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July 31, 2007

Counterfactual analysis

I'm hoping you'll forgive the political underpinnings of this story, but I found it too fascinating to pass up. Shankar Vedantam is an excellent writer at The Washington Post, and he writes about the mind—how it works and why it works the way it does.

Yesterday, his story "Bush and Counterfactual Confidence" has insights that reach far beyond his narrow subject of political decision making. Counterfactual thinking is something that probably everybody does at least a little bit. You make a decision to change something, and as you look back at that decision later, you tell yourself it was a good decision because the world would most assuredly be worse if you had done nothing. The thing is, that's the mind rationalizing the decision, you don't—you can't, actually—know if the alternate future you imagine would have come to pass as exactly as you imagined it.

Vedantam uses Bush as the example, but it's easy to leave the hot potato world of politics out of it. Let's look at an example closer to home. Three years ago ASAE and its related organizations and The Center for Association Leadership and its related organizations merged. Playing the part of the optimist, I could use counterfactual thinking to imagine a world where ASAE and The Center continued on a competitive path until they bludgeoned each other so completely that neither was successful and the association sector as a whole suffered. I would then say that the decision to merge was obviously good.

Here's the thing that Vedantam points out about counterfactuals—while they sound nice and logical in our heads, all they really do is confirm our preconceived notions. I could just as easily take the pessimistic view and say ASAE and The Center competition would have led to the creative, forward-thinking programming as each side tried to one-up the other, and the sector as a whole would have been much better off without the merger.

Why is this interesting at all? For one thing, I think it's important to realize why we're dreaming up the alternative universes that we do—we're doing it because we want to validate or invalidate a point we already want to make. In addition, there is some research on tendencies that Vedantam reports. One finding is that people who tend to engage in counterfactual thinking are actually worse at predicting future events than people who resist counterfactual thinking. Another is that people who use counterfactual thinking when analyzing decisions tend to make decisions that take them to the extreme—either extremely good or extremely bad—while others tend to make decisions where the rewards aren't as great, but the risks aren't as high either.

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July 30, 2007

Annual Meeting: What are you looking forward to?

Okay everybody, the ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting is less than two weeks away, and so it's time to find out what you are looking forward to seeing, doing or experiencing when we gather in Chicago early next month.

Can't wait to hang with a friend you haven't seen in a long time? Eagerly anticipating a great meal at one of Chicago's fine eating establishments? Thrilled to be attending an especially timely and interesting thought leader session or learning lab?

It's going to be a great meeting all the way around, but each of us has those specific things we plan (or don't plan!) that get us particularly excited. So tell us what's floating your boat by sharing up to three of your forward-looking thoughts, and let's see if we can get a conversation started!

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July 27, 2007

We’ll pick you up

I’m reading Surrounded by Geniuses, by Alan S. Gregerman. Gregerman’s main argument is that everyone in your organization has the potential to come up with brilliant ideas—it’s just that most organizations, and the conversations within them, aren’t structured in the right way to let those ideas out.

He cites one example from the rental car company Enterprise that I found particularly inspiring: “[Enterprise’s] biggest innovation was probably an amazingly simple and compelling idea suggested by an everyday genius. In 1974, a branch manager in Orlando began to offer customers free rides to the rental office. This service became the ‘We’ll Pick You Up’ theme that is now an Enterprise tradition.”

I love that this idea originated in a branch office and was picked up by the national chain. It actually reminds me of an interview I conducted recently with some staff at the Illinois Park and Recreation Association, about an online tool they developed called Locate a Park that has been quite successful for IPRA members; the idea may be picked up at a national level by the National Recreation and Park Association. For those of you with chapters—are you doing all you can to magnify the power of innovative ideas being generated at the chapter level? For those of you working at a state or local association, do you have ideas that you could share with your sister associations in other states/localities or with a national affiliate?


Great membership conversation

There’s a great conversation going on over at Tony Rossell’s Membership Marketing blog, around issues of membership, generations, social media, and participation.

