Igniting the Future: 35 Insights to Excellence — Feb 2024

February 29, 2024

Indulge me for a second: after nearly 10 years with the “PENworks” label, our annual conference is now igniteEX. Why the change?

  • “Ignite” captures the essence of the conference — it’s about inspiring change; sparking ideas and innovation; improving processes, people, and outcomes!
  • After hosting years of successful conferences, we’ve seen first-hand the energy and “spark” created when leaders, professionals, consultants, and professionals come together to share with — and learn from — each other. The igniteEXbrand puts that energy front and center, capturing the value & impact of this premier event.
  • EX” represents the beginning of so many powerful concepts — such as EXcellence, EXchanging ideas & best practices, better EXecution, more EXcitement — all of which are fundamental to the igniteEXconference EXperience!
  • It was time for a change: with all that we have EXperienced the last few years and with the challenges — and opportunities — our members still are navigating through, the conference needed an update — a fresh coat of paint!

But many things about the conference haven’t changed: it’s the same powerful content focused on organizational improvement, the same powerful networking, the same powerful energy.

igniteEX 2024 — hosted April 18-19 at Mystic Lake Conference Center in the Twin Cities and streamed worldwide — will feature 20 local, regional, and national speakers, each sharing insights, tips, tools, and best practices to improve leadership, workforce engagement and effectiveness, customer satisfaction, organizational and community resilience, and more!  It will inspire you and your team; it will improve your organization or community outcomes.  Early Bird ends in just two weeks — March 15.  More information here.

If you’ve read this far, thank you — the advertisement is over!  Well, kinda.  To get you revved up for the upcoming conference (and to give you some ideas on which to ponder — maybe even act upon), here are some quotes from keynotes the last five years of the conference.  Obviously, they are completely out of context.  But even as individual statements, they are thoughtful, valuable insights that could inspire change in your organization or on your team (or within yourself).  Take one a day for the next couple of months: read it in the morning and reflect on it all day.  Did it stimulate change?

“Success is always about four things: people, plan, results, and process.  It’s also about purpose and passion and about pursuing improvement with intentionality and focus.”

— JoAnn Sternke, 2023

“One of the most powerful ways to create a culture of belonging is to share your purpose, mission, and values, talk about them regularly, and tie everything to them.”

— Bryan Williams

“If creativity drives innovation, curiosity drives creativity.”

— Genein Letford, 2023

“It is in low moments that I am convinced that true and gritty and resilient leadership emerges.”

— Mauri Friestleben, 2022

“Successful people build bridges – they are connectors.”

— Genein Letford, 2023

“Excellence starts with leadership.”

— Andy Strebe, Chalmers Ford, 2023

Leaders: “train others to replace you.”

— Bryan Williams, 2023

“To achieve excellence, focus on your priorities, keep things simple, and streamline and improve your processes.”

— Daria Willis, Howard Community College, 2022

“Leaders sometimes need to slow down and see people – understand what is going on with them and who they really are.  Good leaders are servant leaders.”

— Mauri Friestleben, 2022

“By giving and receiving respect, you build true collaborative relationships.”

— Deena Ebbert, 2022

“To solve a problem, first study the problem.”

— John Sackett, Adventist Health Care, 2022

“Everything is important, but not everything can be the MOST important.  Prioritize.”

— Stacey Crockett, City of German Town, 2022

“Leaders give hope.”

— Mauri Friestleben, 2022

“Organizations cannot improve outcomes without improving processes.

— John Sackett, Adventist Health Care, 2022

“Today is a gift and tomorrow is never promised. It’s up to us to make today great.”

— John Kriesel, 2022

“The role of leaders is to make it easy for other people to succeed.”

— John Sackett, Adventist Health Care, 2022

“Individuals win games, but it takes a team to win a championship – in sports and in business.”

— Ross Bernstein, 2021

“Constantly monitor risks so that you spend more time preparing rather than reacting.”

– Scott Frisch, AARP, 2021

“Change is accelerating.  And crazy as it is right now, it’ll never be slower than it is today.”

— Deb Rueben, 2021

“Most organizations aren’t as good as they think they are.  Benchmarking is critical.”

— Gerry Agnes, Elevations Credit Union, 2021

“To succeed, try and try again.  Don’t be afraid to fail – fail fast and fail forward.  Try new things, experiment.”

— Joe Nayquonabe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, 2021

The things that make you successful in the past are not necessarily the things that will make you successful in the future.”

– Scott Frisch, AARP, 2021

“To innovate, hire weird people.  Anyone can be normal.  The only way to create abnormal results is through abnormal talent. Great teams are filled with weird people.”

— Joe Nayquonabe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, 2021

“To succeed, you need the right people and the right vision.”

— PJ Fleck, Minnesota Gophers Football, 2020

“Your mindset is your engine – it powers every single thing that you do: your decisions, your actions as a leader.  Your mindset helps you thrive, not just survive.”

— Cindra Kampoff, 2020

“To innovate, you need to create an environment where failure is ok.”

— Mara Bryant, Adventist White Memorial, 2020

“Success requires energy – passion, purpose, commitment.”

— PJ Fleck, Minnesota Gophers Football, 2020

“Systems should not be constraining, but actually enabling: they should facilitate innovation, agility, and resilience.”

— Brian Collins, IMRF 2020

“The better organizations define failing as growth.  Failure is quit.  You get to decide.”

— PJ Fleck, Minnesota Gophers Football, 2020

“Every employee in every organization should have two roles: do the work, and improve the work.”

— Brian Collins, IMRF 2020

“Core values are more than words — they must drive decisions and behavior.”

— Jenn Lim, Zappos, 2019

“The path to excellence requires commitment, persistence, patience.”

— Kathy Raethel, Adventist Health Castle, 2019

“Happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to sustainable businesses and improved lives.”

— Jenn Lim, Zappos, 2019

“Our brains are most comfortable when we recognize patterns.  The implication: leaders need to be consistent, and organizations need to be aligned.”

— Stevie Ray, 2019

“It’s not success that leads to more happiness, but happiness that leads to more success.”

— Jenn Lim, Zappos, 2019


There you have it: 35 pearls of wisdom from the last five years’ igniteEX (née PENworks) conferences.  Coincidentally, we are 35 business days away from igniteEX 2024, so if you read and reflect on one message a day, you’ll build momentum and energy toward this year’s conference.  Better yet: read, reflect and then take one action step toward the insight to make positive change.  It’s guaranteed to improve yourself, your team, and your organization — which is the whole goal of igniteEX!  After all, “it only takes one match to ignite a haystack, or one remark to fire a mind.”

For more information on the conference, visit here.  Or if you want a preview of four of the conference breakout speakers, consider attending PEN’s March 7 webinar (Insights from IgniteEX: A Prequel; information here) – it’s free for PEN members.

We’ll see you in April (and/or next week!).

What other insights/tips do you have for improving leadership, organizational or community performance?  Participate in a discussion on this topic: visit our LinkedIn group to post a comment (and follow me on Twitter @LassiterBrian)!

Never stop improving – and Happy New Year!

Brian S. Lassiter

President, Performance Excellence Network




A Catalyst for Success Since 1987!


Photo credit pexels.com, quotefancy.com