With their artful uses of image and song, speakers Lyn Heward, John Quinones, and Eric Whitacre played up how transformation takes root and blossoms in our experience.
Leading off Day 1, Heward, who was director of creation, president, and COO of the creative content division at Cirque du Soleil, drew on the senses as she urged attendees to “remember the radiance of the flower blossoming in the desert.” I conjured up the beautiful image in my mind and reflected. Like a flower in the desert, transformation often starts with a small shift and then touches everything in its path.
It wasn’t long before Heward flashed stunning images of Cirque performances, and was detailing her seven-door philosophy on creativity. When Heward got to Door 3, Treasure Hunting and Creative Transformation, my interest reached its peak level. This door is known in common parlance as recruiting and training, but Cirque doesn’t go about the HR practice in a traditional way. The group’s leaders scour the globe for ideas and inspiration. They hire not for who people are now but for what they might become. Then, in a general training program, Cirque’s new hires learn to problem solve together, take risks, manifest courage, and think way outside the box.
Heward highlighted an example of creative transformation familiar to the audience. When artist Michelangelo was asked how he sculpted David, he said David was inside the stone; he just needed to chip away at all the pieces that weren’t David. In some ways, this example captures the essence of education, which comes from the Latin root, eduacre, meaning to draw out. It is about drawing out what is within.
The next day, John Quinones, host of ABC News’s “What Would You Do?” described his personal transformation from growing up speaking only Spanish in the barrios of San Antonio, Texas, to becoming an international news correspondent and show host. He didn’t learn to speak English until first grade. When Quinones was 13, his father was laid off from his work as a janitor. To survive, he and his family joined a caravan of migrant farm workers and harvested different fruits and vegetables.
Quinones remembers being on his knees and hearing his father ask him: Do you want to do this for the rest of your life, or do you want to get an education? But for a long time, Quinones didn’t have anyone who believed in him - until a high school teacher noticed his writing ability and encouraged him to join the school paper. So at 14, he became a reporter at school. In college, he landed his first job in broadcasting in which he was charged with feeding the horses outside the studio. In his off time, he recorded his voice and often played the recording for the janitor, Pablo.
Quinones’s first big story was on the “push factors” that drive people to leave their home countries for the US. To cover the story, he posed as a Mexican citizen and found a smuggler to help him cross the border. After crossing the Rio Grande River, Quinones got a job in a restaurant. Soon after, he discovered the owner taking advantage of illegal immigrant employees. When confronting the owner, Quinones had to chase him across the parking lot. Finally, the workers collected their lost wages and were able to work on getting Visas.
Quinones eventually became ABC News’s correspondent for Latin America, and noted how speaking Spanish, which had been a liability for him growing up, became an asset. In Latin America, he tackled stories on child poverty among others. As Quinones put it, journalism happens in a dark room, and a journalist is the person with the flashlight, illuminating the darkest corners.
He played a clip from his show “What Would You Do?” One key idea presented in the snippet on racial discrimination and forgiveness was HUGS, helping people grow spiritually. I saw people wiping away tears.
In the last session, Eric Whitacre, a Grammy-award winning composer and conductor, transformed the audience into a choir within 20 minutes. It was a unique interactive presentation at a large general session, offering us an unexpected opportunity to morph into a cohesive unit in tune with one another. Which we did, successfully. Whitacre led us in singing “Row Row Row Your Boat,” and then guided us to sing the song in a two-group round. Whitacre asked everyone to sing in harmony with those near us, and then commented that our voices became softer or louder to blend in with our neighbors’ voices. When group A wasn’t singing loud enough, he challenged the group by asking group B, my group, to sing “Row Row Row Your Boat.” We raised the bar, and when he directed group A again, the voices were stronger and louder. As he put it, group A wasn’t fueled by a competition, but by inspiration. While we were singing, Whitacre instructed us to progressively lower our volume through his musical cues. When we finished the song, he commended us on sounding so good.
Later, I ran into an attendee in the elevator, and Whitacre’s session was top of mind. “Wasn’t it fantastic?” she said, still enraptured. I nodded and said, “Yes, it was.” Indeed, what a transformative experience we shared in that room!
Read summaries of speaker sessions, and check out the 2014 Annual Conference Online Community for more reflections.
The views expressed on this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS.