Lander Medlin is APPA's executive vice president. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having just returned at this writing from APPA's Educational Conference in Fort Worth, I have been "spurred" on by the renewal that comes from both an acknowledgment and a reinforcement of some continuing themes—technological innovation and creativity, the value of humor and a lighthearted spirit, and leadership through teamwork. Those who attended are boasting about the incredible experience they had with all aspects of the program, activities, and people who participated this year. They renewed old friendships, made new acquaintances, were stimulated by the educational offerings, and engaged our business partners in the Hall of Resources. For those who did not have the pleasure of attending, I would like to share some thoughts about the messages from our general session speakers.
First, our opening keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Hawley of MIT's Media Lab, artfully wove together the importance of "high tech and high touch.Ó On the one hand, funny and light; on the other hand, deeply profound in the way he connected the importance of the heart and its continuous and seamless interplay with technology. He stressed that no matter how much technology transforms the way we live, the focus will be on our personal involvement as human beings who need to be touched, nurtured—and yes, loved—toward the improvement of our quality of life.
As creativity and innovation are the foundation of technological advancement, creativity can only be expressed in an environment that is unbridled from excessive structure, dogma, and fear. In fact, Hawley astounded us by describing the importance of a grand piano that sits within the MIT Media Lab offices. A piano, invented centuries ago, would seem incongruent with the high-tech world of the 21st century. However, for Hawley, it is an essential component in fostering creativity and innovation.
Then Baxter Black, the renowned cowboy poet—the Will Rogers of our time—amused us to the point of hysteria as he recounted one true story after the next through the use of poetic verse. Having been a large animal veterinarian in the western United States, and his father the dean of agriculture at New Mexico State University, Black skillfully used his animal/cowboy experiences to help us all gain a healthy and humorous perspective on the absurdities of our present times. He emphasized that if we would only look at life's encounters with less seriousness of mind and more of a twinkle in our eye, we would live happier, healthier, more productive lives.
And finally, Roger Staubach, one of the most famous and revered football quarterbacks of our time, humbly focused his remarks not on himself or his own super stardom, but on the exceptional efforts of each and every one of his teammates. In other words, he emphasized the extreme value and importance of teamwork not only in a sports competition but in the accomplishment of our work at our institutions and in our companies and businesses. Yes indeed, given what we do on behalf of our educational institutions, we are in the Super Bowl everyday! So where are you on the team?
Ultimately, all these speakers share one thing in common: they are asking us to reassess our view of this rapidly, dramatically changing world in light of, and even more importantly in spite of, technology! We are not institutions nor organizations nor departments. We are bodies of people—human beings who need love and unbridled creativity—a human touch; humor and a lightness of heart in our everyday lives; and a team spirit replete with collaboration and cooperation.
We cannot approach our work and our professions with a "business as usualÓ attitude. It is a new world, full of new challenges and new opportunities. As eloquently stated in the Gospel of Mark (9:17): "Men should not put new wine into old skins; else the skins break, and the wine runneth out, and the skins perish; but if they put new wine into new skins, both are preserved."
Information technology is the new wine of this age. Therefore, we must reinvent ourselves, our organizations, and our institutions to create palatable new skins to preserve the profession and that of the academy. Everything points to the necessity of changing our approach to and delivery of educational facilities management. Finally, our speakers reverberated an answer that is a simple but familiar refrain, one that I continue to hear no matter where I go, who I hear speak, or what I read: "Leadership for this new information age is essential!"
Now, do we just leave this well-founded understanding, spirit, and enthusiasm in Fort Worth and/or wait until next year in Montreal to be spoonfed again? How can we continue to live this out at our institutions, with our staff, and in our personal lives? What will sustain us throughout the year? How do we transmit these teachings and new understanding to achieve success for ourselves, our organizations, our institutions, our association, and the field of education? What are the steps we need to take?
Frankly, the next steps are simple to say but extremely difficult to do! We must set the example/model the way through our own leadership development—individually, organizationally, and professionally—and find ways to contribute to the body of research that will form our industry. I cannot underestimate the importance of each individual taking personal responsibility for the professional development of their leadership skills. Nor can I overemphasize the importance of leadership in and for the industry by focusing on research and increasing the body of knowledge of the educational facilities profession. As leaders we must move our thinking beyond just the technical skills and proficiencies of the management of our profession, to such leadership competencies as:
No one person, no one entity or organization can actually do this for you. You must make the commitment to make these changes yourself and ultimately make a difference in building our children's future.