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January 31, 2007

Building an issue “commons”

I wasn't able to attend Great Ideas, but this morning I came across an idea that I thought was a great one. In the spirit of the week, I wanted to share:

For whatever reason, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has never been very involved in advocacy work. But now they’re thinking of changing that. So far, it seems some of that consideration process has followed fairly traditional lines—the board has formed an Advocacy Work Group to research and develop recommendations on how the association should move forward. Nothing I haven’t seen a number of times.

But they’ve also launched the IABC Advocacy Commons, a blog that offers IABC members a chance to hear what’s going on as it happens and provide input through the process. (Nonmembers can read and post as well.) According to the blog’s “About” page, “Discussions will center around ways to promote the visibility, vitality and value of the communication profession to non-communication audiences as well as how IABC and its members can address a broad spectrum of social, economic, ethical and professional issues.”

What a smart thing to do! I've observed a number of work groups established to discuss a particular issue and report back to an association board. My experience has always been that input from the general membership is requested—perhaps via e-mail, a newsletter article, and the association website—and some is received, but the comments don’t tend to directly address the information that the work group has on hand as it makes decisions. Why not post information and resources as the work group considers them, and let members have the opportunity to make truly informed and relevant comments—and point out other resources or perspectives that a small working group may not have readily available?

Admittedly, not every member will take the time to read or post on such a blog, but I would think that this kind of open and more transparent process would generate goodwill and buy-in among members with a strong interest in the issue at hand … and they’re the ones most likely to be vocal if they disagree with the final decisions of a task force.

I hope IABC’s Advocacy Commons is a great success. I look forward to seeing how their conversation progresses.


January 30, 2007

Phone anger


I liked the story Ned Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy and Monday’s Great Ideas general session speaker, used to lead off his presentation. The picture is this: He’s on vacation, and it’s a real vacation, where he gets away from all the rigors and spends time with friends and family without work obligations. He decided to call a friend to set up a joint family outing to a minor league baseball game that evening.

The phone in the rustic cabin was an old, rotary-dial model. Hallowell said he was getting angry that was taking so long to dial the number. By the time he got it dialed, he was in a state of agitation. All this because of 30 seconds of waiting when he had nothing else to do. According to Hallowell, it’s a result of the crazy busy world we live and work in that we are now hardwired to expect speed in everything and get angry at delay whenever it occurs.

I’d love to tell you Hallowell had a magic bullet that would free you from this oppression. He doesn’t. His message was essentially to acknowledge the problem and then actively work to take control of your time. He gave some examples of people able to do just that, and made some strong points about why it is important. But the bottom line is, it is completely dependent on you to create a sane world for you to live in – and the world will fight you at every turn.


Have a book and a smile

It could be that I’m just a book geek, but when I’m conversing with people at a place such as the Great Ideas Conference, I often find myself referring to a book I’ve read. And many times, the same book may come up over and over again, I can think of Free Prize Inside, Purple Cow, Blink, and The Tipping Point.

Ira Koretsky gave me an idea in his “Six Steps to Mastering Personal Relationships.” I may start to carry a couple of copies of one or two of those books around with me, and when I get into a conversation that is going really well and the book seems to make an especially good point, I’ll give away a copy of the book. I agree with Koretsky when he says such an action has a good chance of leading to a long-lasting collegial relationship.


Sticky idea

Here’s an idea courtesy of Jill McCrory with Leadership Outfitters. During her “I’ve Been Seminared” presentation at the Great Ideas Conference, she had participants put an idea they wanted to try out up on a “sticky wall.” Then she shared how you can make a sticky wall at your meeting.

But a large piece of fabric called rip-stop nylon. Spray the shiny side with 3M Spray Mount (she recommends spending a little extra and getting the name brand). Hang it on the wall of your meeting room and hand out index cards. The index cards will cling there for longer and stronger than an alternative such as Post-It Notes.

Here’s what her sticky wall looked like:

sticky wall for blog.jpg

And here’s one idea on that sticky wall:

sticky idea 4 blog.jpg

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When great ideas get tough

For anyone checking into the blog looking for updates from the Great Ideas Conference, I apologize. You may have heard things changed dramatically Monday afternoon when a small but destructive electrical fire knocked out power to one of the towers of the Marriott Marco Island Resort and half of the conference facilities. I'll post some more information about that meant to conference logistics. The conference is continuing, but Internet connectivity was spotty until Tuesday morning. I have a backlog of posts I'll be putting up now.

Here's Marriott Vice President Richard Green addressing ASAE & The Center conference goers:

green 4 blog.jpg


January 29, 2007

Audio post: Day 2 of GIC

Here's a seven minute update of day two of the Great Ideas Conference.

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Don't be a chicken

People are basically chicken. Chicken to speak up. Chicken to say what’s on their mind. Chicken to make their feelings known. Chicken… until they’ve let anger and resentment build up and the predictable volcano buries themselves and everyone around them.

