Introducing - Unicorn Dojo.
Today, I’m proud to publicly introduce Unicorn Dojo.
Unicorn Dojo operates peer-to-peer learning spaces within your company.
Unicorn Dojo is a new co-learning venture dedicated to that helping people master their potential and achieve their dreams through personalized coaching, peer- to-peer knowledge sharing and memorable social experiences.
Dojos help companies:
- optimize on-demand knowledge and skill sharing
- personalize professional development plans for employees and teams
- support personal growth and mental health
The Core Insights That Inspired Us
1. We’re together, but alone.
Unicorn Dojo was born out of the insight that although we’re physically together within the walls of our organizations, we’re left with a general feeling of isolation when it comes to connecting with people in our companies to support personal & professional development.
2. There’s No Home Base for Personal & Professional Development
There’s currently no specific, dedicated space where people can go to manage, track and work towards their personal and professional goals. We rely on our personal network of friends, family, health/medical professionals, coaches and in our company: HR departments, supervisors, etc.
3. The Explosion of Anxiety & Depression
There’s too much to be said here, but suffice to say that anxiety is now the #1 mental disorder in North America and there’s simply no clear mechanism to identify and support our colleagues and friends who are struggling.
4. Health impacts Personal and Professional Development
Perhaps it goes without saying so much — that we’ve not bothered to say it … but really: health and education/learning go hand in hand. Approaching personal & professional development from an integral health standpoint is something that we believe needs to be addressed.
Unicorn Dojo believes that Relational Learning & Personalized Coaching is the future of Education for Individuals & Enterprise alike.
Unicorn Dojo’s offers a real-time model of education for individuals and a new type of professional development opportunity for businesses that care deeply about the well-being and personal growth of their team members.
Endless Learning Domains
Each Dojo can theoretically provide educational experiences across any domain, but this will largely be determined by the culture of our members in the different cities we engage with. Here’s in Toronto, we’re starting by connecting with companies/domains experiencing the most disruption or fast-paced changed (example: BlockChain Ventures, Financial Institutions/Banks, SAS Businesses, Tech Driven Real Estate companies, Healthcare companies, AI driven ventures, etc.
The Dojo is a safe, inclusive space for people where everyone commits to helping everyone else to reach their personal & professional goals.
The Dojo facilitates personalized learning by supporting peer to peer based skills and knowledge transfer amongst our members and a collective drive toward self-actualization and happiness.
Everyone in the dojo is view as both a Sensei (teacher) and a Seito (student)
Everyone in the Dojo is honoured, valued and equal.
Unicorn Dojo Coaching
Unicorn Dojo offers dedicated coaches on-site that are skilled in Psychology, Personal Coaching, Fitness & Wellness.
Our membership includes a required personal development program designed to foster a greater sense of self-awareness, self-worth and positivity and ensures that members track and monitor their well-being throughout their membership experience.
The Never-ending Story of Unicorn Dojo
In my effort to write this post describing how Unicorn Dojo came to be, it became clear that Unicorn Dojo was the result of cumulative life experiences, lessons and learnings over a period of time and that in many ways — Unicorn Dojo was sort-of following me along my personal journey, waiting for the right time to introduce itself.
Given how personal of a business Unicorn Dojo is and is designed to be — this makes perfect sense, but also makes for a challenging post to describe its roots.
So — with that said:
If you’re interested to know the whole story — please do keep reading as I share my personal journey to discover Unicorn Dojo.
If you’re interested/curious but just want the facts & concrete details — I’d recommend you read this Unicorn Dojo Overview Post which is more direct and descriptive about the Dojo itself.
Where Do Unicorns Come From?
Unicorn Dojo wasn’t born in the tech scene or in a design lab — It’s roots lie in a small classroom located in the basement of a YWHA where a pilot program was launching through Miriam Home & Services to support children 2–5 years old with Global Development Delays.
But, before we get there — let’s start a few months prior (18 years ago) when I was completing my bachelors in Psychology at McGill University in Montreal.
University | A Love/Hate Relationship:
In 2000, I completed my BA in Psychology and was looking to get practical, hands-on experience in working with children with various disabilities because I believed that was my career calling at the time.
After I’d completed my Bachelors degree, I sat down and wrote a letter that I put under the doors of a few department heads saying that I appreciated my education, but that it was shameful that I’d spent three years learning about the human mind and condition, from abnormal psychology courses to cognitive psychology and social issues and yet, during that time: we’d not seen or met with one individual with any of the conditions we’d discussed.
The funny thing is — I absolutely loved my experience at McGill. I loved the classroom, my classmates, my teachers and the content. I loved being on campus and felt blessed to be a University student — but I just felt this terrible sensation that we’d missed something vital around individuality, assessment and — cooperation.
