Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Seriously, these are two of my favorite illustrations of all time. These came from a book called Life In Five Seconds: The Short Story of Absolutely Everything....you can visit them here and I highly suggest that you buy the book.
The fact is, we spend way too much time in associations worrying about who we are and what we do instead of just doing it. The value of an association seems hard to find when you bury it in article after article about "value" and "market-share." And yes, although we've all heard about "Back of the Napkin" and all that good strategy, I was wondering if I could use the Life in Five Seconds idea to tell a story about associations in a really simple way.
Here's my take on it (and no, I am not an artist)....
This is the story. You come to an association to learn about careers, schools you can graduate from or education and certificates you can get and you meet people. You get a good career and maybe a place to live and family (why the cat is twice the size of the child is relatively Freudian I suppose)....and then you live a nice life and you die. Not that dying is a great image to use, but let's be real, none of us are getting out of here alive.
And that is kind of it. All of the rest of the stuff we fill our days with only serves to help, hinder or obscure what we are here to do. I don't know about you guys, but when I see it just sketched out, it's an easy jump to advocate for why membership is important.
How would you tell the minimalist story of what we are here to do? I'd love to see some of your drawings...
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government
Always hopeful yet discontent
He knows changes aren't permanent
But change is....Rush, Tom Sawyer
Here is the link to the video for those who can't see the embed.
It seems fitting to feature Rush again here on the Association Subculture in light of their recent (OVERDUE IMHO) induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I just read the latest installment in the University of Michigan longitudinal study on us Gen Xers - Lifelong Learning: Generation X Illustrates the New Reality - and it contains some great news for associations. Generation X is the first generation to fully embrace the need for lifelong learning and they show every sign of continuing their pursuit of quality education that will make them competitive in the workplace.
More importantly, Generation X is embodying a larger cultural shift that no longer sees a linear life path - (school, college, career, retirement) but is embracing a more latticed approach that weaves education throughout a life that may include skipping college for a while and working, going back to school, pursuing certifications and licensing, and changing careers a number of times. It's a more fluid approach to life that is actually more sustainable over the long term and opens up a ton of opportunities for associations.
Far from being outdated, we are actually on the cusp of being able to provide educational solutions that can satisfy Generation X members and the younger generations that will follow. According to the report, Generation X learners tend to actively pursue activities that break down into three recognizable categories:
- Formal courses leading to degrees at various levels – associate, baccalaureate, graduate, and professional.
- Courses and workshops that lead to licenses, certificates, and other recognition within professions and occupations.
- Informal learning and skill acquisition that may not be directly job related but which may advance an individual's ability as a consumer, a parent or a voter.
Associations can obviously impact the second category, but we can spill over into the other two as well. Why not expand our educational offerings to create more informed consumers, parents and voters? We do government affairs well, but we can do better. And we can create partnerships in the formal system too (if it still exists in the same form it is in over time which is currently up for debate but is the subject of another post).
According to this report. 32% of employed Generation Xers work in jobs that require licensing which includes ongoing education and an additional 16% are working in jobs that require ongoing education to achieve and maintain certification. Our audience is here, we just have to continue to make our case in new and better ways. Real learning happens in the presence of strong relationships - isn't that what we say we are all about?
Although I interpret these statistics to mean we are nowhere near extinct, and we have opportunities on the horizon that are even better than we had before, we do continue to suffer from educational programs that need more sophisticated delivery systems, excellent educators to lead them and a conference system that is a little on the antiquated side. If we don't remain seriously focused on professional development and career assistance, there are others waiting in the wings who want to put us out of business.
However, if we rise to this challenge, and expand our educational offerings into those other areas mentioned above where we have clear opportunities and maybe even some advantages, we are going to be in an excellent position over the long term.
Education. Networking. Democracy. Let's get back to it...the numbers are on our side.
Monday, May 13, 2013
"I am somebody. I was somebody when I came in, I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful and I am strong. I deserve the education I get here. I have things to do, people to impress and places to go."
"....because -18 sucks the life right out of you, but +2 says I'm not all bad...." Rita Pierson
Here is the link to the talk if you can't see the embed....
For those of you who got to see the PBS Special "TED Talks Education" a few days ago, it was seriously inspiring. In fine TED fashion all of the talks are now available to be streamed free of charge at www.ted.com. The first quote above is something that Rita Pierson teaches each of her students to say. What if we taught our members to say the same thing?
This talk resonates with me because I can't help but think that not only does every kid need a champion, every member needs a champion too. Every one of her kids is a potential member. Associations have potential members coming from all four corners of the earth who are being ignored and dismissed on a daily basis. As if it's someone else's job to educate them or solve the skills gap. Where are these kids going to go if they get locked out of the traditional education system? They better be able to come to us.
