Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts en route

Post from Alan Jordan:

It's my first time. Be gentle! At nearly 48 years—and of a generation
that was grateful for access to an IBM Selectric for producing term
papers—this is my first effort at blogging. Indeed, I can count the number
of times on one hand that I've even read a blog, so feel free to critique
and make suggestions for improvement.

Presently, I'm somewhere over New York state, courtesy of Jet Blue, and
pondering what the week has in store. I have been attending League
conferences since 1987 and have only missed a few: one because of my son's
birth, last year because of my daughter's graduation, and a couple due to
extraordinary financial challenges with my orchestra at the time. So, yes, I
am a veteran.

As I head to conference, I have to think I'm not the only one who feels more
tired than usual. It has been a difficult year for many of us. Much more
time has been taken up with financial monitoring—at the expense of fund
raising, marketing, planning, and other duties. This goes for board and
musicians as well as staff. The glass-half-full observation is that our
conversations at board, staff, and orchestra meetings have forced us to focus
on the most important matters, and to discuss priorities. Even "sacred
cows" have been looked at for validation going forward. This has been
healthy for our organization, particularly as we embark on a new planning
process soon. It is exhausting, however!

So, what do I expect out of this conference?

(First thought: "Illumination," heard in the voice of Sean Connery. OK,

Actually, illumination covers much of the expectations. Specifically, I seek
validation for some of the decisions made and actions taken by our orchestra
in the past year. Even with list-serves and the occasional conference calls
(thanks LAO for facilitating monthly "group sessions" for 5-6 managers!),
we occasionally (often?) feel like we work within vacuums. Ours is the only
fully professional symphony in the state—not much available locally for
comparison. And, will what worked in Duluth-Superior or Westchester translate
to Vermont? How do our positions in the planning and financial cycles affect
outcomes compared to our peers? And what adjustments should be allowed for
the unique personalities and relationships that make up our organization?

My colleague Tom talks about "take-homes" or "take-aways" to justify
the expense of conference. While a policy sample, document or power point
presentation shared back home provides concrete evidence, the informal
conversation or introduction can proved just as valuable. Indeed, there have
been years when the "aha" moment hasn't come until some time on the
flight home. So, for me, I won't fret if I leave this Saturday without that
piece of paper or amazing brainstorm. There's always the follow-up e-mail
or list-serve posting.

Often, I learn more by answering questions from colleagues. Something we did
back home seemed so obvious, yet when analyzed by new eyes, a different
thinking emerges.

I am very impressed that 900 delegates have found the resources (including
time!) to make the trip to Chicago. Like back home, I expect the
conversations this week to be more focused and stimulating. While conference
is important to me in reinforcing the value of what we do, I find it even more
valuable for the volunteer leadership who join us. Their vacuums are often
greater, and I relish the "aha" moments they experience: from "we do
this just like they do" to "we're in better shape than most" to
"look at how they do this; maybe we should try…"

The clouds below keep me from sensing how far from Chicago we are, and I
better take a few minutes to review the conference schedule. Signing off at
38,000 feet and T-minus two hours and forty-five minutes from "showtime!"

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