Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Connnections Again

SAN DIEGO – Once again, I have made connections in the most unexpected places.

This past weekend, I attended a SYMLOG International Conference in Rancho Bernardo, about thirty-five miles northeast of my home in the Southwest corner. SYMLOG is the group dynamics system I have used in my consulting business since 1991.

Many attendees were high powered consultants, either internal in companies or independent. They came from Japan, South Africa, Mexico, and Canada as well as across our country. The majority were PhDs. And then there was me.

I arrived late on Friday due to another business commitment. The second session was nearing completion. The presenter was Bob Harig, the vice-president of Human Resources at Cracker Barrel.

I had missed Larry Newton’s earlier presentation. He is a consultant for Peter Rock Consulting in Charlotte, NC, and also works with Cracker Barrel. Another attendee, Lisa Hartmann from Indianapolis, is the Human Resource Manager at Cracker Barrel.

After Bob’s presentation, I mentioned to them I was from Lebanon and wrote columns for this newspaper.

We then began talking about Danny Evins and Lebanon, especially the Mitchell House, the Chop House, and Castle Heights. They praised Danny for his business acumen and his integrity.

Saturday morning, a humorous and insightful man named Luther Johnson spoke about his work with SYMLOG. Luther was an Air Force chaplain in Vietnam before becoming a successful consultant. His home is in Louisville, TN.

He spoke of his work with Post Traumatic Stress veterans. Two of my closest friends and golfing buddies in the Southwest corner, Al Pavich and Rod Stark, are associated with the Veterans Village of San Diego. Rod is the executive assistant to the current CEO. Al is retired from the CEO position and is the force behind VVSD being one of the most successful veteran rehabilitation programs in the country. Many of the veterans who have left the homeless ranks and beaten alcohol and drug addition, and many who are presently in the program suffered from PTS.

Luther went on to explain how he used SYMLOG in politics and how he worked with Wesley Clark in the last presidential campaign. Later, I told him of General Clark being a boarding student at Castle Heights while I was there.

Finally Luther described his successful work with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy. In our later conversation, I mentioned I had done consulting work at the Hanford nuclear reservation in eastern Washington. Luther told me he was going up to the DOE office there in the near future to discuss using SYMLOG with them.

A later conference presenter was Joe Powers. Joe is the Director of Group Psychotherapy at the renowned McLean Hospital, a arm of the Harvard Medical School. He had worked with Freed Bales at Harvard in the 1950s when Freed was beginning to create the SYMLOG system.

Although the connection was not as direct, I went to Boston in 1985 as the subject matter expert to assist McBer Company in the final production of a case study, which was subsequently used in the leadership seminar for Navy senior officers. There I briefly met David McClellan. McClellan is best known for his work on motivation and was a contemporary of Bales at Harvard. In his appearance and dress, McClelland reminded me of Orville Reddenbacher, the popcorn czar, who lived on Coronado Island in San Diego and always wore turn of the century styled clothes.

The conference had been a regular occurrence in the 1990s but had been dormant for about ten years until this past weekend. Even though I had been somewhat awed by the intellect and knowledge which filled the room, I always learned something and left feeling empowered to use the system to help teams and individuals. This year was no different.

This year I also left with a sense of how small the world is. Thanks to the Navy, I traveled over a large of it and the number of times I have met someone with a connection to Lebanon or another part of my past is incredible, even more so considering most of those connections have been in far away places.

In spite of the exponential population growth in the world and the continual integration of cultures and the blurring of nationality through world-wide immigration, connections continue to make this a small world.

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