While designing LAB ATL with the faculty team, Associate Director Mike Pardee often compares our curriculum work to Harvard Professor Ronald Heifetz’s principle of manifesting “binocular vision:” or seeing things from both the balcony and the dance floor at the same time. Heifetz’s idea is simple: in order to fully comprehend the world around us and affect what is happening in it, we need to see and understand it at both the macro and micro levels. This concept--as described in Heifetz’s masterfulLeadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading--nicely echoes LAB ATL’s goal for students to learn about and experience Atlanta from both the balcony and the dance floor, in order to build a sustainable, vibrant future for themselves and our city. From the balcony, they will understand the forces, patterns, concepts, and big ideas that make Atlanta unique. From the dance floor, they will understand the perspectives, individual choices, communities, and connections that make Atlanta such a complex, exciting place.
Atlanta is particularly attractive to individuals with an international background or a global perspective. Over the years, they have reshaped the city’s image into a worldly, cosmopolitan metropolis. Forty years ago, less than 1% of the population in Atlanta and its environs was foreign-born; just a couple of years ago, The Atlanta Regional Commission estimated that close to 13.5% of Atlanta’s population was born outside the United States. Consequently, Atlanta is now home to more than 70 foreign consular and trade offices, and hosts over 3,000 international facilities. From the balcony perspective, this influx of people from all 5 continents has redefined most aspects of city living, creating rich networks of cultural, financial, and educational connections at both the international and regional levels. These waves of immigration have shaped new forces that move in novel ways, creating new problems and solving others. From the dance floor, the thousands of individuals who have spurred this renewed energy interact every day throughout the city in just as many different ways. These interactions are fascinating to observe: who are the “global” Atlantans? What do they do? Divining the how and the why of their present and future actions are fascinating puzzles to explore, in the context of a city whose incredibly rich history attests to its vastly diverse residents’ myriad hopes, resilience, and passions.
In 2016, Atlanta’s identity is both intensely southern and passionately global. This powerful combination makes LAB ATL a fantastic incubator for our students, an indicator of their potential, waiting to come alive. Our program introduces them to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of our increasingly global environment. We also mentor them in understanding and finding their own voices to tackle the city’s challenges and to develop their own innate gifts and acquired skills. Atlanta has always been good at revealing people’s talents and giving them a chance to try--and to innovate, as long as they are willing to look at things from both the balcony and the dance floor at once.