SILLY Exercise

By Dan Conaway

DISCOVERING MEMPHIS TOGETHER. Last week, I had lunch with tomorrow. Some of the staff and young people involved with the New Memphis Institute’s programs to attract and retain the kinds of minds and hearts that will keep us thinking and keep our beat going wanted to talk to about things unique to Memphis – things funky and things obscure.

Our conversation took me back to another time, another exercise to bring a diverse and talented group together to share Memphis in new ways.

It began, “Welcome. Those all wise and all knowing … have determined that you are a leader and are a member of the Collection of Leaders Attempting Synergistic Stimulation (CLASS). However, you don’t know each other yet and it’s quite possible some of you have more CLASS than others.”

It went on to introduce a “System Involving Leadership Levels for You (SILLY)” whereby the participants would be given a “Logistical Encoding According to Destination (LEAD)” to discover various landmarks the length and breadth of Memphis, and that they would be divided into “Tactical Entities to Achieve More (TEAM)” in order to accomplish the task, and, if they failed to find the objectives, “each TEAM will be given Coded Help in Envelopes According to Team (CHEAT), a last resort for those whose CLASS is questionable.”

SILLY, indeed.

But by the end, people who only shared a city in common got to know a lot more about each other and Memphis, and they shared a lot of laughs, and a few groans over my SILLY acronyms, I’m sure. I wrote them for Leadership Memphis 30 years ago as a day-long adventure for a new class, 18 stops along a journey from the Mississippi River to Mississippi, and, like the whole of the nine-month experience to follow, starting as strangers and ending as friends.

Here’s one from down there. See how you do:

“Her name is Hebe and she stands above it, in fact, square in the middle. Around it are the people responsible for it, such as Mrs. P. Avila McPhillips who showed us the light in 1949. It is the ____________. Mrs. McPhillips was the president of the ___________.”

And from in there:

“You’ll find it towering above you…with a bell at the top and a plaque at the bottom proclaiming to all this structure’s dedication to a famous Memphian, who, like ‘modern Icarus’, it is said ‘he flew too near the sun.’ It is ____________, dedicated to ____________ who was ____________ in 1939.”

And from out there:

“Soon you’ll come to a crossroad suggestive of bad writers and those who drive cabs. Wind your way south in search of memorials to the dearly departed. Not for you and me, but for our ____________.”

A shared search to find the Memphis of Memphis – the things we all share – was a good idea then and a good idea tomorrow.

I’m a Memphian, and if you get the right answers from those clues, I’ll buy you a beer.

But, of course, you’ll have to find it.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at