Monday, January 14, 2019

Give Me Free Afternoons

This post in Associations NOW recently caught my eye, arguing, as it does, for association conferences that span a fewer number of days in recognition of the increasing desire for "work-life balance" among association members.

I've got a different take. Don't shorten the number of days that your conference spans. Shorten the amount of time I spend in educational sessions on the days that I am there.

I used to work for a professional medical specialty society. Educational sessions at their Annual Meeting began at 7:00 AM and ended at 9:00 PM. As a staff person, running that conference was exhausting, but many of the attendees expressed similar sentiments. Most, in fact, didn't stay for the full conference run of six days. Two, maybe three days was as much as most attendees could handle.

I now work for a trade association. Educational sessions at our Annual Conference begin at 8:00 AM and end, at the latest, at 2:00 PM. All the activities in the afternoon are completely optional and are purely recreational. We even tell our attendees to go out and have some fun. We'll want to hear all about it when we see them again at the evening social dinner.

Speaking as a staff person, I far prefer the less intense schedule of the trade association. But exposure to that reality has spilled over into my approach to my own professional education activities. When I attend an educational conference, I want my afternoons free. So much so that, if the conference has scheduled educational sessions that go past 2:00 PM, I, without apology, will play hooky and do something else.

What do I do? It depends. Sure, sometimes, I catch up on email or knock off a work project that has been on my plate for too long. But more frequently I will do something more rejuvenating. I'll grab a workout in the fitness center. Or (depending on the weather) sit in the sun with a good book. Very occasionally, I'll even take a nap.

The point is, if the objective is to give people more "work-life balance," there are more ways to do that than cramming the content of a three-day meeting into one. Quiet and contemplative time away from home and office, and away from the usual onslaught of speakers and presentation slides, can be one of the most powerful tools we busy professionals have to put new thoughts, attitudes, and objectives in their proper order.

That ain't gonna happen in the airport on the way home, and it certainly ain't gonna happen when I'm back in the office the following day.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dragons - Chapter 1 (DRAFT)

You know what I miss the most? Funny as it sounds, I really miss staying in all those swanky hotels. Unreal, I know. After all that time on the road and the way it almost destroyed me—I should miss something like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the travel. I told you I’ve always hated the traveling and being away from my family. And I’m certainly not talking about the demons I wrestled with in all those soulless sleeping rooms. What I miss is the sense of place those hotels always had, a kind of upper crust other worldliness you just can’t get unless you’re willing to pay three or four hundred dollars a night.

I mean, I know it was all phony—the fake crystal chandeliers, the bellmen in their starched uniforms, the concierge lounges with their carafes of fresh-squeezed orange juice and copies of The Wall Street Journal on their imitation mahogany tables—it was all calculated by some corporate hack to ensure a certain kind of experience for their guests. I knew that, and could always tell what kind of place I was staying in by how obvious the calculation appeared to be.

Some places didn’t have a clue. Sure, they put chocolates on your pillow every night, but they were old and had long since gone stale; or they provided you with one of those fluffy bathrobes, but they hung it on one of those cheap hotel hangers attached to the closet rod. They were just going through the motions, and didn’t understand that it’s not really about props like bedtime chocolates or white terry cloth bathrobes. The best hotels knew those things were only the means to a larger end, and they used them to seamlessly construct what was ultimately an imaginary place where the harshness of the outside world wasn’t allowed to peek through any nook or cranny.

Think I’m kidding? The kind of hotels I’m talking about are a lot like big Hollywood productions. The amount of thought, time, and money that goes into creating their illusions is staggering, and when they pull it off successfully, their construction is completely hidden from the eyes of the paying guest.

Have you ever seen one of those “behind-the-scene” specials about one of your favorite movies? Well, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. You watch one of those and you begin to appreciate the artistry that goes into the two-hour illusion you just enjoyed. Maybe there was a twenty-second scene in your movie where the actors are standing amidst the ruins of an abandoned city. And you find out only by watching the “behind-the-scene” special that those buildings in the immediate background—the ones they used for the close-ups—were built to specification by hundred-person crews, then artificially aged, weathered, and deteriorated under the guiding hand of building restoration specialists from the National Historical Society. And for the wide-angle shots you discover they used an enormous matte painting, twelve feet high and thirty-five feet long, worked on by a team of twenty-five artists for eight months and shot with a special lens to heighten the diminishing perspective as your eye retreats into the distance.

