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July 29, 2010

Three things I've learned from Pixar

Sunday afternoons, I usually end up folding laundry while watching the most interesting documentary I can find on cable. A week or two ago, that documentary was about the history of Pixar. Just watching Pixar staff talk about their work was a learning experience for me:

1. When Pixar built its own headquarters building in 1998 (a headquarters that has been significantly expanded since), a stated goal was to design the building in a way that would "encourage unplanned collaboration." I found that idea fascinating: How do you plan for the unplanned? But Pixar sees such value in serendipity and unplanned connections between staff that it puts significant effort into encouraging them.

2. I noticed that as Pixar began work on each new film, giant figures from that film could be seen in the central lobby of their headquarters. It struck me as a great visual way to remind the Pixar team of the company's central purpose, each and every day. As staff walk through the doors, they can't help but notice the giant figures from Monsters Inc. or The Incredibles and remember that their work is part of what's going to make that movie great.

3. Multiple interviewees during the documentary talked about how each new movie began with some difficult technical challenge. When Toy Story was developed, it was the longest computer-animated movie made to that date (Pixar's previous projects had all been short films). When Monsters Inc. was in production, animating the monsters' fur was a huge stumbling block. When Pixar moved on to The Incredibles, animators had to find ways to create human characters, hair, fabric, and more.

In each case, Pixar's team saw the challenge as an inspiration, not a stumbling block. Instead of saying, "We'll have to scale the movie back" or "We'll have to come up with a character design that doesn't cause us these problems," they used these opportunities to take computer animation to a whole new level. That's not to say it was easy--there was more than one story told about the sheer amount of work it took to lay the technical groundwork for the animation you see on the screen--but the Pixar mindset seems to be one of seeing the opportunity to grow and learn rather than looking for ways to cut corners.

Luckily enough, one of the Annual Meeting thought leader sessions, "Innovate the Pixar Way," will take an even closer look at Pixar. I'm looking forward to learning more. (And in the meantime, there's some great info on Pixar in both Wired and in this HBR blog post.)

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Quick Clicks: A little of this, a little of that (plus football predictions!)

We're going to jump right into this week's roundup with a quick look outside the association sector with two posts in the world of social psychology, a personal favorite of mine.

I'm going to start with the Psyblog and it's post on "3 Universal Goals to Influence People." In associations, power, even at the top, is widely distributed. The ability to influence others is crucial. To complement that, I jump to David McRaney's You Are Not So Smart blog, where he pulls on a thread in Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational and talks about price anchors. He's trying to educate consumers. From an association standpoint, you should consider what kind of anchors you are using with your members, and are they appropriate.

And before we jump to some of the excellent conversations happening in the association blogosphere (does anybody use that term anymore?), I wanted to call attention to the fun graphic in The Cosmonauts blog that tells you what your font choice says about you.

From the association world, I was interested in Dave Lutz's post on Midcourse Corrections that gives some excellent tips to think about when considering virtual tradeshows, an increasingly hot topic.

What has to be the winner of the most comment-worthy post came from Elizabeth Weaver Engel, who's post TEDWomen - Really? touched some nerves.

Another post you'll want to read the comments on comes from Tony Rossell, who draws some interesting conclusions on email communications from a recent study by Marketing General.

Pesonally, Mizz Information Maggie McGary wrote a post I wanted to comment on about the value (or lack thereof) of social media interning.

Here's a good one. Nobody chronicles association examples in the association social sector as good as Maddie Grant. I loved her look at PRSA a while back, and have even used it in presentations I've given (thanks Maddie!). This week she had another good one, a look at MPI's program of attracting social influencers. Well done.

And finally, I'm putting a teaser post in here. As of this writing, there's not an additional post yet, but I'm looking forward to reading Joe Sapp's posts on having a new CEO for the second time in two years. Now you have to write the posts, ok Joe?

Finally, jumping back outside the association sector, you probably heard about the Old Spice Hunk, I mean guy, I mean campaign. Wildly successful at generating buzz, it was criticized as a social media flop because it didn't generate sales. Not so fast, says AdFreak.com.

So that wraps up this week's edition of Quick Clicks...


Football predictions?

