Monday, April 11, 2022

2006 – Leadership and Creativity


(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

John Maxwell says, “You can’t have creativity if you don’t have a creative culture.”

I have had some great mentors who cultivated a creativity that I never knew I had. Growing up, I always thought that other folks were truly creative because they could draw, paint, sing, dance, and any other talent that I never achieved. (Due to my own mindset)

My mentors helped me spark in ways that I never thought I was capable. It led to many times in my career that I took risks in doing things that others never thought about. In a previous BLOG about my friend Wally, I mentioned that he had vision and it is a gift he has in everything.

The analogy about one of the few geometry formulas that I remember (V = (4 ⁄ 3) π r3 is the formula for the volume of a sphere) and looking at everything from all different directions. This is how I think of creativity.


Reminders that have sat on my desk for decades.

Perhaps it is the fact that in my not for profit career working for many organizations that always struggled financially. One of my coaches asked me why I was always drawn to underdog organizations. My answer then is still my answer today. “It just seems like they (the struggling organization) needs someone to care.”

From 2004 to 2009, I was at a camp that had many different activities areas that drew kids. Things like an indoor skate park, equestrian programs, ATVs, and paintball. All great activities that required a high degree of leadership and dollars to support.

When our team decided to add activities that would also be creative and perhaps appeal to other youth, we were limited and hampered by cost. And we met the occasion with a creative mindset.

The activities had to be fun, creative, and relatively cost free. Our arts and crafts area had a small amount of basket kits left over from previous summers. This camp which was located on a Spring system in Florida also had a great deal of afternoon activity centered around the year round 72 degree water temperature.

July days at Camp Indian Springs, Crawfordville Florida

The afternoons in a Florida camp are brutal and the water temperature was a great way to spend those long hot hours of the day. Since there has always been a myth around camps and college courses about “underwater basket weaving,” our team decided to make this an actual thing.

The basketry materials would soak overnight on the shore of the spring and participants could sit and weave either with their feet, legs or completely in the water. This was an expression of creativity that allowed campers to take home something intricate that they themselves had created.

Sample photo of underwater basket weaving

Our other spring centered activity relied on the actual issue that Florida is well known for; alligators. In fact, this was the only camp that I directed that the aquatics director’s job description included an item that stated, “Daily: check spring for gators.”

I quickly learned that in Florida there are people who are qualified by the State of Florida to remove alligators should they become a problem. The Nuisance Alligator Hotline was in the rol-o-dex in the camp office. (For those unfamiliar with a rol-o-dex, it’s what we used prior to saving numbers on a cell phone.)


Sample of Rol-O-Dex

After our first call to the “gator guy,” I learned from him that not all alligators are predatory. He said that if you have a “gator in your spring” just go down to the water and touch your toe on the bank. If the gator turns towards you, it is deemed predatory and should be removed. If it turns and swims away (over 90% did this); it is not considered a nuisance.

Now, please know that I am not an expert in alligators or their behaviors and should you have an actual issue with one of these creatures, please do call the Nuisance Hotline at 866-392-4286.

Our team decided to take the “gator” myth to the next level and allow campers to learn the basics of wrestling alligators. This was also conducted as part of the afternoon periods in and around the refreshing spring water. (I'll find the pictures of the activity later.)

We named our original alligator, “Stanley.” We actually ended up with two that summer because of the abusive nature of the activity. In the field leading up to the spring, rain water would often form puddles the warmed up in the sun shine of the afternoon. A perfect spot to learn about alligator wrestling.

Stanley and the activity leader would meet potential participants and go over the basics of wrestling maneuvers and take downs. Campers would often line up for an attempt to wrestle Stanley. In fact, most ended with successful take downs of the gator. It turned out to be a popular afternoon activity that was close enough that the underwater basket weavers would watch and cheer for as those young folks who would leg lock and scissor hold their opponent, Stanley.


Luther Gulick YMCA Triangle

Perhaps the best of the creativity was an activity area we called, “Spirit, Mind, and Body. This curriculum promised parents, the following, “Parents may observe an increase in self-confidence when faced with unfamiliar or challenging activities whether done individually and/or in a group. Growth in competence of one or more skills possessed or with new skill acquired. Participants take initiative for positive performance may also be noted.”


I thought this was as creative and inexpensive as a program might get; requiring just the instructors time and abilities. Each was designed with a basic daily formula of activity circles:

Activity Circle

Body Activity- Stretch/Aerobics

Mind Activity- Isotopes Team Building Challenge

Spirit Activity- Talking to God


As many of you might know, this was a YMCA Camp and the three sided triangle has existed for decades in the YMCA on how to best lead one’s life and find one’s best self. Thanks to Luther Gulick, the three sided symbolism was an expression of balance and harmony.

(In another amusing and creative note from Wally Wirick, he will sometimes go to a local YMCAs and asks for a tour. When they ask for his name, he says, "Luther Gulick)

The creativity of a two week participation in this program for an hour and fifteen minutes each day was amazing and fun to watch and listen to. There was music (Remember this was 2005- Superchick, Green Day, Hannah Montana songs and camp songs); there were tests of mindfulness (How Long is A Minute); Tae Bo introduction; and of course the YNC March chant (Y-M-C-A-C-A-M-P--M-C-A-C-A-M-P- YCamp - YCamp – yea YCamp)

And like most things occurring in our camp, service was emphasized. Since the program took place in and around the dining hall, many times the participants would be involved in the preparation and delivery of snacks to the rest of the camp. It brought about a great deal of collective and individual free thinking creativity in our campers and in our staff team.