I’m telling you the hotels I used to stay in are like those budget-busting Hollywood epics—or better yet some Broadway extravaganza, since they were really more live theater than anything else. And doing what I did for a living, well, that was like having a backstage pass.

I saw it all. Things you wouldn’t believe unless you saw them with your own eyes. They tried to impress me, you see. They knew what kind of business my client represented, and they were only too proud to show me all the details that went into their production. They wanted me to see the magic so I could be their ally in filling their hotel with a bunch of people who had spent their whole lives in front of the curtain, never knowing nor caring how the illusions that defined them were manufactured. And do you know what it all came down to? Do you know the secret that drove their success?

Waste. Those hotels were fundamentally all about waste. It was their primary strategy, the only way they could maintain their competitive advantage. The minute any piece of reality intruded itself on the illusion—a frayed curtain, a stained bathroom floor, a lukewarm pot of coffee; any actual residue from the thousands of human creatures who breathed, drank, ate, slept, fucked and shat in their magical building—it was torn out at the root and replaced with something new and beautiful. It required the hotels to constantly remodel themselves, ripping up perfectly good carpeting and junking perfectly good furniture, desperately trying to stay ahead of the changing tastes of fashion.

And that’s nothing compared to the waste associated with their food and beverage. I’ve seen things there that would turn your stomach, make you think there wasn’t a hungry person anywhere on the planet. More day-old pineapple than an army could eat, thrown away because the fresh shipment arrived that morning and the cost was already factored into the price of breakfast.

Why do they do these things? They do them because that’s what their clientele expects. That, more than anything else, is what the client is actually paying for. A mythical place that exists nowhere else, a place where the soft goods are always in fashion and the morning fruit is always fresh.

I knew it was fake, but even I could succumb to the illusion from time to time. Sitting on the balcony of my suite overlooking San Diego harbor, or sipping three hundred dollar wine in the sky lounge amidst the tips of San Francisco’s skyscrapers, or paying some banquet captain a hundred bucks to set up a private table in the unused balcony while Tony Bennett performed in the New York ballroom below—stuff like that made it fun in a way it probably never will be again.

But something always shattered the illusion for me. And more often than not, that thing would be kids. I’d see kids staying in these hotels. Kids, sometimes no older than the one I had at home, staying in a place my son didn’t even know existed, a place he couldn’t even imagine because it was so far removed from anything he had ever been exposed to.

I’d see little boys with slicked-back hair and Ralph Lauren sweaters running up and down the carpeted hallways, and little girls at the concierge with their stick-thin mothers making hair and spa appointments, and I would think to myself, who are these kids? What kind of world are they growing up in? Here they are, swaddled in a cocoon of illusion, and to them it’s all normal, it’s the way the world is.

Stuff like that creates gulfs in our society—deep chasms between people that can probably never be bridged, and certainly not by kids who grow up not knowing those gulfs are even there.

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“Dragons” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For more information, go here.

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Don't Put Association Benefits Before Member Outcomes

Amanda Kaiser on her Smooth the Path blog had a good reminder last month for all us association professionals about the importance of speaking to members in a language they understand. In Association Marketing: They Said/We Said, Kaiser says: "When members talk about the value of their membership they tend to talk about outcomes ... But when associations talk about the value of the membership they tend to list benefits."

I had an opportunity to put this advice to the test when I visited one of the largest members in my association last month. They are already heavily engaged in many of our activities, but I wanted to provide them with an overview of all our benefits anyway. It would provide the structure, I thought, to call their attention to how much value they already get out of their membership, but also allow me to highlight a few areas where they could amp that value up even further.

So, in putting my slides together, I initially focused on listing all the benefits my association offers. Mindful of Kaiser's advice, I decided to group them by the over-arching strategic objective that each was designed to address, and for a while I thought that would also reveal to outcomes that mattered to them. But slowly I began to realize that the strategic objectives in question were the association's, not the member's, objectives. They were the things we wanted to achieve so we could provide the best value to our members.

I needed something different -- and that's when I remembered an exercise we had done last year, when we had defined the "pain points" our members felt that could be addressed by the benefits we offered. I blogged about these back in May 2018, and there are six of them:

  • Enhance my brand
  • Understand the market
  • Increase my sales
  • Reduce my costs
  • Find technical or engineering staff
  • Educate me and my team

Reworking my presentation so that our benefits were organized along these lines suddenly made so much more sense for the purpose I had in mind.

Why do company executives decide to have their companies join our association? I could now ask. They want to enhance their brand -- which they can do by engaging in the following programs that heighten their profile in our market and among their peers. They also want to understand the market -- which they can do by subscribing to the exclusive market data programs that our association offers.

