Cathedral Thinking

Rick Antonson’s proven passion for thinking big gives him special insight into what motivates cathedral thinkers, and he delivers keynote addresses on the fascinating topic to conferences around the world.

Imagine the stonemasons who started work on the foundation of Notre Dame. They were Cathedral Thinkers, dedicating their lives to creating a place of awe-inspiring beauty they’d never see completed in their lifetime. But future generations would benefit from building upon their solid work.


This concept is, in Antonson's mind, synonymous with long-term planning, creating a shared vision, and working collaboratively.

Here are a few meaningful examples: under Rick’s leadership as president and CEO, Tourism Vancouver played a significant role in shaping a community and a country’s future. He was at the helm when they launched the successful bid for the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, overcoming naysayers who said it couldn’t be done.


Rick was a spokesperson for the coalition that drove a defeated rapid transit project through two additional votes before it was finally passed by elected officials, resulting in the Canada Line that links Vancouver International Airport with downtown Vancouver.

On his watch, Tourism Vancouver initiated the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Taskforce. Despite the hurdles, this led to the hugely successful centre that now draws tens of thousands of people to Vancouver every year.


Rick’s Keynote address: “Cathedral Thinking; Short term actions for long-term benefits...”

The concept of Cathedral Thinking stretches back to medieval times when architects, stonemasons and artisans thought of how their work today mattered for tomorrow, made plans, and began construction of the soaring structures that would one day serve as community gathering spaces, places of worship, and cultural centres. Their actions kept the living generation tethered to the future.

Cathedral Thinking has been applied to city planning, corporate mandates, land conservation, wind power, destination development, and other long-range goals that require decades of foresight and preparation so future generations can enjoy their full realization.


They all require the same foundation: a far-reaching vision, a well-thought-out blueprint, and a shared commitment to long-term implementation. In the process of laying out this insightful concept, Antonson asks each in the audience to consider collectively and individually, "What is your Cathedral thought?"

Making presentations about Cathedral Thinking has taken Rick around the world to deliver keynote addresses tailored to the particular conference's theme and mandate. These have included a wide range of entities such as the South Pacific Tourism Association’s Insights Conference held in Vanuatu; Best Cities held in Tokyo; the World Cocoa Conference held in Berlin; PATA Global Insights Conference, in Auckland, New Zealand; Australia Council Marketing Summit, Cairns, Australia; The Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, Wisconsin, US; the Global Café, hosted by Brisbane, Australia in advance of the G20 conference; the International Convention Centres Conference (International Association of Venue Managers), Vancouver, Canada; and Landsbankinn, Reykjavik, Iceland.

You can watch Rick’s TED Talk about Cathedral Thinking here.

Recent Speaking Engagements Themed Around Cathedral Thinking

  • December 2020: Cape Cod Center for Sustainability; Broto conference: Art-Climate-Science

  • February 2020: Irving Hospitality Industry Annual Meeting, Irving, Texas

  • December 2019: Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (in Halifax)

  • February 2019: The International Association of Professional Conference Organizers (IAPCO) 50th Anniversary event in Basel, Switzerland