First, assume no one cares
A couple seemingly unrelated thoughts that I've read recently have me thinking about the importance of this question: What if no one cares?
- On Scott's "Welcome to governance month" post, Maddie Grant commented with a general feeling of angst toward boards, and she said "A friend said to me that people should print my comment and show it to their boards and say, â€˜this is what some people think of boards - how would you refute it?'"
- Then I saw "Three Quick Steps to Clear Writing" on Copyblogger (which, if your job entails writing in any way, you really should be reading). One of his steps: "Care: Clarity comes from deeply caring if people truly understand."
The latter reminded me of the old writer's adage "write for the reader," which really means "consider the reader's perspective, not your own." But with Maddie's comment in mind, I realize that this mindset should permeate pretty much everything you do.
- For your next membership campaign, don't just assume that prospective members might be interested in networking or improving their careers.Â Assume that your prospects are content, lazy slouches with no ambition, little desire to expand their horizons, and zero familiarity with membership organizations. Then figure out how to make membership in your association relevant to those people.
- Next time you call a staff or volunteer meeting, don't just assume that your colleagues want to collaborate with you. Assume they're already overworked and have little to no knowledge of the need for or the fundamentals of the work you'd like to do together. Then figure out how to make them excited about working or volunteering with you.
- When you give your next presentation at a meeting or conference, don't just assume that the audience wants to learn. Assume that they came to your session because it looked like the least boring session during your time slot and that they don't think your topic is in any way relevant to their field of work. Then figure out how to get that audience engaged.
Of course, in most of these cases, people do care. But don't assume that. Don't assume anything in your favor. Rather, before you take on any task, ask yourself, "What if no one cares about this?" Then, with that perspective in mind, direct your efforts to making sure that you reach the people who don't care. It will make everything you do much more effective.
[On a related note, my colleague Lisa Junker wrote a great article back in 2007 on "red teaming," which is an exercise in assuming the mind of your competition to better understand your own weaknesses. It takes the "What if no one cares?" idea a step further by asking, "What if people want to defeat us?" and addresses it on an organizational level. It's a good read.]
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