So says David Maxfield led a presentation entitled Crucial Conversations: How to Get the Best Ideas When the Stakes Are High.

The highlight of his presentation, in my opinion, was the sixth grade science experiment. I was a few minutes late – I think it was Maxfield’s son, but I’m not sure.

The experiment, which illustrates just how chicken-like people are, has a sixth grader butting in long, holiday-season lines. Complete with video, Maxfield showed that almost no one said anything. Just to test if the effect was a result of a child doing the cutting, the sixth graders mom (Maxfield’s wife?) got in the act, but with the same result.

The important thing to realize here is that while YOU may not be chicken (and you should ask yourself just how true that is) the people around are. So what can you do about it. I’m not sure this will blow your socks off, but think about it. Do you really actively try to do these things, because if you don’t think about them, chances are, you’re not really practicing them:

Make it safe – people need to feel like they can speak their mind without reprisal. If you manage people, remember that relationship gives you power that you may not expect.

Candor – Realize it’s not the honesty in the speaker that is the problem. It’s the assumptions you are making about why they are saying what they are saying.

Mutual purpose and respect – Again, it sounds simple, but do you really have the level of empathy that those around you know this exists.

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January 28, 2007

Audio post: Great Ideas Conference opening general session

Here's a five minute summary of today's opening session with Dan Heath.

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And a couple photos from the session (added by Scott Briscoe)...

gen session dan 4 blog.jpg

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The curse of knowledge

My wife hates it when I try to teach her how to do something on the computer. I never considered myself a bad teacher -- I have a lot of what I think are necessary ingredients: I enjoy it, I'm patient, I'm knowledgeable (about some things). But boy does she get frustrated. Like any good spouse in such situations, I blame her. I'm trying, but she gets feelings of inadequacy and the frustration follows.

Dan Heath set me straight in today's Great Ideas Conference general session. Heath wrote Making It Stick with his brother Chip. They talk about the stickiness of ideas -- everything from putting a man on the moon "not because it is easy, but because it is hard," to urban legends like organ thieves. One of his many points:

"The archvillian of stickiness is the curse of knowledge," he said. He cited a study by researchers at Stanford where the subjects were paired up with one being the "tapper" the other the "listener." Tappers tapped out a well-known tune ("Happy Birthday" or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" for example) and listeners tried to guess the song. Tappers figured it would be a cinch for the listeners. It turned out, listeners only got it right 1 in 40 times on average.

The reason is, the tappers hear the song in their heads when they're tapping it. That's the curse of knowledge. And that's why it's hard for me to teach my wife anything about the computer. (Those of you who know me can quit laughing at the notion of me having a curse of technology knowledge -- I'm the family IT guy, at least until my son turns, oh, probably 10.) When I try to show her how to do something, I hear the song in my head -- as Heath put, "the more expertise you have, the harder it is to communicate." I use jargon; I make assumptions; what's easy for me isn't so easy for her.

The solution is simple and hard. It's hard because it really is a gift. Sure there are skills you can emulate, but some people just have it. For those without the gift, you have to try to remember what it's like to be a beginner. Heath says you have to force yourself to think in new ways and be able to explain yourself in relevant ways. Will that help me? I'm not sure, but I'll think about it the next time our laptop loses the signal from the wireless router.


Simplicity makes ideas stick

I just got out of the general session where Dan Heath described the six principles of sticky ideas (from the research that led to the book he coauthored with his brother, Chip, Made to Stick).

I’ll post more after having a little time to reflect, but the first principle really hits close to home: Simplicity.

The story he relates to illustrate is from Southwest Airlines. Just like you, I’d like to have a nickel every time a consultant used Southwest to make a point, but if you can take just a little more, I’ll be brief.

Heath says Herb Kelleher (Southwest CEO) is famous for simplicity. When asked what makes Southwest different from other airlines, Kelleher can tell you in 30 seconds: Southwest will be the lowest fare airline. When customer survey shows that on Southwest’s longest flight, they’d enjoy something more substantial than peanuts, the idea is shot down, because it does not help Southwest be the lowest fare airline.

Here’s how Heath summarized: “We’ll have the lowest fares even if it means we deliberately ignore customer preferences. By being that clear, [Kelleher] helps hundreds of people throughout the company make decisions.”

Heath spoke about another way to look at the point (and this one doesn’t talk about Southwest). He noted the practice in Hollywood of providing the high-concept pitch. Examples:

Lost alien befriends boy to get home.
Jaws on spaceship.

Heath then challenged the audience of association leaders: what would the high concept of your next meeting be?


New Life For Moore's Law

Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore defined the tenet that the power of computer processors doubles every 18 months. “But this axiom is more a historical observation than a guarantee, and engineers had recently become increasingly skeptical about whether the rate of progress could be maintained,” wrote Alan Sipress in today’s Washington Post. That all changed Friday when, after ten years of effort, Intel announced a new 45-nanometer transistor, a microscopic switch in computer chips that is so small “more than 300 can fit in a red blood cell.”

