NPA candidate Ken Sim is unlike anyone who's run for mayor in recent years.
The businessman has no political experience, yet he's taken the audacious step of seeking the top job at Vancouver City Hall.
And he credits his communications training through the Landmark Forum for giving him the confidence to proceed.
"Well, my experience at Landmark is you have to have authentic conversations and you play big," Sim explained to the Straight in an interview outside Rosemary Rocksalt bagelry on Commercial Drive last month. "You play bold and you don't let...imaginary things get in your way.
"And so, I'm a great example of that," he continued. "I could have talked myself out of running for mayor, but I didn't."
Landmark Forum is a San Francisco—based training program that offers courses over three days and one evening.
On its website, it promises "a practical methodology for producing breakthroughs—achievements that are extraordinary, outside of what's predictable".
It was pioneered by U.S. author and lecturer Werner Erhard, also the founder of est. In the early 1990s, Erhard filed defamation suits against several media outlets, including 60 Minutes, that ran unflattering stories about him.
Landmark Forum was also the subject of a positive story by Guardian writer Amelia Hill, who took the program.
"Landmark has faced accusations of being a cult, but I saw nothing of that," Hill wrote in her article. "Far from working to separate us from our families and friends, we were told there was no relationship too dead to be revived, no love too cold to be warmed."
Sim told the Straight that he learned "authentic" communication through Landmark.
"I'm a straight shooter," he said.
He and his wife Teena founded Rosemary Rocksalt, which has six Lower Mainland locations. Sim also cofounded Nurse Next Door, a home health-care company that offers everything from meal preparation to personal care to caregiver relief.
When asked if he sends his employees to Landmark, Sim replied: "If they want to, absolutely."
So, are they covered by the company? "Yeah, we pay for it in addition to a bunch of other training courses. It's not just Landmark."
He also spoke positively about the "Rockefeller Habits", which have been the subject of books by Verne Harnish.
"We have sessions on radical candour," Sim said. "And at Nurse Next Door, we bring in guest speakers."
Sim explained that Landmark taught him to "play full out".
"We only have one life to life so we're not going to waste it," he said.
It also helped him to stop assigning meaning to comments when no meaning was intended.
As a small example, he mentioned that if someone tells him that his shirt is terrible, he doesn't allow this to be magnified in his mind into a comment about who he is as a person.
If he were to be mayor at city hall and he criticized a process as being completely inefficient, he would hope that people would recognize that this isn't a reflection on how they're doing their jobs.
"I actually want to applaud the people working at city hall with a flawed system," he said. "It would be incredibly frustrating. I'm thankful that they're sticking it out until things change."
Sim doesn't refer to city employees as "staff". He prefers the term "city team members".
The Straight asked Sim if he would like people who work at city hall to attend the Landmark Forum program. He did not respond directly, saying that he would love city team members to have "real conversations".
"I would love for our city team members not to be afraid," he said. "It sounds like there's a little bit of fear at city hall right now. And it's been politicized. We've got to change that, right?"
He later elaborated by saying: "Someone who works at city hall should be able to actually work there and not worry what a politician thinks and do what's right for the city. It shouldn't be based on ideology. It should be done as what's right for the city....No one should ever be afraid to work at the city based on their views."
The most famous advocate of the Landmark Forum in Vancouver has been Sim's friend, lululemon founder Chip Wilson.
The Straight was curious to know if Sim introduced it to Wilson or vice-versa.
"I think Chip has introduced it to everyone," Sim said with a laugh. "I've heard it from multiple sources."
During the interview on Commercial Drive, two Downtown Eastside activists joined the conversation at different times: independent council candidate Sarah Blyth and Coalition of Progressive Electors campaigner Tristan Markle.
They were invited to pull up chairs as they were passing by Rosemary Rocksalt, and asked questions of Sim.
The NPA candidate noted that his willingness to hear their concerns is just one reflection of his openness.
"When I'm mayor of Vancouver, I will be spending a day a month in the Downtown Eastside," Sim promised.
He revealed that when he was a child, his father managed four buildings on the northwest corner of Main and Hastings street.
"I spent a lot of time down there," he added. "I know three people that actually ended up in the Downtown Eastside. Two of them are no longer with us."More