Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Information? Give it Away Now.....

Realize I don't want to be a miser
Confide w/sly you'll be the wiser
Young blood is the lovin' upriser
How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser?
Give it away, give it away, give it away now
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik

The Short of It
  • Associations as "information brokers?" Yeah, we figured that out.
  • We could see all of the information we've gathered if we could get behind those "members only" walls.
  • They are kind of like levees built around lakes - and they are leaking.
  • The rising tides of information on the outside will eventually breach the top.
  • Therefore, the information behind them has a limited shelf life and less value today than yesterday, less tomorrow than today.
  • Tear down the walls and share your information - it no longer has intrinsic value in and of itself.
  • Value lies in getting as many brains as possible analyzing and synthesizing not simply acquiring.
  • Instead of "information brokers" associations must become "experience brokers" instead.

The Long of It

I'm back to my "Ground Hog Day" series. (Quite frankly, I don't know if I should call it a series or not. That indicates some level of regularity which doesn't necessarily exist in my rabbit-trail world.  So dear readers, let's agree to use the term "series" with a wink and a nod to the association management muse who may take me down other paths from time to time).

I was reading some publications a few weeks ago and ran across this nugget that could have been written yesterday.

"We must recognize that as the information age becomes more dominant, members will require tremendous help in adapting to these major changes and will be looking to their associations for leadership. Associations must prepare now to provide this leadership by examining the future of their industries and professions, to determine how various trends and future forces will affect their specific membership, and to determine how they should respond."

Quite right. Written by Bill Taylor, former president of ASAE and published in "Future Perspectives" by the Foundation of the American Society of Association Executives in 1984, page 186.

Trouble is, we are still using this language. Information age. Scan and plan. Data driven strategies. Uh huh.

A better use of our collective time would be re-examining the book "Exploring the Future - Seven Strategic Conversations That Could Transform Your Association," by Robert Olson and Autl Dighe published by the ASAE Foundation in 2001. Concentrate on the Learning Culture chapter and then the Transparency chapter. Then look at the calendar. Put a pillow on your forehead. Slap. D'oh!

Let's play a game. Start reading the next passage and mark the point at which you can complete it on your own.

"Associations provide information in books, publications, workshops, meetings and events. Members pay dues because they see value in and want access to the information. Then in any venue where we teach and distribute information we will charge the members even more to get to it. Then we'll charge non-members even more than THAT so the non-members will be compelled to join and members get the benefits of belonging. Better yet - we will limit access to that information behind members only walls on our websites. That will create even MORE value in the eyes of the members."

I asked you to play the game because this tenet is like association gospel. You all knew the chorus.

The main weakness with that very common refrain is it assumes your information is still worth something. What is actually worth something is your analysis and synthesis of that information and your ability to be "experience" brokers which will help you translate that information into practical, applicable knowledge on the part of your constituency.

Notice - I said constituency. Not just members.

Check out this recent article published in Fast Company magazine: How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education .

"Their first foray was at MIT in 2001, when the school agreed to put coursework online for free. Today, you can find the full syllabi, lecture notes, class exercises, tests, and some video and audio for every course MIT offers, from physics to art history. This trove has been accessed by 56 million current and prospective students, alumni, professors, and armchair enthusiasts around the world. "The advent of the Web brings the ability to disseminate high-quality materials at almost no cost, leveling the playing field," says Cathy Casserly, a senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who in her former role at the Hewlett Foundation provided seed funding for MIT's project. "We're changing the culture of how we think about knowledge and how it should be shared and who are the owners of knowledge."

MIT hasn't collapsed. Freely publishing their informational "secrets" hasn't ruined their ability to make money. People still pay $186,000 per degree at MIT to gain access to the PEOPLE at MIT and to the learning environment. They are paying for the opportunity for the instructors at MIT to translate the information and assist them in their efforts to personally aquire and build on their individual knowledge base. What MIT gets is the best minds in the world, using MIT's open architecture, providing refinements and input while MIT gets credit for being the springboard for work being done at other institutions.

Is your association's information more critical than the information being produced at MIT?  Did you just nod? Really? Stop that.  (Seriously though, I am not trying to insult you, maybe you do possess information that is unbelievably critical to your industry or profession. I am just urging you to look at what you do protect and measure it on a new scale.)

Here is a process we could follow to navigate the shift between the "Information age" and the new "Conceptual age." (Dan Pink's Whole New Mind is a MUST read for any association professional.)
  • Realize your captive dues paying member audience is too small to sustain you.
  • Embrace the fact that wicked problems require all hands on deck, members and non-members alike.
  • Remove the barriers of members only sections, login screens and other impediments.
  • Make information repositories free to members and non-members alike.
  • Concentrate on ensuring you are a filter, a synthesizer and a conduit for creating open learning cultures.
  • Become a broker of experience and monetize the experiences you provide, not the information you hide.
  • Embrace the democratization of information access.

Mr. Association - tear down this wall!

Yeah, okay...I got a little dramatic there.

But really? I don't wanna be a miser - I don't wanna keep it like the kaiser - give it away now.....


  1. Shelly-
    Well put. I agree. I actually blogged on a very similar topic on our blog: not too long ago.

    I guess serious Ratt fans tend to think alike. ;-)

  2. Chris -

    Thanks for stopping by. Your post is awesome and right on the money.

    I would love to see more associations putting some concerted effort towards doing so.



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