So just in case you thought the steam was seeping out of an economy enabled by technological productivity, think again. Where do you think we will go from here?


January 27, 2007


Do you dream of an annual event that sells out the following year before staging the current year’s program? Impossible? Not if that conference is TED.

Hatched by Ricky Saul Wurman in 1984, the architect who morphed into the first information architect, TED was an event that embodied the merger of technology, entertainment, design into a high tech, high touch experience—an idea we now take for granted.

And now, that unique cultural experience and gold standard of meetings, TED, is morphing into a membership organization. Rather than charge a $4,000 registration fee, participants will pay 50% more for a year-round experience. Owned by the 501( c)(3) Sapling Foundation, Donor Members paying $100,000 will qualify for an extraordinary collection of privileges. The membership options are tiered by the level of access to the people who are attached to TED.

Over the years, this extraordinary event expanded to include: “…scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, environmentalists and many others. Those who have spoken at TED include Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock, Murray Gell-Mann, Larry Ellison. Yet often the real stars have been the unexpected: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest, Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs on-stage, or Nathan Myrrhvold speaking not about Microsoft platforms, but about dinosaur sex.”

So, is your organization an association with an annual event or are you really an event with a year-round membership?


January 26, 2007

Zingful Tenets

A sign I photographed while taking my cub scout den to our local go-cart racetrack to get in the spirit of our upcoming Pinewood Derby. I remember thinking, "We all need this service at work!" ;)

Fridays are my Really Un- Unconference Days. I find it much easier to carve out an hour to myself to explore online when everyone is in a good mood. (And today is the first sunny day we've had here in quite a while so everyone seems doubly cheery.)

This week, I'm going to the How Design Conference in my head. (If you can go in real life, it will be June 10 through 13 in Atlanta.) Sam Harrison is leading a session on "Uplift the Face and Pace of Your Space" which caught my eye because we are rearranging in my area next month and my fellow officemates and I have been talking about how we would like our shared space to change and why. During the session, he will share the guiding principles behind the Serenbe project - sustainability, naturalism, a sense of community, collaboration and more - then help you develop a plan for injecting them into your own work/life environments.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. (Maybe next month when we get into the hands-on work I can report back.)

I found an article written by Mr. Harrison that then led me to his Web site and these great creativity "zingful tenets." I like that they are short and sweet and easy to follow. (And, OK, I really like numbered lists, too, for reasons which I've never fully understood myself.)

So here you go...start your weekend with a zing. And print the list out so it will be waiting on your desk as a reminder on Monday morning. (And with this, I officially proclaim Sam Harrison my innovation muse for this week.) Here are the first five tenets:

1. Don’t stop with the first idea you spot. Even if it’s a good idea, it’s probably the same one everyone else would spot. And the good is often the enemy of the best. Put the first three ideas aside and dig deeper.

2. Laugh. A common trait of most creative people is the ability to laugh at themselves and their circumstances. OK, Hemingway had no humor, but do you want his ending? Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.

3. Be passionate. Watch any artist possessing zing, and you’ll see passion. Want it with all your being.

4. Work hard. Wanting it with all your being isn’t enough. You’ve got to do the work. Stay up late. Get up early. Take responsibility.

5. Be childlike. Not childish, but childlike. Wide eyes. “How come” questions. Playful. Giddy. Eager.


January 25, 2007

There is such a thing as a dumb idea

I was just at a meeting where someone said there was no such thing as a dumb idea.

Come on! Of course there is. And while I'm at it, there really are dumb questions, too.

The only thing worse than asking a dumb question is not asking it. Ignorance is a terrible place to live. One thing to consider about dumb questions: you are a terrible judge of whether or not your own question is dumb, so ask away. No one with an opinion worth caring about will hold an occasional dumb question against you.

Ideas seem to me to be a different animal. The reference at the meeting pointed out the story of 3M and Post-It Notes. You probably know the story, and I do think it's a good story to tell. But it doesn't mean there are no dumb ideas. For every Post-It success story, there are 999 ideas that deserve to remain unknown and lost. What it does mean is that an idea needs to be expressed and shared, just like a question. And, again, you may be a terrible judge of whether your own idea is dumb or not. In addition, no one with an opinion worth caring about will hold dumb ideas against you either.

But here's the difference. A dumb question is answered and you move on. Dumb ideas are trickier. For every Post-It Note story, there's a New Coke counterpart.

Leaders of organizations have two duties when it comes to dumb ideas. First be able to spot them. I can't believe I'm bringing this up, but I think this is a twist of an old debate from this blog on the need to be right. You have to be right here, actively search for and enact the good ideas, shelve the bad ones.

Second, you have to create a culture where dumb ideas are plentiful and their rejection is no big deal — you just move on to the next thing.

