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June 29, 2006

Simplicity as Strategy

The hot new feature in product and service design seems to be simplicity. Matthew Glotzbach of Google showed a slide at a recent presentation that illustrated this perfectly. On one side of the slide were an IPod and the Google search homepage. On the other side of the slide was a screen capture from a typical enterprise management system (picture your association management system). Guess which products people like better?

Life in the 21st Century is enormously complex (I bet you didn’t know that). I have six phone numbers and three email accounts. Walking down an aisle in a supermarket recently, I counted 14 different types of Coke—not Coca Cola products, but actual varieties of Coke. Linda Stone, former director of the Virtual Worlds Group at Microsoft calls this “the tyranny of endless choices.”

To make things worse, many companies have continually added new features to products and services as a differentiation strategy, but the result of this approach is often a degree of complexity that makes the product less instead of more desirable. Many of us are now asking, do I really need all of these features?

Which may explain why companies like Apple and Google are having such great success and being so widely copied. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design and the genius behind the IPod and the beautiful iMac, is a fanatic about eliminating the extraneous. Like Ive, Linda Stone believes that the key to differentiation may lie with less, not more. She says that for every feature we add to a product or service, we should be asking: does this improve quality of life? Does it fulfill a real need? Does it help people filter out the extraneous as they define it?

Sounds like good advice.

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What is "5 to See"

If you've scrolled down and looked at the right-hand column, you've seen a "5 to See" header. These are five blogs that we like. Rather than list 30 or 40 or 50 blogs in a long blogroll, we've decided to spotlight five at a time so if you're inclined you can easily check them out and see if they're something you might be interested in bookmarking.

We'll change the five up from time to time, each time providing a short post about the blogs on the list -- you can always see previous lists by selecting the "Five to See" category. So, the initial 5 to see:

TomPeters! -- The blog to "Reimagine" your own "Search of Excellence." The Master and his blog staff offer their thoughts that challenge convention and goad readers to action. Bonus: Peters puts up slides from all or most of his presentations.

The Long Tail -- Wired editor Chris Anderson's blog on the book on the article that crystalizes one of the major -- if not THE major -- way the Web has changed business and knowledge.

Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects -- Known to many in the association community, Cufaude offers a unique approach and outlook on how to be extraordinary.

Brand Autopsy -- One of the first blogs I started following, John Moore of Starbucks and Whole Foods branding fame, talks about real marketing and what branding really is.

Loose Wire -- To mix it up, Wall Street Journal technology columnist Jeremy Wagstaff has been blogging for a long time. Seems most posts of some insightful look at a tech issue -- and his sidebar resources are priceless.

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June 28, 2006

Podcasting from MHA's 2006 Leadership Conference

Right after Christmas, I started talking to Jeff De Cagna about how I could interview attendees and speakers at the Mississippi Hospital Association's annual Leadership Conference. He gave several suggestions and I went with an Edirol digital mp3 recorder. It's fairly easy to use, and I hope won't be as intimidating as some other set-ups to the folks I'm interviewing.

Here's my first recording. Registration is just beginning, so I'm about to head downstairs.

If you want to follow along and see how it goes, I will tag all of the entries with Leadership Conference 2006 on our main news blog. This year is our 75th anniversary celebration so I will be asking members to reflect on the past and talk about what they see as the big issues ahead for hospitals in the next 75 years. (I've only got one entry up so far.)

Thanks again, Jeff, for all the help!

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June 27, 2006

Water Cooler Confabs: Productive or Not?

OfficeTeam is a staffing agency that frequently issues press releases on surveys it has conducted on workplace or career issues. While statistically not exactly rigorous—the one I'm referencing has a sample size in one group of just 100—these surveys are often interesting.

The latest is on how employees and management differ in their views of water cooler conversations. Here's the breakdown:

office team survey.jpg

Yes, it's predictable: employees say those conversations make them more productive while managers are more skeptical. By itself, the survey is a minor blip, something I wouldn't have taken a second note of. But when I saw it, I was reminded of a comment that Margaret Wheatley made at a small group meeting about the future of associations. She said that she's seeing a return to more command-and-control leadership in business.

