By Assistant Director of Publications Katherine Springle Lempka
Purple smoke covered the stage as attendees filed into the Houston Ballroom for the Opening Ceremony Saturday afternoon at the convention. As the audience settled, the unmistakable opening strains of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey (the song is actually called “Also sprach Zarathustra”) played over the loudspeakers. Live timpanists accompanied the music as three “astronauts” ascended the back of the stage.
The song finished, and the crowd stood for the singing of the national anthems of Canada and the United States. After the soloist finished and exited the stage, the spacesuit-clad figures were revealed to be CEO Lionel van der Walt, President Michael Williams, and Convention Committee Chair Robert Card.
Michael Williams hailed the crowd with a wry, “Greetings, Earthlings,” and welcomed everyone to the event. Robert Card followed up with a brief report on the convention, and encouraged the audience to have “a darn good time.” Lionel van der Walt greeted the crowd as “humans” and said he was looking forward to meeting each of them.
The three closed with the rally cry of Pixar character Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond,” and ceded the stage to the keynote speaker, Gary Heil.
Heil began by promising no answers, quoting Gertrude Stein who said, “There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.” He talked about the qualities of leadership, and the inherent difficulty of change. “We’re uncomfortable when the pace of change accelerates.” In collecting data, Heil found that people talk about change more than they actually change. He said the top five most admired leaders are Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Winston Churchill. However, he said that when you ask someone the qualities of those leaders, they actually give you the leadership qualities they hope to find in themselves.
These qualities are as follows:
Addressing the needs of others
Heil went on to discuss how people in a clean environment will keep it clean, while if there is already litter on the ground, people are more likely to throw down more trash. You get homogenized by the culture you are in, said Heil.
Culture is a stabilizing force that locks us into the past.
“Choose love, not fear” was another of Heil’s messages. “Fear makes us stupid,” he said, “it narrows our view.”
He then discussed the importance not just of how well one does one’s job, but also of how well the job is designed for a human being. He talked about housekeepers whose roles were redefined as customer service agents who roam the halls looking for people to help, and who “oh, by the way, also clean toilets” who were more motivated than those simply asked to clean up after other people. Giving people a compelling cause will encourage them to do their best job.
Next Heil discussed the importance of mindfulness, of letting things in rather than pushing them out, being present in the moment, and not running on autopilot.
At the conclusion of Heil’s speech, multicolored giant robotic figures emerged to greet attendees as President Williams exhorted the crowd to enjoy the opening of the trade show and continue to “make RCI great.”