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January 23, 2007

12 tenets of social media marketing

Tying in to Scott's post earlier today about social networking, I came across an entertaining (and thought-provoking) post on the 12 tenets of social media marketing. Some standouts for me include “Thy communications must pass the ‘who cares?’ test” and “Verily, if you can become a useful source of information, your message may be heeded, or at least looked at ever so briefly.”

Of course, if that New York Times article is correct, all this attention to social networking may be over the top—but even if blogs and wikis eventually become uncool, it can never hurt to communicate in a way that makes people care and respond to you. We could all stand to do a lot more of that.

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Social network overkill

I admit it, I may be too rabid about the social connectivity of the so-called Web 2.0 technology. For a person like me, it's important to read things like this article in Sunday's New York Times. A summary: social networking, engagement -- bloated and overused terms.

Score one for Richard Skilos; he's right about that.

Reading between the lines, he's saying Web 2.0 is hype. I have to believe he's wrong, but from time to time I need to consider he may be right.

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January 22, 2007

Trust me

Edelman, the public relations firm, has released its eighth annual Trust Barometer, based on findings from a survey of 3,100 “opinion leaders” in 18 countries. Lots of interesting nuggets of information:

- The survey summary notes that “‘A person like me’ or a peer is the most trusted spokesperson in the United States at 51 percent.” A nonprofit or NGO representative comes in third, after doctors and academics. I found it particularly interesting to see that “a blogger” comes in dead last, at 9 percent; I wonder, however, if folks who read a blog on a regular basis stop thinking of the author as “a blogger” and start seeing him or her as “a person like me.”

- Edelman states that, “Trailing only ‘providing quality products or services,’ undertaking ‘socially responsible activities’ is universally seen as the most important action an organization can to do to build trust. ‘Socially responsible activities’ surpassed providing ‘a fair price for products or services,’ ‘attentiveness to customers’ and ‘good labor relations’ in most markets.”

For those wishing to delve more deeply into the findings, a fairly detailed PowerPoint presentation is available. Scroll to the bottom of this summary to download: http://www.edelman.com/news/storycrafter/EdelmanNews.aspx?hid=181

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January 18, 2007

Behind new eyes

Jakob Nielsen, a web usability guru (he’s been writing regular columns on the subject since 1995), posted a great piece of advice in a recent article:

“ … it’s a good idea to ask any new hires in your usability group to immediately write usability reviews of your [website] design while they still have an outside perspective.”

I would take that a step further (especially since very few associations probably have a separate usability department) and expand that to all new hires—even new members. Create a set of usability questions and tasks to send to each newbie. Take their input, along with the information you're gathering from site logs and other sources, and use it to fine-tune your online presence.

I bet you’ll be surprised and enlightened by what fresh eyes see on your site.

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January 17, 2007

Idea a day, part 7: Ode to Godin

My idea today was going to be if you ever have the idea of doing something for seven straight days, map it out before you make a public commitment!

Ok, not really, but if it's not obvious to everyone, I've just been winging this one day at a time.

My seventh idea is this: find an innovation muse. For me, it's Seth Godin. He's the reason you're reading this blog right now — or at least the reason why you're reading me on this blog right now. About three years ago, he came out with a book called Free Prize Inside. Ask most folks, and they'll say Purple Cow, or maybe Ideavirus, is his seminal work. I can't argue with them, except that for me, Free Prize Inside is the most important. I interviewed Godin and wrote an article about it for Executive Update.

It's a book about how to be about a champion. Not how to win a contest, but how to be a champion of ideas. He says we don't lack good ideas, we lack the willpower to get them done, that organizations are actually organized in a way that stifles ideas and idea implementation. Because of that book, I pushed through the idea of a conference blog for the Minneapolis ASAE annual meeting. The resources I needed were three or four volunteers to blog with me, about $5,000 (it turns out, I'd plan it without a big chunk of that if I could go back in time), and someone with tech smarts to help me get it up and running. A big challenge at the time was simply explaining why I was talking about a strange word like "blog." Adding to the challenge was this little thing called the merger. I was with GWSAE at the time (the Greater Washington SAE) and our members were about to vote on whether or not to merge with ASAE. It wasn't the easiest time to get anybody's attention for a pet project. I'm glad I persisted. (I'd link to that first blog, but as far as I can tell, it's been lost. You're not missing much. I remember it fondly, but that's more because it was accomplished than for its quality, which is probably best described as "a good start.")

So I close this seven-day little experiment, which, remember, is inspired by the upcoming Great Ideas Conference, with a twofer: (1) Find an idea muse, and (2) Read Free Prize Inside, and if you're serious about creating an idea culture, buy a copy for everyone on your staff.

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Bill Marriott, Blogger

Bill Marriott just launched his own blog: Marriott on the Move. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Marriott! Why did he start a blog? Here is an excerpt from his first post:

Blogging will allow me to do what I've been doing for years -- on a global scale. Talking to the customer comes easily to me. I visit 250 hotels around the world every year. This year I'll be traveling once again to China where we have 27 hotels, 16 under construction and many more in our development pipeline. At every hotel, I talk to associates, from housekeepers to general managers, to get their feedback. I call it "management by walking around." Like my parents, I value the input from our associates at all levels. I make lots of notes -- and my best ideas almost always come from our people in the field.

