On Saturday I drove down to Chicago to watch Tom Krieglstein (@tomkrieglstein) give the keynote at a national Student Government conference. Tom is the co-founder of Swift Kick, an education company whose mission is to increase student engagement on college campuses. (Or “campi”, as I like to say. Go ahead, just add an “i” to any word to make it plural. You’ll have a great time.) If you’d like to get a real quick overview of one of the ways Swift Kick works with schools and students, check out the fun and informative preview video for their Red Rover application.
Tom bills his company as “. . . a group of energetic minds who got together to make a positive impact on the world by adding more meaning to education.” It should come as no surprise to you, then, that Tom and I met and began chatting more and more when he joined the A-Team and began helping us on our mission to change the world. We both have a lot of the same ideas, and we see some strong parallels in what each of us are doing, so Tom invited me down to attend this conference and learn a little bit more.
On the way I met Mari (@foiledcupcakes) for breakfast to discuss ItStartsWith.Us growth strategies and get a more clear sense of the vision and direction for the project. I know, I know, it’s “business-y” stuff, but it must be done . . . and I’m the first to admit that that’s not my forte. I love talking to people and sharing stories and doing big things and touching lives, but Mari helps keep me grounded and focused, so I’m not just doing random stuff all over the place.
After breakfast we went on to the conference, where we planned to watch Tom’s presentation, then go to lunch together to discuss ways we may be able to work together in the very near future. I did not plan to take a full legal page of notes, but take them I did. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will throw out a good piece of advice I got about increasing student engagement. It’s not about putting on a great event — it’s about seeding relationships. Because you know what? Anything is fun with numbers and relationships. Our job as community leaders of any kind should be about engaging with all of our members, connecting them with others in the group, and letting them work their way in one step at a time, at a pace that’s comfortable for them.
There was a ton more than that, obviously, and Tom is a great presenter. Active, engaging, funny, energetic — good stuff. At one point I leaned over to Mari and said, “Man, for what I’m trying to do with this project, I should have his personality.” She nodded emphatically. Dang it, Mari.
After it was over, the three of us went to lunch to talk shop, and I had the two of them pose for a picture underneath the Sears Tower (I know, original, right?)
By the way, see those “FREE HUGS” signs? That was part of Tom’s presentation, and the two of them got a few hugs after we took that picture. I got one as well, and I wasn’t even holding a sign. Which was a cool experience, by the way, because I learned something important: When you change the established framework and set new expectations, things you never thought possible become commonplace. For instance: Person going up to strangers on the street and hugging them = creepy, weird, uncomfortable, awkward, frightening. Person holding a “FREE HUGS” sign = unique, fun, interesting, welcoming, and engaging. You hold up that sign, and strangers walking past will smile, laugh, and give you a big hug. I pondered that for a while on the drive home. If you can break people out of their established patterns and social norms, incredible things can happen. I’m going to be looking for ways to apply that to the ItStartsWith.Us project.
Tom, Mari and I had a productive conversation at lunch. I came away with the realization that I need to do a lot better job with enabling this community to connect with one another. The A-Team is over 400 members now, but I’d be surprised if more than a few of the members knew each other. We’re doing incredible things, but even with some of the communication platforms I’ve put in place, we’re still operating mostly in a vacuum. I can only imagine how much more meaningful our weekly missions could be to all of us if we were also developing stronger relationships with each other at the same time. This happens to a certain extent already, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. So please know that I’ll be thinking about it. Tom and I will also continue discussions on how we can integrate some of his work with some of mine, especially as it pertains to college students. So look for more info on that in the near future.
If you have any comments or suggestions on how to improve the relationship-building aspect of ItStartsWith.Us and/or the A-Team, I’d love to hear them. How do you do it in your community? Let’s chat.
- Our First ItStartsWith.Us Meetup
- The Birth of ItStartsWith.Us – In 5 Minutes
- Real People, Not Social Media
- Napa Valley Trip (Part I)
- Surprised By Joy: My Introduction To The Service Industry (Part I)