I think you probably see my point. By structuring my presentation this way, I was able to talk about our programs, and the places that the member company was and was not engaged, but I was able to do it in the context of the outcomes that mattered most to the member.

In essence, I didn't put the cart before the horse.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Generally speaking, I enjoyed reading this book.

But I’m going to pick a few nits.

“Mr. Langdon,” Vittoria said, turning, “I assume you are familiar with the Big Bang Theory?”

Langdon shrugged. “More or less.” The Big Bang, he knew, was the scientifically accepted model for the creation of the universe. He didn’t really understand it, but according to the theory, a single point of intensely focused energy erupted in a cataclysmic explosion, expanding outward to form the universe. Or something like that.

I like this. Like most people, Robert Langdon (world-renowned Harvard symbologist and protagonist of this and Brown’s more famous novel The Da Vinci Code) has heard of the Big Bang Theory and knows it has something to do with the beginning of the universe, but is a little sketchy of the scientific details. You know, something like that. But let’s read on.

Vittoria continued. “When the Catholic Church first proposed the Big Bang Theory in 1927, the--”

“I’m sorry?” Langdon interrupted, before he could stop himself. “You say the Big Bang was a Catholic idea?”

Vittoria looked surprised by his question. “Of course. Proposed by a Catholic monk, Georges Lemaitre, in 1927.”

“But I thought…” he hesitated. “Wasn’t the Big Bang proposed by Harvard astronomer Edwin Hubble?”

He doesn’t really know what the Big Bang Theory is … but he knows that Edwin Hubble proposed it? Gosh. Even I didn’t know that off the top of my head. Guess his Harvard pride is showing through.

That’s one. Here’s the next.

Vittoria pointed, and Langdon immediately realized why they had not found it earlier. The manuscript was in a folio bin, not on the shelves. Folio bins were a common means of storing unbound pages. The label on the front of the container left no doubt about the contents.

Galileo Galilei, 1639

Langdon dropped to his knees, his heart pounding. “Diagramma.” He gave her a grin. “Nice work. Help me pull out this bin.”

Vittoria knelt beside him, and they heaved. The metal tray on which the bin was sitting rolled toward them on castors, revealing the top of the container.

“No lock?” Vittoria said, sounding surprised at the simple latch.

“Never. Documents sometimes need to be evacuated quickly. Floods and fires.”

“So open it.”

Langdon didn’t need any encouragement. With his academic life’s dream right in front of him and the thinning air of the chamber, he was in no mood to dawdle. He unsnapped the latch and lifted the lid. Inside, flat on the floor of the bin, lay a black, duck-cloth pouch. The cloth’s breathability was critical to the preservation of its contents. Reaching in with both hands and keeping the pouch horizontal, Langdon lifted it out of the bin.

We’re 209 pages into Brown’s novel here, the 52nd of 137 relatively short chapters. At this point Vittoria isn’t the only one who wants Langdon to hurry up.

“I expected a treasure chest,” Vittoria said. “Looks more like a pillowcase.”

“Follow me,” he said. Holding the bag before him like a sacred offering, Langdon walked to the center of the vault where he found the customary glass-topped archival exam table. Although the central location was intended to minimize in-vault travel of documents, researchers appreciated the privacy the surrounding stacks afforded. Career-making discoveries were uncovered in the top vaults of the world, and most academics did not like rivals peering through the glass as they worked.

Uh huh. Interesting. And the pouch? What’s in the pouch?

Langdon laid the pouch on the table and unbuttoned the opening. Vittoria stood by. Rummaging through a tray of archivist tools, Langdon found the felt-pad pincers archivists called finger cymbals -- oversized tweezers with flattened disks on each arm. As his excitement mounted, Langdon feared at any moment he might awake back in Cambridge with a pile of test papers to grade. Inhaling deeply, he opened the bag. Fingers trembling in their cotton gloves, he reached in with his tongs.

“Relax,” Vittoria said. “It’s paper, not plutonium.”

Langdon slid the tongs around the stack of documents inside and was careful to apply even pressure. Then, rather than pulling out the documents, he held them in place while he slid off the bag -- an archivist’s procedure for minimizing torque on the artifact. Not until the bag was removed and Langdon had turned on the exam darklight beneath the table did he begin breathing again.

Too much detail, Brown. I’m glad you learned as much as you did about how archivists work, but a little less detail at this point might better keep your plot moving forward.