Sounds to me like he gets the value.

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January 16, 2007

Day 6 of idea a day: Engagement index

Today I was clearly in a vulnerable state. I didn't really like my post yesterday, so I sheepishly asked one of the magazine editors for an opinion.

An awkward pause.

"It was a good MLK post." Pause. "I didn't really see much of an idea."

That's not a staff person who knows how to get the biggest bonus is it? (Anybody who knows me, knows that's very much a joke — as if I controlled such things anyway.)

I think I have something better for day six. It's a topic that I've been talking about with whoever would listen to me for the last two years.

Here's the setup: I don't like two measurements of association health that are near ubiquitous in the association sector: number of members and member retention. Don't get me wrong, I don't think you completely ignore those numbers. But I think associations need to get over the notion that they are anywhere near effective measures of how well an association is doing on its mission. I haven't seen a mission yet that has increasing membership in it. As a mission measurement, it's a shadow of a shadow of effectiveness. Once upon a time, maybe that was about the best we could do. But not anymore.

I propose that associations establish an engagement index. Take a look at all the information you collect on your members and rate and sort it and score it. And I do mean all the information — volunteering, board service, book purchases, education attendance, leading education sessions, articles authored, listserver participation, use of a call center, grassroots participation, and on, and on, and on. Cast as wide a net as you can bear to track. Assign points or ratings so maybe board service counts as 100 whereas attending a conference is 5, purchasing a book is 3, etc. This where you'll find out how many people actually care about your association. Now instead of using the bottom line as the primary driving force, with membership a close second, behind your planning, make the primary driving force increasing your engagement index, with the bottom line a close second.

The engagement index still only measures a shadow of your mission, but it's a step closer than membership. When number of members is a proxy for measuring mission, you are assuming that all members (or most members?) are finding something valuable in your organization. The engagement index makes a safer assumption. It assumes that time and effort is a scarce commodity, and that if someone engages with your organization on a number of different levels, then they are finding something of value. It's still a leap to assume that the value is making them better at what they do — which is the heart of most missions — but you're closer.

A final point: Even if you don't have the means to measure much in the way of engagement, this idea is not lost. If you buy the notion that such an index, if you had the means to track it, would be a good measure for you, you can still use the notion in your planning. How does a publication change if your primary goal is to increase engagement? How does your annual meeting change? Your website? And on, and on.

(Full disclosure: Last year, the ASAE & The Center boards and planning, led on staff at the time by Scott Steen and Sarah Varner, had developed some really forward-thinking ideas of measurements that go beyond the typical number of members and butts in seats. I'm sure what I've described here is somewhere in those still-developing planning activities, but I don't recall it being as explicit as what I've laid out here. If I've missed giving credit where it's due, let me know.)

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January 15, 2007

Day 5 of idea a day: Dreams and action

It's Martin Luther King Day. Every time I think of Martin Luther King, I am reminded of a short passage in Coming of Age in Mississippi, the autobiography of Anne Moody. Before I get to the passage, though, I have to admit I'm flirting with disaster here. Anne Moody was an active participant as America's black people struggled, fought, and suffered their way to the freedom that was promised 100 years earlier. The disaster I'm flirting with is that Moody's words don't shine the brightest light on King's "I Have a Dream" address. Here they are:

By the time we got to Lincoln Memorial, there were already thousands of people there. I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers, to discover we had "dreamers" instead of leaders leading us. Just about every one of them stood up there dreaming. Martin Luther King went on and on talking about his dream. I sat there thinking that in Canton we never had time to sleep, much less dream.

Those words were published in 1968. I do not know if it was before or after King was murdered. Nor do I know if Moody has written or said anything about King since. To say King was not a person of action would be an ignorant statement. Perhaps Moody was simply one of the few who was not moved by that speech.

I'm not old enough to have seen the South that King and Moody knew. Through the lens of 40 years, it is hard for me to imagine what I have read and heard. And at the same time, I see that there is much work still to be done. I am inspired by King's speech. I have an audio file of it that I play on occasion. But I am more inspired by Moody's book.

The idea today is this: It is important to dream, but it is just as important to act on the things that give us purpose and passion. Do whatever it is you have to do so that you can dream, and empower yourself to act on the things that are going to make a difference. Avoid the beat down where petty and unimportant things cloud your day, taking all time away from both dreaming and acting. I don't want to sound preachy, but your members deserve it. And so do you, your staff, and, for that matter everyone else.


January 14, 2007

Day 4 of idea a day: Mystery shop

It's a simple idea, so simple that nobody does it. What a shame.

