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.


  1. "Perpetual existence might not be your highest calling."
    Fucking BRILLIANT!

  2. Shelley - Amen! You and I talked about this at the IFTF session. Perpetual existence is probably not written into ANY associations mission...but why does it seem to be the very thing that LIMITS our discussion of innovation and aligning with our member needs. Love your thoughts here. This is a very important topic!

  3. In our association, we use the analogy of the Bagel Machine. Our system, any system, is set up to produce a certain something. When that something – our Bagels – isn’t so attractive anymore, we try to make bigger bagels or raisin bagels or even Everything Bagels as a solution to the problem. I think that’s where we might be right now. The bagels aren’t going to cut it anymore but it’s hard work to tear down that very efficient bagel machine in order to make something new and, as yet, unknown.

  4. Thanks guys...I love the Bagel Machine analogy....(how about donuts!)...LOL...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.