Let the good times roll – taking the leads in New Orleans and Houston

Laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll

– New Orleans Cajun French

I can officially now say that I am the President-Elect 2019 for SLA Europe, and one of the recommendations from the Board of Directors was that I should attend the SLA Leadership Summit in New Orleans, USA. Therefore, I started the year with much anticipation with this trip to New Orleans – the Crescent City. These learning and collaboration opportunities don’t come by often, and as a destination, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list. I flew into Louis Armstrong Airport with Geraldine, a Swiss-British SLAer, and it was very nice to be given the pep talk by someone who has been through the role and who had some practical tips with stepping up to share with me. I have mentioned before in this blog that I have been a member of SLA since the early 2000s and still find the organisation beneficial and relevant to my work and profession. I have been able to take on tasks and responsibilities that have developed me personally, and this was an opportunity to hone in on my leadership skills and style. I also was able to fit in some great fun!

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The Leadership Symposium was three days of full-on meetings, presentations, table topical discussions, group exercises, networking, sharing best practices, knowledge, wisdom and general chat with a wide international network of information professionals. The facilitator Jon Hockman was excellent at enlightening, coercing, motivating, as well as helping us to focus our attention on our leadership missions, professional objectives, and personal goals.

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I have had some training in the past in my previous full-time and volunteering roles, but this was extra special as I was able to understand SLA better by being engaged at the symposium, participate in meetings, presentations and discussions I had witnessed – but most importantly, I was able to meet fellow professionals face to face. These all made the trip worthwhile and valuable to me.

To reach others, we first have to know ourselves. And to contact the deeper truth of who we are, we must engage in some activity or practice that questions what we assume to be true about ourselves.

– Adapted from A. H. Almaas

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I am one of those persons who actually does enjoy team building away-days and socialising, so the exercises and meeting new people are tasks that I relished. Most of the attendees were friendly and really pleased to know that I was representing the SLA Europe Chapter, and indirectly, my employers The British Library. They were excited to hear of our forthcoming autumn SLA Europe European Conference in the UK. Also, they were very complimentary and curious to know more after my short talk about our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events and programmes that we had conducted here over the pond.

Everyone has influence in their association or organisation –

Slide provided by Jon Hockman

 

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One of the best aspects of the symposium was an opportunity to see historic and charming New Orleans! I went out on my own on Saturday to soak up the pre-Mardi Gras preparations and mood, especially as the New Orleans Saints were playing that day. For those of you who are not aware – Mardi Gras is the same day as Shrove Tuesday and Carnival Tuesday in Caribbean Carnivals (yeah – party time!). I loved the architecture, street music, art shops, galleries, musically theme bars, restaurants with Cajun and Creole foods, etc.

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I really was very contented to walk around in awe, from the modern convention district, hotels and commercial centres to the historic colonial building in the French Quarter better know as Vieux Carre (Old Square). Historic signs of indigenous names, colonialism and slavery are very apparent around the Louisiana landscape and buildings, from the shores of the Mississippi straight to the St Louis Cathedral and the Voodoo Cultural Centre. I made sure that I visited the Mississippi River for its significance and impact on American immigrant history. New Orleans is not dissimilar to parts of the Caribbean where I am from, and some of the buildings look like those you may find in colonial Port of Spain. I felt quite at home with the Mardi Gras costumes culture, music, street activity, food, and ethnic make-up in a mixed society.

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My friends and family were sending me recommendations to try various delicacies such as fried chicken in Treme, Beignets at Café Du Monde, Po’ Boy sandwiches and the lush….King Cake. Luckily the SLA Leadership Symposium had a high-quality King Cake that was ever so light and appealing to the eyes with the three Mardi Gras coloured sugars represented – Purple as Justice, Green as Hope and Gold as Power. I hope to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras this year. This will be a vintage epiphany year as I have eaten King Cake in London with my French friend Veronique, in New Orleans with SLAers, and in Houston with friends. The sweet perfume of the cakes in the local patisseries is something special too!

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and as a final treat, I went along with SLAers Ruth from Sacramento and retiree Janet from New Jersey to the Preservation Jazz Hall Band in the museum-like setting for an authentic live New Orleans Jazz show. It was an awesome, quaint, intimate and once-in-a-lifetime type of gig that I won’t forget. The musicians and singers were of a high calibre and I couldn’t help myself humming along and tapping my toes.