If Tony’s post interests you, be sure to read the comments—and drop a comment of your own if you have thoughts to add to the discussion.

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July 26, 2007

Distortions & Deceptions in Strategic Decisions

Readers of this and other association-related blogs are likely familiar with electronic discussions about the pros and cons of strategic planning, thinking and related practices. These discussions serve a useful (and often entertaining) purpose, by sharing views, experiences and even provocative ideas about associations and strategy. Such discussions provide an important opportunity to exchange views on “what matters most” when it comes to association's forward-looking activities.

A recent study, published in the McKinsey Quarterly, is titled “Distortions & deceptions in Strategic Decisions.” The subheading under the title reads, “Companies are vulnerable to misconceptions, biases, and other plain old lies. But not hopelessly vulnerable”. Interested? Click on


For those who are fed up with strategic planning, the Quarterly has something for you. It’s “Tired of Strategic Planning?” whose subtitle is: “Many companies get little value from their annual strategic planning process. It should be redesigned to support real-time strategy making and to encourage ‘creative accidents’ “. Click on


Happy strategy!

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July 24, 2007

‘Round the World: Globalization Models

Many associations are thinking, talking and/or planning on some sort of globalization. But what is globalization, exactly? Should we do it and if so, how? Should we just sell documents globally or should we open regional full-service offices?

Perhaps the simplest answer is with another question. Or, perhaps two questions:

--Do you have global customers?
--If so, what do they want?

If you can answer these questions affirmatively, with detailed data, then you may be ready for the next step. If you can’t answer these questions, go back to square one and find your “Voice of the Customer." Spend your money on finding and understanding the voice of your customer before anything else.

Assuming you have global customers, with reliable data on their needs and wants, then you may wish to consider how best to structure your organization’s business model and business processes for global activities. Here’s a table of four business models for globalization, with key business processes, adapted from the Daniels research in the book Global Vision, which is a very good reference.

These options should help you assess your own association’s culture, business model/processes and approach to global customers to better understand where you are now, and where you need to be, depending on your goal for a global organization. Consider carefully if your association is willing, or able, to develop the key business processes for your envisioned global model. For example, an association that is only interested in marketing publications and conferences to a global market and keeps their business organization and staff in their home country, is never likely to become anything more than a cross-border exporter of goods and services. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as that’s your organization goal.

Bon voyage! Happy globalizing!


July 22, 2007

Networking Action

The July issue of Associations Now had a mini-article with networking tips for those attending conferences. All seemingly obvious stuff that we so readily forget (eg, break the ice, have a smile, stop txting, etc). Among other great resources, Work the Pond!: Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life is a great book that covers the ins/outs of effective networking.

I often do a pre-event mindset shift on how much I plan to network vs stick to classes/formal sessions. This is a completely unscientific, and often subconscious, calculation based on who I expect the attendees to be, if I know many acquaintances will be there, the quality/relevance of the sessions, etc. Of course, things often change once I actually get to the show, but the mindset does somewhat determine how "aggressively" I approach things.

Admittedly, my focus for the ASEA Annual Meeting will be on the more formal learning elements. As someone who does not identify as an association professional (despite doing this for nearly seven years), I rarely seek out networking opportunities with other association professionals. Yes, I know that's pretty shallow and naive of me, but hey, I'm just being honest. (So, for example, most evenings during the Annual Meeting, I'm planning to bail and hook up with local game developers and IGDA chapter volunteers.)

All that said, I do plan to attend the Bloggercon gathering organized by Ben Martin. Oddly enough, I readily identify myself as a blogger!

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July 19, 2007

Don’t forget to follow up

David Gammel posted this week about an error message he came across on a website. In thinking about what the organization could have done differently to engage with folks who hit that error page, he says, “In this case, a form for an e-mail address and an offer to let you know when the problem was resolved could have been a good alternative to a standard feedback form.”

I think this is a great idea with a broader application: I think sometimes we underestimate the importance of followup as an element of excellent customer service. When a member/customer has a question that can’t be resolved immediately and hears “We’ll certainly take your input into account and consider it,” he or she may feel OK about the response. But if that member/customer hears back in three months, “We wanted to give you an update on what happened because of your feedback,” he or she will probably feel really good about the organization that took the time to check back in.

