake

“Home” for me has always been two places — where I’m currently living and the small town where I grew up. And although I haven’t lived at ‘home’ since I was eighteen years old, it’s still very much a part of who I am.

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realized just how much growing up in a small town has affected how I interact with people and the work that I do.

When I decided to live in a city of 2.6 million people, I thought it was normal to ask colleagues about their families, kids names, what they like to do outside of work, or their plans for the weekend. But to some, this was seen as something unique or special. A skill set called “community building” in the world of learning and training. But to me, it was just being myself.

It wasn’t strategic on my part. I wasn’t hoping to achieve some ulterior motive. It’s just what you do in a small town — you ask questions about people’s lives.

I grew up in a place where people don’t talk about work.

They talk about people.

They share what they’ve been up to — what they’ve recently built in their workshop, planted in their garden, or read. I live a 20 hour drive away from home and I know who’s renovating their kitchen, who’s expecting a new grandchild, and who recently had to make the difficult decision to have their husband move into a care facility because he has Alzheimer’s.

There’s something about living in a small town that is different.

People make time to visit with each other. I miss this. The unexpected visits when you suddenly hear a door slam outside your house or the crunching of gravel in your driveway. My Dad is good at this — dropping in to visit friends.

So it makes sense why I look for opportunities to socialize with colleagues at work. I like getting a group together to go out for lunch or for drinks after work. I help plan ugly sweater days, coordinate group tickets to Argo games, and encourage colleagues to dress up for Halloween. It’s just what I do. Some may feel that personal lives and work should not meet, and I respect that. For me, I just can’t imagine working somewhere, where I can’t be myself.

In my work as an instructional designer, I’ve realized that it’s my small town upbringing that has drawn me to practices like user testing, design thinking, and human-centred design. When I’m designing or facilitating online courses, or creating professional learning resources for a specific group of people, this is when my “community building” comes through. I like to know whom I’m designing for — what they do, what they are challenged by, what they hope to achieve. Their interests, where they live, their family lives…

You might wonder what a person’s family life has anything to do with designing or facilitating learning for others. For me, it’s where I start. If you’re a single Dad with two young kids, is it likely that you’re going to sit and watch an hour long video to learn something new? Or would you prefer short video clips you could watch on your phone during your kid’s swimming lesson? Having a sense of users needs, interests, and goals helps me create something ‘just for them, just in time, and just enough.’

Time in itself would make for an interesting study. How we use it and where we place value. We have work commitments, errands to run, events to attend, our children’s activities.…there always seems to be a reason why we can’t get together with others. We start looking at each other’s photos on Instagram or Facebook as an acceptable way to keep in touch. But I think we’re missing out.

It matters to connect with people. By taking the initiative to make plans with others, it shows that we’re thinking of them and that we enjoy their company. When time seems like an invaluable commodity where there’s never enough of it, it says a lot when you give it freely to others.

I’m thankful for growing up in a small town. It, along with my parents, taught me to care about people.

Coffee Drinking, Bacon Inhaling Ninjas

Friendly twitter ninja. Coffee scholar. Bacon junkie. Thinker. Music aficionado.

Subtly charming coffee expert. Friendly thinker. Total music ninja.
Wannabe pop culture specialist.


Our online bios are all starting to sound the same.  Future anthropologists will think that we only consumed bacon, drank coffee, and were actually a generation of ninja warriors.

It’s a shame.  A world full of interesting people, each with their own “thing,” are being whittled down to a generic one liner.

But how do you write something that truly captures who you are?  It’s not easy.

I’ve been struggling to write a bio that is truly me.  I recently turned to the web to find inspiration.  I found it.

Smart, simple, playful, effective, and fun.  Charlene D’Aoust decided to take the humble bios of her colleagues and rewrite them in a blog post, titled: “10 Reasons Why I Love Working at 88 Creative.”  She showcased their unique skills and shared what she admired about each person.  She did an incredible job.