Ok, here's a post about why all football predictions are hooey, and now you can make fun of me for the completely geeky, nerdy sports stats blogs I read. I'm heading to a Nationals game now. (Seriously.)

PS - my prediction: the Washington football team will not make the Super Bowl. Probably. (Hey, there's nothing like the eternal hope of the fan.)

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July 28, 2010

A question of leverage

Question: Which of the following opportunities would give an association member more power?

  1. Being a board member;
  2. Being a consumer.

Last week, I offered an analogy between association members and sport fans. Eric Lanke suggested in a comment that the comparison might not be direct: "With the exception of the Green Bay Packers, fans usually don't have the leverage of an elected Board of Directors." This is an excellent point. In my mind, though, it raised the question that I've posed above, and I wanted to bring it up for further discussion in this post.

Trade associations and professional societies are unique in the amount of power that their members have through their elected boards and governance structures. Members are the association, and they are the employers. Customers of for-profit companies do not have that capacity, and I'm not sure that donors to charitable nonprofits do, either.

But I wonder if the power of being a consumer—which can mean purchasing a membership, attending a meeting, visiting a website, or not doing any of these things—is still stronger. Satisfied customers equals revenue, and the almighty dollar carries a lot of influence.

It might be that there's no right or wrong answer to this question. My guess, though, is that the way you answer it says a lot about how you run (or would run) an association. Answer A caters to a focused, engaged niche. Answer B caters to the masses. I'm curious for your thoughts.

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July 27, 2010

A Passion for Business

Did anyone else happen to enjoy two articles in this week's Bloomberg Businessweek about associations? The first one is a three-page piece that uses the Romance Writers of America conference as entry into discussion of the rise of the entire "bodice rippers" book industry. I especially liked learning about how rapidly this section of the bookselling industry was being fractured into micro niches that change in a heartbeat to mimic social changes.

Uniting those splinters, though, is a larger theme noted by one of the profession's leading authors, Marie Bostwick: "There is a tremendous desire for community. Somehow in this world, where everyone is constantly communicating, people have lost real friendships."

Maybe that is why the Romance Writers of America and its conferences continue to grow as well--that desire to get together over endless cups of coffee and a common passion for, well, passion. How might the rest of us better identify and leverage the rising and falling (dare I write, heaving) of membership micro-niches that fulfill emotionally driven needs and interests of our members, rather than more reserved connections related to professional function or title?

The other Businessweek article looks not at an association so much as its leader, the new and increasingly influential association executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro. DeMoro rose to power from a supermarket cashier position in Missouri to lead the rapidly growing California Nurses Association (CNA) and--since December 2009--its evolution and merger into a 155,000-member nursing organization. This new player--called the National Nurses United--is composed of CAN CNA, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and the dynamic DeMoro is fully in charge at the top.

Whether you agree or not with DeMoro's rather flamboyant style, you can't deny the heart of the article: passion. One woman's focused, determined battle to ensure that "nurses should win every battle."

That a publication dedicated to business coverage should devote six pages in its feature well to address (however indirectly) the influence of passion and community-building on the workplace was as refreshing as a dewy rose. No? Okay, strike that last phrase. I'll keep it simple: The articles are good reading for folks in every field in our sector.

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July 26, 2010

The decision card

I took some advice from Joe and read through some of my notes from the Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management earlier this summer. Connectivity at the event was spotty, and I know I didn't share as much from there as I should have.

So looking back, I found this gem from Bob Rosen, on deciding how to make a decision. At its very core, a person's leadership, or lack thereof, is defined by the decisions he or she makes. Forget leader, we are all, as people, the sum of our decisions (ok, ok, with some unavoidable genetic stuff thrown in). So the decisions we make--from what to have for breakfast to who to flirt with to who to hire to be your right hand--are important stuff.

When you look at leaders in a hierarchical sense--head of a department, head of an organization, whatever--these people, Rosen says, have four decision cards they can play. From most involved to least involved, these are your four choices when you decide how to make a decision:

1. Make the decision. You're in charge, you make the decision, and tell people to execute it or you do it yourself.

2. You get input from others, including sharing your thoughts with others, and then make the decision. This differs from option 1 because you have opened yourself up to the influence of others.

