Monday, August 24, 2009

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is taking on new meaning as the start of Wood Badge course SR966 is now only one month away. The staff is all about preparation right now as we will have our final meeting at Cub Adventure Camp this weekend. This will be our last chance to practice our presentations and test months of preparation.

Be prepared was a phrase frequently used by scouting’s founder. It sums up his motivation for starting the scouting program after his return from military service. Baden-Powell was alarmed that British youth were not adequately prepared for service to the nation. That day’s youth had a diminishing understanding of the outdoors and the skills required to live in it.

The phrase must have had a special place for BP as it shared initials with his own name. He described this phrase in his book “Scouting for Boys”. He stated that “Be Prepared” means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty:
  • Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.
  • Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it.
Being prepared requires vision and experience. Vision is a picture of future success and a good plan should envision possible scenarios that might disrupt that picture. Do you have a contingency plan that can substitute if circumstances change? Will the alternative outcome be as good as the original intent? Will the goal still be achieved?

Preparation is seasoned by experience – whether it comes through success or failure. Experience teaches us what not to do as much as what will work. If you combine preparation and experience, the result is confidence.

Scouting is designed to work exactly this way. With the guidance of adult leaders, the program teaches young people how to plan and carry out their own activities. Some plans will come together as designed. Others will not turn out so well. By overcoming challenges, scouts learn how to improvise and adapt to change. With time, they will grow in confidence and take on bigger challenges.

As Wood Badge staffers, our vision pictures a successful course built on important ideas, presented simply and effectively. We will shortly be prepared to deliver the course as designed, but be ready to adapt to changes. Hopefully, our preparation will be apparent.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Leading Change

The word change is certainly being batted about in the news and was a central theme in our recent elections. It will also be a topic presented at Wood Badge this fall – but with a decidedly Scouting flavor.

Think about how many things have changed in your lifetime. There have been incredible advances in technology, medicine, and communication. The map of the world is quite different than it was 20 years ago and with the changes in communication, that world continues to shrink. To personalize the speed of change and how one can lead it, I think of my grandfathers and their personal stories.

My mother’s father was born in Germany in 1901 – when Wilhelm II was Kaiser; before cars were on the road; before the Wright brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk. He came to the US in 1921 by himself and over the next 10 years gained his citizenship and saved enough money to bring his fiancĂ© and the rest of his family too. During his life of 95 years, he witnessed incredible change around him. I look up to him because he was more than an observer – he ventured into the unknown and created his own future.

My father’s father was born in the 19th century to Swedish immigrants. He was commissioned as a missionary and in 1921 (only six weeks after getting married) journeyed with his new bride from Minnesota to a small Chinese city 1000 miles inland on the Yangtze River. The travel took well over a month by nearly every mode of transportation that existed. My grandparents stayed there for most of the decade - until a revolution forced them out. The courage and faith to embrace this adventure and the changes it brought to them are unimaginable to me.

At various times in our lives, we are confronted with changes that we cannot control. Our values are tested by how we deal with this change. There are other times when we can take control of circumstances and lead meaningful change. To do this, you must look beyond the present and have an insight (vision) of what that change might mean.

As recent history has shown, our world will continue to change at a tremendous pace. Scouting must adapt to these changes or lose its relevance. As scout leaders, we should hold to our values but have the vision to get out in front and lead change.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The End of Boring Powerpoints

Creativity is the process of generating new ideas or concepts. It can also mean taking something that is old and changing it so it is seen and understood in a new way.
One of the lessons taught to scout trainers is that people are different in the way they see and learn new things. Some will respond best to spoken or written directions while others learn best through graphic images or hands-on demonstrations. To communicate effectively to a group, we must find a variety of ways to present our material. Whenever possible use many types of media and keep it interesting.

Did you ever sit through a PowerPoint presentation where slide after slide of words rolled by – and the speaker read everything printed on the screen? This technique is often called “Death by PowerPoint”. It can be quite a snooze-fest. Printed words can be powerful but lost in a crowd, they can lose their importance. To illustrate a fresh approach/challenge for the coming Wood Badge course, the SR966 course director (Craig Britt) demonstrated the extreme opposite of this technique by using no printed words in his slide presentation – only graphics that complimented his spoken words.

This example was liberating. While strictly following the objectives of the Wood Badge syllabus, the staff of SR966 is taking Craig’s cue by finding clever new ways to present the material. Staff prep sessions have been fascinating to watch; there are so many ways that staffers inject their own personalities and skills into their presentations. We have seen numerous images of scouts in action, physical models, story-telling, play-acting, and even animation. It will be interesting to see what the final group of presenters has for us in August.
Hopefully, the net result of this creativity will be a course that better communicates the messages of Wood Badge to each participant. That is our goal – while keeping it simple and making it fun along the way.