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10 Reasons I Love Working at 88 Creative (to read full post)


These bios give a sense of each person – their strengths professionally and what people love about them personally.  They also show that quality writing can breathe life into something that’s usually mundane.

Thank you, @charlene_daoust!  My notebook now includes snippets of your post.  Lines I love, notes about tone and how you structured each bio.  More inspiration as I work to craft my own.


This week, take a look at your bio.

Does it reflect who you are as a person?  If it does, that’s great! They aren’t easy to write. If your bio doesn’t,  maybe it’s time to rework it a bit.

Find three bios you love.  Search organizations that share the same values or interests as you.   Look up people who inspire you.  Whatever you do, don’t Google, “How to Write a Good Bio.”  You won’t find yourself there.

Yes, you’ll be lurking a bit but those three bios will say a lot about you.  You’ll likely be drawn to a writing style that matches your personality.  Maybe you’re a laid back kind of guy and will like bios that are short, humble, and easygoing.  Or you might come across a bio that describes your values and skill set in an artful way.

It’s hard to write about yourself.  But it’s easy to see yourself in someone else’s writing. Learn from them and make it your own.

Once you’ve reworked your bio, read it to a friend, family member, or colleague.  You’ll know you’ve hit the mark when they say, “that’s so you.”   If they don’t, ask them to choose one word to describe you.  Figure out a way to have it come through in your writing.

You may be thinking that what I’m suggesting is too personal and unnecessary.  It leaves us in a vulnerable place.  Why does someone need to know that I like chick flicks?  Why? Because someone else will say, “so do I!!”  Relating to each other is what humans do.

Without a little vulnerability, we’re just a bunch of coffee drinking, bacon inhaling ninjas.




The Best Job Posting I’ve Ever Read

Lots of plaid, hipster glasses, dogs, and coffee. An outsider’s take on #HootsuiteLife on the west coast.  I know someone who works at their office in Vancouver.  His tweets and Instagram photos of team retreats, office antics, and camaraderie are endless.  He tweeted the job posting one day.

I’ve never worked at Hootsuite but after reading this job posting I wish I did.

I was surprised by the writing style.  It came across as very personal.  Usually job postings feel formal and detached.  They follow a formula; the job description is riddled with verbs and buzzwords and the list of qualifications is there to weed people out.

This was totally the opposite.

Rather than trying to weed people out, it felt like Hootsuite was encouraging others to join them.  It was refreshing that a global corporation could have such a small startup feel.  The language was honest.  They didn’t want people with egos.  They wanted someone with exceptional talent that could still have fun.  And most impressive of all, they wanted applicants to know they’d support their career pursuits.  The nerd in me LOVED this.  I’ve never seen anything like this in a job posting before.

See for yourself…

Hoot 1Hoot 2(a small portion of the job posting shared above)

What do you think? Does this sound like a place where you’d like to work?

I’m not saying that we all need to apply for a job at Hootsuite.  I’m sure there are a lot of great places to work that have an amazing culture.  You may even work there already.  And if you don’t, the good news is, you can start creating it tomorrow.    

This week, bring a little Hootsuite to your workplace.

Buy a new plaid shirt.  Get some new glasses.  Bring your dog to work (or get a new dog). Bring in your coffee press.  Just kidding.  Get a group of coworkers to go out for a drink after work one night. Ask a colleague for their help on a project.  Go work in another part of the office and talk with someone you don’t know all that well.  And don’t forget to have some fun.

Culture is contagious. Get it started.

Being “Innovative” is Easier Than You Think

An opportunity to be “innovative” presents itself every day. It doesn’t need to involve brainstorming wild ideas with a group of people at a whiteboard.

Simply including the word in job titles or the name of a team doesn’t make it happen either. It’s simply being creative with what we already have in front of us.

Here are some easy things you can do day-to-day to keep an open mind.

5 Steps to Being More “Innovative”:

1. Stop using the term. Period.

You don’t need to use a word to describe the way we can all see the world every day. Being innovative is to observe, think, and then act. What’s the underlying need? What might work to solve it? Let’s give it a go. Instead it’s become a buzzword that makes good thinking seem out of reach to the average person.

