Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mindfully Building Association Networks

I ran across the latest mini-film by Tiffany Shlain and am (once again) blown away by her.  Here is the video link for those who can't see the embed - BRAIN Power: From Neurons to Networks.  Here is a link to the post she wrote on HBR - How the Internet is Shaping our "Global Brain."

I think it's valuable for us to take a step back every once in a while and look at the wider picture.  Especially in associations as we so easily get overwhelmed with our day to day tasks and "what do you mean we are out of "Director" badge ribbons two days before conference!?!?!!"

We frequently speak about technology, both in terms of it being a help and sometimes a hindrance to us as we get things done.  We listen out of the corner of our ears to vague worrying and hand-wringing about whether "all this internettin' stuff is good for the kids..." We wonder how our associations can continue to cope with such rapid changes that affect every area of how we do business and also seem to be affecting how our members talk with each other and with us on the most fundamental levels.

Tiffany points out that it is startling how over the years we have cast our understanding of how the brain functions in terms of technology.  Believing at different points in our technological development that brains worked like "clocks," and then "switchboards," and the like.  However, it is amazing to see how biological advances in neuroscience and our latest technological marvel - the internet - seem to reveal models that are remarkably similar.  It really does appear to be a networked world these days both in terms of how we function internally as well as externally.

In the video, Tiffany makes the point that this point in time is like every other in that we need to ask ourselves if what we are building is a beautiful place to be or not.  Each interaction in this Twitterfied world has consequences for ourselves and our mental well-being. Some of it is good.  And some of it isn't.  She points out that we have the responsibility to make good choices about what we build.  To make it uplifting instead of destructive and engaging without being overwhelming.

I'll take that one step further and ask can you say the same about the networks you have in your memberships?  Do you even know where they are?  As we begin to see brain function and the internet as connected hubs, can we also not begin to see membership the same way?  Can we start building models that don't use a two-dimensional model like an organizational chart and start using three-dimensional models instead?  As organized hubs that are interconnected parts of the whole?

What new opportunities do we have if we overlay our understanding of membership with the structures we find within our own brains and now the internet?  What responsibility do we have to ensure our members feel protected and taken care of and that their online interactions with us are positive and uplifting?  What do we need to think about differently in light of what we are discovering about how these complicated, yet ever so powerful, systems work?

It makes me feel less worried about membership in general to look at it as a tangled whole in a system, rather than as an equation or a marketing message.  The connections make it strong.  Even when it's pruned, new connections can form at any time.  What if membership is evolving like these other networked systems are evolving?  What if our brain patterns can be encouraged to not only connect to this ever-growing technological system, but can also learn to more easily identify where our communities are?  What if associations place themselves at the right virtual junctures so they can be easily plugged in?

In the blog, Tiffany mentions the South African idea of "Ubuntu" which can be translated to mean, "I am who I am because of who we all are."  What a lovely idea to authentically build into our memberships.  How much stronger would we be as communities if our goal was to create this kind of atmosphere, not sell more discounted widgets to a captive audience?


  1. Makes me think of the social networking mapping that some companies have started doing. I wonder if there is potential in associations to do some research into members forming networks, how they do it, what association resources have helped, who they turn to, etc.

  2. Jeffrey -

    Thanks for dropping by....

    I would love to see that happen...I can think of people right now who seem to serve as "hubs" in associations I belong would be interesting to see how those connections clump together and then link to each other...

    I think it would be very instructive on many levels....


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