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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Creatives and conservatives seek common ground

DeVries describes some of the people who helped build CCL's influence. Creative thinkers shook up a conservative field, DeVries believes. He remembers in particular William C. Friday, who helped bridge the gap between the "outrageous fringe group" at CCL and the institution's conservative funders at the Smith Richardson Foundation, and David Campbell, a "larger than life" psychologist who inspired CCL researchers with his creativity.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Are there any people at the Center that may have made a particularly deep impression on you? Any stories of some of your favorite people at the Center?
DAVID DE VRIES:
Well, yeah, of course I mean you have an hour to respond. What the place is and always been is it's attracted interesting people, I think. Very interesting people. I'm going to be seeing one this afternoon and that's Jodi Taylor who is still there until the end of the year. She's leaving. And Jodi is one of these rare psychologists who is an entrepreneur who is driven to achieve excellence and driven to build and do it in a way in which not for her own glory but the greater good. And there aren't many people at all in our profession like Jodi Taylor. She's one of a kind. And it's working with people like that and just as we would do, when she worked for me, she reported to me for a few years, we would just get together in a room and just start dreaming dreams. And the amazing thing was that as outrageous and ambitious as these dreams might be, if I could find the resources for her, she would achieve them time after time after time. It was just phenomenal. She would turn these dreams into reality and out of that came the Center For Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs in its current form. So there's a person. There are also people who I grew up with there in the research function – Morgan McCall, Ann Morrison, Mike Lombardo, Bob Kaplan – there's a whole set of them who have always done what outstanding researchers do which is ask the tough questions, ask the questions to which there are no obvious answers, ask questions which we really don't even know how to get the answers to. But not be afraid of the question. Not to allow your current methods to dictate your questions because then what will happen is the questions will get narrow. In our field, the industrial psychology field, it has been terribly conservative in that sense. You want to speak about Southern conservatives, there's a whole profession that's extremely conservative. In fact, the Center became in the profession, through its research group particular, we became the outrageous fringe group within IO psychology. It was wonderful. We'd go to these annual conferences and scare the bejeezes out of people. And the amazing thing is they'd come and listen to us and even clap at the end of the two hours and come back next year for more. Those folks are just I'll never forget the conversations with those. And not only conversations, but the research projects that came out of that. Those are times that when you look back over a career, those are absolute highlights. I think of people like Bill Friday and his wisdom about the place and his wisdom about how to gently move aboard in the direction of supporting what seemed at times like some crazy ideas and wild-eyed young folks. And he did a huge amount in his own wonderfully quiet and powerful way, of bridging our world with that of the Richardson family. And he did it year after year after year. And I know he had conversations that to him must have felt like the broken record with the family year after year. But he did it with a kind of dedication and patience. And these are the kind of conversations that very few people know about. These are the quiet, behind the scenes conversations that make a huge difference. And that's a form of leadership that I really learned to respect and Bill taught me a lot about that leadership. You know, there's the David Campbell stories. David is larger than life in the whole field of psychology. He remains larger than life and he came to the Center at a time—David made it possible for the Center to still be here today. It had gone through a hugely traumatic experience. The Board didn't know what to do with it and he was willing to give a shot at leading it. And his approach which was managerially a limited approach, but exactly what was needed was just to say, "I'm not going to manage this place to death. I'm just going to find the right people out there and bring them in and let them do their thing. And then I'm going to demand some accountability." And that's what he did. And more importantly, he also modeled for us all creativity day in an day out. So David, if we were worried about doing outrageous things, we didn't have to worry long, because whenever we would go into meetings with David, he would beat us to the punch. He would do even more outrageous things, some of which cannot be put in any kind of record.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Not your typical business meeting, right?
DAVID DE VRIES:
But I mean his creativity and his outrageousness would inevitably take you into the really uncomfortable zone where you would say, "Enough, David." But he didn't know limits and so he taught us that, "This is not a place where you have to worry about limits. Just do what you want to do." And there are darn few psychologists in the world who have ability to embody that. Your job is to figure out what it is that really drives you as a psychologist. Figure out what it is and do what you've got to do to make it happen. David Campbell is as huge today. He remains a larger than life figure. Flawed, but most very talented people are. And his leadership style got us into real trouble late in the 70's. That's when we had to make that 10% cutback. That's when Ken Clark, his boss moved aside nicely and brought the rest of us in to keep the creativity but make it a little bit more sane.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
More accountable?
DAVID DE VRIES:
Yeah. And also what happened then was David announced to the board that we had opened a branch in London, England and the board said what? You don't know how to manage your operation in Greensboro, North Carolina, you think you're running a branch in London, England? I don't know if you've heard that story.