Normally when you go to a professional development conference, you expect to come away with a wide array of new ideas, new resources and new inspiration to help you improve your performance and your sense of accomplishment. These well-paid speakers, many of whom seem to have recently published a book that you feel compelled to buy, do a great job of letting you in on the secrets that they and they alone have discovered. And some of their secrets turn out to be really helpful. Others – well, they might work for someone else in the audience, but just aren’t cutting it with me. So imagine my surprise when two very different speakers at a conference I’ve been attending this week gave the same message. They delivered the message in very different ways – different contexts, different examples, different presentation slides. But the message was loud and clear, and nearly identical from both: “the greatest threat to your organization is COMPLACENCY.”
Why? Why now? Why me?
After nearly three years of developing and carrying out a redesign of Michigan State University Extension, I was thinking we could do with a little stability for a while. We will be officially declaring the redesign done and finished later this month. My sense is that we’re all a bit weary of everything we know about our organization getting a remake, whether it’s our administrative structure, our way of building and managing relationships in communities, our use of technology, our program priorities, our ways of planning and reporting, or our method of delivering professional development. Enough already! It feels like we’ve been taking anti-complacency therapy for the past three years. Do we really need another session of it now?
I realize there’s truth in the message I heard from the speakers this week. Perhaps a more positive way to put it would be to say that we need to depend on the creativity of everyone in our organization to continue to improve the work we do and how we do it. One thing about education professionals is that we’re always tinkering with our craft. I used to think that once I got my lecture notes and labs set for a course, I could just walk in each semester, quickly update the syllabus, order the same textbook and then deliver the same thing I had the year before. I don’t think I ever was able to do that. There was always something that I wanted to change in a lecture – something I had learned from research findings or from colleagues just HAD to be added to a lecture. Some illustration that I found was far better than what I had used before. And sometimes a lab exercise just didn’t make sense any more so I threw it out and started over. I can’t say that I did a complete remake on the entire course from one year to the next. But there always seemed to be something that could stand some improvement.
And maybe that’s a sign of not being complacent. Maybe I’ve overreacted to the speakers’ messages this week. Once we declare our redesign “DONE,” perhaps we will find tweaks, adjustments, improvements or just some creative inspirations that will improve our work. Maybe avoiding complacency doesn’t always require a complete remake. Maybe it’s just making sure that you give your creative juices a chance to express themselves in a new way in doing something you’ve done before and that is very familiar.
And maybe I’ll always be asking myself “are we being too complacent to be effective in our mission?”