After I graduated, I decided to address my lack of hands on experience and quickly found a very part time job at Miriam Home and Services in to shadow a man with low-functioning autism (non-verbal. My job was to walk him from his re-adaptation centre to his group home which was about a 20 minute walk each way. At home, I’d help him get dressed, complete puzzles, eat, really — just help him with whatever he needed. Within those first few days, I realized that the education system was broken.
A few weeks later, I found out that there was a pilot program launching through Miriam Home & Services for children on the spectrum. The Trampoline Program would provide specialized intensive intervention to pre-school aged children with or without a diagnosis, with global developmental delays or autism. I immediately put my name forward and was thrilled to get a call back. I’d soon be included in their TEACCH model training program and shortly thereafter, placed in the class as a Special Education Assistant.
I could write an entire post about my early experiences in that classroom with those 3 students and team of professionals (Occupational Therapist Speech Therapist, Child Psychologist, Program Leader, etc.) but in the context of how these experiences helped lay the foundation for Unicorn Dojo, I want to share the key contextual learnings I took away:
I learned that multidisciplinary teams of people who care about others can accomplish anything.
I learned that feeling a kind of “love” for others is more of a requirement than we’d like to believe when it comes to teaching.
I learned that the more you give — the more you grow.
I learned that we should be applying special education principles to every student because everyone, — absolutely everyone is special.
I learned that starting small and trying or “piloting” ideas intentionally is a magical recipe to make ideas come to life and ultimately — changing the world.
Back to School
After the pilot program was completed, I was told that I wasn’t actually qualified enough to keep working with the program as it advanced out of the pilot stage and was let go. I left that day knowing that my professional life has just begun.
I’d realized that I wanted to understand learning in a broader context so I could evolve our models of teaching and learning, but I felt very passionate about beginning that work with children on the spectrum. I realized that I’d have to venture back down institutional roads so that I wouldn’t/couldn’t be turned away for my lack of credentials again.
I spent the next 6 years between 2001 and 2007 working in other pilot programs with kids with special needs, running peer programs for youth with disabilities in the evening, running high school workshops around sexual identity — all while completing my Masters in Educational Psychology back at McGill.
My second go-around at McGill was better than the first by all accounts and I was particularly inspired and supported by brilliant individual educators that I had a honour of collaborating with including Krista Richie, Cindy Arruda, Judy McBride, Inbal Itzhak, Karen Gazith, Tina Roth, and my thesis supervisor, the Dean of McGill Education at the time, Roger Slee.
With Roger giving my the confidence to explore new research territory, I explored online discussion forums of individuals on the autistic spectrum to capture their voices around their educational experience. Completing a research effort was the antithesis of what I wanted to do at the time, but the effort taught me a great deal about myself and about collaboration. I handed my work entitled “Autistic Culture & IEP’s — Exploring Online Forums from Autistic Community Websites”, got into a car that day — and headed for Toronto to incubate myself at the CFC Media Lab.
There was so much I learned during this transition between some brief work experience and my return to McGill:
I learned that setting goals and seeing them through to completion elevates ourselves beyond whatever previous point we were standing.
I learned that if we own our narratives and transparently share intention — people do what they can to help. If we give life permission to define our contexts and narratives — then it will do just that.
I learned that it’s not always about what you’re learning, but who you’re learning with that drives your learning.
I learned that when you feel invisible, you cannot learn or grow.
Education — Meet Design & Tech
After completing my Masters, I headed to Toronto to join the CFC Media Lab, a strange educational experiment that radically inspired me during my six month experience there to learn about interactive narratives, emerging technology, product design, systems/design thinking, UX, Usability and prototyping. It was an intensive program for all 8 students who’d incubated themselves in the program and immersed themselves in a learning environment (a converted horse stable to be exact) that honoured many of the same principles shared above.
It was also the first learning experience I’d had where we were given a two month period to self-organize and design/build something that applied our knowledge in a personalized way. The result for me was transformational.
It awakened my entrepreneur in me (something I wasn’t aware was in my DNA) and inspired me to quite literally start building new product, companies & realities for myself, my colleagues and community.
Our team worked on a product concept for kids 2–5 called “LMNO-Pics” where children could use letter blocks and spelling board to explore their online family photos.
The concept was inspired by the picture exchange programs I’d been using as a special educator where we’d use icons to signal schedules versus using actual photos (example: showing an icon of a computer to represent a computer room instead of showing a picture of that specific computer room). It was 2007, and our team had come out of the program with a working prototype and quickly formed a new digital toy design startup called Cieo Creative Inc.
There’s another post to share eventually about my toy-design startup experience between 2007 and 2010 around how we licensed product to companies like Hasbro & Sesame Street and still the product never made it to market — but in the context of Unicorn Dojo, I again want to share the core insights that continued to cluster and form the nucleus of the concept:
Digital tools are a critical ingredient for how we’re going to achieve personalized learning — but technology needs to facilitate the human-centred learning experience and cannot constitute the experience on its own.
