Monday, August 31, 2009

Yep - Ferris Bueller was a righteous dude.....

"Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude." - Grace to Mr. Rooney

The Short of It

  • Welcome to the Association Subculture blog.
  • Associations must do a better job of acknowledging and nurturing the subcultural elements that exist within them.
  • Until subcultures are allowed to spontaneously form and connect achievement of mission and vision will be compromised.
  • Members of a subculture are often identified by the media they consume.
  • Let’s advertise what we consume as a way to find and get closer to each other.
  • Leave judgment at the door and give people a safe environment to actually express the authenticity we keep asking them for.
  • Megadeth is in my Top 10…how about you? (See others on my Playlist in the sidebar…..)
  • Come back for more posts in the coming weeks on other association related topics.

The Long of It

Welcome to the Association Subculture blog.

Subculture is defined as "an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society." I believe understanding and embracing sub-cultural elements in society is crucial to developing a more sophisticated understanding of the beast we have come to know and love as the non-profit trade and professional association.

Finding the group within the group isn't a new concept. Forgive the knee-jerk Breakfast Club-esque references but follow me down the Ferris rabbit hole for just a moment. Back in the 80s at Battle Ground High School I was just one of many students attending the same school yet experiencing high school life in completely different ways. The back cover of our 1984 yearbook listed our social subsets this way:

"Preppies, jocks, stoners, poindexters, punkers, rockers, hicks, drama jocks, superstars, homebodies, farmers, new wavers and soc's" (pronounced "so-shiz" and a derivative of "socially snobby well-to-do crowd")

While embracing our larger status as students, we naturally broke down into easily identifiable subgroups. The trick to social survival and acceptance was identifying and becoming part of the subgroup that embraced the same values, aspirations and sense of humor. The fastest way to do that was to look at the outward manner of dress and the media consumed by members of the group. We used media of all types as a way of making statements about who we were, where we fit and who we would welcome.

I tended to group hop. Although not having Ferris-like popularity that would lead to anyone confusing me with a “righteous dude,” I did manage to have one or two friends in just about every social group in school although I primarily hovered around the edges of the drama-jock group – (a particularly experimental and open-minded crew). What this led to was an appreciation for the diversity of opinion available to me on any issue at any given time. It also led to the vague feeling of not truly being embraced by any one group.

But that was then. What about now?

Twenty years later I find myself immersed in association management and I’ve tried my very best to blend in with the suits and heels of our 7:30 am to 6:30 pm cohorts (I mean really, who are we kidding? Nobody in the association world works 9:00 to 5:00). I meet professionals every day who are dedicated, responsible and instructive. But way down in my Chuck Taylor loving heart, I know there just have to be more "mes" out there just aching to carve out our own little piece of the association cake.

It is this sense of separate from the profession that I live and breathe that has led to an intensive search for the reasons why. From “coffee girl” to Executive Director, I have started and participated in countless discussions centered on developing community. Community this and community that. Why aren’t we succeeding with defining and developing community? Why are those strategic imperatives still so hard to translate into tactical success?

In my humble opinion, in our zeal to build these “We Are the World”-type amorphous communities we sometimes fail to recognize the need for smaller communities within. We cannot expect our organizations to wield any large-scale influence until we break them apart and allow our members to locate and join smaller groups who share more than the industry or profession but also the same values, likes and dislikes as individuals not just colleagues.  We have to leave judgment at the door and give people a safe environment to actually express the authenticity we keep asking them for. Just because I am an association professional and embrace the values of the profession as a whole does not mean I am not continually on the hunt for other association peeps who think X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier is a seminal work, Yoda is a philosopher and the Fender Stratocaster is a gift from God.

That isn’t to say that I’m going to stop trying to understand the collective meaning of the larger group, or stop subgroup hopping. Boomers, Xers and Yers are all welcome as readers and contributors. I will have things in common with all of you – Doors, Nirvana or Three Days Grace. We can all learn from each other.

At the end of the day, my hypothesis is this - If digital mediums are the fastest way to identify each other in the ever increasing information onslaught of our daily lives then it seems logical that one of the quickest ways to advertise who we are, and find others like us, is to publicize what we watch, listen to and consume in our media rich environment. So colleagues can become individuals and individuals can become friends. And a new piece of the association subculture puzzle will slide into place.

So damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! This blog is all about holding association management theory up to the YouTube mirror, taking off the mask and using music, movies and media to get beyond the "association professional" to the "association professional who is willing to embrace x,y,z." (and maybe have some fun along the way!)

Who’s with me?!?!?!


  1. Congrats on the new blog and a rocking first post! Another Ferris Bueller quote that is so applicable to what we (or our associations do).....

    Cameron: I'm dying
    Ferris: You're not dying, you just can't think of anything good to do.

  2. Welcome to the world of association blogging Shelly! Nothing like coming out swinging. Well done!

    Looking forward to reading more of you.


  3. I am literally almost crying as I read this. The way you describe your high school self is exactly what I was like, too - not an A-gamer but definite group-hopper. A connector. I was just talking to someone yesterday about a professional coaching technique which involves helping someone figure out what their "gift" is - which sounds hokey (as he said) but is really about what is that thing that each individual has that encompasses their value for others (and therefore, if they are lucky enough to find it, what their true life's work is about). I told him I thought that mine was that I'm a connector (in high school and now), as you are too, I think, and I totally get your sense of "separateness" too. One of the themes Lindy Dreyer and I talk a lot about on our blog and with the associations we work with is that community happens in small groups – and the first task we help them with is to find and encourage the formation of those small groups first, before they can ever hope to truly reach “community” at an organization-wide level. I think you've totally nailed it when you talk about how important it is to find those "nodes" that connect people together, that make small groups happen, the aggregate of which in turn will make the larger communities we are striving for happen.

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Shelley, I can't wait for more.

  4. Thanks to all for the great comments - I appreciate the support and hope I can provide some entertaining looks at this association career that we all know and love....

    @maddie - ;) I think we need a "group hoppers" meet up at some point! :D


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