I read recently that "if students have ideas but never put them into practice, they are practicing imagination, not creativity." Just like Mauricia Shiroma writes in that BLOG, I have wanted to create that incubator in the work we do at camps to challenge team members to find creative answers when things go in unexpected ways. To look at the sphere from all the different angles.

I started this BLOG with one of my friend John Maxwell’s quotes about creativity. I have been so inspired by those moments and I cannot take credit for how each of these examples evolved. I do know that it was seeing that our lack of money was not a lack of ideas. Scarcity is such a mind numbing mind set. I believe that we can achieve and grow in abundance by framing things with that abundance mindset.

 Our team wanted to do new and fun things for our campers. We seldom said “No.” We embraced different things and we never kept sacred cows for “how things were always done.” John Maxwell offers fivesteps to sparking creativity. I happened upon these similar mindsets over the forty years of camp under the tutelage of so many amazing leaders that I have had the privilege of serving along side.

Stanley pictured below with one of our Staff team (Megan K.) who was featured in a previous BLOG post.

Stanley the Alligator from our program activity.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

2021 - Ceaser, Fonzie, Zoom and Social Media (Communication in the Post Pandemic World)

 Thumbs Up - A Reflection On 2020, 2021, and 2022

If you have been following my BLOG, you know that 2021 (besides the pandemic) my life turned upside down after a car accident that divinely revealed a case of Hairy Cell Leukemia (or as I call it, Harry Styles Leukemia - he's my favorite from 1D). I spent quite some time in doctor offices, cancer centers as well as physical therapy and chiropractic offices and a neurologist  or two.

We have all been or dozens and dozens of Zoom, Teams, and other virtual platforms. As we have become more adept and proficient on these platforms we have learned a "new" communication style.

Sitting in those Brady Bunch or Muppet Theater squares, on those different platforms, one of the things I noticed, is that we have increased our use of the thumbs up as an indicator that we can hear the speaker or in agreement with whatever was happening.


It is the historical significance of this and other items that have a negative beginning that intrigues me. It's like the term "drinking the kool-aid" that is used everywhere today as an indicator that someone has bought into whatever the hype may be. I heard someone at Disney World say "wow, that cast member has really drank the kool-aid." All in show for the fact that they were very much into their role/job.

Little do they know that the origins had such a dreadful and awful origin just back in 1978 during the "Jonestown mass-murder suicide." The term is used in so many connotations now, that most have little regard that it was meant for horrific examples.

Caesar (the emperor, not the salad) pictured above in the guise of Joaquin Phoenix in the 2000 movie, Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott uses the thumbs up as a show to save someone in the fights to the death that took place in the Coliseum in Rome. 

The historical accuracy of this may or may not be linked to the 1872 painting "Pollice Verso" by Jean-Leon Gerome. There is some historical artifacts dating back to the first and second century that show a closed fist around a thumb indicating to save a gladiator.

More recently (1974 actually) Henry Winkler (seen above) portrayed Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli in the show Happy Days. Fonzie's cooler than cool late 1950's greaser became the run-a -star with his trademark saying "Sit on It" and the thumbs up to show his approval when other characters did the right thing.

In our fascinating modern world, the "thumbs up" has context in every social media category. Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, and so many other versions of the thumb and even have developed an encyclopedia of emojis. (Emojipedia)

Pictured Apple Trade marked Thumb

I have found myself on those Zoom and Teams calls where someone asks, "can you hear me okay?" Or "Is my slide deck showing?" And folks in the various Brady squares either indicate agreement with the zoom Thumb emoji or just by raising their thumb (s) in view of the camera. I am not sure how I feel about all of it in a world where more and more folks seem to be split on having face to face conversations, interactions, and worse so, discussions that seem to divide so many.

I am grateful for my experiences at Camp and while we were in Florida (2004-2009) we worked with the three Deaf schools in to provide a week of summer camp for deaf, hearing impaired, siblings of deaf youth, and CODA. Sign language is amazing and as the camp director, the deaf staff assigned two hearing interpreters to me whenever I had anything to say to the campers. It felt like I was in the United Nations. The deaf director told me it was because when I spoke, I was exhausting to the interpreters. 

Signs and signing are a part of our lives. And have become even more so during the past few years.

At the onset of the pandemic, back in the Spring of 2020, Zoom and teams became a lifeline to so many. There were dozens of calls and that summer, my camp experiences went digital with "Camp In A Box" platform helping hundreds of Scouts across three states complete camp and merit badge activities via Zoom.

Again, I find it odd that something that began with such a negative connotation as life or death in an arena has become part of a lifeline to so many. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, my doctor visits have become numerous and I find myself at physical therapy a few times a week. One of my great pleasures became a traction device (and yes, I have a home version now as well) for my neck. The therapist would set me up for 15 minute sessions and often check back to see how I have been doing. My indicator to them...yes, you may have already guessed...a thumbs up.

Post Script:
Let me know your thoughts on the "thumbs up" and the impact of living digitally has had in your life. Share a comment and let me know that you too have drunk the kool-aid.

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