In a lot of ways, I agree with Ben Martin's previous post that association staff are like their members. But one significant difference I can think of is that the staff is much closer to the association's products and services. Sometimes too close. You know the reasons behind how you organized your website or your conference. You know how you marketed your products and how you thought customers would buy them. You know why you chose A and not B.

So my fourth idea is to establish a mystery shopping program. Depending on the size of your association, you may need to enlist others in the program — membership to establish a phony member, IT to help monitor what happens, etc.

Because association staff is too close to the organization's products and services, a true mystery shopping program should use outside help. A few ideas of how to design it:

Find someone in your industry or profession who has never been a member and tell them you'll comp their travel and participation at your conference.

Find a member who has not been particularly active, and tell them you'll give them a whole selection of your products for nothing if they will be your accomplice.

If your areas are not technical, get a neighbor or friend to place a few orders.

And of course, plenty of consultants will be happy to help you out.

Be sure you design it as a program. Do not go into thinking you know the answers. This is research, and if you go into research with a preconceived notion of how it will go, you are liable to unconsciously design it to meet that end. In addition, give it a budget. And most important, use the results to design the next study as well as to think about how you can create a better experience for your members.

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January 13, 2007

Day 3 of idea a day: Rethinking books

Before we get to the idea, a thanks to Jeff De Cagna and Jeffrey Cufaude for making the second idea better.

Before all seven days are over, I'll try to have an idea that is original (or mostly original), but today, another pilfering. I first became aware of this idea in an article for Associations Now by David Gammel in January 2006. One of the things he talked about was a publishing company called Pragmatic Programmers. Its unique way of publishing is to release a "beta" version. Interested readers download a PDF of the mostly complete book. It has typos, isn't typeset, and may contain some factual mistakes. Readers are encouraged to send corrections, which then get incorporated into the final product. It's created a collaborative book publishing environment. Its customers have ownership in the end product and the end product is better than it would have been. It's been a very successful venture for them.

It's not hard to see how associations could take advantage of this model; associations almost by definition have a community of interested people who could be significant collaborators. I also think the idea could stretch beyond book publishing. I've wondered how I could do an Associations Now issue this way. Could such an idea be adapted for other content, such as education?

And keeping with the theme of stealing ideas, here are some other places using a model similar to Pragmatic Programmers (Note: I didn't engage in any heavy research, so I'm not saying anybody did the idea first or that anybody is copying anybody else.)

Several publishers use Safari's online book publishing, a system it calls Rough Cuts. Peachpit Press is one of them.

We Are Smarter Than Me

And something that hits a little closer to home: We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change by Five Independent Thinkers. This book was published as a blog before being printed and bound. Copy the idea. (And buy the book; you won't regret it.)

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January 12, 2007

Idea a day, part 2

Yesterday, the idea was to steal things. Today, here's one specific idea to steal. Most of you know that Google encourages its engineers to work on pet projects for 20 percent of their time. That's nice for the Silicon Valley, but you don't have time for that. You have real work to do.

Think about that real work for a second. How much time do you spend diffusing an insignificant situation that a single or small group of members has decided to start making noise about? If you don't spend time about the next big thing, there won't be a next big thing. If you're a leader at your organization, is there anything that should be a higher priority than critical and strategic thought. Give yourself permission to make a ritual of doing nothing — no phone, no staff, no BlackBerrys — except finishing the question that starts with "What if..."

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January 11, 2007

An idea a day for a week

Peter O'Neil and Shawn Lea each mentioned the Great Ideas Conference in recent posts. I should mention that Acronym will be your place to keep up with the conference as me and a few others will be blogging from there.

We'll also whet the appetite so to speak with some preconference coverage. In that spirit, for the next seven days I will offer up one idea each day. I won't have the audacity to call them "great" though. You'll have to judge if they're useful or not.

And another disclaimer — I'm not saying these are necessarily original ideas. In fact, the first idea is to steal ideas. Before you roll your eyes at the blindingly obvious, allow me to clarify: actively and passionately steal ideas. Take notice of what catches your attention and analyze and find something to use in it. Why does Lost or Law and Order grab your attention? Action, mystery, brain teasers... are these things you can think about when you're trying to grab your members' attention?

When you're at a gathering where most of the people are new to you, assess who seems to have power in the room. What clues signify this and is there something in their approach you can use when you're in front of your volunteers or staffs?

Everything — everything — in the world around you is inspiration.


Response to 'Is fast the new right?'

One of the perks of having interviewed Jim Collins is that his email is still near at hand. The chance may be remote, but I asked him if he would comment on Ben's post and subsequent comments.

My take is this — I don't think you'll find many people arguing with this point:

I assert that the failure to make decisions in a timely manner is just as bad as (and possibly worse than) the failure to make the quote-unquote right decisions.

"Timely manner," of course, is a highly subjective term. But before we dig too much deeper, let's make this assumption: We're talking about big decisions here. It's not should we close the exhibit hall for the last day of the annual meeting, but rather, should we replace the annual meeting with something else?

