The power of intention in Montreal

Written by Emmanuel Lavergne, on 20 February 2019

The Space for Life is Montreal's most visited institution and one of the most profitable public organizations, with a 70% growth in results, a dynamic of creation, and ongoing team engagement. The City of Montreal, which oversees it, probably did not expect such success when they entrusted Charles-Mathieu Brunelle, the current director, with the mission of bringing together these four organizations under a common vision: the Insectarium, Planetarium, Botanical Garden, and Biodome. Each one different, each with a strong identity, all heavily unionized. How did Charles-Mathieu manage to make this merger work?

An Original Vision of Change

For Charles-Mathieu, driving change doesn't make sense. The issue is not so much about developing agility but about stopping fixing. For him, it's the principle of life that leads to continual change.

We spend our time fixing things, landmarks, standards, processes, which we then become prisoners of. - Charles Mathieu

Sailors know it; leaving landmarks leads to changing for a more distant landmark, that of meaning, of foresight. Without a new landmark, says Charles Mathieu, all we do is reproduce and therefore fix. For this, we need to return to the power of intention and its depth.

While changing course is often complicated for individuals, it's even more so for entire organizations! Charles-Mathieu talks about the ego of organizations. Like individuals, this ego is what leads them to stay in their comfort zone, to refuse to take the risk of stumbling in front of others, to indulge in their present aura even if it means forgetting their future. This ego provides balance, but this balance makes it static. Yet change introduces imbalance. We know this well in coaching, where reframing or confrontation leads to an imbalance that the coach must evoke and accompany, but which advances the coachee in ways they hadn't imagined. In this way, the leader is a coach for their organization.

Crossing Worlds to Shift Perspective

You're surely familiar with Cirque du Soleil, one of Montreal's great names. With the support of the Mosaic Creativity Center at HEC Montreal, Charles-Mathieu hosted circus artists for several months to put them in contact with scientists. This was a very unusual approach that generated a lot of perplexity at first. At that moment, only being with the scientists mattered; no operational result objective was required. The real objective: to shift perspective, to move away from fixed landmarks to broaden the realm of possibilities, to stop fixing. Sometimes a tense period, but tensions carried away by the aura of the Circus in Montreal. As for the artists, their natural curiosity, creativity, and sensitivity hardly needed instructions to be put to good use.

From Trust to Pride

To achieve this result, team trust was necessary! Upon his arrival, Charles-Mathieu worked with the six hundred employees, meeting them in groups of four, to "listen, take notes, understand." Contact with the leader is essential for trust. Then, often altogether, with the aim of mixing the four organizations before putting intention back at the heart of the vision.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the wise man calls a butterfly. - Richard Bach

When the fire of transformation seemed ready to ignite, Charles-Mathieu chose a two-day meeting with all the teams. A particularly difficult first day, despite the work done beforehand, which for the HEC Montreal facilitator smells like the wind of failure. Probably a difficult night for Charles Mathieu, in the solitude of many leaders. A bright tomorrow, thanks to Charles-Mathieu's lightning intuition, with an unexpected question he then poses to the 600 employees present: "What will make your children proud of what you have done here?"

By the end of the day, a common intention had been born, a new vision. With "Reconnect man with nature!" the power of intention replaced the ego of the four previously independent organizations, and the vast majority found themselves in this slogan that flaps like a rallying cry.

Since then, with this common vision "Reconnecting man with nature," the story continues. An example: by eliminating plastic mineral water bottles, revenue increased, even though tap water is free in Quebec! As another Quebecer tells me: "Vision, Mission, Passion!" And the Space for Life has since increased its revenue and results by 66%, and with two million visitors per year, it is one of the top destinations in Montreal. Obviously, alongside intention, there is rigorous management and leadership. Life is change!