That’s two. But these are both just nits of Brown’s craft. Even the most accomplished writer will struggle eternally to rid his manuscript of the things that will tweak the sensibilities of the amateur writers in his readership. We can easily overlook all of these minor shortcomings in our general enjoyment of the work.

But there is one more nit I wish to pick.

The MacGuffin of Brown’s novel is a magnetically-sealed container of antimatter which, once removed from its docking station, begins an unavoidable countdown to its destruction and the destruction of anything within a few miles of it. It was the result of an experiment conducted by a God-believing scientist who wanted to prove the co-habitability of science and religion. His daughter, Vittoria, is one of his strongest champions.

“Matter,” Vittoria repeated. “Blossoming out of nothing. An incredible display of subatomic fireworks. A miniature universe springing to life. He proved not only that matter can be created from nothing, but that the Big Bang and Genesis can be explained by accepting the presence of an enormous source of energy.”

“You mean God?” Kohler demanded.

“God, Buddha, The Force, Yahweh, the singularity, the unicity point -- call it whatever you like -- the result is the same. Science and religion support the same truth -- pure energy is the father of creation.”

Brown’s prose is littered with conflations like this -- that matter created by God and matter accreted from the energy of the universe are the same thing. But of course they are not the same thing, because one requires an agency that needs an additional explanation and the other does not. A distinction that seems lost on a lot of characters in this novel.

And then there is the tragic -- and all too common -- conflation that science and religion are two different points on the same continuum of ideology; that they are different not in kind, but only in type. Nowhere is this theme more evident than in an impassioned, and somewhat trite, speech Brown places in the mouth of the Camerlengo of the Vatican. Not much context is needed here -- it has just been revealed that the Illuminati have poisoned the Pope, and his administrator, the Camerlengo, takes to the airwaves to rail against “science.” For the sake of some brevity, I will only include the words Brown puts in quotation marks below, but mark how frequently the implied comparison to religion is made, as if the leaders of “science” promised to deliver to their followers anything similar to the claims and protections of religion.

“To the Illuminati, and to those of science, let me say this. You have won the war.

“The wheels have been in motion for a long time. Your victory has been inevitable. Never before has it been as obvious as it is at this moment. Science is the new God.

There it is, right off the bat. The most obvious false comparison of them all. The religious can only construe reality through the prism of a God -- so those who “believe” in science must feel the same way. Science is their God.

“Medicine, electronic communications, space travel, genetic manipulation … these are the miracles about which we now tell our children. These are the miracles we herald as proof that science will bring us the answers. The ancient stories of immaculate conceptions, burning bushes, and parting seas are no longer relevant. God has become obsolete. Science has won the battle. We concede.

Hmmm. Is there any other difference, do you think, between “medicine, electronic communications, space travel, genetic manipulation” and “immaculate conceptions, burning bushes, and parting seas”? No? Then, you’re right. I guess they must both be “miracles.”

“But science’s victory has cost every one of us. And it has cost us deeply.

“Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease and drudgery and provided an array of gadgetry for our entertainment and convenience, but it has left us in a world without wonder. Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies. The complexities of the universe have been shredded into mathematical equations. Even our self-worth as human beings has been destroyed. Science proclaims that Planet Earth and its inhabitants are a meaningless speck in the grand scheme. A cosmic accident. Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us in now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone. We are bombarded with violence, division, fracture, and betrayal. Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it any wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? Does science hold anything sacred? Science looks for answers by probing our unborn fetuses. Science even presumes to rearrange our own DNA. It shatters God’s world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning … and all it finds is more questions.

There’s so much wrong with this paragraph I don’t even know where to begin. “Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease”. Let’s start there, because the dismissiveness with which this is offered is almost beyond my comprehension. Oh sure, science may have cured smallpox, polio, measles, yellow fever, malaria, typhoid fever, whooping cough, pneumococcal disease, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, and shingles (just to name a few), but now the 57 million people who annually died from those diseases at their deadliest heights have lost their sense of wonder when looking at the sunset. They “have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies.” Why can’t science just mind its own business!

