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What is Quo Vadimus, and Why is it Important?
Around the turn of the century, there was a short-lived television program called Sports Night. It only ran for two seasons on ABC before it was off the air and coined itself as a dramedy- half drama, half comedy. It starred Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy and Robert Guillaume, to name a few. It was a show that dealt with issues of the time, by framing them through the lens and backdrop of a sports news program- akin to ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter. It was funny, smart, heartfelt and it remains to this day, my favorite TV show of all time.

Sports Night was written and created by Aaron Sorkin. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Sorkin is one of the best screenwriters of our time, having written and created many shows and films including: A Few Good Men, Malice, Moneyball, The American President and most noteworthy, The West Wing. His writing style is unique, and quippy, and he is known for writing incredible monologues for his characters (‘you can’t handle the truth’ from A Few Good Men, or the opening monologue to HBO’s The Newsroom are two of the more noteworthy ones).

More than just being well-written though, it connected with the viewer and the themes lingered. Good writing can do that- it stays with you, it makes you reevaluate your decisions- and it can help put you on the right path. That’s what motivational memes, and framed pieces of poetry do for all of us- they inspire. When my father passed away, I binge-watched Sports Night to find my center again. When my best friend moved to a new city, I bought her a copy of the series to help her adjust. In fact, any time my life begins to go a bit askew, I pop in the DVDs and watch a few episodes.

Years ago, I won a portable DVD player that I have used over the past 15 years primarily on flights. But during the recent storm and power outage it became a great source of battery powered entertainment. Needing a little inspiration, I popped in Sports Night, and got to the series finale episode titled “Quo Vadimus”. In the episode we discover what many of you Latin enthusiasts already know, that Quo Vadimus roughly translates to ‘Where are we going’ (though some interpretations have it as ‘where do we go’). In the episode, a very successful man says he has failed many more times than he has succeeded and every time he fails he gets his team together and asks ‘where are we going’.

It’s an important question and one I have been asking myself for a few months now. As the director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber I continually question our role in the communities we serve and the role of all chambers of commerce. Are we doing the projects, programs, initiatives and events our local business members need or are we doing things out of routine monotony? Is there still value in what we are doing? Are we making the best use of our time? Are we staying relevant? In short- where are we going?

The relevancy question is one every chamber of commerce faces. ‘Where are we going’ was heavy on my mind as I ran a two-day conference in Waterville last week. Along with being the Executive Director of our regional chamber, I’m also the President of the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives which is a statewide network of chamber staff people from around the state.

During the opening panel of the conference we had several statewide experts present on workforce issues and solutions they are a part of. During the break that followed the panel, I was speaking to one of the panelists, Mike Duguay, Executive Director of the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation. I was commenting on keeping chambers relevant. You see, I was scheduled for a presentation later in the day where I wanted to impress on these fellow chambers our importance as conveners in the community to initiate these workforce conversations in our own markets. I was trying to tell them that in order to stay relevant we need to tackle the issues most important to our members, but the right words had been elusive. In a very Sorkian moment, Mike shared with me a phrase he often uses when talking to groups of new innovators: ‘Maybe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’

That was it. The phrase I needed to hear to help set the direction. It has stuck with me ever since. Now I don’t know if Mike created the phrase or if he borrowed it from another famous speech, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s what I needed to hear in that moment.

That became the biggest takeaway of the conference for me. All organizations face the relevancy question and need to constantly say Quo Vadimus- where are we going. The answer will present in several manifestations but the consistent theme at the core of each solution is: doing the things that are most needed. That means tackling big issues- for chambers of commerce, currently that means workforce deficiencies. It’s a huge statewide concern and it will be for a decade, but rather than waiting for others to present a solution to these issues, we need to be the instigators of change. ‘Maybe we are the ones we have been waiting for’- it’s very Aaron Sorkin-esque. It lingers with you, it makes you reevaluate your decisions and it puts you on the right path.

We need to stop waiting. We need to find our own answers. Let’s stop looking to the skies and hoping it rains- let’s instead be the rainmakers. It’s time to engage.

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