I blew it off at the time because I didn't see it happening—I still can't say I see any evidence of it within the association community. But managers who don't see the value of casual conversation, as in the OfficeTeam study, make me wonder. I'm curious what people out there think: Is there too much idle chatter in your office? And perhaps an important follow-up question: How do you know it's idle? I don't learn something useful in every conversation, but I am often surprised that chit chat leads to something that is useful to me personally or professionally (and really, what helps one helps the other). Idle? Put me solidly in the camp that sees value in the water cooler gang.

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Attention Economy Unsession Reports

Ben Martin and I facilitated an unsession today on attention economics at the Marketing & Membership conference in Bethesda, MD. We had about 25 people in the room after lunch, yet it was a lively group! We have created this post as a place for attendees to add their notes and comments on what they took away from the session. Ben and I will also add our thoughts as the comment thread grows.

If you would like to learn more about unconferences (the model we used for the session) or attention economics (what we talked about), follow the links.

Update: Ben has posted some pics from the unsession on Flickr. Also, Jeff De Cagna has added some links in the comments to his notes from the discussion we had. Keep 'em coming folks!

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Customer Servisssss.....

I'm a bit late at running across this tidbit, so apologies to those hipper than I who know about it already.

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about a video making the rounds online. The video is of a Comcast technician who actually fell asleep while at an appointment. (Read the first-person account.)

Sleeping Tech picture

Perhaps to reinforce the notion that you should "treat a customer like you would like to be treated," we could add "pretend like all of your customer service is being videotaped and any negative experience is going to be displayed for half a million people to see."

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Please Speak Like a Human

I'm at the Marketing & Membership conference this week, whose theme is buzz marketing. I heard in each and every session yesterday that you must talk and listen like a human when marketing to your members. Sounds pretty basic but it would not be repeated as much if everyone were already doing it. This all goes back to the Cluetrain Manifesto which posits that markets are conversations. So are associations, in my opinion!

Drop the press release speak and hyperbole and engage in the conversations your members are already having about you.

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Creating a Network Effect of Member Value

I spoke last week to the Board and senior staff of a large association about Web 2.0 and what these technologies mean for associations. I was asked by the moderator to boil down the single greatest value of Web 2.0 for associations. For me, one of the greatest lessons is the idea of creating network effect businesses where the product or service is more valuable to each person the more people use or purchase it.

Associations must create a network effect of member value in everything we do. In fact, I believe that associations are better positioned to create a network effect than most other businesses and organizations. We start as informal networks! But I think we move away from this over time as organizations mature and build up a bureaucratic middle.

Imagine how much value your association could create for your members if a network effect of value is built into your services and products. The path to doing so, I believe, is to pay attention to what is going on with the Web these days around participation and social networks and develop ideas for how to create the same dynamics with your members. As you plan events, products or services, simply ask "How can we design this so that each person who joins/buys adds value to all the others who do so as well?"

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June 26, 2006

Boston Blog on annual meeting up and running

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership got its start in the blogging universe by blogging at its annual meeting—and now the 2006 version for the meeting in Boston in August is up and running. Be sure to check it out often.

And if you just can't get enough blogging, see the blog from last year's annual meeting at Opryland in Nashville.

And finally, for those of you who are really hard up, check out the 2004 blog from Minneapolis—but be kind, after all, who had even heard of a conference blog in 2004?

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June 23, 2006

Like it or not, innovation is still king

Yawn. It’s old news. There have been hundreds of books written about it. You’ve heard it from Jeff De Cagna a couple dozen times. But a key message of the conferences I’ve attended recently is that smart business leaders are still taking innovation very, very seriously. Peter Georgescu, chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam, said this at the Invitational Forum:

• We must compete on innovation because we can no longer compete on price and win.

• If you are trying to sell a product at a decent margin, you have to have differentiation. To achieve differentiation, you need innovation.

• Every single employee must be a creative contributor to the enterprise.

• The job of a leader is to empower the creativity of all of their employees.

• Quality, productivity, and competitiveness are all results of enabling creativity (which leads to innovation).

