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Reinvent What You Do, Not Who You Are

I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. I only know what I can do.

Good News for Association Education from Generation X

The first generation to expect lifelong learning is here - and your association should be taking advantage of it!

Membership IS The Value of Membership

Members aren't customers. Rinse. Repeat.

Decision Weasels

Got a decision weasel in your midst? Learn how to spot 'em.

The END of Associations

The only thing that will ensure associations become irrelevant is the constant questioning about whether they are or not.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Micro Change Can Lead to Macro Change

From this: 

To this: 

There has been a movement underway for some time to replace the traditional symbol for "handicapped" with a new visual and to stop using the word "handicapped" on signs. What a beautiful idea to choose to use new terms to shift the conversation to one about "accessibility" not "disability." There is legislation currently being considered in New York that would do this statewide.

I am only peripherally involved in the topic just due to general interest, and I don't profess to understand any of the nuances of the pros and cons here (if there actually are any). However, I have to say that just on the face of it, this seems awesome. I mean - just look at the two pictures above! The second icon gives a feeling of power and motion using essentially identical design components. The idea of shifting our lens from "accommodating disability" to "creating accessibility" may have profound implications for all of us as we move into our later years.

This is just one small example of how shifting our imagery, and our language, can fundamentally alter our mental models. I've yapped for years about how changing our language can change our worlds. I believe it is our responsibility as association professionals to intentionally think about where the language and images we use are holding us back, rather than propelling us forward. It's only when we change how we speak about ourselves that we can change the mental models we hold about ourselves, and that we in turn project into the world around us. Changing our terminology, can change the way we are perceived both in the micro and macro senses.

I believe associations are vital, important and key to an individuals personal and professional success. However, much of the language we use is "salesy-markety-selly-welly" stuff instead of using more aspirational language designed to help the member understand their work environment and where they spend most of their time.  We spend a lot of time defining what it means to be a member inside of the association, but not nearly enough time defining what it means to be a member outside of the association in their chosen industry, profession or - for that matter - as part of the global ecosystem.

Start your "membership recruitment cycle," with defining and advancing your industry/profession FIRST. Doing that requires a shift in tone, language and objective. But look at the example up above. The most profound changes can be achieved by using the same tools, components you already have and just shifting that lens a little bit. If you can do that, you can truly make a difference.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Portable Association Bookstore



Well, now this is a gem of an idea that I just ran across.  What do you get when you cross mobile phones, sustainability concerns and publishing?  You get things like this new digital wallpaper....

Better yet, all of the associations out there struggling with the time, talent and treasure spent on setting up bookstores at your conferences, may have a new option on the way.  Instead of putting up a bookstore, put up some wallpaper instead.  Members can browse, purchase and download straight onto their mobile devices.

Although the video talks about only free books to start with, it's only a matter of time before people figure out how to monetize this. And with fresh innovations like this, you could set up a bookstore in every hallway, meeting room or common area.

Keep an eye out for digital wallpaper, coming soon to a wall near you!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

Recently +Elizabeth Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC and Peter Houstle, CEO, Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC released a white paper on decision making processes that you can download for free here: Getting to the Good Stuff: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Associations.

I believe this is a great piece of work, so I asked Elizabeth and Peter if they would be willing to expand a bit on the topic here at the Subculture.  Really, we could all use a little more discipline when it comes to decisions (like why am I drinking Dr. Pepper at 7:30 AM...whazeva ....don't judge me :D) Also, CalSAE's IDEAL(TM) program on June 24 will feature a call in from Elizabeth and we are looking so forward to that!

So with no further ado:

Why now? Was there something specific that caught your attention that led you both to write and release this paper?

It's a topic that has interested both of us for some time (Peter, for instance, presents on the topic of associations' data frequently at conferences). The impetus to do it NOW came from the fact that we recognized that associations are running well behind business when it comes to evidence-based decision-making, and we wanted to bring attention to the topic to see if we could help fix that.

What do you think is the most pressing issue for associations to address in regards to how they go about evaluating data and making decisions?

