This year’s ICMA conference is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Along with the educational programming, which is usually pretty good, and sometimes great, the opportunity to meet and talk with town, city, and county managers from all over the country – and other countries – is invaluable. Spending even a short time in another place really stimulates my thinking about old problems and new challenges. More often than not I come back energized – tired physically, but energized mentally and professionally.
I try not to be one of those managers who come back from a conference all full of “hey, let’s try this new thing!” and have people spend the next six months frantically chasing their tails. What I try to get out of the experience is reinforcement of some basic themes, tweaks and encouragement for directions, both new and familiar, and reassurance that we’re not the only ones facing the challenges and changes of our time.
Going to another city for even a few days gives me an opportunity to get my head in a different place (okay, you over there, stop snickering about where you think my head is!) and think about solving problems in a different way or at a different scale. So much of what we do, especially those of us in smaller communities, is personal, one-to-one scale problem solving. There’s still a lot of personal interaction in larger communities, but the numbers, the sheer scale of a place, can help you to think bigger, to think more expansively. That may not have a lot of direct application in my world back home, but it’s worthwhile mental exercise none the less.
The conference is not all educational sessions and mental exercise. Every year is an opportunity to engage, even just a little bit, in the ambience and culture of the place. There’ll be a couple of evenings to explore a little more on my own, but also visits to Discovery World and the Harley-Davidson Museum to mix things up.