• Urbanarium Debate – Vancouver Repels Creatives

    First off, I have to admit that an oxford-style debate is not my usual style of discussion.
    I have never been one for argument but instead tend to look at adversarial viewpoints with curiosity and interest, asking myself “where does that particular view come from”.  I’ve learned over the years that its just how I see things…and I’m intrigued by different perspectives.

    We all have reference points and past experiences that shape our outlook on life.  And with the complex problems that we face today, it’s even more important to understand where people/groups are coming from before we can start to collectively move towards change.

    The statement,  “Vancouver repels Creatives” however triggered a sense of obligation in me, and I was compelled to speak against it, not because I”m armed with factual evidence and proof to oppose it, but because it almost feels personal, like the statement itself drew out a “call to action” within me.

    My feeling was “Vancouver can’t repel creatives because we need more creativity than ever!”

    And after deciding to experience the Women’s march last Saturday, it affirms in me that we need to tap into the creativity that exists in all of us. A place that is positive, uplifting, inspirational and motivational….it can move mountains (and minds) toward a better future.

    The irony of the Urbanarium debate, at least for me, was that it wasn’t much of a debate…I felt both teams were actually on the same side but speaking up for different groups we each knew and understood. I think our combined statements started to articulate a very broad and diverse tapestry of the value of concerns that exist for our city’s creative people.

    Below are the 5 points that I focussed on. You can read Mark Busse’s points here. (my debate partner)

    Vancouver does not repel Creatives because…

    1. It is full of creatives.

    While this might seem like a ridiculous statement, and not the the kind of argument that wins these kinds of things, but… it is true, and the beginning of my personal story, and proof for what’s possible.

    I came to Vancouver from London, UK in 2003 and funnily enough, I heard similar grumblings back then. “nothing cool happens here”, “there is no real creative community”  “no fun city, etc.”

    But at the same time… I found other people…. people that were busy doing interesting, creative things.  I realized that it was not creatives that we were lacking, it was the amplification of their work.

    So along with my partner, we created an exhibition series to connect them with each other and their greater community. This was the start of my company Cause+Affect.

    It’s now 13 years since the first exhibition and I thought I’d do a little digging to see how many of these original 20 groups of multi-disciplinary self-starter artists and designers still lived and pursued their creative vocation in Vancouver.  Because clearly, if Vancouver repels creatives, than the majority of these folks would have fled a long time ago.

    Out of the 20 individuals, couples and companies, I discovered 1 was now working in London, 2 had moved their families to the Sunshine Coast for larger studio spaces and 1 I couldn’t track down.  So the rest of them here, 17 out of 20 are still in Vancouver running thriving independent creative businesses.

    Independent businesses that they built from the ground up.

    2 – Vancouver is a city of entrepreneurs.

    Small Business BC 2015 profile states that 98% of businesses in BC are small, and 4 out of 5 are below 5 employees.

    Non-creative people don’t turn ideas into reality and build businesses from scratch. Non-creative people don’t join small companies that are engaged in disrupting concepts and high-risk initiatives.  Small businesses are inherently creative, they’re very survival depends on it.

    I have witnessed this culture first hand as we produced and hosted PechaKucha Night Vancouver for the past 8 years – it was a talk-event, first of its kind in this city…before Public Salon, Raincity Chronicles, TedX, and Creative Mornings… and by the way, they’re all still happening because and for our creative community.

    We produced 38 volumes and brought 500 local speakers to the stage, showcased 30 musical acts and entertained and inspired over 35,000 audience members.

    And the creatives we chose to present on stage weren’t necessarily working in the traditional creative sectors of arts, dance, theatre etc.  Our core criteria was ‘people using creativity to make our city better’ and therefore the representation of creativity came forth in lawyers, architects, scientists, designers, and a majority of them were what I call “social and environmental entrepreneurs”  It was this group, the ones that stepped up and took the chance to follow their passion to make the city (or world) better. That inspired me most.

    I remember people asking if we were worried we were going to run out of people to invite to present!  BUT… new people just kept coming and Vancouver’s authentic identity was formed.

    And speaking of trend, another one we learned when analyzing the PechaKucha community over the last nine years was…

    3 – Creatives need Space.