I liked Fred Simmons' comment (although I confess to not knowing what ROFL means -- oh, and if it's not rated G or PG, don't tell me) — not too many associations will be accused of making major decisions quickly. I'm not sure we've ever met an issue that setting up a committee or task force couldn't slow down.

But back to Ben's point. You could stop on Collins' point and compare it to, say, Tom Peters' commitment to the principle of "Ready. Fire. Aim" and think the two are in opposition. I choose to think they're not necessarily that different. And at the risk of dropping too many names and sounding all swarmingly intellectual, I think of a section of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell when I reconcile these approaches. The masterfully prosaic title of the chapter is "Paul van Riper's Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity." Collins = structure, Peters = spontaneity.

The whole chapter informs this idea pretty well, but one part talks about how Cook County Hospital revolutionized emergency room procedures. It's too complex a story to get a real flavor for it, but the two-sentence synopsis is that diagnosing chest pain was a major headache and rife with inaccuracies until Brendan Reilly collapsed the battery of symptoms and risk factors into just four or five. Costs plummeted and accuracy skyrocketed. The point is, there is a need for quick decisive action, but it needs to be informed.

Another assumption I make is that you cannot know whether or not your decision is the "right" decision before you make it. I also agree with Ben that right and wrong is too simplistic a way to think about decisions, because one decision only leads to needing to make more decisions and then more decisions, etc. I call that execution. There are a couple of dangers here. First, if things turn out badly, you never know which of the decisions is the culprit. The Peters' philosophy would be better described as "Ready. Fire. Aim. Fire. Aim. Fire. Aim..." You constantly need to assess the situation and aim again. Second, no amount of data will ever ensure that a decision is the best one.

Being successful means making smart decisions. Data can be very paralyzing. It is almost always true that for complex issues data does not give an answer. It informs opinions. Speed is another component and no less important. Smart decisions are made when you gather only the data you need, and you make that decision so you can move on to the next one.

I agree with Ben in that everyone should question whether or not they are making decisions fast enough to remain relevent. But I disagree that fast necessarily equals right (though I could see the argument for the opposite being true, that slow is definitely wrong). You do have to make fast decisions. And they do have to be right. Sounds hard, but I think by definition success is not easy (or does that statement call for another blog post?).

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Attention association blogoclump

For the most part, you're the only ones who used the trackback feature, and then it has only been about once every six weeks. Because we were getting (and this is no exaggeration) about 1 trackback spam every 3 minutes (or about 500 a day) we turned the feature off. The spam filters were catching all of them, but unfortunately were catching yours, too, so we had to painfully go in and review the spam and delete a couple times a day. So no more trackbacks, sorry. Feel free to drop a comment that says "I commented on this post in my blog."

By the way, most readers might be asking, what's the association blogoclump? I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong, but I think David Gammel coined that term, or at least used it to describe this collection of bloggers.

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January 10, 2007

Is fast the new right?

Small is the new big. Seth Godin taught us that. I have a hypothesis: Fast is the new right.

I've been thinking through this theory for the past couple of months. It all started with this passage from Scott Briscoe's interview with Jim Collins in the November 2006 issue of Associations Now. It struck a nerve with me the moment I read it. It continually bugged me. Stuck with me. And it wouldn't let go:

Briscoe: What is your take on the importance of speed in decision making?

Collins: In the Good to Great research, it is very clear that undisciplined, fast decisions correlate with mediocrity. The critical question is not how fast or slow you make big decisions but whether or not you are right. If you can reach a point where you decide quickly, that's great, but making a big decision fast and getting it wrong is dangerous.

If you look over economic history, the history of business exchange, and you look at great versus good, rarely are big decisions taken fast. Mediocre companies tend to make big decisions fast...

But here's the rub: We operate in a completely different environment than we did when Good to Great was printed (2001), a decade has passed since the beginning of the Good to Great study (began in 1996), and the data that was compiled for Good to Great is in some cases far older than that. It is a study of the past.

History doesn't change, but our playing field certainly has since the compilation of the Good to Great data.

I would submit to you that fast is, in fact, quickly becoming the new right. In the past, being fast was not a necessary success factor. Today, it is becoming far more important. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, would certainly agree (see Flattener #10, The Steroids). In this era, I assert that the failure to make decisions in a timely manner is just as bad as (and possibly worse than) the failure to make the quote-unquote right decisions.

Of course, there is ample evidence to refute this theory. Take for example the iconic iPod. The iPod was not the first digital audio player (DAP) on the market. In fact, it was a relative late-comer, arriving some six years after the first DAPs. But today, about two-thirds of all DAPs sold in the U.S. are iPods.

Nevertheless, take your history with a grain of salt. It has a way of lulling us to sleep. Sometimes it makes us believe that "past results are necessarily indicative of future results."

As Einstein said, "The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

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What does it take to create community?