“The ancient war between science and religion is over. You have won. But you have not won fairly. You have not won by providing answers. You have won by so radically reorienting our society that the truths we once saw as signposts now seem inapplicable. Religion cannot keep up. Scientific growth is exponential. It feeds on itself like a virus. Every new breakthrough opens doors for new breakthroughs. Mankind took thousands of years to progress from the wheel to the car. Yet only decades from the car into space. Now we measure scientific progress in weeks. We are spinning out of control. The rift between us grows deeper and deeper, and as religion is left behind, people find themselves in a spiritual void. We cry out for meaning. And believe me, we do cry out. We see UFOs, engage in channeling, spirit contact, out-of-body experiences, mindquests -- all these eccentric ideas have a scientific veneer, but they are unashamedly irrational. They are the desperate cry of the modern soul, lonely and tormented, crippled by its own enlightenment and its inability to accept meaning in anything removed from technology.

This is perhaps one of those areas where the idea of non-overlapping magestrieums may make the most sense. First off, to say that “science” has not provided any answers is, frankly, ludicrous. Science, from my point of view, is the only thing that has provided any reliable answers -- at least about questions of how the universe works. But those are not the questions that the Camerlengo is talking about. He’s not talking about questions of “is,” but questions of “ought.” Science may have less to say in that space, but the false assumption on which his line of argument is based is that religion does. Philosophy, maybe, but religion is no more an authority on morality than the fanciful dogmas on which it is based. Science, at least, can give you a reliable answer if you start with an unproven moral premise. If I wish to reduce human suffering, how ought I act in this circumstance or that? Science can answer that question with the nuance it probably deserves. Religion is a much more blunt instrument, with only a handful of non-evidence-based answers that it clumsily applies to all situations.

“Science, you say, will save us. Science, I say, has destroyed us. Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention. Even so, the temptations are too great for man to resist. I warn you, look around yourselves. The promises of science have not been kept. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos. We are a fractured and frantic species … moving down a path of destruction.

“Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos.” Really? Quick. Decide now. Which century would you rather live in? The 21st or the 11th? Are you sure? What about all that pollution and chaos?

“Who is this God science? Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power? What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers? The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad. Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or bad idea.

Ummm. To quote the Wikipedia article on the same subject, “Nuclear ethics is a cross-disciplinary field of academic and policy-relevant study in which the problems associated with nuclear warfare, nuclear deterrence, nuclear arms control, nuclear disarmament, or nuclear energy are examined through one or more ethical or moral theories or frameworks. And a search for “nuclear ethics” on returned more than 47,000 results. As with so much in this painful little speech, assertions with no basis in fact are made time and time again, all with the apparent intention of appealing to the emotional responses of its audience.

“To science, I say this. The church is tired. We are exhausted from trying to be your signposts. Our resources are drying up from our campaign to be the voice of balance as you plow blindly on in your quest for smaller chips and larger profits. We ask not why you will not govern yourselves, but how can you? Your world moves so fast that if you stop even for an instant to consider the implications of your actions, someone more efficient will whip past you in a blur. So you move on. You proliferate weapons of mass destruction, but it is the Pope who travels the world beseeching leaders to use restraint. You clone living creatures, but it is the church reminding us to consider the moral implications of our actions. You encourage people to interact on phones, video screens, and computers, but it is the church who opens its doors and reminds us to commune in person as we were meant to do. You even murder unborn babies in the name of research that will save lives. Again, it is the church who points out the fallacy of this reasoning.

Wait. It is scientists who are proliferating weapons of mass destruction? Last time I checked it was dogmatic political entities that were the biggest culprits there, some of them with claims to a religious foundation. And although scientists may indeed be cloning living creatures, is it scientists who are encouraging people to interact on phones, video screens, and computers? Or murdering unborn babies? Scientists are doing these things? Who is the Camerlengo talking about? Oh, I know. He’s talking about “science,” the thing that doesn’t actually exist in the way that he needs it to for the purposes of his argument. He’s talking about science like it has autonomy and evil intention.

“And all the while, you proclaim the church is ignorant. But who is more ignorant? The man who cannot define lightning, or the man who does not respect its awesome power? This church is reaching out to you. Reaching out to everyone. And yet the more we reach, the more you push us away. Show me proof there is a God, you say. I say use your telescopes to look to the heavens, and tell me how there could not be a God! You ask what does God look like. I say, where did that question come from? The answers are one and the same. Do you not see God in your science? How can you miss Him! You proclaim that even the slightest change in the force of gravity or the weight of an atom would have rendered our universe a lifeless mist rather than our magnificent sea of heavenly bodies, and yet you fail to see God’s hand in this? Is it really so much easier to believe that we simply chose the right card from a deck of billions? Have we become so spiritually bankrupt that we would rather believe in mathematical impossibility than in a power greater than us?