3. You share and receive input, and the group consensus (or hopefully at least a strong majority) decide on a course of action. (A note on this one, as a hierarchical leader, you have to be careful when and how you share your input. By definition, you have a certain amount of power in this discussion that the others do not have.)

4. Finally, you can delegate the entire decision. This is essentially option 1 and maybe the polar opposite of option 1 combined. You are telling someone or some group that this decision is entirely theirs to make.

That's it. Rosen says every time you make a decision, you have to play one of those cards.

So clearly in an enlightened organization, there is only one good decision-making option, right? Option 3. That's what empowerment and the HR management dogma we've all learned since the 1960s has taught us, right?

Sure. Good luck getting anything done in that organization. The fact is, organization leaders (again, the hierarchical kind here) have to use all four of these cards. What I take away from Rosen's four decision cards is that leaders need to think about the situation and think about which card is the best one to play for the organization. Any leader who relies on any one card too often is probably doing a disservice to his or her organization.

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Some comment housekeeping

I was about ready to write a real post, when I realized I had wanted to do this quick housekeeping post this morning...

We're working on some upgrades in our online environment, and we have not been able to get the comment spam worked out yet. As a result, we still have to moderate comments. The purpose is only to weed out the spam, though I suppose if a legit comment that was especially profane or a hatchet job came in, we'd try to talk to the commenter before we posted it.

In any event, thank you all for your continued comments on Acronym--we love the discussions. We will continue to post your comments as soon as we see them and apologize for the inconvenience. Please keep 'em coming!


July 22, 2010

Quick Click: Editors rule edition

I hope you're enjoying our new shared rotation of Quick Clicks posters. I know I am.

Here are some posts that I found particularly interesting since my last turn at Quick Clicks:

- Wild Apricot has launched a new blog, Association Ideas@Wild Apricot. Officially, it's aimed at small-staff association leaders, but I think their posts so far are interesting for large-staff readers, too.

- Another recently-launched association blog is associationTECH, a place for association folks with an interest in technology to share their thoughts and ideas. They've issued a call for contributors, so if you'd like to join in, take a look at their About Us page.

- I find failure and how organizations respond to and learn from it to be fascinating, so of course I liked this post by Seth Godin sharing his take on a "hierarchy of failure."

- I am in no way influenced by personal bias in sharing this post with you: "How to Measure the Value of Editors."

- HBR has an interesting blog post from Roger Martin about whether or not management is a profession. I think Martin's arguments are food for thought for those of us in the association management field, too.

- Speaking of food for thought, Vinay Kumar recently posted some wonderful "what if?" questions for you to ponder. The Plexus Consulting blog also recently posted some questions to help you consider whether or not your organization is relevant, insightful, efficient, and effective.

- Shelly Alcorn has a great post on the way human memory functions and its implications for your members.

- I love this post by Maddie Grant on an advantage associations should never forget that they have--community.

- At the Connect blog, there's a great post by Carrie Hartin on her experience volunteering for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (man, that show makes me cry) and some lessons it taught her about volunteerism.

- Marsha Rhea and Elizabeth Weaver Engel both posted some thoughts inspired by a future-thinking exercise at a recent CAE event. What do the next 50 years hold for associations?


July 21, 2010

Relationships vs. Marketing

"Marketing is what happens when relationship fails." When I heard this comment, I wasn't at a board meeting or a marketing conference. I was at church, listening to the sermon, more than a month ago. And I can't get the words out of my head. It wasn't some wacko sermon about marketing. The context was about growing the church community through caring for each other and meeting the needs of the unchurched - making a difference in the lives of others (I'll omit the spiritual component here). It made me long to live in Walnut Grove - the town from Little House on the Prairie.

After my Laura Ingalls flashback, I realized what was conflicting me. How can we form and multiply relationships that matter and inspire members instead of relationships that have a goal of developing and maintaining a membership base in order to generate profit for our organizations? Is it an either/or situation? Is the opposite really true - is marketing obsolete if relationship succeeds? What do you think?

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July 20, 2010

When members rave but staff grumble

Another post drawn from the LeBron drama. How do you like that?

