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June 30, 2007

From a meeting planner's nightmares

Mickie Rops has a good post up on her Association Knowledge and Credentialing blog that should be of interest to the meeting planners out there: What would you do if the speaker for an educational workshop wasn't able to make it because of a flight cancellation? You have less than 24 hours to come up with a solution ...

Mickie shares a story from Elliott Masie about how he coped with that exact situation. I'm sure she'd love to hear from others who have dealt with such last-minute cancellations (which should only become more frequent, given the rising numbers of cancelled flights this summer). Go over to her blog and share your thoughts! What would be your plan B in such a situation?

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June 29, 2007

Why Is There Friday?

Why is there Friday? And why call it Friday?

Why ask such questions? Association executives are over-booked, with little time for critical thinking. Life, however, sometimes intervenes and we find opportunities to consider truly important issues. Today is such a time.

After my second coronary angioplasty I have been confined for four weeks with no travel. I am a boat aground. This time of year, I normally have weekly trips to Beijing or Brussels; to Houston or Toronto. But not these four weeks! Thus, I have been spamming Jamie’s and Jeff’s web site and many others. Spamming is not the issue, since Jamie, Jeff and others have intelligent and insightful blogs, deserving all the spam you and I can throw at them. But I digress.

So I have the opportunity to consider what’s truly important in the galaxy. And this is it: Why Is There Friday? And why call it Friday?

I have researched the literature. Contemporary minds will know this means checking Wikipedia. Anyone have a problem with that? Know-it-alls should check out “Friday” and “Days of the Week”. They are good reads.

Being an experienced researcher, I also checked with recognized authorities in the field—yes, my youngest daughter and my wife.

My daughter (who works next door at One Park Avenue—a good thing for father-daughter lunches, which is a very good thing indeed) replied without hesitation, “Fridays are for an early day at the shore!” For those of you on the Left and Bottom Coasts, “shore” is what you mean when you say ‘beach” (“shore” not being in your vocabulary). For those of you in Nevada and Wyoming, this important linguistic subtlety is meaningless, since you have to travel thousands of miles to see either noun. But I digress. Again.

Good wife Merle patiently pointed out that early agrarian societies needed as many days as possible to work in the fields and thus Friday was necessary. After 43 years of marriage to my first wife, I don’t question logic like that.

“Get on with it,” you backbenchers scream. OK, OK. The answer is as plain as the nose on your/my face. Friday exists to prepare us for Monday, when All Things Bad Happen. We all know that, right? Even Fats Domino sang about “Blue Monday”. (Editor’s note: If you are age-disadvantaged and don’t know Fats, find a Baby Boomer.) Friday, therefore, serves the essential purpose of being A Day When Nothing Bad Happens! And since we all know bad things lie ahead, Friday is the day to enjoy and prepare for Blue Monday. End of story. Friday is justified.

“Whoa, cowboy,” you say. “I can do a better name than Friday!” Sure, dude. Everyone knows if Microsoft had been in charge of naming days, Friday would be Monday ver. 5.0. If Steve Jobs had his way (and he may), it would be I-Day. In fact, every day would be I-Day—365 of them! But, boys and girls, history took a different course.

Good wife Merle suggested checking on the Latins, always the usual suspects. Research (OK, Wikipedia) shows that the Latins were overwhelmed 6 to 1 (like the Yankees, dammit) by the Old English (eat your heart out Millennials) who used up all the names for Sunday through Friday, leaving only Saturday for the Latins, who, not to be outdone, called it Dies Saturni, named after the god Saturn. The Old English named Friday Frigedaeg, meaning the day of Frige, the Germanic goddess of beauty. After the trademark expired, Frigidaire grabbed the term for a line of only modestly attractive kitchen appliances (Frige, after all, is in the eye of the beholder).

Friday’s name? Blame the Old English. If this doesn’t challenge the Millennials to do something historically enduring, what can? Happy Frigidaire! Beware Blue Monday!

