Building a “Best Year Ever” Conference

by | Jul 6, 2015 | Uncategorized

Building a "Best Year Ever" Conference
Each and every year since 2009, when the former redLantern conference became the CollegeSource conference, I have finished the week-long training with the thought foremost in my mind that “this was the best conference ever.” And each spring as the preparations for next year’s conference heat up I think “Last year was so great; how will we top ourselves this year?!”
As we wrapped up the last day of the conference in Boston I remarked to the group that I was incredibly happy with what we accomplished, but sad that it was over. Completely exhausted and completely energized at the same time. Completely satisfied and yet still wanting more! This conference was, once again, our best conference ever.
Why does each year seems to be sweeter than the last? I believe it is because each of the last seven conferences has marked growth: in our community, our products, and our company. We have been steadily improving our service to customers, our support of the user community, our products’ performance and capabilities, our professional development opportunities, our own employees’ skill sets, and many other facets of what we do/are.
I have a couple of “things I always say” that the CollegeSource staff and quite a few users know by heart from my repeating them. One is “perfect is the enemy of done” and another is the phrase “positive incremental progress.” Both are philosophies we apply to the conference, as well as to everything else we do.
Perfect is the enemy of done. I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase, but to me it means identifying and executing all the critical tasks of a thing you want/need to accomplish and not becoming overwhelmed by trying to achieve the ideal version of that thing. I often encourage institutions to roll out services, like making their base of equivalencies public, before they reach that elusive stage of perfection. Why? Because waiting on completeness and complete accuracy will lead to forever delaying the help that students need right now. Similarly, we have a grand vision for the conference, but we try not to worry too much about falling short of that vision and just focus on doing our very best at all of the critical tasks needed to make the conference happen and adding as many extras as we can. The result is an overall experience of which we can all be very proud. We know at CollegeSource that we didn’t hold anything in reserve; we give the conference our all. And we believe that you all fully devote yourselves to the conference too! We see you attending every session, paying attention, being engaged and asking questions, helping and welcoming other users, working when it is time to work and having fun when it is time to relax and socialize… You all make the conference great as much as we do. As in many things that we do, the conference is an illustration of a piece of our mission statement: “maximizing human potential.” Because we give our best; you give your best.
So where does positive incremental progress factor in? Each year we come up with a lot of ideas and wishes for our conference, but we can only do so many of them. Some ideas we had back in 2012 were first realized this year, and the ideas we had this year, but were unable to execute for lack of time, energy, or resources, we will carry forward in order to make the conference better and better in the years to come. We believe we have a winning formula for the conference and we are excited about tweaking/adding to that formula each year. That’s what positive incremental progress is all about. It means approaching each day and each task with the thought of not just executing it, but improving it in some way … probably a small but very achievable and realistic way. You have all heard the Chinese proverb, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The truth of such endeavors is only realized in hindsight. When you push yourself to improve things where improvements are within reach and take just a little extra effort, one day you look back amazed at how much you have accomplished! Conversely, focusing on big goals often means getting overwhelmed and discouraged at the outset. Many good ideas have been killed under the weight of a massive scope or a misguided need to reinvent something from scratch for the sake of being original. In regards to the conference and our core products, we try not to reinvent them every year or accomplish everything all at once. Instead, we take what we have and build on it. While we believe we are innovative, we innovate where it matters (to you and to students), not merely for the sake of change or being different. Since 1971, CollegeSource has a proven track record of taking solid, useful products and updating them and/or making them stronger while keeping the elements that make them great in the first place intact.
Given all of this, I don’t know why I am surprised each year when the conference is “better than ever!” I suppose it is because all of the work that goes to make the conference happen is accomplished in a series of small steps, made with confidence, in the company of others who share in the same vision and who are also great friends. A successful conference takes a lot of work, but the work is fun and feels right to us. In some ways all of the effort feels easy and we hardly notice how much time we are putting into the conference or how much we are doing until the event is over and done.
We are incredibly thankful that you all are on this journey with us, helping us have “the best year ever” every year. All the new faces at this years conference! All the old friends! All in service of taking CollegeSource products and using them to help students achieve their educational goals! This is why the conference is incredible and we hope to see even more of you there next year. I suspect it will be … the best year ever.


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