To follow up: last week I shared some "what not to do" lessons association leaders could learn from LeBron James. As a closing note, I mentioned the open letter to fans that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote the night of LeBron's decision to leave.

Bruce Hammond commented and focused on Gilbert:

"… as a leader, talking about how bad or unmotivated an employee was while they were on your team doesn't make you or your organization look very good for the next potential all-star team member you want to come join you."

An excellent point. Shortly after, though, I read that numerous Cavaliers fans offered to help pay the $100,000 fine Gilbert received from the NBA for the letter and that the Cavs received "thousands of e-mails and phone calls" from supportive fans.

That kind of support from your fan base is invaluable, and given that Gilbert has now lost his biggest draw, his desire to do whatever he can to keep his customers passionate enough to fill seats is understandable, even if it means painting a former employee as a mortal enemy.

In a way, keeping sports fans happy is like keeping association members happy. They're both sets of passionate people who are often hard to please and who have a lot of ideas about how things should be run. But, for an association CEO, where's the line between keeping members happy and failing to support your staff?

I once had an association staffer tell me about her CEO's habit of throwing staff under the bus when a board member complained. In the less extreme, a vocal member can elicit a reaction or decision from a CEO that gives staff headaches later.

But, while the CEO risks upsetting staff in these cases, employees are paid. Accepting a certain amount of heat in the name of "the customer is always right" is a tacit part of the job description.

So I don't disagree with Bruce's point about the potentially negative effects of a leader rallying support from paying customers at the expense of paid employees. He's right. Failing to support your staff can hurt you in the long run. But without CEO experience myself, I can only imagine what it feels like to be a chief staff executive facing a cranky board or an aloof membership; it must be tempting to appease them somehow even with the knowledge that staff will grumble later. Dan Gilbert must have felt that way, too, assuming the impact of his message on other players even crossed his mind at all.

Any CEOs or executive directors willing to chime in on the art of keeping both members and staff happy?

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July 16, 2010

3 smart quotes from Thought Leaders

Next up in our preview of the ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting & Expo, three deep thoughts from Thought Leaders who will speak at the conference. I've added my own reaction to each below.

On work-life balance:

"Take a few minutes to consider the physical or mental overcrowding that you're probably putting up with right now. Where do you need to bring some space into your personal or professional life? Do you need space on your calendar to spend more time with your kids? Space in your home to bring a pet into your life? Space on your to-do list to allow for new business?

"Decide where you want the space and start making room. Even though it may be hard to get started, once you're done it's like that final child pose that you ease into at the end of a tough yoga session. Ahhh, breathe deep and relax into all that space."

—Libby Gill, from "Find Space for What You Need," on her blog, March 19, 2010

(I've never done yoga, but I get the idea. City living and a busy job can make one claustrophobic. I used to find that relaxing came naturally, but I find more and more that I need to consciously plan time to make sure I'm relaxing and finding "space." You should, too.)

On getting attention:

"I first heard about the new Cisco product from a receptionist in our office. As I walked in, she said: 'Did you hear about Cisco's new router? It can download the entire Library of Congress in one second.' What surprised me was not that Cisco had introduced a phenomenally fast router for service providers. What surprised me was that our receptionist—who has never mentioned Cisco and probably cares little about router speed—was excited about it.

"I retrieved the Cisco press release and, sure enough, the streamed movies and Library of Congress hooks were included in the release, word for word. Cisco had given the public something to talk about, a conversation starter."

—Carmine Gallo, from "Why Your Business Needs a Hook," on Bloomberg Businessweek, March 16, 2010

(Carmine shares here a great example on Cisco's part of "lateral thinking," the ability to take a concept and present it in an entirely new way. It is often seen as a link between creativity and humor, because the human brain reacts with surprise when presented with a sudden incongruity or leap from one perspective to another. If you can present your association's message in a way that surprises or amuses members or prospects, they'll be far more likely to remember you.)

On interpersonal communication:

"Communication isn't a one-way street—you can't bark orders and commands and expect all employees to follow that system. In fact, that technique may even be wildly detrimental to what you're trying to accomplish with your business.

"Try reading this sentence six times—and each time put the emphasis on a different word …
'I Didn't Say You Were Beautiful.'