    The majority of people mentioned “space” when asked why they came or stay in Vancouver.

    The work-life balance that Vancouver uniquely offers is a huge plus for those that need space (mind, body) to create.  My personal experience in London was like being a sponge.  It was exciting and dynamic but it was also distracting, over-stimulating and very competitive.  It didn’t give me the breathing space or down time to find my own creative path and I found more often than not I was replicating or building off of what was already there.

    In Vancouver, we are on the edge, at the periphery.  And there is something to said about being situated on the periphery. It is an environment where ideas and creative processes can be formed and incubated in ways that are allowed to be explored uninterrupted.

    Many artists and creatives I know were actually attracted to Vancouver for this very reason and the city itself has inspired their work because it gives them the space to reflect and re-charge their batteries.

    4.  Creatives see opportunities where others see constraints.

    To me, the very essence of the resolution “Vancouver repels creatives” is at odds with creativity.  Creative people aren’t told where or where not they can be creative, they just are…wherever they are.

    To me it’s like telling a kid he or she can’t play.  It’s just what they do.

    I understand and definitely feel a lot of the constraints of our growing city, but to me they only draw out my creative instincts to challenge them, defeat the status quo and rise up with creative solutions to address them.  The constraints in essence attract creativity!

    Creativity is our biggest resource. It is both a way of thinking and a mindset. Its a certain quality of disposition and attitude which includes curiosity, questioning and openness.  It’s the ability to learn from across disciplines and connect and apply ideas laterally and blending concepts from seemingly unrelated areas.  It requires pattern recognition and divergent thinking to open up new possibilities.  And if change is what is needed, than most of all it requires re-thinking what you think you already know.

    “There are those who choose to live here to work, and then there are those who choose to change here to live.”  Cause+Affect

  • Jane and Steven Join the Board of A Better Life Foundation


    In Support of our Community

    Jane and I founded Cause+Affect at the East end of Water Street in 2004. Since that time, we have moved through four separate offices never more than 100 steps away from the Gassy Jack statue. While we now live North Vancouver, much of our history and our identity comes from the streets of Gastown and the amazing community that makes up the Downtown Eastside.

    It is with that in mind that we are excited and honoured to take Board positions with A Better Life Foundation (ABLF). This young, scrappy and innovative organization has a wonderful duality of empowerment and support. It not only provides meal programs to those most in need, but also employs many that have barriers keeping them from traditional forms of employment. Their work at ABLF builds skills and provides socialization and education as well as the chance to be part of something.

    The organization is run by Mark Brand, a friend who we have come to know well over the years. His care, drive and charm have garnered a significant amount of attention. Our support for him is based on what we see as an authentic need to put his talents towards making positive change. 

    We have joined the board along with a number of others who share our passion for this community and together we feel confident that we can help Mark and his team grow ABLF into a significant charitable organization. One that is built on integrity, guts and hard work. 

    ABLF would eventually love your support, but for now, your respect and curiosity is a great start.

    To open the door for that process, we would love for you to join us at the next Greasy Spoon dinner on April 26 at Save on Meats. Chef Trevor Bird from Fable Kitchen will fuse fine dining and diner food to deliver a four course meal to remember. Proceeds go towards the hunger solutions part of A Better Life Foundation. 

    We hope to see you there.

    – Steven Cox

  • Creative Director Steven Cox joins Board of CPAWS-BC

    CPAWS-Grizzly-BearJane and I have been in Vancouver since 2003 and have become more and more entrenched as Vancouverites each year. So it is with honour and pride that I share the news that I have joined the Board of Directors for the British Columbia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – more commonly known as CPAWS-BC – a non-profit, grassroots-based conservation organization devoted purely to protecting Canada’s wilderness in our public lands and oceans. 

    My connection to the natural world was grown over the summers of my youth that I spent on an off-the-grid island in Lake of the Woods in Northern Ontario. A long standing family asset, this 30 acres of wilderness was incredibly unique and my extended family formed a conservation society to manage and protect it. It was both the repeated connection to this wilderness and the sense of responsibility for its protection that had a profound impact on me and my concept of our role as Canadians. 