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June 28, 2007

Research on political attitudes of young people

Just a warning, this post is based on a political poll, though Acronym remains an apolitical blog. I ran across the survey and thought other organizations who have as part of their missions the influence of policy would be interested in how 17-29 year olds answer several dozen political and policy questions. A PDF of the full results of the study conducted for The New York Times, CBS News, and MTV are available on the New York Times site, as well as other places.

Here are some of the results I found most interesting or are different than what I would have thought they'd be:

• 50 percent say their job opportunities are excellent or pretty good -- more than 15 percent more than three years ago.

• 56 percent say "the government in Washington cares about people of your generation" either a lot or some. Cynical me, I thought that number would be much lower.

• 58 percent say they have paid a lot or some attention to the 2008 presidential campaign. I realize the campaigns are in full swing and its great to be a political racehorse junkie right about now, but I didn't think anybody else was paying very much attention at this point.

• 48 percent say they expect to be worse off than their parents' generation -- 25 percent say they will be better off and 25 percent say they'll be the same. I'm just surprised the outlook is that pessimistic.

• 23 percent say the economy will be most important in determining who they vote for; only 20 percent say Iraq.

Another series of questions asked if government policies on specific issues were important. The issue with the most "very important" answers was trying "to reduce gas and oil use by consumers." The issue beat out such notable issues as "job training and job opportunities for younger workers" (a no-brainer high score based on who was being surveyed), "provide insurance coverage to people who don't have it," and "loans, grants, and student aid that helps pay for college."

Finally, since I am a bit of a political racehorse junkie, I have to slip in one political observation. It would appear that younger democrat-leaning people are more passionate about the leading presidential candidates than their republican-leaning counterparts. When asked if they are likely to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate, they lean democratic 54 to 32 percent (that's a bit more left-leaning than all adults, which are split 49 to 33 percent according to a different recent survey). But when asked if they were enthusiastic about any of the candidates now running for president, Obama leads the list with 18 percent, followed by Clinton at 17 percent. The next name on the list is Giuliani, who is only backed enthusiastically by 4 percent.

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Just Registered

Finally made it down to "Register for ASAE Annual Meeting" on my to-do list. Despite the heavy dose of vendor related questions, the process was pretty painless overall. Even booked my hotel via the online system!

Often, I procrastinate to the last minute when registering for an event, and miss out on the usual "early bird" discount. In this case, I got lucky and avoided the $100 bump in fees after July 7th.

Does make me wonder if there's been any serious research behind the effects of an early bird discount on registration trends. Does it really have an impact? Does it increase attendee count, or not? Does it generate overall more revenue, or not? Or, is it more of a logistics and planning aid? Excuse for another marketing push?

Not being a meetings/events expert myself, it intuitively seems smart. But, is it? Or, do we do that because it's what's always been done?

Regardless, I'm sure happy that I saved the hundred bucks this time!

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Overcoming a cold start

Nick Senzee points to two great posts by Joshua Porter (Part I, Part II) on common problems that can overwhelm a new social web application. If your association has or ever will consider offering online social opportunities for your members—even listservers—both are definitely worth reading.

I’d like to draw your attention to one of the very first points Joshua makes, addressing the “cold start problem” (i.e., we built this great social networking site and no one uses it):

Strong social sites build value one user at a time. If one user finds value, then they’re much more likely to tell others or invite their friends. Strong sites don’t succeed by attracting “markets,” satisfying entire groups of people with a certain feature set. Instead, they succeed on a smaller level, really focusing on individuals and their immediate social network. Then they can branch outward.

Rather than starting that nifty new networking site and opening the door to your whole membership, maybe you should start with one group of early adopters. Bring them in as your partners. Ask their advice. Create something they value. And then have them invite other members to join, individually, personally. And then that second wave can also issue invitations. (This is not to say that it should stay by-invitation-only forever, of course.)

That kind of individual attention takes a lot of time—a big investment for small-staff groups in particular. But when we’re talking about social media, we’re really talking about people connecting with people, and personal attention can be a huge advantage in making that happen.