My grandfather had an elementary school education. He lived in a remote area of Northwestern Ontario, where it was sometimes difficult to get into town for supplies. I remember my grandpa’s workshop. It was a jumble of tools, wood, metal, odds and ends from floor to ceiling. It was the place where he could solve any problem, whether he needed to create his own part to temporarily repair an ATV or weld a contraption to store large quantities of fuel. He was always coming up with innovative ideas, and he wasn’t an Innovation Officer or the team lead of an innovation team. It is within reach of us all.

2. Mix it up.

Spend time with people who have different backgrounds, interests, and strengths than you. These are the people who can introduce you to new ideas and information.

An animator from Pixar, a content strategist at Google, a mechanical engineer for GE, a freelance creative director from Los Angeles, a graphic designer from Whirlpool, a video game designer, a recent graduate with her first startup called Bees Downtown…

I’m currently taking an online course with this great group of people. The course, Storytelling for Influence, is offered through the design firm, IDEO. With such a mix of participants, it’s a great opportunity to learn and get ideas from different fields. Yet when it came time to create our smaller working groups, it was surprising to see what happened. Let’s organize by time zone…hey, we’re all in marketing…we all want to convince people to buy our product… It was disappointing that the group didn’t take advantage of learning from people who were quite different from them.

I’m not saying never work with likeminded people. I’m just saying make sure you also look for and take advantage of a chance to mix things up. “Innovation” is about seeing the world in an interconnected way. Kind of hard to do when you’re working and thinking within the same circle.

3. Try a new activity or hobby. Experience something new.

Sign up for that pottery class or start researching nearby bike trails. You will introduce yourself to a new group of people and start noticing connections to your work.

When I first tried yoga, I was teaching a grade eight class. As I was being guided through the poses, I quickly noticed how our instructor would differentiate depending on people’s bodies and their current abilities. The language she used was so accepting and encouraging. “If you are ready for a challenge…if this is where you are today…next time you might try…” It was admirable how she made everyone feel comfortable with where they were and that we all knew what our next steps could be.

I left that first yoga class more aware of the language I was using in my classroom and worked hard to provide a similar environment for my students.

Sometimes it’s what we experience outside of our workplaces that provides us with the new perspectives we need.

4. Read something you normally wouldn’t.

Flip through a magazine that your partner/spouse is reading. Read a different section of the newspaper online, like the obituaries. Yes, you read that correctly. The obituaries.

I know it sounds weird and kind of dark, but I like to read them. A great writer will make you feel like you knew the person or wish you had. The others just blend together with their generic language and colloquialisms. By reading them, it helps me work towards becoming a better writer. I’m learning to make the most out of a few words. It’s pretty challenging to capture the true essence of a person, what you love most about them, in just a few sentences.

Take opportunities to learn in odd places.

5. Look for Inspiration. (This one’s my favourite.)

Open your eyes to the world around you. Look for things that interest you, are clever in design, or make you think.

I took the subway to hot yoga the other night. Across from me was a great poster promoting the places we love around Toronto. The Beach. Distillery District. Kensington Market. Little Italy… I loved the design. It was hand drawn and almost whimsical. I should have taken a photo. If I need to design something in the future, I want to reference it for inspiration.

Or the other day I was waiting on hold for 15 minutes just to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Trying to make the call during a rare moment that both boys were sleeping. 15 minutes…there has to be a better way. Maybe an online booking site? Another idea that might be useful in some way later on down the road. Tuck it away.

Through these five steps, we gather ideas and learn as we go. When a certain project or problem presents itself, then we have a great collection of ideas to pull from and put together in new ways.

So your challenge for this week — change it up! Be wild and let loose.

Purposely sit with colleagues you don’t usually eat lunch with. Sign up for that pottery class that you’ve always talked about. Look up from your phone during your morning commute and see what interests you. Then share your experience in the comment section below.  I’d love to hear about it!

What wild antics did you get up to?  Learn anything new? Congratulations, you’re already being “innovative.”