    In my estimation, CPAWS is one of the most significant environmental organizations in Canada. Since its founding in 1963 it has helped protect over 400,000 square kilometres of threatened areas. As a Board member, I have the privilege to apply the same strategies we employ at Cause+Affect to help cultivate an organization’s culture and share it with their audience to help grow CPAWS’ funding and impact and help it find its place among from the many other excellent ENGOs out there. 

    For more information about CPAWS-BC see their website, volunteer, donate or join us at any of our upcoming events out in the wilderness or in Vancouver’s only geodesic dome…..

    Explore BC’s Sea of Glass

    Wednesday, March 23 at the TELUS World of Science

    200 metres below the surface there live reefs built by fragile glass sponges that cover more than 1,000 square kilometres of sea floor and rises eight storeys in some places.

    Join CPAWS and international scientists to discover the mysterious world of BC’s Glass Sponge Reefs on Wednesday, March 23 from 6:30pm – 9:30pm at the TELUS World of Science.

    Get tickets

  • Why corporate values don’t matter (on their own)

    Why corporate values don't matter (on their own)

    Almost every organization whether for-profit, non-profit, or charity has worked through a mission and vision statement and selected a few choice corporate values. With pride and joy they hang them on the wall for all to admire and then, more often than not, they promptly forget about them. 

    It’s a sad truth because defining what an organization believes in and where it’s going can be the most important thing it does (besides doing the thing it has set out to do).

    Knowing what you believe in and why is important

    We know that staff do better when they feel a part of their organization, which is strengthened with a clear understanding of why the organization exists and what it is trying to change.

    Efficiency goes up. Quality goes up. There are fewer meetings and even fewer arguments. With that comes a sense of pride and ownership that is contagious.

    And we know that when leaders have a clear understanding of why they do what they do – not just “what” and “how” – they make better decisions faster and more consistently. When leaders know and act on what makes their organization special it forms an emotional connection with who they work with and for.

    A few key words won’t cut it

    Returning to corporate values: These are supposed to be the things that you care most about. The underlying beliefs that get you out of bed in morning.

    But are they really?

    The most common corporate values are usually some combination of

    • Integrity
    • Respect
    • Teamwork
    • Quality
    • and the biggest value of all….Innovation.

    If you have a product or service that is somewhat dangerous, ‘Safety’ usually joins the list as well.

    But what does this list of qualities really mean? If we didn’t have this list would it meant that we don’t want to work together, or achieve good things, or be honest, or try to do better?

    No, all of that pretty much go without saying. In fact, what we find more and more is that this process of defining corporate values is pretty much useless on its own.

    To give you an even more obvious example of the lack of impact that corporate values in isolation can make, let’s look at two very different organizations.

    Two very different organizations

    Let’s compare Vancity, a Credit Union in Vancouver that prides itself on an authentic approach to localized financial, social and environmental well being, and Transcanada, a major energy company developing and operating some of the largest fossil fuel pipelines in North America.

    You might be surprised to learn that both organizations share the same corporate values of Integrity, Innovation and Responsibility [1].

    How is that possible when their brands and culture are almost polar opposites in every way?

    It shows that Values are only the start, not the end of defining what makes your organization meaningful. Vancity itself has a brand that goes beyond a statement of values. When they say “Make good money” we get it.

    So where do you go from there?

    Beyond mission, vision and values

    At Cause+Affect, our brand process has been designed to provide our clients with a “Cultural Compass” – a set of tools for aligning and inspiring staff and helping leadership make decisions.

    Mission, Vision and Values form a valuable part of that compass, but the key is moving beyond those tools to find the essence of the organization that belongs to it and it alone.

    One of the key “products” of this process is the manifesto.

    The Manifesto – the words behind the values

    The term alone scares some of our clients as it brings to mind something dangerously political.

    But as we use it, the manifesto is an opportunity to share not only the “what” but the “how” and –most importantly – the “why” you do what you do, with the people that matter most to you.

    It’s also an opportunity to develop your brand’s tone of voice and personality.

    Not to oversell its importance, but the manifesto pretty much sums up your entire brand in a snapshot.

    The many types of manifestos

    We have seen many different types of manifestos over the years. The important thing to note is that there is no one way to do them.

    A manifesto can be 10 lines or 100. It can be a poem, an essay, a bunch of words. It could even be a collection of photographs, or song lyrics. The important thing is that it matters to you.