Mike Rhodin, general manager of Lotus Software at IBM, reinforced this thinking at the conference I attended on collaborative technology (I was the only association exec in the room). Saying that “Future productivity will largely come from the way people innovate,” Mike defined innovation as “the intersection between invention and insight.” Innovation is no longer principally about invention, because anyone can copy a product or service. Innovation is now mainly about the way a product is executed to enable differentiation.

From the amount of head-nodding going on, it appears that corporate America, particularly in the tech sector, gets this. I am not sure if we in the association world do yet. A lot of folks I talk to in our profession still roll their eyes when the word “innovation” (or, God forbid, “creativity”) enters a conversation. Among many association professionals, innovation is seen as something soft and trendy and somehow “unbusiness-like.” While innovation is nice (nobody really argues against it), wouldn’t it be better to talk about execution and margins and metrics?

What business leaders like Georgescu and Rhodin are saying is that the best and maybe only way to achieve better productivity, stronger execution, and greater margins is through innovation. And the longer we take to start talking about, planning for, and measuring innovation in our organizations, the more at risk we are for becoming irrelevant. Jeff’s right. Maybe it’s time to get serious.

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Personal Presentation Improvement

speakingchannel.jpg
In the association world (even on a state level), we do a lot of public speaking - from annual conferences to monthly meetings to the local media and civic groups. And in the communications world, media training is standard procedure. But now there's a new twist.

On July 13, media trainer TJ Walker is officially launching The Speaking Channel - an Internet TV network devoted to all aspects of speaking. The site will feature daily video segments spotlighting the best and worst TV interviews of the previous day and daily video, audio and text tips on how to master media interviews. (You must have the Windows Media player installed to view the videos.)

Visitors will be able to submit videos of their best speaking moments for the Channel’s “Great Speaking with TJ Walker” program. You can also submit videos of new business pitches and spokesperson appearances for critiques. All videos can be sent to info@speakingchannel.tv. In addition, there is an online video/audio interactive presentation school. Online forums are slated for the future.

“Speaking is the #1 fear most people have,” said TJ Walker. “And yet every promotion, new business client or vote has been earned by someone willing to speak. The Speaking Channel will soon be the one place in the world where anyone interested in great speakers or becoming a better speaker can come and experience the real deal.”

Interesting twist on distance learning and speech/media training. How could your association channel current learning opportunities and become The [ Fill in the Blank Here ] Channel online?

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June 21, 2006

AAAAA

When I joined the Mississippi Hospital Association almost six years ago, it was my first job in the association world and my first job in health care. (Talk about acronym overload.) I carried around a little cheat sheet for a while to remind me what HCFA, HIPAA, ICD-9-CM, QIO and a slew of other acronyms meant. It seemed that every time I got one down pat they would spring another one on me.

I'm proud to report that today, in my company, I have become something of an acronym aficionado. It's like a party trick almost. Give me an acronym - any acronym - in the health care field. Give me one word. I can generally figure out the rest. (Except for ICD-9-CM...that one really threw me.)

Now I have one for you to sharpen your acronym skills.

AAAAA.

Give up?

It's the American Association Against Acronym Abuse, of course! ;)

Did you know that the widespread use of acronyms is a relatively new wordly way? The first printed use of the word "acronym" was only in 1943. (And in linguistic circles, there is much contention about lunking all acronyms together. The only true acronyms, some say, sound like a word - like radar, laser, scuba, NATO, etc. If the letters are pronounced individually, rather than like a word, it is an initialism...not an acronym. Think FBI, CIA, HTML.)

Here are some more useful acronym resources to bookmark (in addition to this Acronym blog, of course):
- Acronym Finder
- The Internet Acronym Server
- Acronym Search (You can also add your own acronyms here.)
- The Canonical Abbreviation/Acronym List
- Acronym Guide

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June 20, 2006

2 things to try

A second post from my experience at ASAE & The Center’s Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management—this one short and sweet.

Claire Guadiani, NYU professor and author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism, offered these two idea gems:

1. If you have a meeting that will include people from different cultures, set aside a little time and seed a multicultural discussion with the following: “How does your culture express _______?” Fill in the blank with a word such as integrity, generosity, or respect.

