CAAAAW! CAAAAW!

The crow’s ‘caaaaw’ sounded unnatural and abnormally human. Almost like he was reading a script written by another crow. He kind of was, in reality.

A while back, I was at The National Aviary in Pittsburgh. I was in a foyer with three cages individually occupied by two parrots and a crow. The crow was once injured, but had been saved by aviary staff and placed in-between the parrots’ cages.

If you are unaware, some members of the corvid (or crow) family can mimic human speech. In this particular case, the crow had been in captivity for a couple years, biding his healing time with his parrot buddies. His original “Caw!” was mimicked by the parrots…and in turn the crow started mimicking the parrots mimicking him.

The crow’s “Caw!” became a copy of a copy – a new crow dialect with an elongated, purposefully vocalized “CAAAAW!” – it was no longer his own.

This got me thinking about how we create professional conferences. Often, we send out calls for presentations and pick people with interesting stories. We promote our tremendous volume of education sessions, the bulk of which are about someone else’s ideas, processes, new services, and such. When attendees go to sessions, they are more often than not exposed to education that’s intended to satisfy the craving for an easy way out.“Just give me your handouts and the checklist of what to do and how to do it, I’ll take it from there.” Copy. Rinse. Repeat.

What’s wrong with this? Well, we’re teaching people to mimic, not to learn deeply, invent, or innovate. Leaving a conference with an armful of other people’s best practices and checklists creates false hope that attendees will somehow create massive improvements back home. In reality, we’re simply encouraging attendees to mimic more often than not. CAAAAW.

Developing deeper learning experiences that challenge ‘what is known’ or ‘best practices’ will empower our customers and members well beyond the ‘I just need one takeaway’ goal that supposedly makes a conference worth the price of admission. Maybe it’s time for a new goal. A deep, challenging learning experience that transforms how we think about and act within our professional worlds and how we work with the people around us, not one that asks us to mimic the “Caw” of our peers.

A substantially different conference might be a professionally-facilitated wicked-problem solving conference (versus hosting 150 concurrent sessions delivered by members and others who are not professional teachers). Whether 50, 500 or 5,000 people are involved, purposefully designing a facilitated conference meant to solve existing problems and turn passive attendees into active, problem-solving participants improves markedly upon the sage-on-stage experience that dominates today. Because, in such a place, people are encouraged to interact, transform their way of thinking, challenge each other, and apply their learning real-time… that’s when learning sticks and innovation blossoms. Caw, chirp, tweet.

Garth Jordan is the SVP and Chief Strategy Officer for HFMA.  Over the past 15 years, he has served in executive roles, including three different C-level roles: Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer. This purposefully-designed diversity of experience has given Garth the opportunity to lead diverse teams through strategic planning and successful execution; build businesses with excellent customer-value propositions; and develop a well-rounded business and cultural acumen geared toward achieving an organization’s goals through high-performing teams.

In recent years, Garth’s opportunities to design, create and build value have expanded. With HFMA, for example, he helped create a horizontal (versus hierarchical) organizational culture that to tackled several large-scale projects at once. One of those projects included Garth designing and facilitating a complete digital transformation of HFMA’s business model, helping it achieve its goal of becoming “the Netflix of associations.” The new member services have received rave reviews to the point that HFMA’s retention rates have increased significantly. The change management required for this project alone was quite intense, and only with a contemporary, team-based approach was HFMA able to achieve success.

Ultimately, for Garth, every day presents a new opportunity to: discover new connections, people and ways of thinking; design new ideas that push the envelope of continuous improvement; and build and prove value for the customers and staff for whom he works.

Garth Jordan is the SVP and Chief Strategy Officer for HFMA.  Over the past 15 years, he has served in executive roles, including three different C-level roles: Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer. This purposefully-designed diversity of experience has given Garth the opportunity to lead diverse teams through strategic planning and successful execution; build businesses with excellent customer-value propositions; and develop a well-rounded business and cultural acumen geared toward achieving an organization’s goals through high-performing teams. In recent years, Garth’s opportunities to design, create and build value have expanded. With HFMA, for example, he helped create a horizontal (versus hierarchical) organizational culture that to tackled several large-scale projects at once. One of those projects included Garth designing and facilitating a complete digital transformation of HFMA’s business model, helping it achieve its goal of becoming “the Netflix of associations.” The new member services have received rave reviews to the point that HFMA’s retention rates have increased significantly. The change management required for this project alone was quite intense, and only with a contemporary, team-based approach was HFMA able to achieve success. Ultimately, for Garth, every day presents a new opportunity to: discover new connections, people and ways of thinking; design new ideas that push the envelope of continuous improvement; and build and prove value for the customers and staff for whom he works.

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