February 15, 2017
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Every year at our annual staff party in December, LO home office staff choose one word to guide our activities and events for the coming year. For 2016 our word was “better.” This year, our word is “purpose.”

The idea is to use our chosen word as a lens or filter to focus and define everything we do for members and the profession. So using the word “purpose” we ask ourselves, Why do we sell booth space? Why do we sell magazine advertising? Why do we offer memberships and professional development programs? Why do we spend time on government and public relations? Why do we host Congress, GreenTrade Expo and hundreds of other events? What is our real purpose?

This exercise heightens awareness and forces everyone to think more deeply about their job and the role of the association. It helps us to become more relevant, useful and engaging. It brings clarity and simplicity. Before I purchased a Nissan, I never noticed any other Nissans on the road. Now I see them everywhere. This is how our word choice exercise works — it helps us to notice things and become more aware.

Recently, we hosted our annual Congress trade show and conference. From an operations perspective, the job entails selling exhibit space to over 600 exhibitors, developing and executing a marketing plan to ensure delegates attend, organizing an educational program and planning a number of special events. Many people at the show commented it was the best Congress ever. Attendance was spectacular, exhibit space was sold out months in advance and exhibitors and delegates were deeply engaged. But is Congress really only about selling exhibit space, marketing and event management? What is the real purpose of Congress?

To me, Congress means accelerated “profession and community building.” I observed thousands of people interacting in a grand scale that could not happen without Congress. There was certainly a lot of buying and selling, but there was also much more. Below are some of my observations.

There was a lot of learning going on formally and informally. The exchange of information was intense and passionate. Exhibitors were excited and enthusiastic about their products and service offerings. Visitors were inspired, looking for ways to enhance their competency and to become better at their careers. Seeing our wonderful and very diverse profession under one roof was very exciting. I felt a sense of belonging to something much bigger. I am sure many visitors felt the same way. There was also a deep sense of interdependence at Congress. We are not alone. We need each other to prosper.

I also observed attendees of the formal education programs who were inspired, challenged, energized and stretched. Ideas were exchanged and debated. Visions were articulated. Problems were solved. Growth was evident.

In LO’s Legacy Room, the pioneers of our profession talked about the early days, the immense changes and incredible accomplishments. Friendships were renewed. Younger members got a glimpse into the future and received nuggets of helpful wisdom. I even overheard one member say to one of the pioneers, “When I grow up, I want to be you.”

The Awards of Excellence ceremony was outstanding. It was wonderful to watch members celebrate their accomplishments. I am in awe of their remarkable creativity and mastery. My favourite moment was watching Mark Cullen receive the Honourary Life Membership Award. His gracious, heartfelt, emotional and spontaneous speech brought tears to many people in attendance.

I watched students experience their first taste of what the profession is all about. Building gardens promotes a sense of pride and develops friendships that last a lifetime. I know this first-hand because I was one of those students almost 40 years ago. It was my introduction to the profession that has sustained me and my family. You could sense the confidence and encouragement as students realized they have a bright future in the profession.

I also watched proudly as our staff family and amazing volunteers came together and focused on ensuring an optimum experience for all. I probably could fill 100 pages of the interactions I observed.

I saw fathers walking around the show with sons, fathers and daughters selling products together, brothers running different businesses learning from live demonstrations, teachers and former students reminiscing, friends having fun and friendly competitors talking shop.

The Congress experience provided personal, professional, social, learning and legacy growth. Observing the interactions through the filter of the word “purpose” reminded me of the familiar story of the three bricklayers.

Once there were three bricklayers. Each one was asked what they were doing. The first one answered, “I am laying bricks.” The second replied, “I am putting up a wall.” The third one said, “I am building a cathedral.” - Author unknown.

This story illustrates the point of our word exercise very well. The purpose of Congress is to build our profession and community together. We are building our cathedral.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.