The Camp Director

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How Does Summer Camp Prepare People For The New World of Work?

February 28th, 2010 · 17 Comments · Linchpin

This post is part of a digital book club of summer camp directors and recreation professionals reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. To see all the posts in the series go to our linchpin start page. You are welcome to join in at any time.

Week 1: Introduction & The New World of Work
Pages 1 – 27
I have never thought of myself as an artist. After reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin, I’m beginning to think otherwise. He has defined art more broadly to now include ME, even though I don’t like to sing, draw, dance, or sculpt. I love working at a large summer camp for a few reasons, I am invigorated by solving logistical challenges, and helping people discover their unique talents and life’s work.

“Artists are the people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.”
page 8 (Linchpin)

Seth Godin defines art on this blog post Making Art, as having three elements.

1. Art is made by a human being.
2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.

How are you an artist and how does your current role at camp or work allow you to express your artistry? Or is your art silenced? Have you “traded your genius and artistry for stability?”

What Business Are You In?
A number of years back I heard a corporate talk about making sure your employees know what your mission is. Too many companies have mission, vision, and goal statements no one can recite. As a camp team we decided to come up with our own. Now, all the staff can tell you, “We are in the life skills business.” It serves as a reminder that we are always growing and learning and with each mistake comes a potential new life skill. Learning to show up for work on time while also getting enough sleep to function properly is a life skill. If I can help an individual learn more effective systems for getting where they need to be on time and with the proper supplies, I will have made a difference for a lifetime. Of course, those who are not ready for that life skill may need to work elsewhere until they become more proficient.

How do you help your staff understand that what they are learning at camp will apply to any job or career field so they don’t think they need to take that “internship” somewhere else?

Teach Campers To Be Artists
In addition to the basic life skills, we are also teaching campers and staff to be artists. Our campers are in training for jobs that are not even thought of yet. Working in a public middle school and public university, I am not confident that our educational system will be able to adjust. Sure there is a lot of great things going on in schools across the country, I am afraid a lot of it is shiny technology without the creative reasoning and thinking skills that should come before it. Teachers are hampered by the system they have to work in. Summer camps and recreation programs are uniquely positioned to teach kids creativity and artistry, and it doesn’t take a shiny computer to do it. “We are training laborers to be part of this new workforce where remarkable and indispensable are rewarded.” page 14 (Linchpin)

What unique features do you have in your program that are teaching campers and staff to be artists?  Do you think you can you teach people to be indispensable and remarkable or is it a talent you expose? How to you teach it?

Featured Book Club Member
Last week David Betz from CampTV sent us unboxing photos of his Linchpin book.  It started a trend and so I will feature photos each week from book club members reading their book. You do need to get yourself in a picture with your book. Mike D’Avria sent in this picture of reading his book on his iphone using the Amazon Kindle app.  Mike is Executive Editor of, a fantastic site with resources for the camp and recreation professional.  I especially like the site’s song videos since I work at a camp that doesn’t sing much (long story). Do check out Mike singing “Wishy-Washy Woman.”  Well done!

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  • Jenn, great post!

    This year will be my 14th summer working in camping. I’ve seen a lot of staff come and go during that time. I found this quote to speak volumes of the people I’ve watched and worked with over the years.

    “The indispensable employee brings humanity and connection and art to her organization.” (9)

    The biggest difference between the all star counselor and a good counselor was the humanity, connection, and art they brought to the job. It’s difficult to coach CITs and young staff on how an amazing staff member is so incredible. Looking over time, I find the staff I hold fondly in my memories are wrapped up in that quote. It was the connection these staff members made with their campers, co-workers, and supervisors that was remembered. They were able to bring humanity out of everyone around them through positive relationships. Their art was enabling others to develop by just being around them.

    As for myself, I really believe in the quote “now, success means being an artist.” (18) My first few summers as a director I wasn’t as successful as I am now. I was too stressed about the deliverables of my role. “Make sure the kids are safe, programming and activities are doing well, staff are working together well, parents are getting called back” consumed all of my thoughts.

    Seeing Godin’s chart below made sense.

