SDX6: Epic Tries — Innovation Stories from the Field

By SDXer Colleen Highet

Electric! That is the best way to describe the vibe of the room prior to SDX “Epic Tries”. As folks began to mingle and reconnect with peers, the excitement to participate in the first SDX of the year was contagious.

The kitchen party is underway in the Action Lab.

When the panel members were asked to take their seats there was such a shared sense of respect for one another in the room — i.e., one did not have to ask folks to stop chatting; everyone was present. As the panel members were being introduced and information about their backgrounds and current activities were shared, you could not help but wonder what they might have in common.

As moderator Keren Perla(Director, Alberta CoLab) began asking the panel questions, the answer became clear…these were all individuals who at some point in time had “failed” at something…but saw the value or the lesson learned from that fail. I don’t know about you who might be reading this…but learning from something that has not quite worked out is one of the best opportunities a person can experience…more about that later.

Keren Perla, Director of Alberta CoLab, with panel members (L-R) Gemma Dunn (Director of Programs and Initiatives, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations), Nadine Riopel (Purpose Fuel), Leann Wagner (Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategy & Policy, Alberta Department of Labour), Darcy Scott (Owner-Operator of Whimsical Cake Studio), and Ian Howatt (Director of Strategic Leadership, Citizen Services, City of Edmonton).

As the panel members became more comfortable (a bit of nerves never hurt anyone), the passion and commitment each person has for what they do and believe in was evident. As the microphone was passed from one person to the other I could sense from the crowd that what was being shared was important to each of them in some way.

ECVO’s Gemma Dunn talks epic tries as fellow panelists Nadine Riopel and Leann Wagner look on.

I must admit, being a person who likes change and likes to challenge processes (and I try hard not to “annoy” people…to the best of my ability) the panel members resonated with me — they are all innovative, creative, willing to take risks and have the ability to reflect and learn from their experiences. Another observation was that these five individuals value team…they are there to make the team better, not the other way around — so in my mind, true leaders. I valued the stories being shared…they give one hope that things can be changed and can be obtained (even if that means the recipe has to change a bit).

After the discussion concluded, there were four stations set up to encourage participants to discuss some of what was shared and how “you” show up and if possible, how it relates to systemic design. I am certain I scared the folks in my group…I get energized in these settings and become somewhat passionate in how I respond to things!

Ian Howatt explores how to bring innovation and operations together in government with SDXers Ben Weinlick, Sylvia Lepki, and Miki Stricker-Talbot.

Our Topic: How do you refuel to keep the passion for innovation alive?

Personally, I refuel by being in groups of people with similar likes, like the SDX community. The small team assembled, I sensed, also received a bit of refuelling from the panel discussion. We were all rather lively –I think a couple of things I would take away from our small group is that we all have ways of refuelling — family, friends, colleagues with similar thought processes and / or challenges…connections and the ability to know when we need to have “alone time”. Always heading in a direction, but sometimes not knowing what that direction is.

Great conversations and insight…

To be able to generate open discussions, you have to able to be vulnerable. Whether that occurs at an SDX event, in our business lives or personal lives, this type of “bareness” allows for real conversations to occur. Learning from others develops a common connection and can generate those conversations that are needed to discuss different ideas about how to get to a desired end point…even if something does not turn out the way it was intended. Capacity to learn from “epic tries” is something that is of the most importance…

And on a final note:

The session’s facilitated approach allowed me to experience and be engaged in a form of active learning. While listening to the panel’s responses I was not just being part of the audience; their real life situations / events they spoke to somehow transported me to situations / events I had been through and allowed me to view those events from a different lens. I’m not going to go back in time and try to change the past…but I feel secure in the knowledge that moving forward from a “fail” does not mean you shouldn’t try something again… it just means you may be better prepared to tackle it from a different angle. It’s that falling off the horse thing…you don’t get past the fear until you do it again.

I have many take away items from this event, but these are my top ones:

  • It’s okay to have tenacity.
  • If you are comfortable as a trail blazer…forge ahead.
  • Challenge the status quo — someone has to.
  • Develop a shared purpose — common ground.
  • Define expectations — be clear and make sure everyone has the same definition / meaning.
  • Design a system to be inclusive — all input matters.
  • Don’t damage relationships.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks (I’m not suggesting climbing Everest…but you get the gist).


  • Don’t stop failing!

I hope there are more sessions presented this way. Thanks, SDX.

Colleen Highet is a Practice & Contract Advisor with the Government of Alberta’s Department of Community and Social Services. She is an SDXer “because it is humbling and awe-inspiring to be involved with such an awesome group of people who, at the core, are open to making change happen.” Follow Colleen on Twitter @highetcj.