This is something that can be fairly hard to do (I would be the first to say that I should look for more opportunities for this kind of followup in my own work), but I think it can really be worth the effort.

At my last association, we used to routinely see member responses in anonymous surveys that cried out for personal responses. Typically, the member was using an open comment field to vent about something important to him/her that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the survey at hand. (I would imagine this wasn't unique to that association.) You could tell this individual was frustrated, but there was no way to reach out to him or her.

I always wished there was some way to end a survey with, “Did you provide any comments on this survey that you would like to discuss personally with staff? If so, please paste the comment and your e-mail address here.” I’m sure there are good research reasons not to do this—certainly it would make some respondents worry that the rest of their survey responses would no longer be anonymous—but I would have loved the chance to talk to some of those frustrated members directly and address their concerns.

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July 17, 2007

More generational food for thought

In a recent comment here on Acronym, Wayne Carley asks, “The last two conferences/retreats I attended had lots of young parents bringing their stroller-aged post-millenials. (Do we have a name for that generation yet?)”

Coincidentally, an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, “The Next 20 Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve,” is the first I’ve seen to give that generation a name. Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss call them the “Homelander” generation. Clearly it’s early to make any predictions about these toddlers as a generation, but Howe and Strauss do have some predictions about what Millennials will be like as parents.

Personally, I found it a little sad to see the name “Homelander” given to my children’s generation. I’d like to hope that security issues will be less of a concern in their lifetime than in mine.

On a somewhat related note, Tammy Erickson, a blogger at Harvard Business Online, has unveiled some results from research she’s been doing with Generation Y/Millennial focus groups.

One finding that struck me as particularly interesting: Her participants really like working with Boomers and find that they learn a lot from Boomer mentors. This seems to fly in the face of a lot of media coverage of Millennial/Boomer interaction, which typically seems to cast Millennials as the angry young gatecrashers or as irresponsible children of helicopter parents. (Admittedly, conflict is an easy hook for a writer to play with, which I’m sure influences this kind of coverage.) It’s nice to see new evidence that shows that these two groups can really respect each other’s perspectives and learn from one another.

Erickson uses my favorite quote as the title of her blog entry on the research; when talking about their desire for flexibility at work, one participant is quoted as saying, “What is it with you people and 8:30 a.m.?”

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July 12, 2007

Posts you shouldn’t miss

The association/nonprofit blog community has been posting some great stuff lately—perhaps summer is recharging our batteries! I thought I’d pass along a few links to posts I found particularly interesting.

• Jamie Notter argues for the importance of healthy conflict on a senior staff team and, as a bonus, gives five tips on how to handle it productively.
• Ben Martin provides some analysis the current status of online social networking and why associations should be getting on board this train now.
• For the membership folks out there, two complimentary posts: Joe Grant discusses some important steps to take to determine if you’re solving your members’ problems, and Tony Rossell provides a helpful template for a dashboard to capture key information about your membership program.
• On the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin has some great ideas on how to build a better conference.

What good stuff have you been reading lately? Feel free to add your two cents in comments!

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July 6, 2007

Baby, this is ASAE & The Center...

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I'm pleased to join the blogging crew for the upcoming Annual Meeting and I am excited to share a new perspective on the meeting (or at least one I haven't seen before). A perspective on the Annual Meeting as a family experience. Yep, that's right. I'm bringing the fam. My husband and my infant daughter. You see, I just couldn't miss out on another Annual and the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues. I had to miss last year's - I wasn't allowed to fly at the time. And this year, my husband, who works for an association but doesn't consider himself an "association person," thought he'd give it a shot. I'm a little nervous about handing my daughter over for onsite daycare (and not because I question the competency of the providers; instead, I worry about how she'll handle the adjustment), so I'd love to hear from anyone who has used the service before. I'm looking forward to introducing the family to all my association friends and introducing the association world to my family.

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