"Generally speaking, Generals tend to speak in general terms." -- Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
So I just got back from the NGAUS Conference in Austin, Texas. That's the National Guard Association of the United States, the oldest continuously serving professional military "pressure group" in this here land. They have lobbied for many wonderful things, such as drill pay for reservists, health care plans, better equipment, etc.
And the conference was pretty cool, too -- we got to hobnob with some Governors, Flag Officers, CEOs, and other bigwigs, went to a rodeo, attended a "progressive" party (but not in the political sense -- I'm talking about 54 states and territories, each with a signature drink in a separate hospitality room...seriously), and yadda yadda yadda.
But remember, this blog never goes "Dear Diary" for its own sake. There's a point coming, so kudos to you for making it this far, and hang in there:
If you're organizing a conference, be sure to build some time into the schedule for the explicit purpose of allowing members of your *guild* to talk to each other on their own professional levels.
We had mandatory "development sessions" that started at 0800 each morning and carried on until about 1700 (5 p.m. ROTC time, thanks Cliff), just prior to the "mandatory fun" that each evening brought.
The problem with the development sessions, though, is that at some point your "I Care" button breaks after the umphteenth General or Admiral has stood up to wax philosophical in the very broad, bland language that people at those ranks tend to use. The "wow" effect wears off pretty quickly, and you're not left with a whole heck of a lot to take away. When you glance around the room, and see that every other Captain is texting, Facebook surfing, or doing God-only-knows-whatever-else on his or her Blackberry, something has gone wrong.
And yes, this goes back to the same reason that so many kids are so easily bored at school -- when you force people to do something for an extended period of time, but don't involve them in what you're doing, you WILL lose their interest. Now, I know we all have different attention spans, and therefore different *break points* but no matter how engaging a speaker is, anything over an hour is just too much.
For all the times we heard "The Company Grade Officers are our future" it frustrated the hell out of me that I never really got the chance to sit down and talk with another Captain from, say, Georgia or Idaho.
What are their issues?
How are the repeated deployments affecting morale? What about families? What are their states doing to be proactive about suicide prevention?
What about equipment fielding? Work-ups at the mobilization site? What's better, Fort Hood or Camp Atterbury?
How did they handle the stress of Company Command in Iraq or Afghanistan? What did they do to instill COIN principles in their soldiers?
Answers to ANY of those from a fellow Company Grade -- if exchanged in a frank session where only other Company Grades were present, would've given me some gems of knowledge, some contacts, and some thoughts for my "deployment mental tool kit" that I could've kept with me for the times that I know are coming, and soon.
Hearing another two-hour, one-way lecture about diversity, or a General waxing philosophical about whether we ought to be a "strategic reserve" or "operational force," or a circle jerk session for a contractor or Congressman winning an award did zilch for my professional development.
So, if you're wondering, the answer is YES -- I have summarized this in a more diplomatically-termed e-mail and sent it to my area NGAUS representative in the hopes that a future conference might offer some more Captain-to-Captain collaboration.
And the point here is that in WHATEVER industry you belong to, when you are tasked with organizing a conference or other sort of "professional development" session, please don't turn it into an eighteen-wheeler barreling down a narrow one-way street. Involve your *subjects* in what you're doing, and you'll see them walking out smiling and chatting, rather than just running blankly for the exits.