Think of it this way: Imagine a party with no host in an airplane hanger. There’s some great, fancy food, but it’s cold, it’s huge, and no one is introducing people to one another. Then imagine a party in cosy, warm space, with a friendly, engaging host who takes a newcomer by the hand, brings him or her over to a congenial group, and helps the newcomer join the conversation before greeting another new guest. Which party would you want to go to?

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June 22, 2007

Getting hooked

Ann Oliveri has a thoughtful post up on her blog today about how professional societies can promote the development of true professional mastery in their members. Her suggestions are great ones; I’m especially glad that she mentions the Urban Land Institute’s advisory services teams, where her members come together as volunteers to tackle real-world problems. That’s a program I’ve found inspiring ever since I first heard about it a few years ago.

Her post reminded me of conversations I had with students while I worked at the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Typically, I was interviewing the student for an article in our magazine, and I would ask him or her what readers could do to help draw more students toward a career in industrial hygiene. Invariably, the answer would be (at least in part), “Offer us hands-on opportunities to work alongside you.” Many of them noted that once they had actually done work in the field and had seen how interesting and rewarding it was, they had been hooked—and they felt other students would be as well.

But for some reason, so many internships in so many fields aren’t about hands-on work; they’re about sitting at a desk, staying out of the way, maybe making some copies. And there aren't nearly as many internship opportunities as there are students interested in taking advantage of them. A lot of this is because folks are busy; to provide an intern with real, practical learning opportunities, you have to add “part-time teacher” to your normal job description, and it’s hard to make the time.

But more of us should, and our members should too. If we really want to put students on the track to dedicating themselves to the professions we represent, the best way to do that is to give them a taste of the work, and get them hooked on that experience.

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June 21, 2007

Turnaround tips

Marc Andreesen, cofounder of Netscape and more recently cofounder of Ning, has launched a blog. Given his experience, his posts on startups and business in general are quite interesting.

Today, he provides "nine easy steps" for a new CEO working to turn around a company in distress. While some of his points are not going to be relevant to every association, it's worth checking out if you ever have been or think you ever will be working to right an association in trouble.

For those of you out there who have been in such a situation--what do you think of Andreesen's advice? What else did you learn from your turnaround experiences that he doesn't mention?

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June 20, 2007

In praise of Google Reader

I believe in the importance of admitting when I’m wrong—so I have to issue a mea culpa. A few months ago, Jeff De Cagna started a conversation about why more association execs don’t read and subscribe to blogs. I commented that ease of use might be an issue; I read many blogs, but I didn’t subscribe to any, because I found the subscription process to be very unintuitive.

Jeff recommended that I give Google Reader a try. He even provided a link to some very detailed instructions he had written on how to set up a Reader account. But I never made the time to experiment with the Google Reader system until a few weeks ago.

Well, I have to say that Jeff was right: Google Reader is a godsend if you want (or need) to follow multiple blogs. Once you get your account set up and enter the blogs you’re interested in into the system, you can see any updates instantly. Just glance at your Google Reader page and you’ll see an updated blog’s name in bold (or see the new entry on your “All Items” page, if you prefer).

The process of setting up the account and subscribing to all of the blogs I was interested in took about 20 minutes, all told, but it was time very well spent for me.

So, thank you, Jeff! And to those of you who feel like you’d like to follow certain blogs more closely but don’t have the time, consider setting aside a half-hour someday soon to set yourself up with Google Reader. I bet you’ll find that it’s much easier to participate in discussions concerning your association (and associations in general).

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June 14, 2007

Annual Prep Process

Getting the beefy Annual Meeting print program mailed to your door is a great help, but it is still a pretty overwhelming task to prep for such a large-scale event. Some adventurous folks may just show up in Chicago and let the winds blow them into whatever session/activity seems most interesting at the moment - though, my guess is that most of us are not nearly adventurous.

As I try to set my own plans (which involves meticulous weighting of session topics and timing, etc), I'm curious to know if others have any tip of tricks to share to help other prep/plan and get the most out of the Annual Meeting. I, for one, need some advice!