2. As a university president, she sent two students, two teachers, two nonteaching staff, and two trustees to a learning environment wholly unlike a university, such as a Saturn plant or Disneyland. The association equivalent might be a senior staffer and a junior staffer together with two board members and two “average” members. Be creative with the types of environments. She said that you’d be surprised how receptive companies and places are to such things.

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Email and Word Processing - Old Fashioned?

Who knew? I am blogging from a collaborative technology conference in Boston and the first three speakers all basically said that email and word processing are hopelessly old fashioned. John Seeley Brown commented, “Well I guess some people still use email.” Matt Glotzbach from Google said “I never use a word processing program anymore.”

So what’s replacing them among the technologically savvy? Instant messaging and wikis. According to Mike Rhodin from IBM, 70 percent of Internet users use instant messaging and four in ten send as many IMs as they do emails. Rhodin says that emails are fine for sending people information, but aren’t much help when people need a quick answer to keep moving forward with whatever they’re working on. Email does not enable real-time business. Email, apparently, is the new snail mail.

Wikis also help staff ramp up productivity and efficiency. Glotzbach said that most marketing copy, presentations, and most other things at Google are written using wikis, because wiki technology allows everyone to work on the same project together—no more sending around a single document with track changes on and no more cutting and pasting a bunch of little documents into one big document. Another benefit is that everyone gets to see what everyone else is doing in the document (instead of just one point person), creating more opportunities to create synergies, find redundancies and mistakes, and reduce duplication of effort. Imagine building a board book or a business plan or an annual meeting program this way.



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Focus, man, focus!

I am running a bit of a learning marathon right now. Last week, I attended The Center for Association Leadership board meeting in Halifax, followed by the Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. This week I am in Boston at a non-association community conference on collaborative technologies. Needless to say, my brain is boiling over with blog-worthy material.

Let’s start with the board meeting. The board took part in an exercise based on Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s excellent book, Blue Ocean Strategy. Chan and Mauborgne say that the way to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive environment is to create new market space, partly by breaking the trade off between producing something that is different from other stuff out there and producing something affordably.

Our board was asked to do two things—first, draft a strategy canvas describing our current state and second, explore what we would eliminate, reduce, raise, and create to change the game (Blue Ocean’s “Four Action Framework”).

Chan and Mauborgne believe that a great strategy (1) focuses on just a few things, (2) is differentiated from the rest of what’s out there, and (3) is simple enough to reduce to a catchy tagline. The key is to get rid of things that you and your competitors always assumed were important to success (but really aren’t) in favor of things that can help you achieve focus and differentiation. For example, Southwest Airlines tossed overboard seating classes, lounges, complex pricing structures, and hub connectivity to focus on friendly service, speed, and point to point departures. Cirque du Soleil kicked animal acts, name performers, and the three rings out of the tent, and added themes, artistic music and dance, and a unique environment. Neither of these were obvious choices and both required a good deal of courage to break with the norm.

So can you guess which part of the four action framework our board had the hardest time with? It was pretty easy to figure out what we could do more of and the board came up with some incredible new possibilities in the create category. The problem, of course, came on the “reduce and eliminate” side of the grid.

Cutting is hard, because you ultimately cut things people like. When Southwest decided not to have lounges and first class, they knew they would be taking away a part of the market that really liked those things. Cirque du Soleil’s creators must have known that they were going to loose a lot of kids when they cut out the lions and the clown car. But as long as associations continue to pursue an “all-things-to-all-members” strategy, we are not going to have the focus and simplicity legs of a great strategy. And without those legs, will we have the time and resources to be great at something that might really change the value equation for our members?

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Little pieces

I almost hesitate to base my first post on an education event delivered by ASAE & The Center, but the opportunity is too good to pass up. My pledge to readers is to write about ideas and experiences that I think are interesting, no matter the source or timing.

With that disclaimer, I want to talk about The Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management, held in lovely Halifax, Nova Scotia last week. The annual forum features several world-class speakers and thought leaders in an intimate setting of less than 200 attendees. The intimacy lends itself to nice interaction between leaders and participants—and several of the leaders stayed for other sessions.