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New Orleans will have a lasting impact on me for the leadership training and work we carried out over the two days but also for the magical and creative influences it also has on me in terms of its’ culture, identity, and energy. No wonder the saying is appropriate…let the good times roll!

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Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

Houston was my next stop. It was easy to get an internal flight to a city I had heard a lot about from a neighbour who lived there since the 1980s. I have always been curious as it is not far away from Dallas, which is famous for the well-known 1980s soap opera. On arrival at the airport, it is clean and noticeably very high tech, where I was able to get free Wi-Fi – which is always a bonus when travelling abroad. I also saw only one cowgirl, but apparently, there aren’t many about in the city. It is not Rodeo season too when it is certainly an attraction for music, food, and entertainment from photos I have seen in the past.

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Although I saw some cows, there were certainly a lot of freeways, shopping malls, restaurants and fields of oilrigs and tanks. Houston is a wealthy city with a steady economy and ‘old money’ from the oil industry. It is also a financial centre, university city and at the cutting edge of medical research with the Texas Medical Center complex hosting 60 medical institutions. I also liked the downtown skyline, the gorgeous architecture, and homes. There were newer neighbourhoods in suburbia, where there are large and expensive homes in gated communities near lakes. My friends told me that your money goes a long way in Houston compared to other cities. It is seventh in the best largest cities in the USA.

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Houston is famous for NASA’s Mission Control Centre. We have all heard the saying “Houston – we have a problem!” from an astronaut’s message to Houston’s NASA mission control popularised in the film Apollo 13. This is synonymous with problem-solving and working in remote teams. I was really pleased to know that my friend lives close by and we were able to visit the NASA Johnson Space Center. The exhibition areas were curated with mock-ups, film, and simulations that were informative and entertaining for children and adults. I even liked hearing about the mission control problems, such as with Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano – it was a gripping real-life story of the challenges faced by astronauts and space exploration. It was an informal leadership lesson as it reminded me of the need to have strong individuals but also strong teams to help with problem-solving. One of the clips extols about the need and the steps in failure that NASA has taken so far to get that far in outer space. Their failures have enabled learning and progress.

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Like magic, that very morning the news in Houston showed a clip of entrepreneur Richard Branson speaking about his Virgin Galactic space tourism programme, and what it is likely to be when it is launched. I thought of this in the real mission control training rooms for astronauts after seeing the various space equipment and components that they must learn to use and get familiar with before they set out for discoveries in a life-challenging, harsh and dangerous space and environment. In a presentation, we were told about the Boeing and Space X programme, the latter by entrepreneur Elon Musk. We were still able to see the actual Mission Control room that is currently used for training but soon it will be used for the MARS space programme by mid-2020. We also saw engineers working on innovative robots and space equipment.

“People actually make sense by thinking about the past,
not about the future….constructing explanations about
past performance often yields new strategies, insights or innovations.”

– Jon Hockman course slide on Leadership.

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The other remarkable aspect of the tour was seeing the large equipment that has been in outer space but they were now located next to a field of cattle and cows on a heritage farm on the NASA site. There are signs for deer crossing and other wild animals that roam the site – this is ironic for keeping space explorers grounded in the countryside and natural environment in Texas. There are trees planted to honour and show appreciation to astronauts who have passed away. NASA also apparently has a local outreach and competitions programme for schools. Unite, Create and Explore is their mission motto displayed on site to encourage space exploration…and that is a good problem to have!

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Like New Orleans, I spent some lovely time socialising with my friends and it was amazing checking out the local homes, shopping and leisure areas. There were some cows in a field but also a lot of large shopping areas with the likes of JC Penny, Guillards, Wal-Mart, Costco and very nice entertainment and restaurant areas. The food was amazing and my friends made sure that I tried some of the local dishes!

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We also took a drive to Galveston, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. I was aware of it by a couple of pop songs, and by looking at the maps of the south of the USA. It is a really nice seaside town with influences from the immigrants who came there – so you can still see French and Spanish architecture, British telephone boxes, and they were also getting ready for Mardi Gras.

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Both New Orleans and Houston have the crossroads and waterways with the past and present, the wild and the unknown – a coming together with the old and new USA and Europe. I am truly grateful for the learning opportunities and insight this trip gave me and see it as an honour and privilege to continue to serve SLA Europe, its’ board, members, and stakeholders. I hope to see some new contacts, and familiar faces I met on this trip another time at the USA annual conference in 2020.

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