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LIve blogging from Springtime - Joseph Michelli general session

Blogging live from the general session at ASAE & The Center's Springtime general session, featuring Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., author of The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary. Here are some of the things I noted from Michelli's address:

Know the difference between being and doing. Being is embodying something, doing something is following a rule. Example: when the kids used to go to their friends house, he'd tell them not to do this, not to do that, and to do this. His kids would follow those instructions, but then would do (or not do) a whole lot of things that weren't covered. The soltion: be good. At Starbucks, they go by the following: be welcoming, be genuine, be considerate, be knowledgable, and be involved.

Anything will become a commodity -- a book, a meeting, anything -- unless it is relevant, it connects (meaning it touches the wants, needs, and desires of members), and it is memorable or transformational. Those are the types of experiences you need to try to create.

Lesson from Starbucks: Involve, engage, and create. Starbucks spends more on product sampling than advertising. One example -- Starbucks started in Seattle. The second market was Chicago. Finally, the third was Los Angeles -- maybe a bit of a challenge for a coffee shop. The LA shopkeeper took a blender in to work one evening and experimented with ice, coffee, and flavoring. The vanilla frappuccino was born -- and is a bigger seller worldwide at Starbucks than regular brewed coffee.

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June 13, 2007

Visualizing and Communicating: Communities and Networks

Lisa posted an earlier reference (June 6) to the work of Dennis D. McDonald concerning his work on visual representation of association communities and their relationships. Dennis and I have had some very interesting email exchanges about communities and networks, and how they may be considered and communicated visually. Dennis will be posting a URL in a later message that provides some throught-provoking insights to communities and networks and how they may be presented visually. Stay tuned.

For those of you interested in communities and networks, strategy + business had an interesting article recently, “The Defining Features of a Megacommunity”, described as “a primer for creating successful multipartite initiatives to solve critical problems that embraces the talents of government, business and civil society”. URL is: http://www.strategy-business.com/li/leadingideas/li00029?tid=230&pg=all

Since many of the issues that associations face are larger than our single organization’s ability to effectively respond, the article poses some interesting ideas for external coalitions and cooperative relationships

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Creating good vibes

Seth Godin has a short post on his blog today that is of special interest to association professionals. He begins with a question:

Have you ever been at a banquet or in a boutique or at a concert or a meeting or a company where the vibe was incredibly positive?

At my last association, we talked a lot about building conference "buzz." Well, nothing builds buzz like having a great, positive vibe at the last conference. When people feel that wonderful energy and start to feed off of it and feed into it, they want to come back—and they tell their colleagues to come along.

What are some things your association is doing (or ideas you'd like to pursue) to create the right vibe at your next meeting?

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June 11, 2007

Introduction from an association blogger

I've been in the association world for two years, overseeing REALTOR.org, the association site for the National Association of Realtors. I've had a blog for much longer than that, since I spent several years advising organizations about how to communicate effectively online before joining NAR. I've participated in events hosted by Chicago's Association Forum, but this will be my first ASAE conference, and I'm really looking forward to it!

My personal blog -- not updated often enough, unfortunately -- is Online Content Thoughts and Ideas.

And I just wrote an article about blogging for Forum Magazine, "Why Blog? Why Not!"

Anyway, I look forward to meeting lots of you here on Acronym and in person at the conference!

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Aligning Mission and Money?

ASME Program Annual Evaluation Matrix

Notes:

• Model based on Boston Consulting Group’s “Growth-Share Matrix”
• To use the model, analysts plot a scatter graph using net annual margin (green) or subsidy (red) to scale diameter of each program, product or service
• Programs illustrated are for example only & do not represent actual margin or performance
• 1=Stars (High investment brand leaders-surplus capital); 2=Questionable (requires major investment-low results); 3=Cash Cows (Low investments-surplus capital); 4=Retire (limited investment-limited results-beware expensive/risky turnarounds)


Some of you share my long-term interest in annual evaluation of association programs, products and services (PPS). The reason for an annual evaluation is simple: evaluation looks at PPS performance and life-cycles, and provides the basis for rational decision-making about which PPS should continue and which should be retired.