I recently completed my third year of study in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Organization Management program. (One year to go!) One thing that’s really struck me during my time at Institute is how rapidly a sense of community and connection can spring up within a class.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Institute program, attendees spend one week a year for four years at a variety of sites around the country, learning how to run an association or chamber. In theory, you attend at the same site each year and begin and end the program with the same group of classmates. (In practice, some folks “fast-track” by attending multiple sites in a year, and others change sites for various reasons.) As you go through the program with this group of fellow professionals, you get to know them, you learn with them, and you become committed to helping each other succeed.

For me, it was returning for the second year that really sold me on the program. Coming back, seeing these folks again, feeling welcomed by them—that was when I felt our little community of classmates really solidified.

Online communities are in the spotlight right now. And they certainly have their place. But there is something special and important about an in-person, face-to-face connection.

Imagine a mini-Institute for your members: Recruit groups of 10-15 people that plan to attend your next annual meeting. Set up those groups with a series of things to do together during the event—sitting together at general sessions, attending one or two education sessions together each day, eating brown-bag lunches in an extra meeting room, going out to dinner one night. The meeting itself will serve as a common topic of conversation in the beginning, and then things will branch out from there.

Have those members commit to attending the next two annual meetings together in the same way. (This might work particularly well for associations with very large meetings where members can feel lost in the crowd.) Between meetings, a listserver or other method of communication can help keep ties fresh, but the face-to-face element would renew their connections each year.

I bet those folks would build a community—at no (or minimal) extra cost to them or the association. Would that be something your members would appreciate?


January 9, 2007

A meeting with passion


MacWorld San Francisco is happening NOW (as of 12:54 EST), and it's got almost live coverage. How do we get that, association professionals?


The Really Un- Unconference

One of the great things about blogging is that if you admit enough of your quirks and foibles, you sometimes find out you're not quite as weird as you thought - there are others out there just as weird as you. This is probably not one of those times.

I work in a fairly small state association. I love my job. I love my association. But I don't get to do the traveling of some of my peers on the national level - or at least not for educational purposes. We have a small budget set aside for continuing education which generally pays for a trip to the national meeting of our trade association, a few local meetings and, most years, the ASAE annual meeting.

Throughout the year, I get brochures for many more meetings. Many more meetings with interesting agendas and great speakers that I would love to attend - but know I can't. For example, ASAE's great ideas conference is coming up Jan. 27-30. It promises fresh ideas and to pump my garden full of seeds of potential growth. And my mental garden so needs that right now - creative fertilizer, cranial MiracleGro. But I still can't go.

So here's what I do. I save the brochures - even though I can't go. I read the brochures. I make myself think about how I could make my garden grow right here at home. (Hey, plain old tap water can make things grow too.) I call it my Really Un- Unconference. I close my door. I escape (just not to Florida, unfortunately).

For example, Dan Heath, author of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, is the opening general session speaker. He promises to tell you about the six hooks to get your ideas to stick. (Close your eyes now if you're going to Florida.) Well, here they are, straight from a review in Publisher's Weekly: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. (The initial letters spell out "success"—well, almost.)

You can read the article in Time magazine about the book. Read an excerpt from the book here. Read their blog. (Dan wrote the book with his brother, Chip.) E-mail Chip and ask him why he's not coming to the conference too. (Maybe he doesn't have the budget either. Or maybe he figures California's just as sunny as Florida.) ;)

Read an interview with both of the brothers here. See their interview on the Today show. Read this article in Inc. magazine about their stickiness. Or just type in Dan Heath Made to Stick in Google like I did and spend the rest of your afternoon stuck in stickiness.

Is this the same as attending the conference and finding some sticky ideas of my own to take home - along with some new friends and some Florida sunshine? No. But it's better than throwing the brochure in the trash can and going on about my day.

It's my very own, personalized, made-to-order, bespoke really un- unconference!

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January 8, 2007

Associations Now Article Hits the Spot

Dusting my brain off from an extended vacation, I read with great interest the article by Robyn Waters in the January issue of Associations Now entitled “The Power of Paradox.” We have been struggling at AIHA over the past four years in particular with this notion of finding new and significant revenue streams to compliment (and maybe ultimately replace) the traditional revenue streams that have been so very successful in the past. This has been made especially difficult in that our membership/profession-base has become more and more niche-oriented over the years.

One point that Ms. Waters made really hit home. She said “Bottom line: Paradoxes abound, and I believe that they should be explored and embraced, not ignored.” Given the demands on association volunteer and staff time and resources, it is sometimes easy to ignore the very paradoxes that Waters describes in her article. How many of us have (or still do) run around developing new products and services without taking a wholesale look at those in our current arsenal? Retooling or repurposing current products into new products is sometimes more lucrative than concentrating solely on new product development. I am not saying that one should be done at the expense of the other, rather, that we should look at both aspects of product and service delivery.

Waters will be speaking at The Great Ideas Conference later this month (January 27-30, Marriott Marco Island, Florida). I am eager to hear her talk more about that which she touches upon in her article. I hope to see you all there.