The Toronto Method

A spoonful of process helps you adjourn to the bar.

As the Awesome Foundation continues to expand – Chicago launched just today – I’m struck by the endless variation. Each city takes the premise, $1000 for being awesome, and makes it their own. You’re empowered to do whatever you want with the model.

The freedom is alluring. A formal, considered, and informed rejection of process. And this simplicity is a big part of why the Foundation is growing.

But it’s also a huge challenge. The first thing that happened when the Toronto folks got together is that everyone looked at each other and wondered what was supposed to happen next.

There’s a lot to be said about just letting things happen. But there’s a lot more to be said about making things happen. And, usually, doing that quickly and easily requires a clear path.

“Awesome is getting shit done.” – Matt

The Toronto group is an interesting mix of people. Many – not all – of us have day jobs that require politely navigating large, complicated, group-based decision-making. Last thing we want is to spend our free time engaged in more of the same. But we’re also uniformly lazy and impatient and wanting to get to the bar. So we’ve come back to process.

We’re still playing with it, but we’re arriving at a model that strikes the right balance of all the things that matter. People get to be generous, indignant, supportive, evil, and conciliatory. Everyone gets to laugh, argue, debate, sympathize, and scheme. And we get from 50+ submissions down to 1, consensus-driven winner in less than an hour.

YMMV and we’ll keep changing it up, but here’s how we get it done.


1.) Individual Short Lists

Everyone enters their short lists of no more than 10 submissions into a common Google spreadsheet. We total the number of times each submission appears to get a sense of the emerging consensus.

2.) Fall on Your Sword Round

About half the submissions will have only appeared on one or two lists. The people who put these projects forward are asked if they are willing to pull the entry from contention. All the Trustee has to say is ‘no’ and it stays for the next round. This gets the list down to the entries with widespread support plus a handful of personal favourites.

3.) Ruthless Round

The conversation opens up and people get to single out entries for elimination. Someone is given a chance to defend the project, everyone chimes in, and then it’s put to a vote. If 7/10 trustees vote to kill it, it’s gone. This goes on till we have 5 to 10 solid projects for the short list.

4.) Weighted Voting

By this point there’s been a lot of discussion about the merits of each submission. Each Trustee ranks the projects from 1 to 10. The math determines the top 3.

5.) Deal-making and The Winner

The people backing the emerging favourite make their case to those who are still holding out. Deals are struck regarding what types of projects are going to be prioritized the next time around. The deals win over the balance of the Trustees, we unanimously declare the winner, and head out to celebrate.

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