    “Life –> Hunt –> Grow –> Produce –> Sell –> Connect –> Create/invent” (25)

    It wasn’t until I was making the real connections with parents that I was truly successful in the job and become of real value to my camp. When I was a camp counselor, I became indispensable when I was able to invent programming instead of delivering the same activities time after time.

  • I really liked what you had to say about not being as successful the first few summers as you are now. Often I look back and see how important I thought some of the smallest things were – in a perfectionist way. In the beginning I could not imagine that someone else could think of a better way than me of doing something logistical. I feel like I did some damage to people working for my by not allowing them to have influence. I sure run camp differently now and suppress the need for my own idea of perfection in favor of staff growth and development. It can be a frequent internal battle but I know it is better for those working around me and for camp with others feel like they have the skills to make good decisions and sometimes even better ones than I can make. Go figure ; )

  • “Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.”

    This is the quote that stood out the most for me. This is what I want in a camp staff – someone who can do things differently, someone who can solve problems, someone who can get things done. So often when we begin to supervise people we tend to over supervise – or micro manage. If we are dealing with artists – we need to tell them what we want done and let them get there on their own, taking their own journey. Now as a Camp Director I am more intersted in the final result than the process.

    In the old system, even now in most companies the following still applies: “The key piece of leverage was this promise: follow these instructions and you don’t have to think. Do your job and you don’t have to be responsible for decisions. Most of all, you don’t have to bring your genius to work.”

    At camp – I want people to bring their genius to work, I want staff to share their passion. Campers are more likely to connect with staff if staff are sharing something they are passionate about. We have all had that expereince where very few campers want to go to the “nature” session – unless you have an amazing nature person then you don't have any space for new campers because the session is always full – it depends on the person.

    The way to teach our staff responsibility is to give them the chance to make decisions and then be rewarded if the decision works or defend the decision if something goes wrong. The only way our staff will learn is to do. 4-H motto – learn to do by doing.

    I want staff to be able to lead, to be able to make decisions and to grow. I do not want a large hole left when someone leaves. At my annual general meeting last night the analogy I gave was that our staff are like a pool of water – I want the other staff to fill in any water that is taken away – to just flow into the space that is created in a way that the space was never noticed. I want my staff to learn to do it all.

    I want a staff full of Linchpins.

    But then begs the question: If you have a staff full of Linchpins – are any of them linchpins? There is only one keystone in an arch…

  • “If you have a staff full of Linchpins – are any of them linchpins?”

    I really don't think you can have a camp full of linchpins – they seems to be in a stage of development and let's face it – I can't pay a camp of linchpins. I am OK with average for some jobs. Of course average is a high standard that still promotes the values I want at camp but the person is still replaceable.

  • DavidBetz

    “You are a genius.” Such a start to LINCHPIN. And Godin has plenty of challenging statements in these first 27 pages. He has no patience for folks kicking at the dirt and wondering if/when an economic shift will occur. He begs for action now. Amen.

    On page 13: “Win by being faster, more remarkable, and more human.” I'm glad he closed with, “and more human.”

  • Sure wish more companies would remember being human is key! I think sometimes at camp I can forget that by getting caught up in the logistics of the day.

  • Check out days at my camp (the day when campers goes home) are definitely a day to stress “win by being more human”. Being able to shake a parent's hand and tell them how much their child has grown over the past few weeks is definitely a “win” compared to getting them in and out of camp faster.

  • Joe, you wrote ” unless you have an amazing nature person then you don't have any space for new campers because the session is always full – it depends on the person.”

    I instantly thought of our yoga program. In 2004 we started a yoga program and we had an insanely caring yoga instructor that people loved to be around. She was literally booked almost anytime of the day. In 2005, we had a yoga instructor that became bitter and resentful at camp. Yoga was barely used that summer. In hiring yoga instructors from 2006 on, we recognized how we need to make the effort to hire a high quality applicant.

  • Godin makes no bones about the education system being partly to blame for turning students into cogs. Since I teach in a Parks and Rec program, this caught my attention. I like to think that I'm not doing that, but I suppose it's possible.

    It's certainly true that classes go more smoothly when your students are able and willing to sit quietly. I want them to turn in their homework on time. I expect that homework to adhere to the requirements I set out for them. Do I produce cogs that way? Maybe.