The MOST important thing is to ask better questions. As we detail in the whitepaper, too often, we choose the questions we ask by what we can easily answer given the data at hand, rather than focusing on the real, underlying issue. As a result, we manage to what we can measure (easily) rsather than to what we should be measuring.  A lot of this is because we're reluctant to upgrade outdated legacy software or to consolidate fragmented data systems.

Can a strong "decision making process" overcome volunteer resistance to making better decisions, faster? If not, what can?

That is definitely a problem, not least of which because our Boards tend to be representative rather than competency based, and because we tend to fall prey to the narrative fallacy, where we feel compelled to construct stories around data and then force any additional data into that story, whether or not it fits. Choosing to decide based on evidence requires equal commitment from volunteer leaders and senior staff members to examine data, to hold out for more potential explanations of that data, and to test the hypotheses that result.  It's a more intensive process than just going with what feels right based on limited information and time, but it does also bring about better outcomes.

In terms of tools, have you seen any AMS providers in the space embracing an expanded data collection and analysis role or are there outside tools we should be using?

We would suggest that systems integration, rather than any specific tool, should be the priority. The best tools are functionally useless if they don't talk to each other gracefully. As one of our case studies, Guillermo Ortiz De Zarate from NCARB noted, NCARB will not consider any new systems that do not include an API (application programming interface) that integrates with their existing systems.

I noted you don't discount intuition as part of the decision making process. Can you expand a little bit on the role intuition plays in a robust data environment?

It's the "a-ha!" moment that we've all experienced. And there's a pattern to it: you take in information, data, evidence, research, etc. Then you let your brain process all that at a subconscious level. All of a sudden, the picture snaps into focus. This is the source of, "I get my best ideas in the shower," or "while running," or "maybe I better sleep on this." As we note in the whitepaper, this is definitely a skill that develops, and the best way to improve it is to get more inputs (in other words, use more data!), to practice (in other words, make decisions), and get feedback (either from a mentor or by systematically tracking what happens with your decision-making processes and outcomes). Using intuition is not about abandoning data, but rather about acknowledging the symbiotic power of a data/intuition (or experience) partnership.

How can we get better at pattern-recognition? Are there ways to visualize our data that will lead to better breakthroughs than pie charts and numbers a' la "The Visual Miscellaneum?"

Software products such as Tableau and Qlikview make data patterns more obvious, but, like any filter, have the potential to create false positives (or negatives). Effective pattern recognition requires the diligence to confirm the validity of the underlying data (i.e., does the emerging picture make sense) and to accurately distinguish correlation from cause.

Big data will only become more important.  What are the top three issues you believe big data will help us grapple with?


  • Minimizing the impact of the narrative fallacy explained above
  • Broadening our understanding of the impact and interaction of multiple variables in any given situation
  • Helping us realize there is no such thing as the perfect decision
In spite of our best efforts, we can still make mistakes. How do good decision making processes help us minimize or recover from mis-steps?

The nature of evidence-based decisions is that there's a clearly defined rationale that the decision-makers articulate and share (i.e., a "paper trail"). When things do go awry, it is much easier to identify and address the specific error(s) in a rigorous way, rather than engaging in the type of finger-pointing and obfuscating that often results from purely gut-based strategies.

Do you have any advice for executives who want to move from a "shoot from the hip" volunteer culture to a more rigorous, data-driven one?

Those of us who've gone through the CAE process remember the mantra, "volunteer to volunteer, staff to staff, member to member." As we noted above, the only way this will work is with firm commitment to evidence-based decision making at both the volunteer leader (i.e., your Board chair) and senior staff, (i.e., your CEO) levels. Your association must establish a comprehensive, systems-based approach to data management and provide the appropriate tools and access to those responsible for making decisions at all levels. No silos, no territorialism, no information hoarding - everyone needs transparent access to key association data and the training and management/leadership support to follow where it leads, even if it takes you far from the way you've always done things.




Friday, June 6, 2014

What Does the Young Professional Say?


