Michael Anton Dila

2005 05 23

God save the Queen

I moved to Toronto in the summer of 1990. I'd spent three years at a Quaker Liberal Arts college in Richmond, Indiana (pop. 39, 124 souls).

For the first couple of months I lived in the basement of hospitable family friends at Eglinton & Oriole Parkway. After a lazy summer-long apartment search, I found a biggish one bedroom on Queen W. & Ossington, right above a hip used record store and right across the street from the Queen St. Mental Health Centre (just in case the grad school thing went squirrely).

I moved my stuff in one hot summer's day, at then end of which I drove back up to Oriole Pkwy in my beat to shit red Ford Pinto for a last family-style dinner.

I headed back downtown after dinner. As I pulled onto Queen across the street from my new digs, carefully parallel parking my ride, I glanced toward my front door. A man and a woman were transacting some unsavory deal in my very doorway. Strangely spooked, I decamped back to the safety of North Toronto and the safety of home & hearth.

The next morning I went back down to the hill took up residence at 1020 Queen St. W., Apt.1 and over days and weeks became just another denizen of the new new Toronto scene.

God save the Queen, I wasn't in Indiana anymore.


I don't know when I first heard the joke.

"Toronto's the city where people say, 'Thank God it's Monday'."

It wasn't really that funny then, but after living here for fifteen years, it's no longer a joke at all. It's a pain in my brain that I can't relieve with Tylenol.

Now I realize that Toronto suffers from this joke in two ways: first, it suffers from the excesses of a minority of its citizens who have made a religion of work, and, second, it suffers from an inability to laugh at itself.

It's time for Toronto to take it's joke to heart. It's time we expose the shallowness and absurdity of a religion of work.

It's also time to show ourselves and others that we have a sense of humor, even, or most particularly about ourselves. It's in this spirit that I want to give away an idea to the team at Brand Architecture and TBWA/Chiat Day Toronto who are currently working on the project of "re-branding" Toronto.

Here's the set-up for the first in a series of TV ads. Each one will feature a Canadian comedian and each will turn on the notion that Toronto is finally in on the joke of being or aspiring to be a "world class" city.

Imagine Mike Myers in his Austin Powers get-up, strolling down Church St. with the music of opening scene of Saturday Night Fever playing as we cut from his walking feet to his "stylish" garb, he flashes those killer teeth at the camera and says, "Come to Toronto, baby. It's just like London, except for the Queen." Upon hearing this, Enza the Supermodel enters the frame, gets all up in Austin's grill, and growls, a la Lauren Becall, "who you calling a Queen, freak!"

Super: Toronto, it's a lot funnier that you think.


2005 05 24

Re.Designing Business in Toronto

Toronto is sitting on the biggest business opportunity of its life. We have to make sure that we don’t blow it.

The Rotman School of Management wants to save business education and management practices from the dust-bin of history. Rotman’s eureka insight? Design.

Amidst all the new architecture of the University of Toronto, Dean Roger Martin has been building a new kind of business school. The least of the ambitions Rotman has set for itself is to crack the top 10 of the world’s best B schools. More audaciously, the Rotman crew are threatening to turn the orthodoxies of business education, and the gospel according to Harvard, on its head.

Mihnea Moldoveanu, a philosophically inclined professor of strategy, with a Harvard MBA and a Ph.D in engineering from M.I.T., directs the school’s Institute for Integrative Thinking: the engine of Rotman’s intellectual capital. Glen Whyte has led the effort to rewrite of Rotman’s MBA curriculum, which synthesizes Liberal Arts thinking with B school fundamentals, and then weaves in diverse stands of oblique knowledge via its Integrative Thinking core.

Roger Martin left a dazzling career as a management consultant with Monitor Group to come back to Canada (he’s a native) to be the new dean of U of T’s newly “re-designed” business school. A huge capital contribution by Joseph Rotman got the reformation project moving, and under Martin the school has been incredibly successful at attracting investment in and attention to what he described in Fast Company as Business School 2.0 back in 1999.

Lately, however, Roger Martin has been making a lot of joyful noise about design, and its relevance to business. In the Winter 2004 issue of the Rotman magazine, he wrote:

“we must change the focus of our thinking about design and business. The trends discussed here have generated increased interest in design by the business world, but it is largely focused on ‘the business of design’: the traditional business world is trying to figure out what
designers do, how they do it, and how best to manage them. This misses the point fundamentally, and it won’t save the traditional firm. The focus should actually be placed on ‘the design of business’: We need to think much more about designing our businesses to provide elegant products and services in the most graceful manner possible. Business people don’t need to understand designers better: they need to be designers. They need to think and work like designers, have attitudes like designers, and learn to evaluate each other as designers do. Most companies' top managers will tell you that they have spent the bulk of their time over the last decade on improvement. Now it's no longer enough to get better; you have to ‘get different’.”

This is an incredible challenge. It offers up the opportunity to bring together two of this city’s most powerful resources: business and design. We all need to become a part of this ambition. Redesigning the business of Toronto is an obvious place to start.

If the past 20 years has seen the move of computing and information technology from the margins to the center of business models and practices, the next development of the knowledge economy will be the ascendancy of design. Please, let’s not let this be yet another great Canadian-born experiment that we were not courageous enough to try at home.

2005 05 25

Mash up, baby, mash up.


What do I love about Toronto?

Toronto is a mash-up. I live where Rasta meets Pasta. How cool is that?

What's your T.O. mash-up?

Not sure what a mash-up is? Check out:

Toronto's own Kardinal Offishall

Cultural Mash-Up Goes Global at Worldchanging

Bastard Pop at Wikipedia

See Mash Up halfway down the page of the rundown of CBC's the Current

The mash-up revolution at Salon.com

1+1+1=1 by Sasha Frere Jones at the New Yorker

2005 05 26

I blame Toronto. Toronto’s to blame.

Instead of aspiring to be a “world-class” city, Toronto could aspire to be a good city. It is a good city, no longer just "the Good" city it was.

Toronto could be different from other cities. It is different from other cities. If only it could be happy with the ways it is different (like we are), it could stop playing the silly game of imitating its supposed betters. Toronto could be a “getting better all the time” city, instead of a wanna be. It could be...our city. All of ours.

I have hope. Toronto can become more than Canada's head office. It doesn't have to be a haven for lowest common denominator thinking. It can be a place that thinks more and does more of what it thinks. It could be a place that acts instead of reacts. It could have a mind instead of just having reflexes. It could have purpose, it could have design.

Design could help save this city from becoming a completely commercialized theme park.

Toronto should be designed to be a business “calming” zone: a place that fosters innovation in how business is done, not just in what it sells; a place that no only does business, but that thinks about the design of business; a place where design & business were a boon to the life of this city and not just its bottom line. This might be happing already.

Toronto could be the well designed city. It isn't.


2005 05 28

Designing Happiness

This is what I'm trying.

Authentic Happiness

Do the right thing.

Do it for the right reasons.

Do it right.

2005 08 27

Design as a Time Machine


Food and restaurants are focal points of design these days. Me, I don't particularly care for the contrived, over-the-top, design of the power-scenes that are abundant enough in Toronto. For one thing, I don't envision my life as an ad in Wallpaper magazine. Bottom-line, though, is that I just prefer the old-school. I miss the Silver Rail which was at the corner of Yonge and Shuter for 51 years. So great it even registered for the late great James Beard.

My favorite Toronto time-machine? The Patrician Grill at 219 King St. W.

Terry, Chris and the crew are doin' it old school for the new school.

Thanks for the schoolin', guys.