Thursday, July 28, 2011

Generating Leaders

For regular readers of the SGSB, this piece may seem a little bit off topic at first. But recall for a minute how many of the posts on this and other Smart Grid related sites are concerned with people and cultural issues vs. technology. While tech issues like inter-operability and security are hard to grasp for executives who lack a grounding in those disciplines, it's often the "soft" cultural challenges that end up being the real obstacles to change and progress.

And how does one come to master these? Well, the answer is simple: leadership and clear communications. The ability to analyze tough problems, formulate possible outcomes, settle on the best (or least worst) option and execute across a distributed, often stove piped organization.

So where do these capabilities come from, anyway? I want to tell you why I send my kids to summer camp every year. It's because, in no particular order, I know that they're going to get:
  • A change of scenery - A change of tempo, rhythm and pitch from their normal school year activities, albeit with a lot more structure than "hanging out with friends" during summer break
  • New experiences - New skills development. Team building and team work. Camaraderie. Stamina and toughness. Some failures and losses. Some successes and triumphs. All are additive to character development
  • Connections with the past - The transference of cross generational lessons outside the confines of school and family. The counselors are some of the most amazing people I've ever met. While my time with them is relatively brief each year, I crave exposure to their dedication to the kids and the responsible, curatorial way they maintain and pass on enduring values
  • Dis-connection with the techno present - No iPads/Pods/Phones. No TV/Tivo/Nintendo. Replace these distracting cognitive noisemakers with silence, laughter, loon cries, rain on tent flaps, screaming, yelling and cheering during competitions of all kinds, quiet talks and less quiet songs around the campfire at night
  • Time alone and time together - You're alive here in ways you haven't had a chance to be anywhere else and you know it. You're at once totally on you own, and a blood brother/sister of inseparable tribe too
  • Encountering and connecting with other kids from other cultures - At my kids' camps in Maine, they share tents, cabins and athletic fields with peers from other states, countries, cultures. And yes, some stereotypes are affirmed: the campers from Europe and South America run circles around the US kids on the soccer fields. But, as they do, they teach the Americans some new tricks. The World Cup will be ours I'm sure ... eventually
  • ... and lastly, and not necessarily leastly, they have tons of just plain old summer FUN
One couple we met this year was from southern France. They had heard about this camp from American friends who had moved to France a while ago, and learned enough to know they wanted their son to have this experience. I met them on the sidelines of a really kinetic open field game called Speed Ball, a crazy mash-up of soccer and rugby with about 8 balls in play at the same time (pretty challenging for goalies, as you can imagine).

They said was they found their son transformed by his month at camp. A whole new type of self confidence was evident. Self confidence, they reported, was squashed down for kids like theirs back in France. And they gave highest praise to the counselors, whose love of the kids was clearly apparent to them, and to the kids as well. Discipline here, you see, doesn't require threats or raised voices. Everyone is on the same page, trying to grow, and learn, and play, as individuals but also as teams.

The nice French folks said the US often gets a bad rap in Europe, but that what they saw in Maine this year was the best of American values ... and something sorely lacking in much of Europe and the rest of the world for that matter.

So why tell you all this? How's this relate to the well being of the Smart Grid and other critical infrastructure that runs our nations and the world? My answer: Good kids become good adults, and the camp experience fosters and helps generate character earlier than it might otherwise appear. It's not the only proven character forming pathway (see: the military), but it's a damn good one, and it's been doing it for over a century. If your kid or kids haven't had a chance to try it yet, maybe you can get them here (or somewhere like it) sometime soon.

Photo credits: Camp Winona (boys) and Camp Wyonegonic (girls), in Bridgton and Denmark, Maine respectively