"If six words can mean so many different things it's no wonder that communication within a company can be so confusing and frustrating at times.

"Never stop passionately pursuing better communication with everyone around you."

—Cameron Herold, from "The Key to Good Communication," on his BackPocket COO blog, April 6, 2010

(I tried it. The sentence really does mean something different every time. And so it's no wonder people have so much misunderstanding via email and other electronic communication. It's hard to convey tone and emphasis in text.)

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July 15, 2010

Quick Clicks: Matchmaking, ethics, and creativity (or a lack thereof)

My turn at recommending some reading material this week. Here goes:



July 14, 2010

Nonprofits/Associations Helping Gulf Oil Spill Victims

While associations and nonprofits were regularly featured in the news for their efforts to help industries, professionals, and other victims after the Haiti earthquake in January, the same cannot be said for their efforts to assist those harmed by the BP (formerly British Petroleum) oil spill in the Gulf region. That doesn't mean groups aren't busy, though.

Here are a few examples of what your colleagues are doing:

Creating partnerships: The Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations hopes to "foster strategic collaboration," boost accountability, help volunteers, and "provide a unified voice for the nonprofit sector" by maintaining an online list of spill-related resources. Customers of Ratner Companies, which owns The Hair Cuttery chain, donated more than 6,000 pounds of shorn hair by Federal Express to its new partner, Matter of Trust, a nonprofit that prepares hair booms and mats to soak up oil in the Gulf region.

Providing expertise: The New Orleans Bar Association created a web page for disaster legal resources related to the Gulf Oil Spill (e.g., insurance claims, loans, health hazards, and emergency services). The American Lung Association, concerned about the respiratory impact of oil fumes and toxins on clean-up workers, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis urging close monitoring of air pollution levels to assure that "workers near and at the spill site are properly trained, equipped with appropriate respirators and protected from dangerous air pollutants and toxics they may inhale." The American Association of Poison Control Centers developed a tipsheet for people exposed to oil, chemical dispersants, or other spill-related toxins to help protect their health. The American Veterinary Medical Association held a disaster preparedness webinar related to the Gulf for members in July.

Raising money through cause marketing: One of the most visible fundraising campaigns has been executed by Dawn dishwashing liquid, which is donating $1 up to $500,000 to the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Marine Mammal Center from the sale of each marked bottle for wildlife cleanup. Sustainable flower company Organic Bouquet has developed a cause marketing campaign with The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and Ocean Conservancy whereby $10 of each online purchase of flowers and gifts from a new Gulf Relief Collection goes to the charities for oil cleanup.

Offering emotional support: The American Psychological Association has released advice about how to "Manage Distress Caused by the Oil Disaster in the Gulf." Myriad groups have issued supportive press releases directed at their Gulf-area chapters and components, as well as the affected industries and professions within the region.


July 13, 2010

Lessons from LeBron

If you paid attention to the news at all last week, you know that NBA superstar LeBron James left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat, and you know that he announced his decision in an hour-long special on ESPN Thursday night. Needless to say, it was not a popular decision in Cleveland, and reaction elsewhere to the style of his announcement was not much better (at least outside Miami).

To some, LeBron James is just a basketball player, but as an aspiring billionaire, he is very much the CEO of his own empire. As such, business and association leaders can learn a few lessons from the whole debacle:

Don't make vendors or job applicants jump through hoops if they're not being seriously considered. After the free-agency period began, LeBron listened to presentations from at least six teams whose representatives flew to Akron, Ohio, to woo him. We'll never know for sure, but his final decision to join buddies Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami seems like it was the plan all along. As an organization making a decision regarding whom to hire or sign a contract with, keep your group of finalists small. Interviewing people not in contention is a waste of their time and yours, and it may leave them with a bad impression.

