During the past four weeks, I've had a chance to contribute to the learning line-up at some amazing conferences, as well as hear some provocative presentations from thought leaders I admire. Here are five lessons I've learned from the road during those events.
California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues Annual Meeting, Charlene Li reminded participants that social media is about relationships. Use of any new technology should be considered in light of the character of the relationship an organization (or individual) wants to have with their members, customers, and stakeholders and how to reflect that and their core values and personality in doing so with the new technology. And I was blown away by the amazing learning community being built at Singularity University that its executive director, Salim Ismael, talked about in his presentation. I got to "bookend" this conference, making both opening and closing remarks as well as being the emcee and content weaver throughout the three-day event. Doing so was a rich experience for me.
Doing the closing keynote at the HR Reinvention Experiment in Omaha allowed me to fully participate in the conference prior to making my remarks at day's end. I loved how instead of an opening keynote presenter, the conference kicked off the day with a round of IGNITE talks led by peers. These roughly 5-minute talks created a real sense of excitement and energy, and the diversity of topics and presenters was great. Of the many takeaways from those talks, the one that still stays with me is Joe Gerstandt's reminder that we need to take better care of the language we use and the meaning we associate with it. When we get sloppy with words like strategy, vision, mission, diversity, and many others, we do a real disservice to the deep meaning and full potential they represent. Too often, people feel compelled to move on to a new word, thus reinforcing the frustrating buzzword phenomenon and discarding the deep meaning a term once carried.
Jane McGonigal, was the luncheon speaker at the Annual Conference of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. Author of the great book, Reality is Broken, and game designer extraordinaire, McGonigal artfully explained how gaming principles can be used to tackle the real challenges facing communities, countries, and organizations. This was brought home by the story of online gamers who in slightly more than 10 days cracked a challenge to decipher the enzyme of an AIDS-like virus, something the scientific community had been struggling to do for decades. I led two breakout sessions (links to slides provided): the first focused on tools and techniques for enhancing creative, critical, and constructive thinking, and the other explored the everyday practices of innovative individuals. Doing so reminded me again of the value participants find in engaging with simple tools and considering manageable habits they can adopt or adapt to improve their performance.
Designing and facilitating this past weekend's three-day Future Leaders Institute for the American Industrial Hygiene Association allowed me to once again be surrounded by some of the most passionate and committed young professionals in an individual organization. Maintaining (and honoring) their energy and enthusiasm during the content-intensive experience required calibrating the sequence and flow of activities, using different learning environments each day to refresh the sense of space, and varying the teaching methodologies used. Doing so is as much art as it is science, and it is something associations should focus on helping their volunteer subject matter experts learn more about.
And the fifth lesson learned comes from canceled flights and a disappointing inability to make it to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Volunteer Leadership Academy in Montreal. Presenters and conference planners nowadays almost need to plan for the likelihood of travel challenges and have a backup plan for using virtual technologies to ensure some sort of learning experience can occur. Nothing is more infuriating than when weather or mechanical difficulties preclude the opportunity to fulfill a commitment.