Colin Powell’s Speech


SLA 2009 Conference Round-up

Former General Colin Powell gave a rousing and humourous keynote speech at the Special Libraries Association conference last month. Powell needs no introduction having served a long term in the United States military, as well as being a former U.S. Secretary of State. I hesitated in writing about his speech as Nicole Engard’s post sums it up.

Overall I was excited that Powell understands the value of information that becomes knowledge.  He relates a funny story about finding the details of a UN resolution on Google, while he was talking on the phone, and needing the information immediately. That is a perfect example of finding the right information at the right time (Props to Emma Wood). He was also very proud of his initiative to have old Wang computers replaced by new desktop computers at the State Department in 2001. Ahem, one librarian was flabbergasted that Wang computers were still being supplied, and I wondered aloud if IT actually supported these ancient relics.

Karen and I both enjoyed his speech but we debated whether or not his story about trying to buy a 1-way airline ticket with cash was true or not. Given the post 9-11 security measures, even Colin Powell looks like a security risk trying to buy such a ticket. He told us how he missed the private jet, red carpet and the pomp and circumstance of boarding an airplane. This led tangentially to a punchline of trying to buy the previously mentioned airline ticket. Hmm…Karen thought it was incredibly likely as people, who return to private life after years of having other people take care of them, have no sense of what to do.

Karen liked Powell’s metaphor about being analog but his grandson was born digital. This is the same child who could use a computer by age 3. I also was very impressed by his story of being a celebrity and how invasive social media is. Powell is driving along and he sees a cabbie making an illegal left turn in front of him. He becomes mad and maybe even gestures. Being famous this innocent situation can be turned into “Powell is abusive towards minority cabbie” instantly on a blog or tweet by others. I never thought of some of the negative aspects of social media this way.

In his wide-ranging talk Powell also discussed the relationship of followers and leaders that can be applied to the business world. He even touched on his sense of hope and optimism for global politics now.

I always want to see what’s in the front windshield not the rearview mirror.

As I am a daughter of immigrants or “son of the soil,” I have a soft spot for this vignette. Powell often gets this reaction: a hot dog vendor who gives him one on the house, because they are both minorities who came to the Land of the Free and were successful in their own ways. Personally it resonates with me to make the best of my opportunities in life.

– Brenda


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