Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Be The Stone" - Ian Hill

Photo credit to Moose Country Gardens

When I met Ian Hill at the "Leading the North" conference in January I was impressed, of course. He spoke twice at the conference, delivering two speeches that inspired, motivated, and, at least in my case, led to tears. I walked away from the conference having learned many new things and having met many new people, but perhaps none had more impact on me, professionally and personally, than Ian. So when I heard he was coming back to the community at the request of the RMWB I was delighted, and even more so when they invited me to attend his session for local non-profit organizations.

The session was held at MacDonald Island (geez, I spend a lot of my time there, don't I?), and there was food and wine and socializing. The reason we had all come, though, was to hear Ian speak, and to hear him impart some wisdom. And Ian has some wisdom to give, that's for certain, although it's not always easy to hear. That's not because it's not wise, but rather because wisdom that forces us to question ourselves or our motivation can be uncomfortable. One thing Ian isn't afraid of is questions, even those that make you squirm a bit.

Ian spoke about how we have a phenomenal opportunity to create something in Fort Mac - and I think he's right, of course. He talked about how we have the treasure, the talent, and the alignment of vision - not in the "how" to get to what we envision necessarily,  but rather the "why". The "why" is making this community a better place, a goal I think we all agree on.

Ian detailed the advantages we have as this:

1) We have the resources, natural and economic, to achieve anything.
2) We have the talent in the form of people from all over the world, a cultural diversity that amazes. As he said "the weirder the mix, the better the fix", and we have the kind of diversity that inspires innovation and creativity.
3)We have an alignment in vision, in our desire to improve our community and see positive change occur. We may not always agree on how to get there but we agree on why we need to do it - and that is truly the first step.

Ian pointed out that in many ways we are already a leader in this world - as in we often lead in the news with stories about the oil sands. So, why not truly lead? Why not make the changes necessary to become not just a lead story in the national and international news but rather to become leaders on the international scene known for our amazing community? Indeed, as he said, we need to ask not "why us" but "why not us"?

Ian spoke a great deal about the ingredients necessary for a healthy non-profit sector, but I think they are applicable in almost every sector, too. These are the ingredients he detailed:

1) Each organization must clearly understand why they are involved and their role, with clarity and understanding of the "compelling why" of their existence. Without that clarity and understanding the efforts seems unfocused and scattered. There needs to be clarity of mission and impact or the organization will struggle and perhaps even falter. And sometimes, if the "compelling why" is missing, then perhaps it is time for a "courageous conversation" regarding the very existence of the organization.

2) There needs to be some kind of mechanism to evaluate effectiveness (whoo boy, does this apply to other groups, from industry to municipality to, well, bloggers!). One needs to be able to evaluate success, and to measure how effective we are in what we do. It needs to be outcome-based and impact focused, and it needs to measure relevancy and specific impact on the community.

3) Organizations need to understand the nature of volunteerism today. I found this discussion particularly interesting, as volunteerism, and why we do it, has changed.  Once upon a time no one was a "volunteer" - we worked together in order to simply survive. Then volunteerism was something you did because it was "expected" by your church or your community. Now, though, we are a user-driven society. Volunteers want a say in what they do, and when, and how. Ian spoke about how people have "irrational passions" that can be tapped into, and how those passions can make for amazing volunteers when we allow those volunteers to explore the interests and talents they know they have.

As always Ian had several phrases he shared, phrases that are short but impacting. One was "Always in command, but rarely in control". Now, he meant that in how it relates to non-profit organizations and volunteers, but I think it applies to many things (well, like me and the Intrepid Junior Bloggers, for instance). We can command a situation without needing to micro-manage every detail, without needing to control every aspect - and in fact once we can relinquish some of the control and simply be in command I think we can achieve incredible results. Ian said that "small groups of people properly motivated and not caring who gets the credit change the world" - and I think that is absolutely true, for non-profit organizations and everyone else. If we can put aside the selfish desire to say "look, see what I did?" we can achieve phenomenal results, because we can work collaboratively and without need for any reward except those results. He spoke of the need for non-profit organizations to be authentic and sincere - and, again, I think this cannot and should not be limited to those groups. I think we have a desperate need for sincerity and authenticity in this world. I think we crave those things in a world so often filled with fakery and manipulation, from advertising to corporations to governments. And that is why those who embody those qualities, either as an organization or individual, are both so rare and so remarkable. And perhaps that is why I am so fond of Ian Hill, as he is both sincere and authentic, a rarity  in this world. And maybe that's why so many others are inspired by him, too.

Ian's final impacting phrase was one that I have been thinking about ever since he said it. He spoke about the slogans that say "be the wave" or "be the ripple", and he said that he thinks we can do more. We can be the wave or the ripple - or we can be the one to create it. We can be stone thrown into the vastness of this ocean of humanity, and we can create the ripple. We can create a tiny ripple that can become an enormous wave, a tsunami of change and progress. We can do it as organizations, and we can do it as individuals. Perhaps that is why Ian Hill is so inspiring to me, people - because he believes in us, and he makes us believe in ourselves. There is a power in that beyond words.

I had the opportunity to see Ian speak to a group of adults from the community, and then I had a chance to sit in on a session he held with some high school students. I won't divulge what happened there, as I was allowed to stay only if I agreed that what happened in the room stayed in the room. All I can say is this : Ian Hill is a stone who created a ripple with a group of high school students. It's a small ripple, but those small ripples can grow and grow until they are tidal waves of epic proportions. And he taught every single one of those students how to be the stone, too. I think, just maybe, he does that to everyone who hears him speak. I never thought of myself as a stone before, but now, after Ian's visit, I occasionally pick up a small stone I have on my desk, one my daughter found for me, and think about how this tiny stone can create a ripple when thrown into a pond. And I think that maybe, just maybe, I am a tiny stone who can do the same. The amazing thing, though? You can be the stone too, Fort Mac. We can all be the stone, and we can create a city and community that history will judge kindly. It's in our grasp, just like the tiny pebble I hold in my hand as I write this. We can be the stone that creates the ripple that creates the wave that determines our destiny. Suddenly being a stone sounds like a very, very appealing thing, doesn't it?

My genuine and sincere thanks to
the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
for inviting me to Ian's session,
to the school that allowed me to attend
his session with the students,
and, of course, to Ian Hill, 
who is a stone creating a very large ripple in this world.

Photo credit to The Passion Spill

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