Understand that humans react emotionally—even irrationally—before anything else. LeBron delivered the classic "It's just business" line, which is always a mistake. His version was, "I can't get involved in that. You know, one thing that I didn't want to do was make an emotional decision." Problem is, trying to be logical with people in a time of change just doesn't work. Yes, of course business decisions are business decisions, and moving to the Heat was arguably his best option. But "It's just business" will fall on deaf ears 100 percent of the time. Any leader ushering in a major change should plan for winning hearts—or at least minimizing backlash—first and worry about the logistics later. Which leads me to…

Show respect—even praise—for people who will be let down by a business decision. LeBron made little effort to thank Cavaliers fans for seven years of loyalty, and the act of announcing his departure in an hour-long TV circus just made it worse. Contrast this with MLB pitcher Roy Halladay, who bought a full-page ad in the Toronto Sun to thank Blue Jays fans when he was traded to Philadelphia in December. In any major change at an organization—ending a long-running program, laying off employees, etc.—there's no avoiding negative reaction. But acknowledging the past contributions of deeply vested stakeholders softens the pain they feel in some small way. To ignore them is to pour salt in the wound.

Of course, LeBron's not the only one who took the low road. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned an emotional open letter after LeBron's announcement. If you're a Cavs fan, the letter is a catharsis, but if you're a manager or leader, it is a bad example to follow—Steve Tobak at The Corner Office blog explains why. (And if you're a graphic designer with an interest in font choices, the letter was, well, peculiar.)

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July 12, 2010

Customer Service Hygiene

Let's be honest. Nobody likes going to the dentist. But, I've been going to my dentist for about 25 years. And it's not too bad. When I got married they provided a free whitening treatment so my teeth would shine in all our pictures. When the phone rang and it was Barbara, I knew my appointment was a few days away. When I showed up for my appointment Maryann the hygienist asked me about things we talked about six months ago at my last appointment. She would set aside my favorite color toothbrush. She must have taken notes.

Then about two years ago the office underwent an extreme makeover. In addition to the new modern décor, and all new staff, the office has all the latest dental technology: digital x-ray machine and that high-fangled thing that measures the space between your gums and your teeth, "1, 1, 1, 3." The new hygienist knows all the latest techniques. I barely feel anything. There's even a new spit bowl vacuum (which I actually find a little scary). And, of course, a ceiling-mounted tv, complete with all my favorite cable channels.

Of course the changes were intended to make the dental appointment experience more pleasing for the patients. Unfortunately, the warmth, the personal touch, Barbara, Maryann, the kid's play area - which I now need - are gone. Sometimes the hygienist uses the remote to put on what she wants and doesn't pass it to me. And they now make us pay up front and get reimbursed by the insurance company.

So, this is more than just a rant about my soon-to-be-former dentist. It's more of a lament. I wish they would have asked someone like me why I went there for 25 years before they got rid of all the good things. And I hope when our associations decide to make sweeping changes to a program, service or experience that member needs, expectations and satisfaction are the priorities and not image, technology and money.

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July 8, 2010

Quick Clicks: Hacked edition, take 1

For what must be about a decade now, Lisa Junker has been churning out Quick Clicks once a week (-ish). In our last meeting about Acronym, we decided to divide up that duty between Lisa, Joe, and myself--to mix up the perspectives, but also to free Lisa up just a little bit with the hope that she'll have a non-Quick Clicks post or two she can write (and we all want that!)

So the first Quick Clicks written by someone other than a Junker fell to me today. I immediately was filled with power, but understood the great responsibility that was now mine. Um, right...

So here are a few of the things I've run across in this holiday-shortened week that I thought were noteworthy; I hope you do, too.

First up, a quick and poignant post from Jamie Notter the points to social media burnout. Not really burn out on using social media, rather, growing weary of having the same conversations about social media. For those who have been in the space a while, I'd love to see your thoughts on the future posts Jamie promises to write.

Building from that, David Patt from the Association Executive Management blog says it's too fast to be talking about what's next, that associations would do well to focus on a few things. (But I think I'd fall into the category that David labels Jamie's "techno-buddies." Not sure how I feel about that.) And in a weird, psychic phenomenon, someone who probably does not know Jamie, or even has a grasp of what the association sector is, answered Jamie's questions six days before he asked them; check out Jon Goldman's post on Mashable on the social experience.

It's true, referencing a social media topic is like fish barrel shooting, or whatever the cliche is, in terms of blogosphere interest. It's much harder to generate interest in different topics, like.... puppies! I really liked Cynthia D'Amour's story of Mavis, the pup who didn't cut it as guide dog, told in Cynthia-style with a good, Cynthia-point to punctuate it.