    Some of the manifestos we’ve written, including our own

    Back in 2006, we developed a brand for the Globe Foundation of Canada called EPIC focused on a more sustainable approach to consumer products. We worked closely with their internal team to produce a manifesto titled, “A new narrative for a new world”.

    EPIC Manifesto

    Just last year, we worked with the staff at Modo to produce a manifesto as part of a brand evolution process. Over the last five years we have helped them evolve from their former advocacy space to adopt a comfortable role in a values-led consumer landscape. The opportunity to go back to their roots and share more about what they care about most was more than welcome by all.


    And lastly, we find our own manifesto hot off the presses, something that has taken us 12 years to get around to writing. We hope it says to you what it says to us. And we’d love to hear your thoughts.


    [1] Transcanada has further values of Collaboration and Responsibility. Which means Vancity clearly doesn’t value those things. Source: Vancity’s Values and Transcanada’s Values.

  • What Branding can Learn from Architecture

    14_Opening Night 1Branding isn’t really a traditional vocation that you go to school for. Sure, there are some programs out there but most people in branding find their way there from other disciplines. 

    I would argue that the majority of those people come from either a communications or graphic design background. For the writers, branding is a storytelling exercise where the focus tends to be on the message above all else. For graphic designers, brand is usually a collection of aesthetic decisions including logos, colours, images and fonts. If a process is too heavily dominated by one or the other you can usually tell, and in many cases achieving holistic brand experiences is a challenge.

    Jane and I arrived in the brand world from a background in architecture. This journey was unexpected but seems like a natural progression as we look back. For us, architecture was a playground for human interaction. And we were happiest when that playground was layered with some greater message, meaning and purpose. This led us to the design of branded spaces including restaurants, museums and gallery exhibitions, retail interiors, even airplanes.

    From there it was fairly straightforward to grow the brand experience from spatial to graphic design and writing, etc as most of these assets were already present within the spatial solution. See, we approach the design of a brand as a system of human interactions and experiences with many layers and scales, just like an architectural space. This is also why we often use the term ‘culture’ instead of brand when we describe our approach.

    Culture, for us, is a shared way of doing something with passion, and brand is really just the facilitation and communication of that unique culture. You should be able to build it, feel it, touch it, smell it, live with it. Every touchpoint should affect your feelings and perceptions, and influence your relationship with the brand as a whole.

    These days, we don’t design nearly as many spaces as we used to. What we do now is choreograph culture. We work with companies and organizations to manifest the things that make them special and develop experiences that show those traits off to the people that matter most to them.

    So we still think as designers of space. But they’re cultural spaces. And they exist primarily in the mind.

    -Steven Cox-

  • Introducing the new PechaKucha Night Producer: Becki Chan!

    PechaKucha_Vancovuer03As you likely know, we at Cause+Affect have relinquished control of PechaKucha Night Vancouver. What you may not know is that we were as in the dark as you about what would happen next!

    Many groups and individuals applied to PechaKucha Headquarters in Tokyo for the right to produce this landmark event. We can’t imagine their decision was easy, but it only makes sense that they selected…….

    Becki Chan!!

    Becki Chan is a multidisciplinary designer working in jewellery, public art, interior andspatial design. She’s a maker of things, an event organizer and overall busy, creative person.

    She’s also a previous Cause+Affect team member, a great friend and was a key part of the team that produced PechaKucha Night Vancouver for five years before moving to Toronto to serve as the lead spatial designer at Bruce Mau Design. Now she’s back and ready to shake things up with an event and audience she knows intimately.

    We don’t know exactly what she has planned, but we know it will be great. To hear the breaking news and continue to keep up with everything PechaKucha Night Vancouver, sign up for the NEW newsletter at And the new Twitter account.

    We’ll see you at the next PechaKucha Night!

    Congratulations, Becki!

  • Lead with Culture

    Turning businesses into culture and brands into relationships.

    Great organizations put culture first.

    A defined and understood culture gives leaders a compass to make strategic decisions that motivate their team and connect with their audiences. Without a culture-led strategy, organizations aren’t able to communicate how what they do is different and why it matters.