    Do any of you folks have camp staff from rec programs? Are you finding that they bring useful skills that help them be more creative staff members? Or is there any difference? The kind of creativity that Godin is urging, can it be taught? Can it only be stifled in the classroom, or can it be fostered?

  • It can definitely be hard to be in a supporting role to the school system when you feel like the best skill you can teach at that moment is learning to comply with the system just to graduate. I do think there is value in teaching kids how to master homework and learning in a more creative way. Learning your own individual learning style and strengths can be HUGE.

    Piggybacking on the work of Gallup and Marcus Buckingham, Jennifer Fox is teaching kids about their strengths

    I don't necessarily think we teach creativity as much as we help bring out the areas of someone strengths. We can't put in what is not there. As Scott Porad taught me, “You can't teach tall.” We foster the identification and naming of it more than we teach it.

  • Dan,
    The story of your Yoga instructor resonates for me. It reminds me of my public school education. I remember being a young student and only responding to the teachers that I sensed were passionate, and unfearful about teaching the students, even if this meant not following the curriculum or embelishing upon the normal script. I would just shut down when I was in the class of a teacher who was jaded, resentful, or just a cog waiting to collect their pension.

  • Great points Joe. I agree with your idea ” Now as Camp Director, I am more interested in the final result than the process”. This attitude lends itself to being open to the idea that there are several ways to reach a goal. It is a gift that you are giving to your staff to allow them the freedom to be able to develop the confidence of doing it on their own. Sounds to me like a breeding ground for future Linchpins.

  • “There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do”. -page 14

    This quote hits it home for me. If presumably Godin is arguing that the system has trained people to follow the rules, to fit in, to succeed by being obedient, then there has been some shortcoming in the education system.

    That brings up the point of summer camp being an invaluable experience for children as campers, and also for young adults as staff members. To me, Camp provides people with the freedom to figure out problems, situations, and relationships on their own.

    The jobs that we all have done and continue to do working at Camp have the qualities of creating art. To name a few:
    -creating emotional connection with people
    -taking initiative
    -being a leader
    -taking risk
    -learning from experience, and applying what you learned to the next creation

    I am grateful for my experiences in Camp as they have no doubt helped to shape the artist that I am today. I do believe we can teach people to be indispensable and remarkable, and we can do this by guiding them, trusting them, and encouraging them to take initiative, and “do the work” on their own.

  • For my dissertation research, I am speaking with summer camp staff about their experiences. The staff members I've spoken with so far say that, when it is working well, they are able to be their most creative selves. The staff who had the best experiences seem to be the ones who could take a piece of something and make it their own. They're also the ones who have been explicitly told by their supervisors and directors exactly what it is they're doing well. Honest praise really seems to go a long way. I've had several staff members repeat back to me verbatim the things that their directors said to them.

    The staff who seemed to have the hardest time talked about directors who were bureaucratic (sometimes autocratic) in their decision-making. They complained about favoritism and about not being trusted by their camp directors.

  • I came from a rec program. The reason that I am a camp professional and not a teacher is for the exact reason that I believe that the classroom environment would stifle my ability to be creative.

    For years I have tried to grow the creativity of my camp staff. In leadership we talk about some staff having the “It” factor. Over years of thinking, reading and studying about leadership I have come to believe that the “It” factor has more to do with creativity than anything else.

    School (college/university/high school) should be about learning how to learn. This is a concept covered in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We are training our children for jobs that don't exist today, but if we teach them how to learn they can continue to learn and become lifelong learners. That is the goal.

  • Just a thought. Is there any chance that Seth Godin is writing like a fortune teller that wants us to like it and believe that we are who he is talking about.

    You know – like a fortune teller who speaks in generalities so that you can believe what they are saying is about you?

  • Two statements in this chapter really spoke to me about creativity.

    “People want to be told what to do because they are afraid (petrified) of figuring it out for themselves.”


    “It's easy to buy a cookbook (filled with instructions to follow) but really hard to find a chef book.”

    Nothing to add to the conversation, just wanted to point out some great quotes I will be using for the rest of my life.