Every member of EVERY trade and professional association needs job skills, career advice. education, certification and all of the other things we do. But we aren't doing them fast enough or well enough to meet the need. Private industry is eating our lunch with firms like Udemy and TechCrunch working together to produce quality programming to help fill the technology skills gap - http://www.educationdive.com/news/solving-the-skills-gap-udemy-techcrunch-launch-online-learning-platform-f/128958/
In associations, we have been conducting this whine-a-palooza for the last 20 years. Members don't understand us. We aren't in a position to capitalize on these new trends. We don't know what our value proposition is. Young people aren't joiners. Baloney. Any one of us could get on Udemy today, set up a class and get moving. We could be looking at companies like epathlearning.com or Blue Sky Broadcast. At the very least, we could be having a robust conversation about where associations fit in today's educational landscape.
More importantly (and I will thank Wendy Kavanagh for this forever) we have to eliminate the Willy Wonka aspect of membership. Membership should not be beneficial for those few who figure out how the system works. Every member needs a champion. Every member needs outreach, to be taught how to access the system, to be shown a pathway to a better life. And not with a membership packet and a website address. We need to develop a culture within our organizations that decides that NO MEMBER WILL BE LEFT BEHIND.
What would happen the next time your board got together and you talked about how to fill those empty pipelines. To ask them if they are having trouble finding people to work for them and if so, then how can our training expand to ensure they have access to quality employees with the right skills to do the jobs and make their industries and professions better?
What would happen if we put the words "every member needs a champion" on the top of our letterhead, in our vision and our strategic plans? How and what could we change for the better when we decide we aren't providing services for the lucky few who can figure it out? But that we are here to make sure every member knows they have value and worth and a community around them who can help them keep a job, keep a house, and have a better life?
Can we do that? Of course we can. Rita Pierson is working with the kids we are getting ready to inherit. It's time for us to step up. She believes in them, and we should too.
Monday, April 22, 2013
This is just a fantastic illustration from a book that I desperately want to read called "Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology" by Caroline Paul with illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton. The description sounds awesome, the illustrations are a hoot and I think any cat lover would look at this picture and knowingly nod.
The illustration strikes me where I live, in "change" work with associations. Obviously Tibby the cat is convinced (from his feline point of view) that these change scenarios and their locus to his fuzzy face are true. And we, as humans, nervously laugh. While we intellectually know the last circle of "certain death" is probably not true, if we put ourselves in that picture we can see that in our own lives we sometimes act just like Tibby.
Our association and nonprofit boards of directors, volunteers and staff frequently get caught up in these scenarios. As if somehow the "safe" zone is exactly where we are....and not one foot over either to the left or to the right. But "safe" is not safe forever. Change will-come-is-coming-has-come. At some point, the lure of the dinner plate or the litter box will overcome our common sense and force us to bravely move from where we are. What I find so cool about this graphic and this idea is that the safe zone moves with us no matter where we are. As our boards and staff move together into the future, the scary territory of the "new" becomes safe again as the known territory of "old." Our center of safety is always with us if we stay true to our mission, our vision and ourselves.
I hear a lot these days about the "certain death" of associations and I am relatively sure the rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. More importantly, as the environment becomes more chaotic - we simply have more chances to "move the safe zone" with us. Tibby may feel like certain death is a mere two feet away, but at the end of the day certain death really isn't so certain after all.
So go forward and make some good decisions this week. Feel confident that even if you feel anxious about moving in one direction or the other, your safe zone will move with you. Be smart. Use data. Have fun. And when you have those discussions with your volunteers about moving one direction or the other, make sure you go together and the odds are you will do just fine.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Thanks to Lisa Junker (@ljunker) for sharing this blog post from Good.is on 10 Amazing Chairs for Book Lovers. To me, this is a perfect example of one of the trends we highlighted earlier this year from Trendhunter.com which was "upgraded ordinary."
With space conscious design, and more sustainability conscious consumers taking front and center, designers are beginning to create all manner of ingenious solutions that are simultaneously attractive and useful. When we think about the things we send to individuals in our industries or professions, we need to consider using innovative design features as well. Not only for aesthetics, but for the sheer joy of usage - how can we get one thing to do two things, or two things to do three things....? How can we ensure we are creating things that can be resources themselves, not just using resources to create things to take up space?
Good design, matched with a deep understanding of usage, can help us create solutions for our stakeholders in a myriad of ways. You can use the same principle in digital as well. Can one click get me eight things instead of one? Can one mobile app help me do four things all in one place? Can we get all of our bloggers onto one platform instead of on 20? And what else could that platform do?
Oh, and if you are thinking of upgrading your office furniture, or you embark on a mission to tear those horrible gray cubicles down.....think about these kinds of cool additions instead. We don't have to look like dental offices or bus stations. (Supposedly we are more fun than that. Just sayin'.....)
If you have upgraded the ordinary recently, share your comments with us! My readers would love to hear your ideas on how to make "normal" special!