Moving along, I'm glad Maddie Grant shared the digital strategy documents that she did, and that Shannon Otto gave us notes from the #Hackaction event in not 1, but 2 different posts (I feel like I was there).

Taking an intellectual turn, Jeff Cobb shares a thoughtful post on something that's been on my mind recently: that learning is a means to an end, and, particularly in business settings, we learn so that we can make better decisions. We tend to think about learning as the structured activities that we make time for: conferences, books, podcasts. While these are important, they make up only a tiny fraction of the learning that we do, the bulk of it is labeled experience. To Jeff, it's the difference between spotlights and floodlights.

And finally, I couldn't possibly do a Quick Clicks without linking to a Seth Godin post or to some useful tool or tidbit. You really should read Godin, the man makes me think and makes me angry that I'm not doing more. He's also the reason you're reading me on this blog--maybe sometime I'll share the story of how Acronym began. But to close out, here's the useful tidbit: it comes from the YouTube blog and it tells you about a service to easily get legal rights to use music in your creations. And my favorite Godin post from the last week... his sugar cane parable.

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3 tips for taking notes at a conference

At any conference with education sessions (such as ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo or any other), learning is a key objective. But unless you have a photographic memory, you'll need to take notes to maximize that learning.

So, here are my three tips for making your notes more effective, based on my personal, entirely non-expert experience:

  1. Pick the right notepad (or computer, if you like). Why do news reporters use those narrow, 4" x 8", top-bound notepads? Because they fit firmly into the palm of the hand, which reporters need when they're often doing stand-up interviews out in the field. You don't have to use a reporter's notebook (unless you plan on standing for an entire conference), but you should take a moment to consider what notepad or note-taking device will work best for you. Go with whatever feels the most comfortable, convenient, and easy to carry around. Then you can focus on taking good notes.

  2. badnotes.jpgGo back to fill in and mark important items. As can be seen at right, my handwriting is messy, and I often can't decipher it later. This, of course, is a problem for information retention. But handwriting issues aside, when you take notes, you leave out a lot of detail and context. Something like "take people to the movie" probably made sense when I wrote it, but it sure doesn't now. So, immediately after a session is over, do what I neglected to do in this case and go back over your notes to:
    1. Fill in extra context and detail while it's fresh in mind;
    2. Clearly rewrite any sloppy writing while you can still decipher it; and
    3. Circle or star any major ideas that you want to be sure not to miss upon later review.
  3. Set a date for review or sharing notes with others. Unlike our school days, we're not tested on what we hear and see at a conference, so there's no built-in mechanism that leads us to review notes at a later date. You have to build that process yourself. So, before you leave for the conference, set an appointment, reminder, or alert in your calendar for a short time after the conference to review your notes and, even better, share what you learned with your colleagues. If you're a supervisor, you may even want to ask your conference-bound employees to provide a report back to you or your department somehow when they return. You might feel like a bit like a school teacher, but it will help your employees better retain and share what they learned.

Have any other note-taking tips to offer? Add them in the comments.

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July 6, 2010

3 things to know about Acronym and the Annual Meeting

Believe it or not, ASAE & The Center's 2010 Annual Meeting & Expo in Los Angeles is less than 50 days away. Of course, we hope you're planning to attend (in person or virtually), but even if you're not, stay tuned to Acronym during the next two months. Before the meeting, we'll highlight speakers and share tips for making the most of a conference; during and shortly after the meeting, we'll capture and share knowledge from on site.