Your mental health and that of your teammates/colleagues requires proactive thinking and action plans if you’re going to master your personal & professional goals.
Never underestimate the value of your thoughts, feelings & emotions.
If you don’t set the right goal — you’ll achieve the wrong goal.
If you know what you want, you’re halfway there to getting it.
We Are The Unicorn
Between 2010 and 2014 my career went sideways. I jumped into the digital agency world because my startup experiment came to a halt and I need to “get a job”. It was a grind to acclimatize to the agency world, but slowly, I started to carve a path and start making money and helping others make more as well . The problem was, the impact and meaning within my work life was non-existent. I told myself that making money was the responsible thing to do for my young family of five (Myself, my wife, 2 kids at the time and a Bernese Mountain Dog) living in a city like Toronto. My dreams would just have to wait.
Just Because I’m Losing — Doesn’t Mean I’m Lost
At the peak of my unhappiness, I was promoted to the Director of Business Development at OLSON Canada (now ICF Olson). I was going to be working on RFP’s every day after I’d make it clear to OLSON that my interests we’re in product development, which is what I’d done for 2 years on the Lottery Business, helping them develop new concepts for Digital Group Play Tools and Proline product enhancements that totalled millions in revenue for the agency.
My future went dark. I was depressed, discouraged and disappointed in my career carelessness.
I learned that the more you leave yourself behind, the longer the shadow of your mind.
I learned that making money is a result and not a goal.
I learned that culture isn’t beer on tap, ping-pong tables team-lunches, and dodge-ball games: it’s knowing, not thinking — knowing, that people care about you and have your back.
I learned that it’s never to late to surprise yourself.
I let OLSON know that I was unhappy and shortly thereafter — they gave me my leave. I felt as if I was starting from scratch again, but I did know a few things:
I wanted to figure out a way to re-enter the education space
I wanted to work with entrepreneurs & innovative leaders + teams only.
I only wanted to work on social impact initiatives.
I wanted to focus my work efforts on Research, User Experience Design and Product Development.
At first, I did the above by helping another founder build a design firm from the ground up over two year, but I wasn’t happy with the culture and hadn’t scratched my education itch in the slightest other than working with other EdTech startups and running workshops.
Then I got a call from one of my former CFC Professors about teaching a UX Class at OCAD University. I jumped at the opportunity and very consciously, started to apply and test all the theories of teaching & learning that I’d been investigating and musing on for so long. One class turned into many, teaching a Graduate course in Prototyping, Undergraduate courses in Toy Design, Corporate continuing education programs, etc. With each class, I set the following expectations:
There are no “experts” and I’m no exception.
I am not responsible for their learning — my role is to facilitate, guide and support holistically. (constructivist perspective)
Everyone is expected to help everyone else. It is required.
I will assess everyone (because I have to) in a mastery based approach based on effort — not results.
It was interesting to test these approaches and philosophies with students and I was generally pleased with how the courses were turning out, but it was evident to me as it had been many times before that the “X” factor that was holding everything back was the system/structure of education at play.
If I could create a new environment with a radically different system of operation — might that be the missing link to meaningfully advancing teaching & learning.
The “Design & Tech Gym”
At first, I’d thought of the a “Design Gym” concept — a place to celebrate practice and daily dedication. Ultimately, the concept evolved beyond the gym model — although the membership system remained.
Which brings us to Unicorn Dojo and the Co-Learning mission that we’re on.
As you can see, many of the principles & protocols that were developed for Unicorn Dojo as a Co-Learning Space bear roots from these and other life experiences I’ve shared here in this post.
I think its important to recognize that so many individual life moments & experiences combine to lead to ideas that ultimately appear to come “out of nowhere” when in-fact, they were incubating themselves in the space between yourself and everyone you connect with.
I’m really proud of the business we’re launching and regardless of where things go from here, I’m happy that we were able to design a more personal, intimate & collaborative education business that honours and addresses:
* personalized learning
* mastery based learning
* self-directed learning
* peer-to-peer learning
* collaborative learning
* empathic learning
* project based learning
* facilitation over teaching.
* holistic health in mind, body & sprit.
Not to be too Unicorny, but …
It’s really hard to open up about yourself, your path, your process and your journey overall because you feel exposed and vulnerable amongst your friends, family, peers & colleagues.
Although it’s not necessarily a new thing for me — it doesn’t get easier over time.
This post could’ve easily been one that spoke exclusively of the support I’ve received from friends & family, who all too often don’t get acknowledged in our business driven narratives.
With that in mind, I have so many people I want to thank for the opportunity to launch this new venture and do what I love every day, but for now — I just want to thank my rock (and wife): Robyn Pollack
Thank for giving me the opportunity to reach my goals and for reminding me every day that regardless of whether I reach them or not — I have you and the kids and that is and will always be enough joy & fulfillment for me in this life.
Unicorns Everywhere …
Together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.