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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Back to the Moon - for Science or Leisure

I grew up on the manned space program and was fortunate enough to see the first moon landing by Apollo 11. My parents made sure me and my sisters witnessed history as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Within a couple years of that historic walk this country was done visiting the moon. What a shame. I remember Skylab, but my greatest memory of that program was it's fiery crash over Australia. Now the Space Shuttle program is over and from what I've read there's nothing ready to take it's place, but there has been talk of returning to the moon. That would be something. Until that time, I'll have to keep my longing for manned space exploration to all this country has available right now - the International Space Station. Here's a pretty cool NASA time lapse video from the International Space Station. Now and then during a full moon I take my binoculars and look at it. Two things always cross my mind. One, we should still be there, and two, we should go back there. As a kid, eating Food Sticks and drinking Tang, I wanted to be an Astronaut. Now I would be happy to be a tourist, but at this pace and with my resources it isn't going to happen. Perhaps my grandchildren will take their kids for a vacation to the Lunar Hilton . . . just maybe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Wanna Be Like Walt

Walt Disney once said, “In this volatile business of ours, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, or even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future."

I'm a big fan of Walt Disney. I enjoy all the movies and love going to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I've made two trips to the still relatively new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. But I love reading about Walt Disney the man, the visionary, the creative genius. I've read eight books about Walt (the best being Walt Disney: An American Original, by Bob Thomas). As a kid I always thought my grandpa looked like Walt; similar hair style and mustache. Coincidentally, they were both born in 1901.

This fascination with Walt started after I attended the Disney Institute in Orlando in 2007. All during our sessions and tours our instructors, Paul and Michelle, kept talking about the vision and passion Walt had for his company, as well as the influence and impact his practices and new ideas had on his competitors, even those organizations not in direct competition with the Disney machine. This left me thinking, "if only I can have a fraction of that vision, common sense, problem solving ability, creative thinking . . . just think of the impact I could have on those I work with and the community in which I serve . . ." Today, our Customer Service model in West Sacramento Parks & Recreation is based on the Disney model, thanks to the influence the Disney Traditions had on me and my staff.

Most fascinating to me about Walt was his pursuit of the future - he was an innovator. Always pushing the edge of possibility. Did you know Walt's most ambitious vision was of a master planned community? He really saw EPCOT as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow - a living, breathing, functioning community that would always be evolving as new technologies and systems were developed. It was there he wanted to see those innovations put into practice as an experiment prior to their introduction to society at large. Unfortunately, he died before a shovel full of dirt could ever by turned on the 'Project X' site, but I believe he had been watching this vision in his mind over and over. That's how much he wanted to see it happen . . . and believed it would happen. For more on Walt and the original EPCOT concept check out the book Walt Disney and the Quest for Community, by Steve Mannheim.
“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening up new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. We call it Imagineering – the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.” - Walt Disney
In my department I talk a lot about how we can be the first to do something or do it better, set the bar, be trendsetters and be the ones to pioneer new best practices. That means taking risks, being tolerant of failure, being tolerant of more failure, being vulnerable, looking silly, not playing it safe. We dreamed, designed, collaborated, researched, prepared, built, trained, . . . and finally, we had our new West Sacramento Recreation Center. It was risky, but my director and leader, Bob Johnston, had a vision, and it wasn't long before we all started seeing that vision, too . . . even before we saw a single shovel full of dirt turned over. That's why being an innovator is important and having the ability to share your vision is critical.
The family leisure pool at the West Sacramento Recreation Center
In his article, Stop Blabbing About Innovation and Start Actually Doing It, Aaron Shapiro talks about the 10 ingredients in his recipe for having a work culture that helps foster innovation. It's a good read with some great ideas.

Of course if you have the vision and innovation ready and waiting, you could always take Walt's advice:
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
UPDATE: April 22, 2012 - Here's an article from Saturday's New York Times that talks about the Disney Institute: Teaching the Disney way is big business. I'm glad I wrote my piece before this came out . . . whew!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Parks and Play: Just Add Adults . . . Please!

As a kid I was never interested in what was happening in the classroom. I wanted to play, and play just didn't seem to happen indoors for me. Indoors meant having to sit still, sit up straight, pay attention, stop eating the paste . . . I don't think I ever did this, but seriously - I was a real pain in the keester for every teacher I had at Orville Wright Elementary School. Poor Ms. Bravo, poor Mrs. Peters. They were my favorite teachers, but nothing they seemed to do could get my mind off the playground and into my school work.

Perhaps becoming a parks and recreation professional was the logical path for me. I will never claim to be very bright and stumbling onto leisure as a field of study is proof of that (I should mention I spent 7 years in community college trying to figure that out, but I'm glad I did). Leisure, recreation, parks and play are my passion, especially when you see the benefits they have in the lives of individuals, families and communities. In California, "Parks Make Life Better!" is our profession's brand promise, and I have yet to meet anyone who didn't agree with this statement.

I love play. Even today I love playing basketball. I also love playing nerf ball tennis. Scott and Kaisa are two people I work with and for a while we would play tennis, using foam tennis balls, inside our Rec Center gym (mainly because it was cold and wet outside). Man, is it fun! One day we started playing the game with two (2) balls in play - it wore us out, but we had a blast. We modified the game again and said all walls and the ceiling were in play and if either ball comes to a stop on your side of the net, your team loses. We lasted about 5 minutes, but it felt like forever, and so we named this game 'Forever Ball'. I think we need more play like that where we make the game up as we go along.

Back outside now . . . you heard me . . . go outside and play!

We need to get outside and play, especially adults. Of course kids need to get outside and play, too, but we adults would benefit greatly from some goofing around, playing silly games, and simply being more active for the sake of fun and laughter. In his article, "It's Called Play", Jay Heinrichs talks about the benefits of play for adults and the value of putting recess back into our daily lives. Now that we're all grown-up (well, at least all of you), that recess can take place in our local parks . . . and no need to worry about the school bell ringing.

Duck, duck, goose anyone?