    Traditional strategic planning begins with declaring the mission and vision of the organization. However, without an emotional stance, a meaningful point of view or passion and purpose, it is impossible to paint the picture of the future and enrol others in the journey towards it.

    Enrolment is what’s missing from every dysfunctional organization. Enrolment means that people aren’t working for you just for a paycheque; they’re working for you because they share your dream for the future and they want to go there with the shared culture you’ve defined together.

    Business strategies are more effective when you lead with culture because they consider not only the cause, or principles behind their plan but also the affect, how they are going to connect emotionally with others to achieve their goals.

    Inspiration makes us act.

  • 2015 Year in Review. Our Top 9.


    Is it too late to be retrospective?

    Well we’re doing it anyways. It’s important to look back at what we’ve done to figure out where we’re going (those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it). And while we didn’t realize it at the time, 2015 was a big one.

    Here’s our top 9 of 2015 in no particular order.


    1 – The Final year of PechaKucha Night


    All good things come to an end. After eight incredible years of PechaKucha Night, we decided to let it go. But not before we produced three of our biggest events to date.

    In February PechaKucha The Musical! brought three diverse musical acts and ten speakers to the stage to celebrate the local music industry in all its facets. Chin Injeti brought the house down and everyone to their feet to close out the night with a huge feel-good jam.

    We closed the year with two events in two months. First in collaboration with the City of Vancouver in September to imagine “Our Green Future” and then in partnership with Emily Carr University of Art+Design in October to look at how the forces of creativity shape us.

    And that was that! On to new things.


    2 – Tides Canada rebrand


    We feel like we’ve been through thick and thin with Tides Canada, so it was a moment of pride to see the launch of their new brand identity  to represent their methods and values on a slick new website designed by Briteweb.


    3 – The Modo Brand evolves into the 21st Century


    Another longtime client we’re proud to be associated with. Three years after we created the Modo brand to put the carsharing co-operative on the map in Vancouver, they’ve expanded throughout the Metro region and into Victoria! We worked with their entire team to sharpen their brand to match their evolution and saw it break into the 21st century on a new website and app developed by our friends at Invoke.


    4 – Citystudio 


    CityStudio revolutionizes city building by revolutionizing how we educate the next generation of city builders and citizens. We helped them define what they do (which isn’t easy when you’re charting new territory!) and designed a brand that represents connectivity between schools, city hall, our neighbourhoods and communities around the world.


    5 – Fighting for social change with Pivot Legal Society and The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition


    We supported two important social change organizations behind the scenes this year.

    Pivot Legal Society uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion. You may know them from landmark cases for sex workers’ rights (Canada v. Bedford) and homeless rights to public space (Drug War Survivors v City of Abbotsford). We were honoured to help them shape their core brand story to explain what they do, why they do it and who they do it in the simplest way possible.


    For the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, we helped define key messages and designed assets to help them fundraise in advance of an upcoming UN meeting to address the dangerous faults of our current system of drug prohibition.


    6 – Odd Society Spirits continues to experiment


    The inventive team at Odd Society Spirits released several new spirits this year that lived up to their mandate to experiment with local ingredients and traditional distilling methods.

    We had a lot of fun designing the labels and writing copy for Mongrel, a whisky-like moonshine drink that isn’t aged in a barrel; East Van Aged Vodka, a whisky-like vodka that IS aged in a barrel; and Salal Gin, a west coast take on a British favourite — sloe gin.


    7 – Me Too tackles the stigma against mental health for VGH


    “Me Too.” Two simple words that can mean all the difference to someone with a mental health issue, which is one in five Canadians. We’ve all experienced something or know and love someone who has.

    Which is why we are glad for the opportunity to work with the the VGH/UBC Hospital Foundation to name, brand and help promote the ‘Me Too Conversations’ event series to tackle mental health stigma through storytelling.

    Register for the next event on Wednesday, January 13. Free admission.


    8 – Starting a dance mob at the Social Purpose Real Estate Conference for Vancity


    We conducted a ‘Future Laboratory’ at Building Opportunities: The Social Purpose Real Estate Conference to lead conference-goers through exercises and conversations to help define the movement to develop a more socially and environmentally real estate model. We also instigated a dance mob to demonstrate what movement building is all about.


    9 – Core and The Finery


    We expanded our services into the US with major work in Nashville. We completed the rebrand of Core Development for Mark Deutschmann and his team and moved on to brand a major multi-phase development, The Finery.


    What’s up for 2016?

    • We can’t wait to share what we’ve been cooking up with new clients like Metro Vancouver Regional Parks and the Vancouver International Film Festival — two organizations that define the culture and environment of our communities.
    • Stay tuned for the launch of a new brand for a Whistler hotel.
    • And we’re moving into a new office space! We remain within the three-block radius of Gastown (our comfort zone), but will be moving into a new space in the Garage on Water Street in February. Office-warming party to be announced.


    Happy New Year!

  • Goodnight, PechaKucha Night


    Dear friends of PechaKucha Night,

    We started PechaKucha Night in Vancouver in 2008 to bring people together. At the time, Vancouver lacked a vehicle for self discovery. There was just not enough awareness of the amazing people doing creative things in and for our city.

    Now, almost 8 years on, we have produced 38 Volumes and put almost 500 different speakers on the stage in front of over 35,000 people. To our surprise, the series has grown a committed following that verges on cultish. 

    As PechaKucha Night grew, dozens of new community events sprouted throughout Vancouver. There is now no shortage of places to go to hear about the wonderful things happening in our incredible city.

    Given our long run and the new cultural landscape of the city, it is time to pass on the PechaKucha torch and give someone else a chance to bring fresh new people and ideas to the stage.

    We’re not done creating experiences that catalyze our city’s creativity and culture. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. But we started PechaKucha to fill a need that is now well served and it is time for us to focus on something new.

    To be the first to know about it, sign up for the Cause+Affect newsletter.

    We have informed PechaKucha headquarters in Tokyo of our decision and offered our help in selecting our successor. If you’re interested in taking the reins, please contact Johnny at PechaKucha HQ.

    We look forward to watching this event evolve here and around the world, and will continue to support the many other great community events that surround us. 

    It has been an incredible ride and we cannot communicate how much it has meant to us and how touched we are by those of you who enjoyed it along with us. 

    Thank you to all our speakers. Thank you to all our musical guests. Thank you to all our partners, venues and volunteers. And most of all, thank you. This event became what it was due to the love and support of our community.

    From Steven and Jane and everyone at Cause+Affect, this isn’t goodbye. This is ‘see you later.’

    It has been our pleasure.

    We filmed many of the more recent events. If you want to relive the magic, check out our Vimeo page.

  • Watch each talk from PechaKucha Night Vol. 38 w/Emily Carr University of Art+Design


    Creativity is its own reward.

    That’s the lesson we took away from PechaKucha Night Vol. 38 w/ Emily Carr University of Art+Design. We heard from ten influential and emerging artists and designers (many of them Emily Carr alumni) and none of them did their work for riches or fame. They did it because it brought them joy. They did it to communicate something. They did it to connect with others. They did it because they were compelled.

    One of the philosophies behind PechaKucha Night is that inspiration makes us act. And we like to think that at least a few people went home and picked up a pencil, a paintbrush, some clay or whatever tool lets their creativity out.

    In case you need a dose of creative inspiration in your life, we recorded all the presentations and posted them our vimeo page.

    Bruce Grenville – Senior Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery
    Watch Video

    Adelle Renaud – Fashion and Graphic Designer, Founder of Peau De Loup Clothing
    Watch Video

    Jon Winebrenner – Founder of Hurdler Studios, designer of The Clug, the world’s smallest bike clip
    Watch Video

    Ricky Alvarez – Artist, Designer and Founder of Tinto Creative
    Watch Video

    Germaine Koh – Artist
    Watch Video

    Jennifer Cutbill – Architect at DIALOG and co-Founder of Vancouver Design Week
    Watch Video

    Justin A. Langlois – Artist, Organizer and Educator at Emily Carr University
    Watch Video

    Pamela Rounis – Designer at Rethink and SAD Mag
    Watch Video

    Ben Skinner – Artist and Visual Display Designer for Aritzia
    Watch Video

    Dave Humphrey – Product Designer, Chief Product Officer at wantoo and President of the Emily Carr University Alumni Association
    Watch Video

    and listen to our fantastic musical guest, Mu.