 (The Semi-Official Officially Official Video of ASAE NextGen '13 ;))

One of the things the ASAE NextGen '13 group was adamant about was making sure we developed and distributed takeaways so their work could be shared with the association community as a whole.  And here is the centerpiece of that effort - a free downloadable e-book - "Assocations, Generation Y and Millennials: What You Need to Know About Your Next Generation Members." We hope you enjoy the contents.  We tackled everything from current shifts in society, to challenging the association model, to blowing up myths about younger members and more. The most important outcome was a sense of optimism and energy around the future of associations.

What this means, is NextGen '14 has their work cut out for them :) (and so do I for that matter!). If you are a young professional (or you know one who should attend this all-expenses, flat out, generative think tank) you still have time to get your application in.   There are a limited number of slots, so the application process is being used to narrow the field. (By the way, I am not involved in the selection process so please don't contact me in the hopes that I can influence the final list in your favor...however if you have other questions about what the experience was/is all about, I'm happy to give you my perspective - shelly@alcornassociates.com )

Thanks to our event sponsors - Reno Tahoe USA - your airfare. accommodations are covered. (And if past is prologue we are going to work hard and party hard...well maybe just you as I drag myself around with a caffeine IV trying to keep up.... :D.)

In the coming weeks, I'll be blogging about individual pieces in here but for now I'll sign off and just say gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Death of the Mall and Other Association Lessons













I think it's safe to say there is an entire America that a lot of us, particularly those association professionals in the largest hubs - Washington DC, Chicago and Sacramento don't see.  Maybe our affiliates and chapters see it. Maybe our members and potential members see it.

Fast Company blogger Adele Peters did a fabulous blog post - "Eerie Photos of Abandoned Shopping Malls Show the Changing Face of Suburbia" and highlighted an upcoming photo essay from Seph Lawless called "Black Friday."  I encourage you to click the link and look at some of the photos - they are striking, haunting and a call for reflection.

Entropy is part of any system. Your association may have programs that are sitting on the shelf and dying a slow death. It's sad when it happens.  It makes you question the underlying principles of who you say you represent and what you say you do for them. It may be your entire association is languishing because your industry or profession left the United States for international shores before you realized you needed to get there first to greet them. Or worse, buggy whips just aren't needed anymore and your association has not come to grips with the fact that you need to retool your members to jump to a new career before its too late. Perpetual existence might not be your highest calling.

However, at the same time we confront the more brutal aspects of the decay and blight we might see around the conference table is to remember that just because malls are dying, doesn't mean people don't shop. This mall is dead - but commerce isn't. It just means people shop and consume differently than they used to. Consumption habits may have permanently shifted due to sustainability concerns, smaller carbon footprints and population patterns that see people moving out of the suburbs and back into the cities. If you are in commerce, you have to look beyond the mall to meet people where they are now.

Associations are no different. You don't need to obsess about entropy but you do need to challenge your ethos in the face of it. Be realistic about the facets of your industry or profession that have changed the way they operate, skill up and consume membership. Meet them were they are and get ahead of where they are going so you are already there to greet them upon their arrival.

Yes, malls all over the United States are dying. But honestly, was the mall really the crowning achievement of our culture? I'm ready for more intuitive shopping experiences and your members are ready for more intuitive membership experiences. Mourn the mall, and then get back to work.
 

About This Blog

This blog explores my interpretation of association management theory as seen through the lens of popular culture and media.

I am a media child whose Sundays were spent feverishly listening to Casey Kasem "countin' em down" and earnestly promoting my dubious babysitting skills to those neighborhood parents who had MTV. Star Wars was less a "movie" than a watershed event forever hooking me on cinema and imdb.com is my "Bartlett's" in terms of quotations. Required reading = Rolling Stone.

All of these loves/events/obsessions color how I see the world and how I see my work. I am betting I am not the only Executive Director who was listening to Ratt on the way to the interview (you know who you are, time to get out of the closet!). Yeah, association work is serious work and I've spent two decades immersed in it - but there is life outside of the board meeting so let's play with how they intersect.....Ready? Set? GO!

Brain Munchies!

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