Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the annual National Council for Behavioral Health Conference. I have been to my fair share of conferences but #NatCon19 was one of the best. First, I'm biased. It took place in my city, Nashville, TN. And the venue was the world renowned Opryland Hotel's Gaylord Convention Center. And, I love, love, love the Opryland Hotel!
As any seasoned conference goer, I had a strategy when it came to which sessions and events I wanted to attend. My game plan was to attend sessions that focused the next level of the ACEs movement, the "big picture". I wanted to prioritize sessions that addressed the big issues: funding, strategy, effective teamwork, becoming trauma-informed, addressing culture, addressing systems, collaboration and collective impact. NatCon19 did not disappoint.
The conference, in its entirety, was amazing! Stand-outs for me included: Kristin Woodlock's presentation "Productivity Culture vs. Values Culture", Becky Margiotta's "Rethinking Leadership: Unleash Your People & Get Big Things Done" and Jim Triandiflou's "Why Nonprofits Should Run Culture Like a Project". Each of these sessions focused on organizational issues that can shut down an ACEs initiative. When starting your own ACEs initiative, it is of utmost importance to clearly identify the mission, vision and values that will guide your path. And only strong, yet vulnerable, leadership can wrestle with the big issues and identify their own strengths, weaknesses and biases to ensure that they stay true to the collective mission, vision and values. And a carefully crafted culture is the key to creating the environment that allows leadership to be creative, vulnerable and courageous. After attending these sessions, I felt more competent in my role as a facilitator for ACEs initiatives across the Midwest & TN.
Those aforementioned presentations were wonderful, but now that the conference has concluded and I have had time to reflect, there were three sessions that I felt changed how I view the ACEs movement. And considering that I have been a part of this movement since 2011, that is no small feat. Speakers Anand Giridharadas, author of "Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World", Anthony Salerno, Ph.D and Charles Duhigg, author of "Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity" really tapped in to the next level of the ACEs movement. Their sessions addressed the core issues impacting the ACEs movement. FUNDING. METHODS. RESILIENCE. And their presentations answered the BIG questions: Where are we going? How do we get there?
Anand Giridharadas' session, "Winners Take All: Myths and Realities of How to Change the World", challenged the status quo of philanthropic "win-win" solutions. "Win-win" refers to the idea that the "super elite" must benefit from their philanthropic efforts to address social change. Giridharadas questioned why our nation has allowed plutocrats to attempt to solve problems (inequality, climate change, access to resources) that they have essentially created through lobbying, tax evasion, pollution, etc. He proposed that this type of philanthropy is futile due the tactics employed by plutocrats that keep them from actually having to make the necessary sacrifices that bring about real change. My favorite quotes from his sessions: "[this current administration] has flamboyantly discredited the idea that rich people are going to save us", "We have allowed all human things to be overrun by money" and, lastly, "Changes comes from the bottom, by people".
Anthony Salerno, Ph.D
Dr. Anthony Salerno's session was very laid back and interactive. It did not take place in the normal classroom setting. Instead, the session took place in NatCon19's Innovation Zone. The Innovation Zone is an interactive learning space that allows for small groups to have intimate conversations with various experts. There, Dr. Salerno answered questions about trauma-informed practices and resilience. The intimate setting allowed for a deep dive into the meaning of resilience and the factors that enhance resilience. Dr. Salerno stressed that ACEs is only half the story. Resilience building practices are a must. Salerno expressed that flexibility and adaptation seem to be the roots of resilience. He also stated that strengths-focused practices enhance resilience. And that, by default, our deficit-focused, punitive society erodes resilience. My favorite takeaway from his session was definitely his take on post-traumatic growth. He urged the counselors and therapists in the audience to ensure that their clients were able to find meaning in their trauma. A silver lining. Salerno said that, in his experience, sometimes a lack of meaning can be just as painful as the trauma itself.
Finally, Charles Duhigg closed the conference on an aspirational note. Duhigg challenged the audience to look at productivity and innovation in a different way. Duhigg asserted that innovation is not about new ideas. Instead, innovation was about applying old knowledge in novel ways. Duhigg believed that in order to achieve innovative thought, one must be able to truly focus. Because innovation lies in the ability to develop contemplative routines. Time and space is needed to think deeply. Deep thought leads to innovative problem solving. According to Duhigg, this time and space is needed to create stories in your head and then challenge those stories. This process would sharpen decision-making and problem-solving skills, and allow one to feel a sense of control should things go awry. What does this mean for working teams? Leadership teams need space for deep dives and contemplative routines to solve the big problems. The most thought-provoking moment of this session was when Duhigg asked the audience how we treat those on our teams who challenge the story. Do we reward them for forcing us into contemplative routines? Or do we see them as difficult?
#NatCon19 was great! And I left feeling inspired and recommitted. I'm focused on the big picture. The takeaway... Power to the people. Focus on resilience. Deep thought solves the big problems.