Annual evaluation is also important because it is one method to release precious resources and capabilities to support innovation and consistent annual new PPS development. The old association adage is true for many of our associations, “If something new is to be added to the wagon, then something old must be removed.” The adage is true because it’s not often that our associations have on hand substantial unused capacity that can be devoted to new PPS development. And our ability to simply go out and increase our capacity to meet new opportunities is generally limited. There’s little venture capital available for non-profits.

Now, one could argue that innovation will let an association do more and better. But there is a finite limit as to how much one can and should try to stuff into a 5-pound bag, if you get my point. Many of us are past our organizational bag limit, and innovation just to add more to an overloaded bag is not the answer.

Thus, annual evaluation is important. But it’s hardly simple. The challenge is that associations generally provide PPS in two very different categories: 1) Mission-focused activities which are often subsidized in whole or part; 2) Business operations that provide the net margin necessary to subsidize the mission-focused activities. Both categories of activities support the organization’s overall mission and both categories reinforce and strengthen one another. And as many of us have learned the hard way, there is no mission without a margin. Evaluation of these two different categories of activities, however, can be challenging, since they are often so different. Targets and measures used to measure subsidized activities, for example, often are not the same targets and measures used for margin-producing activities.

Mark Golden and I had an interesting discussion of PPS evaluation of these two categories of activities in the “Driven by Mission Not Money” thread on the ASAE & the Center iCohere Measures of Success Strategy Lab web site, in which we both concluded that annual evaluation should be based on how the PPS is actually performing. Mark rightly commented, “It isn’t good enough to have good, mission related intentions, (evaluation should be based on) how well it (PPS) achieves mission related ends.” Said differently, evaluation of all activities should be based on results.

This has led me to develop the chart above for comment and trampling action. It uses some typical ASME programs and hypothesized data to illustrate how the approach might (or might not) work. Would such an evaluation process work in your organization? Could it be refined and made more useful? Inquiring minds want to know…I look forward to your comments.

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June 8, 2007

Step away from the Blackberry

We kicked off the morning at the Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management with Lieutenant General James Campbell, director of the Army staff. He was an amazingly compelling speaker—seriously, nobody in the audience so much as reached across the table for water for the duration of his speech.

One comment he made that hit home with me: Some of the best opportunities for on the job leadership training, he said, come when a superior is called away and a young leader has to make decisions on his/her own. But nowadays, many of those opportunities are lost, because superiors are never truly away—they’re always on their Blackberries, available to make decisions at all times. The junior staff become conduits instead of decision makers.

I’ll admit that when I’ve been out of the office in the past, I’ve usually left contact information and checked e-mail if possible. (I just checked e-mail before starting this post, in fact.) My thought was always that I didn’t want to burden others with my work while I was away. But maybe what I’ve been doing has been taking opportunities away from others, which of course is the last thing I want to be doing.

Would you consider leaving your Blackberry at home the next time you travel? How would you feel about giving your junior staff an opportunity to develop as decision makers in your absence?

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Tierney's social surveys

A blog I've started reading recently is TierneyLab: Putting Ideas in Science to the Test by John Tierney, a science columnist at the New York Times. One of the things I just can't resist about his blog are the social science surveys he finds that researchers are using. I assume the researchers use the data as some kind of pretest to do actual, real research. But that's not what draws me to them. They're like the Cosmo quizzes, but smart.

Here's one on ethics. (Interesting to note that in the most Cosmo-like question, a third of the 200+ respondents didn't think it was particularly unethical to go out on a date with someone just to make someone else jealous.)

Here's another one on daydreaming. (Probably the only surprise I have from this one is that respondents said that when they had time on their hands they frequently entertained themselves with their own thoughts. I don't really believe that answer. I think most people watch TV.)

