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December 8, 2007

Hey Lisa, two more tips from Cufaude

"Don't make Play-doh a big deal."
Cufaude talked about creative props used in brainstorming sessions. As he described it, you can't just say, "OK, take out the Play-doh and sculpt your vision for the organization." Instead, use things like Play-doh and crayons to help people mix up their mental space to be prepared think in new ways.

"Get on the 'Brandwagon.'"
Cufaude offered some facilitator tools for broadening discussions and advancing an idea. One of those tools was to ask "How would Starbucks do it?" or "How would Disney do it?" or How would [insert any brand here] do it?

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Person-on-the-street market research

In the session on ideas gleaned from associations' market research experiences, the presenters talked about how an association gathered market data from nonmembers while they waited in line at a professional event.

It's a great reminder of the importance of constantly gathering feedback from constituents and people you want to be your constituents.

Whether it's staff soliciting informal feedback on a trade show floor or a formal market research project, associations have be sponges, soaking up both qualitative and quantitative data to make informed decisions.

If someone asked you about your members' most pressing on-the-job challenges, what would you say? Would your members agree with you?

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December 7, 2007

Purple book of "great ideas"

For my birthday, a close friend gave me a small handmade book. She's a constant note-writer. In fact, every time she leaves for a business trip, she pens short notes to her children and husband, but she doesn't give the notes to them. Until recently, she hid them in her jewelry box. Now she writes them in "little pretty books." She's deep.

Several years ago, on her 30th birthday, she spent three hours on the floor "remembering." She went through her whole life--year by year, everything she could remember. She's encouraged me to do the same. I'm not sure I have three hours between deadlines! But that's a conversation for another day...

So I've started writing in my little handmade book, which has become the home for my "great ideas." My mind kept returning to my little book this afternoon as Bruce Turkel spoke in the Great Ideas General Session. "We all have the same tools," he said, for coming up with great ideas. Unfortunately, great ideas don't always come when you want them. You can't just coax them out by sheer will. The trick, he says, is to keep trying again. Be ready to catch that idea when it comes falling out of the sky, whether you're in the shower, in the car, cooking, whatever.

That's where my pretty little purple book has come in handy. I seem to find my great ideas on the way to work after dropping off my kids at school. I'm not necessarily advocating writing while driving, but that's what I've been doing--capturing my "great ideas," my mediocre ones, and the ones that seem quite ridiculous upon later inspection, and recording them before they're lost in the shuffle of publication deadlines, consulting projects, meetings, and family responsibilities.
Some of those ideas will be used, some won't. But what matters is that I still have some. I'm expecting to capture several over the next couple of days.

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November 15, 2007

Not Such A Great Idea

The beauty of belonging to ASAE and the Center is that we can be on the receiving end of any number of things you would never do to your members. I am serious. It's my favorite learning laboratory. Years ago, ASAE served fish from kiosks on the exhibit hall floor. Can you imagine? But what a delightful, crazy thing to try! At a different meeting, I was handed a personal VIP agenda, summarizing the events I had said I wanted to attend, printed out on a slip sheet that could fold up and fit behind my name badge. So cool. Never saw it again, but I loved it.

I strongly support the idea of an association of meeting planners and promoters experimenting on its own members. How can any of us experience the next new thing in real time if we don't risk making some mistakes?

So, in case you missed it, I thought I would mention a really bad idea being used to promote the December 9 Great Ideas Conference. I got one of those hideous automated phone messages from someone who is alledgedly speaking at next month's event. At dinner time. Makes my skin crawl just writing this.

So let's celebrate this bonehead move and remember--NEVER DO THIS TO YOUR MEMBERS.

Why? Great Ideas, like M&T in its infancy, was touted as the anti-hospitality event, a marketplace of ideas not fam-trips. It was for the hard-to-impress.

Clearly, you would not want to destroy that image with a sleazeball, intrusive, and annoying promotional ploy. In case there was some question, this experience is the best way to learn this lesson. So once again, we can all thank ASAE and the Center for going the extra mile.

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January 30, 2007

Phone anger

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

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

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

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Have a book and a smile

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

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

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Sticky idea

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

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

Here’s what her sticky wall looked like:

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And here’s one idea on that sticky wall:

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When great ideas get tough

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

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

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January 29, 2007

Audio post: Day 2 of GIC

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


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Don't be a chicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 28, 2007

Audio post: Great Ideas Conference opening general session

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


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

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The curse of knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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Simplicity makes ideas stick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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