Throughout, Acronym's Annual Meeting coverage will be brought to you by the number three:

  1. Three tips, three questions, three must-dos--whatever the case may be, you can expect three of each in our posts related to the Annual Meeting. The number three has no special significance in relation to the conference; we just like it as a nice, round number. Three will also help us keep things short and simple here during the meeting. We know the information coming out of the Annual Meeting is like a fire hose, so we hope posts with three short thoughts will break that flow into some manageable gulps.
  2. We're looking for guest bloggers--and you'd only need to write one post. Anyone is eligible, and no prior blogging experience is necessary. If you have an idea or want to share your experience from the meeting, we'd welcome your contribution. Think in terms of three. In the first comment to this post is a list of potential ideas with a "three" theme, just to get your mind rolling. If you're interested in contributing, email us at acronym@asaecenter.org.
  3. Find more knowledge at the Hub. Acronym is just one part of the conversation at the Annual Meeting. This year's meeting will again feature the "Hub," a central online location to find info and knowledge being shared at the Annual Meeting, whether it be from Twitter, Flickr, blogs, Daily Now (the onsite newspaper), and more. Find the Hub at http://asae10.org on your desktop or http://asae10.org/m/ on your mobile device. Bookmark it now and check back as the conversation grows before and during the conference.

Scott, Lisa, and I already have some three-themed posts in the works, which you'll see here soon. Feel free to offer more ideas or let us know in the comments what you'd like to see here on Acronym from the Annual Meeting. Thanks!

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Write your professional obituary

I am a bit morbid, no doubt about it. I often think about friends and family members, and what I would say at their funerals. I may be a little weird, but there is nothing more powerful in our lives than death, and thinking about the people we love and work with and what will eventually happen to all of them is strangely a fantastic way to understand how much they mean to you. The best leaders aren't fully understood or appreciated until they die.

Our association just experienced a death. One of our longest serving members, a past board president, passed away with family and friends around him, after a long fight. This person, through the sheer force of his will, made it to our national symposium in June, and it was one of the most bittersweet and most amazing experiences I've witnessed; the depth of commitment and care this individual showed to our association was given back to him tenfold during our three-day event, and I was personally moved by the positive affect he'd had on the lives of his colleagues.

This leads me naturally to think of, guess who, YOU! What is your obituary going to read, as an association leader? What about those of your best friends in your profession--what will be said about them when they are gone?

It wouldn't be fair to ask you to think of this without writing my own. Here is what I hope they'll say about me (and I have yet to earn all of this so I can't go just yet):

"He was an individual who dedicated his life to a cause that was greater than making widgets or selling products. He was hard-headed and passionate, which made him a royal pain to be around sometimes, especially when he was wrong. But when he got it right, he was dead on. He cared more about the people around the association and within it than he did about any one project, program, policy, or procedure. And he helped cultivate a strong sense of community through challenge, rapport, passion, and creativity. He touched thousands of lives and had a positive impact on most of them. He was relentlessly focused on the big picture. He contradicted himself all the time and was proud of it, as he felt that nothing was ever set in stone and everything was a work in progress. He didn't always play by the rules, but he never expected anyone else to either."

Your turn?

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July 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Straight Up

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks--just in time for the holiday long weekend (for those of you who are in the States). Here's some great reading before you head out to your holiday celebration of choice:

- Welcome to new association blogger Dave Martin! Dave just recently launched the Dirty Martini blog, with the great tagline "Association Marketing Straight Up."

- Amith Nagarajan has written three posts on the Aptify CEO blog following up on his Leadership Inspiration post here on Acronym. He's written on encouraging debate at all costs, making decisions with imperfect information, and challenging your opinion continuously.

- The Connect blog shares 56 takeaways from ASAE's Membership and Marketing Conference and Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting.

- At face2face, Sue Pelletier considers a couple of perspectives on the question of whether or not association tradeshows are on their way out.

- At the SignatureI blog, Marsha Rhea considers what the next 50 years might hold for associations.

- The Nonprofit University blog shares a fascinating parable about Goldilocks and the three executive directors.

- Vinay Kumar wonders if we're asking the right questions as we try to improve our organizational performance. On a somewhat related note, Chris Bailey has some suggestions on how you can listen like an anthropologist to hear what isn't being said during important conversations.

- At the Insights From a Future Association Executive blog, Bruce Hammond has started an interesting discussion about the future of magazines.

- Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog shares some lessons learned from arranging a virtual career fair.

- Joe Sapp at the Moving Through the Association World blog (welcome back, Joe!) responds to Brian Birch's recent Acronym posts on building a new website with some advice of his own.

- Rebecca Rolfes suggests a new way for associations to think about growth.

- The AssociationRat blog wonders if the business world has anything equivalent to a walk-off in baseball.