Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Groundhog Day....Again.....

"There is no way that this winter is EVER going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow.  I don't see any other way out.  He's got to be stopped.  And I have to stop him."  Phil Connors

The Short of It
  • In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character lives one day of his life over and over and over.
  • I've been pretty convinced that I've been reliving the same day for most of my association career.
  • Do you suffer from that uneasy sense of deja vu too?
  • I stumbled across something startling last week that shed some light on the syndrome.
  • Yes, winter will end...but we are going to have to stick together.
  • More blog posts to come will expand on this rant and explore the "Groundhog Day Effect."
The Long of It

It was going to be a joke.  A lark.  A sardonic stroll down memory lane accompanied by some softly derisive snickering and perhaps an eye-roll or two at the naivete.  Maybe even (could it, would it offer such a treat?!?!?) some reveling in the delicious delight of discovering something truly prescient and insightful.

Those were the thoughts I idly mulled as I recklessly plundered the bookshelves and stuffed my newfound treasures into my rolling briefcase for the long journey home.  Old books.  Books that already commanded my interest and perhaps upon their reading would earn my respect. Books with yellow pages and dust that would surely make me sneeze but oh, what stories they may hold.

I set aside time, got a cup of coffee, settled into my favorite reading place, turned one some tasty tunes and cracked the first cover.

My lighthearted "afternoon o' lazy exploration" slowly turned into something darker.  More akin to starring in one of those B movie horror flicks.  You know the ones where the teenagers go to the beach and get eaten by aliens or something?  The script looks something like this:

15 minutes in - amusement turns to disbelief
30 minutes in - realize something is going terribly wrong
45 minutes in - don't open another book, don't open it, don't...ah....she opened it
60 minutes in - skip entire passages, skip chapters, desperately search for way out
75 minutes in - fall to ground, hold head, moan incoherently
90 minutes in - find way back, escape, yay, don't notice shadow lurking behind's...not....over

And, scene.

What were these mysterious tomes that provoked this reaction?  What kind of mischievous deviltry had been contrived to warp my fragile little mind?  Oh my friends, the horror.  They were books on future business trends and association trends published in the 1980's...and they could have been written yesterday!

Article after article after article using the same terminology, the same cloying statements about "adapting to the rapidly changing business environment," the same self-satisfied statements about how "board governance will need to change in order to handle the challenges of the new membership base"....the same platitudes about the incoming generation and what a troublesome management problem they promised to present.

I do not mean to denigrate the authors.  For all I know, they were/are pillars of the business and association worlds and exponentially smarter than I am.  I do not want to make it sound like I am not aware that there are movements within our association community who are actively engaged in the discussion of making tomorrow better.  (Just one example of many - We Have Always Done it That Way.) But quite frankly, the simple fact that most of our collective brilliance seems centered on regurgitating the same banalities published almost a quarter of a century ago should be sobering.  I know I am a bit taken aback.  I need to change my approach.

I was watching Twitter yesterday and couldn't help but notice the furor over Seth Godin's latest blog post about non-profits.  I thought Beth Kanter did a good job of collecting some of the more notable criticisms in her blog post this morning.  But before we all get up in defensive arms, let's take a deep breath, count to ten and look at what might be true in the post.  Obviously not in all cases, but maybe one or two cases?  A few cases?  Some cases?  More cases than we really care to admit?

Maybe you all already know this.  Maybe I'm just late to the party.  Maybe I'm preaching to the choir.  Or maybe, just maybe, it's time to define the "Groundhog Day Effect."  Maybe we've just gotten really, really good at speaking the language of change in ways that make us feel like we're making progress when in fact, we aren't.

Let's find out.  Let's play a game over the next few weeks where I post citations from "future trends" essays written 25 years ago and see if we can tell the difference between those passages and common things we frequently hear today.  If we can't, then I humbly submit that we have some serious thinking to do.

Set your alarms and be on the lookout for Punxsutawney Phil......

(PS - in case you are faint of heart and have not seen the movie, no groundhogs were harmed in the making and this scene ends with the alarm going off and a brand new day beginning....don't drive angry Phil.....)


  1. Shelly,

    I wonder if part of the problem is that while the world has changed, the basic essence of people have not.

    I had a similar experience in 1992. Someone showed me the 11 hopes for quality education - and it was written around the turn of the century - 1900 that is.

    Almost every statement applied to what we were learning as the hot ways to teach - hands-on, relevant approaches.

    I was totally shocked - as you were with your 1980 publications.

    Those same 11 trends can be found floating around what's hot in professional development/education today. We are using different tools to make it happen perhaps, but still same core approach.

    Sort of weird, eh? I wish I could remember specifically what the standards were called so I could share them with you. Major Groundhog Day!


  2. Wow! I would love to see them and if they come to mind, please share.

    It is weird, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who has experienced the Groundhog Day Effect. :D

    Thanks for the drop by....


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