This past week I had the privilege of hearing the remarkable story of Bill Strickland at the annual convention of The National Speakers Association in New York City. Mr. Strickland has transformed the lives of thousands of inner city kids and their families by creating a center right in the heart of the poorest part of Pittsburgh where he grew up. As he pointed out – "because that’s exactly where it had to be." Bill Strickland raised the funds to create a world class – and I do mean world class center that takes the natural abilities that we all have and nurtures them by training these kids to go on to successful careers, even as Ph’d’s and physicians. Mr. Strickland believes that environment shapes behavior. I couldn’t agree with him more. As a landscape architect for the last twenty years, I’m always amazed at how peoples lives and lifestyles are transformed by enhancing their environments.
What exactly did Bill Strickland do? Well, in this beautiful center he began to bring in original artwork. The naysayers said that wasn’t a good idea because it would might get harmed. In 24 years they’ve not had one incident. So he has brought in more original art, which happens to be one of his passions. He did the same with jazz music. His center soon attracted the attention of gourmet chefs, who now help train the students in the culinary arts while also create amazing food that everyone enjoys. There’s more. Every day they bring in fresh flowers – every day! I don’t know how he pulls it off, but now there are other centers like this being developed across the country with a goal to create 200 of them. Organizations like Dell are donating computers. Steelcase donated furniture. Paul Simon brought in his engineers to help develop the recording studio that attracted world class musicians like Herbie Hancock that have even recorded Grammy winning work there. I think you’ll be hearing more about Bill Strickland’s story now that he has put it into print. Check out his book – Make the Impossible Possible.
Businesses people like you and me can learn from this. Change the work environment and you will change productivity. A beautiful environment supports high expectations that produce results -whether that means increased sales or better customer service. But what if you are an employee working out of a cubicle and can’t change your environment? I’m sure you can always do something like bringing in a personal photo. Yet, we all can change our attitude about our environment by accepting what can’t be changed. In one of my favorite movies, the Jericho Mile, Peter Strauss plays the lead character Rain Murphy who is a convicted felon and also a world class runner. Running is Murphy’s way of "doing his time." The warden wanted to take Murphy outside the prison to train for the Olympics – good intentions – but not so good result. Well, the movie ends with Murphy celebrating with his own olympics within the walls of the prison. It says the a lot about the human spirit and the power of the mind. And it showcases the Rolling Stones classic Sympathy for the Devil quite well. Until next week, see what you can do to bring some beauty to your life and the people you work with. Everyone deserves to learn and work in the right environment.