Steve Little spoke to his Wilmington neighbors at UNCW's Lumina Theater on August 30th
I was fortunate enough to glance through the Chamber of Commerce's e-newsletter to learn an internationally acclaimed consultant, author and business speaker would be coming to Wilmington.
Steven S Little would be discussing a topic from one of his more popular books, "The Milkshake Moment: Overcoming Stupid Systems, Pointless Policies and Muddled Management to Realize Real Growth."
The topic didn't resonate with me as a 'must hear' and even though the event was free - I was more intrigued by its sponsor, New Hanover County (?).
I am continually impressed, more recently than ever, by the progressive approach toward our regions future and subsequent growth by some of our leaders, both elected and appointed.
At the forefront, County Manager Bruce Shell, has been going above and beyond the call of duty over the past year to find ways to help our business owners and local economy by leveraging the resources he has at his disposal.
The idea of bringing a major speaker with a wealth of knowledge along with a vast array of experiences and perspectives to our area was indeed another opportunity for our community to benefit.
The event was scheduled for 9am on a Monday morning. My immediate thought, "Well Bruce sure is doing a good job of minding the budget - that's a tough time slot, he must've gotten a sweet deal!"
The speaker's name sounded 'kind of' familiar - as did the name of his book - so after a bit of research on his website I vaguely recalled reading about his 'Milkshake Moment' but couldn't place much else.
Besides free is free. I could always sit near a door and leave early if the guy got too boring.
I enter the lobby and begin to scan the landscape. Unlike most 'business things' where it seems I know most everyone, I only recognize a handful of people - mainly City and County employees and some UNCW staff.
As I enter the theater we are lined up and required (not encouraged, required) to completely fill each row and each seat. No opportunity for a dark corner next to the door where I can return emails from my blackberry either.
I sit down, get my bearings, look around the auditorium. The crowd is substantially different from what I expected. Lots of government employees and managers. (You can tell by their ID badges and appropriate haircuts). I could hear some grumbling among the ranks, I may have volunteered to attend but some of these folks did not.
Uh oh, 9am, Monday morning, this could be a tough crowd. I don't even know the speaker but I am already getting nervous for the guy - this is going to be a hard show and I am wedged in the middle of the row, if things start to go bad and I have to make a run for it, climbing over 20 people is not going to be easy.
Within a few minutes a recognizable County employee walks up and instead of introducing our speaker, he announces a 'warm up act' - a comedian no less!
A warm up act? Seriously? I look over my shoulder and see Bruce Shell and kind of nod my head hello. He's grinning ear-to-ear - (like a lemming headed for a cliff.) He must be delirious I think to myself.
9am on a Monday morning and now I am scared for a comedian I don't know and a speaker I've barely heard of and, more disconcerting, our esteemed County Manager (because he is going to get a bunch of grief for thinking outside the box if this thing doesn't go well) - empathy or sympathy, I'm not really sure which, but I can't see how this ends well for anyone involved.
The comedian walks toward the front of the room and all I can think is, "this guy must be nuts, I wonder how much you get paid to do a gig like this?" - but within a few moments he starts really rolling with the business jokes, economy jokes, travel jokes, audience participation, everything.
The crowd is roaring and this guy is "killing it!" I start to cautiously breathe a bit thinking that maybe this WAS a good idea after all.
Next up, the main event. Our warm up comedian rings him in like there's rockstar in the house: Steven S Little!
As our speaker bounces toward the front of the room, I ask myself two questions, "I wonder if that's his real name?" and "how much does a guy get paid to do a gig like this?"
He looks sharp. He's got a wireless microphone on his tie. He's polished, smiling and he's thinking, "9am, Monday morning, room full of government workers, good thing I brought the warm-up act."
On the big screen is an image of a clip-art vanilla milkshake and immediately Mr. Little launches into a story I know he has told a thousand times - but no matter, I am mesmerized. If this man was selling Amway he would have had me at "hello."
The guy was terrific. He was entertaining, informative, engaging - I could actually feel myself getting smarter as he spoke. He talked about perspectives and changes. Growth and leadership. Opportunities and threats.
He gave some great real world examples of the way businesses train and manage people without fully thinking through the relation to their customers. Not just customer service, but are businesses providing their teams with the tools and systems as well as the ability, or rather, permission to adapt to the needs of their clients? This was good stuff.
Steve did a great job of winning over the audience and maintaining their attention for more than two hours. Did I mention this guy was terrific?
Then, out of nowhere, he starts talking about Wilmington - like he lives here or something, and then a few seconds later he says, "I've lived here in Wilmington for over 15 years"
Is he serious? We have a prophet in our midst and I am just now finding out about this? I didn't know if I should be grateful or ticked!
No matter, I was hooked. I wanted to hear his thoughts about our area. I wanted to know what he thought our community could be doing better. I wanted him to tell us more about the other cities he was working with and how we could avoid some of their same mistakes.
Steven S. Little did not disappoint and my confidence in our leaders, neighbors and the opportunities for success within our region have never been greater...