I’ll provide a synopsis of each session in an upcoming Associations Now magazine article (probably the September issue), but for my first post to this blog, I’ll give you some short fragments that, even taken out of context, stimulate my brain, and, I hope, yours, too.

On being profitable: “It’s not about making money. Money is fungible. It’s about ideas, diligence, and hard work. It’s about pleasing a customer.” Peter Georgescu, chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam.
georgescu.jpg


On spreading your message: “If it’s not on the 5 o’clock news, it didn’t happen.” —Carol Bellamy, longtime executive director of UNICEF.
bellamy.jpg

On management: “When you reject an idea, don’t do it harshly. Do it inclusively so that they feel encouraged to continue making a contribution.” Victoria Brown, noted facilitator using improv techniques.
brown.jpg

On strategic motivation: “Ask yourself: ‘How can we double our effectiveness in the next year?’” Frances Hesselbein, longtime CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., currently chairman of the board of the Leader to Leader Institute.
hesselbein.jpg

On management: “When one of your staff comes to you with an idea that they are really excited about, take it. Don’t offer any ideas or suggestions to improve it… If you do, you’ll improve the idea by five percent, but you’ll lose 50 percent of their commitment.” Marshall Goldsmith, extraordinarily successful executive coach.
goldsmith.jpg

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You Must Facilitate Findability

Findability is the general ability of your web site to enable visitors to find content and services on your site via navigation and search. Low findability means they can't find anything and high findability means that it is effortless to locate and access content on your web site.

Associations must develop competencies in facilitating findability. Most groups have large content collections that members want to access. Poor findability hides all of that value. Associations who are successful at findability will pay attention to their search engines, constantly tuning them based on usage and results. They will highlight content prominently based on their regular business cycles. They will talk about findability every day.

What is the findability of your association web site?

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Guest bloggers

We are lucky to have an experienced set of guest bloggers joining us as we kick off this new endeavor. Our first guest bloggers include:
• Greg Balestrero, CEO of Project Management Institute, a Center board member and former chair of GWSAE and CESSE;
• David Gammel, CAE, president of High Context Consulting, and author of the High Context blog;
• Shawn Lea, vice president for strategic communications for the Mississippi Hospital Association, and author of the The Big Picture blog;
• And Ben Martin, member relations director, Virginia Society of CPAs, and author of the Certified Association Executive blog (which, by the way, is about a lot more than the CAE).

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June 16, 2006

Welcome!

Welcome to Acronym, ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s new blog for and about the association community. Here you’ll find a variety of voices, many (but not all) of them from younger association leaders, grappling with ideas and asking questions that affect our profession and the world.

We’re joining the small but growing chorus of blogs serving the association community. We are certainly indebted to trailblazers like the Association Forum’s “From the Corner Office,” along with a number that have sprung up from members of our community with no organizational support. We hope to deliver a blog filled with provocative and pragmatic ideas that will make a difference in the way you think about the work you do.

Here’s what you can expect:

• Our bloggers will question the conventional wisdom of association management, spotlight innovation and excellence both inside and outside the association world, and explore new possibilities for the future of associations.

• Acronym is not a blog about ASAE & The Center. While it may occasionally creep in, we don’t intend for this to be a forum to talk about our organizations and activities or a place to market our offerings or a way to evaluate how well we are doing.

• Scott Briscoe, editor-in-chief of Associations Now, and I will serve as your hosts and regular bloggers in this space. Feel free to let us know how we are doing.

• Several guest bloggers will join us. We intend to ask a variety of people with different perspectives to join us, mostly from the profession but occasionally from outside the profession. The guest blogger list will change every few months. If you’re interested in becoming a guest blogger, let us know.

• Blogs are an editorial format. Each post represents the perspective and viewpoint of the blogger, not of ASAE & The Center. This is true for Scott B. and me as well. We certainly expect to disagree with each other occasionally and if we do our job, you may love some posts, hate others, and see still others as a starting point that you would like to build on.

• And we invite you to build on it. In my mind, the best blogs are conversations. We invite you to agree, disagree, augment or refine anything you see on this blog using the comment function.

So there you have it. We will try to post something every day or every few days at least. We hope you will come back frequently, and, again, let us know how we are doing.

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