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June 7, 2007

The importance of a posse

Rita Bailey of QVF Partners, co-author of Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit Opportunities in Your Organization, was one of our content leaders this afternoon at the Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. She told an interesting story:

One of the groups she works with hired a younger woman as a graphics designer. She had some piercings and tattoos, which concerned the hiring manager somewhat, but her work was great and she came highly recommended. The hiring manager watched her at work during her first days on the job, and he noticed that she often had her iPod on; he also noticed that she typically had multiple instant message windows open on her screen as she worked.

He stopped by one day to ask her how she was doing. “Oh, I love this job!” she said enthusiastically. He asked her about the instant message windows; she said, “Oh, that’s my posse. I take them with me wherever I go.” She said that these colleagues, physically located all over the world, were her resources and sounding board; when she had a question or needed ideas, she turned to them. They, in turn, had their own posses to draw from.

Bailey noted that this woman typically completed projects in half the time it would have taken the organization’s previous graphic designer. It probably didn’t hurt that she had the initiative to develop her own learning opportunities and resources—completely independent of any one organization where she worked.

Do you have a posse?

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Other insights from Bill George

Bill George, author of True North, kicked off the Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management with a great first session. Here’s a sampling of what he had to say:

- “Our job as leaders is to empower, to align, and to serve.” He went on to say that those kinds of skills are often called the “soft” side of leadership, but in his opinion, they are really the hard side. “Making the numbers is easy. Getting alignment is hard.”

- None of us has all of the skills of the ideal leader. But you’ll become the best leader you can be by being yourself, being authentic—not by trying to emulate someone else.

- George said that he knew it was time to leave his position at Honeywell when he realized that “[Honeywell] was changing me more than I was changing it.” What a great way to measure whether you’re productively seeking change at your organization—or beating your head against a wall.

- He related a story about Andrea Jung, the CEO of Avon, who was originally passed over for the CEO position and considering leaving the company. A board member told her, “Andrea, follow your compass, not your clock.” In other words, focus on being true to what’s most important to you, and not on an arbitrary timetable.

- George was impassioned about the importance of going out to see members and customers in the field, in their workplaces, to really understand their needs and concerns. When he was CEO of Medtronic, he required his staff to visit their doctor customers and observe a medical procedure every month. How many associations have their staff visiting members on their home turf once a month?

- He spoke about the importance of transparency; associations, he said, can sometimes hide behind processes and paperwork instead of offering true engagement. Processes are needed but should be invisible; engagement should be the visible side.

- A member of the audience commented on the importance of offering members meaningful opportunities to volunteer—not just busywork. George agreed, and said that those meaningful opportunities will come through bold goals, clarity of vision, and tackling of tough, contentious issues.

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Report from the Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management

I’m blogging from beautiful Toronto, where I’m taking part in the ASAE & The Center Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. It’s the first time I’ve attended, and so far, it’s definitely exceeding my expectations.

Our first speaker this morning was Bill George, author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. He had so much to say that resonated with me that I’m splitting it into more than one post. Here’s the first one:

“My academic colleagues who think leadership is about people at the top are just wrong,” George said. Leadership, in his mind, occurs at all levels, and if your organization isn’t offering leadership opportunities for everyone, regardless of title, you’ve got a serious problem. He argued that we should all measure ourselves on whether we have built up the human capital of our organizations, through development and growth opportunities for all staff; in fact, he said, “if you want the best people, that’s the only way you’re going to get them.”

So: If you were to measure yourself on whether you have built up the human capital in your association, where would you fall on the yardstick?

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Introducing new Annual Meeting bloggers!

It gives me great pleasure to announce the first three new Annual Meeting bloggers who will be posting in the coming weeks, as well as during the meeting in Chicago in August. In alphabetical order, they are:

Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association

Hilary Marsh, managing director, REALTOR.org, National Association of Realtors

Matt White, director of marketing, Illinois Park and Recreation Association

I'll give each of our new bloggers the chance to offer their own unique intros. In the meantime, I want to express just how excited we are about these outstanding additions to the crew of Chicago Bloggers. And they won't be the last association community contributors to join the effort, so please keep reading!

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June 6, 2007

Visualizing association communities

Dennis McDonald recently posted a very interesting graphic that attempts to visually represent the many overlapping communities created in a single association through the interactions of staff, members, the profession the association represents, and the public. The graphic, and his analysis of what it means for association member services, are definitely worth checking out.

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June 4, 2007

Five Years, Two Angioplasties & Four Stents Later

This is the name of the book that I am going to write after my unplanned, second coronary angioplasty procedure last week—the second in the past five years. Life, it seems, is full of unplanned bumps. Last Thursday was one of those. As we know, association management executives are used to facing unplanned and unforeseen circumstances. It proved to be good training.

“You’re looking great,” Dr. Feit said, as they wheeled me into the operating room. “Good to see you again”. Dr. Feit was my surgeon in September 2002, for my first angioplasty. “Well, I’m not glad to see you,” I growled, “but I’m glad you’re still here.” To prove my point, I quipped “You should be getting pretty good at this by now!” He smiled, and said “I’m staying in practice.”

Thus it was that I lay on my back staring at the ceiling for four hours, watching the four television monitors. For those of you have yet to be introduced to coronary angioplasty, it is a procedure to widen narrowed or obstructed blood vessels and is used to avoid bypass surgery. The procedure involves a small incision in the groin area to access the femoral artery, where an introducer needle provides access for a long, flexible catheter used to introduce radiopaque dyes. The dyes allow the state and location of the blockage(s) to be studied with real-time x-rays. If you like digital photography, as I do, this is an interesting part of the procedure.

With the blockage(s) identified, a guide wire is inserted through the introducer needle to each blockage, using real-time x-rays for guidance. The surgeon inserts the guide wire, gently pushing and rotating it to the point of blockage. Patients are usually awake during the procedure so that any discomfort or other issues can be reported. Thus, one can watch the entire procedure on one of the many televisions used by the surgeon to guide the progress of insertion and placement at each blockage.

Once the guide wire is in place, it becomes the pathway for the surgeon to gently push forward a hollow catheter with a balloon on the end and (in my case) a treated-wire mesh stent. At the proper point, the balloon is inflated, expanding the artery wall and implanting the stent, which supports the newly reopened artery.

After a night in the hospital, I've returned home. No strenuous exercise for 72 hours and no travel for four weeks. And maybe no steak and French fries forever!

Now regarded as common surgery, coronary angioplasty is an amazing procedure. Dr. Feit and his team are unbelievably skilled at what they do. I hope that none of you will have first-hand experience with this procedure, but some of you will. It’s not necessarily an age, exercise or diet thing. The good news: if you find yourself on your back, looking at the ceiling, you can be confident that there are some first-class cutters out there who know what they are doing. And the television is great! Dr. Feit and team: Salute!

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June 1, 2007

The mysterious OPA

OPA plaque on Siena cathedral

I recently returned from a trip to Italy for a family wedding; the photo above was taken in Siena. It’s a small part of the façade of the beautiful duomo (cathedral) there.

While we were visiting the duomo and I was geeking out over the historical significance of various statues and engravings (I was a religious studies major), I noticed the term “OPA” all over the place, both on the façade and inside. Then I remembered that I had also noticed it at a smaller duomo in Volterra.

I was fascinated. Was it a doctrinal term I wasn’t familiar with? A Da Vinci-code-esque secret password? A really prolific medieval construction company?

As it turns out, it’s a shorthand form of “opera della metropolitana”—“cathedral works committee,” in English. Siena wasn’t unique in having such a group; the opera of the duomo in Florence commissioned Michelangelo’s David (and, after seeing it, offered to build him a house and a studio in which to create future work).

While it appears that these groups were more formal than a typical association committee (possibly even part of a city’s government, at various places and times), I was still very impressed to see a committee’s role acknowledged in stone, so often and so prominently. The members of the opera created something that is not only visited for its beauty—it’s still used for its original intended purpose, nearly 800 years after it was built.

Perhaps a group of volunteers (or staff, or both) at your association could be inspired by the example of the opera of Siena. What great things can you aspire to build for the future?

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