Do we really still need to explain this? Whether or not there is a God, whether or not the Big Bang happened, we can only exist in a universe that has the conditions that are necessary for our survival. In other universe -- however it came into existence -- one with conditions that are contrary to human life, humans would not exist. It’s not like we had a deck of a billion universe cards and we just happened to pick the only one that would allow us to go on living. If I want to torture that analogy, it would be more accurate to say that either (a) The deck was dealt a billion times and humans grew up in the deal that was conducive to their existence, or (b) The deck contained a billion versions of the human-friendly card.

“Whether or not you believe in God, you must believe this. When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faith … all faiths … are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable … With faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. If the outside world could see this church as I do … looking beyond the ritual of these walls … they would see a modern miracle … a brotherhood of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control.

And here, like any good clergyman, is where the Camerlengo switches from these unconvincing arguments to a more traditional sermon of simply asserted goodness and brotherhood.

“Are we obsolete? Are these men dinosaurs? Am I? Does the world really need a voice for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the unborn child? Do we really need souls like these who, though imperfect, spend their lives imploring each of us to read the signposts of morality and not lose our way?

“Tonight we are perched on a precipice. None of us can afford to be apathetic. Whether you see this evil as Satan, corruption, or immorality … the dark force is alive and growing every day. Do not ignore it. The force, though mighty, is not invincible. Goodness can prevail. Listen to your hearts. Listen to God. Together we can step back from this abyss.

“Pray with me.”

Why did I spend so much time on this? After all, it’s just a Dan Brown novel, right? Well, it’s partly because Brown makes this such a pivotal moment in his narrative, the point where the world comes to the defense of a church that only a tiny minority actually believe has any moral authority over them. This speech, so riddled with fuzzy thinking and unsubstantiated assertions, is offered as something both eloquent and convincing. And that, at the end of the day, is just bad fiction.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, December 31, 2018

My Top 5 Blog Posts of 2018

As we end another year, here's a look back at the five posts on this blog that received the most page views in 2018.

1. Stop Calling It Strategic Planning
This has been on every year-end list since it was originally posted in January 2012, and keeps getting a ton of traffic, including as the page through which the highest number of people enter my site. It was inspired by the take-down of strategic planning in Humanize, and in it I pledge to stop using that term to describe the messy, constantly evolving process my association uses to determine our direction and set our objectives. In laying out the guidelines that govern our activities, I realize that only one term makes any sense--association management.

2. The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
This one was originally posted in May 2014, and returns for a fifth placement on these year-end lists. It summarizes my takeaways from the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The book's subtitle is “Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals,” and it contains a deceptively simple and oddly compelling system for doing exactly that--with a lot of potential applicability for associations. Among the many practical tools it taught me was the need to create "winnable games" for your team to go after, with regular and visual scorecards showing the team's progress towards each goal. As the authors continually remind the reader, people play differently when they are keeping score. When they can see at a glance whether or not they are winning they become profoundly engaged.

3. The Chairman's Gift
Originally posted in July 2012, this one has now been on six of seven possible year-end lists. It tells the story about how my association ensures that our outgoing Board Chair receives a gift that recognizes not just his service to the association, but the fact that he is an individual who has made a personal sacrifice to serve in that capacity. The true value is the message it sends to others who might be considering a similar commitment in their futures.

4. Membership Sales Is About More Than Just Increasing Membership Numbers
This is a newcomer to the list -- and one that was actually posted this year! In it, I describe an epiphany I had, as the title suggests, that the efforts my association puts into increasing our membership numbers are, ultimately, about something more than just increasing membership numbers. They are also very much about defining and shaping the value proposition that our association offers its members. A sales discussion is an opportunity to sell something, of course, but it is also an opportunity for crucial market research and education.

5. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
This first appeared on the list last year, having been originally posted back in January 2015. It's one of the many "mini term papers" I tend to offer up, free of charge, to desperate freshman English majors the world over. My overall theses: This is a play about the balance between order and freedom, and specifically order’s ultimate triumph over its weaker counterbalance. The historical setting is, of course, the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. The order is that of the theocratic state, its functionaries able to convict, jail and hang those they determine to be in league with the Devil. The freedom is that of John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and their fellow villagers, who are held hostage by the accusations of a group of vengeful teenage girls. It may seem silly to our modern sensibilities, but these people very much believed in God and the Devil, and the way the two of them battled for people’s souls right here on earth. And Miller paints no one in his drama as a fool, just as people with clashing motivations interpreting the world as they understand it.

My thanks to everyone who has been reading what I've been putting up here. I hope you plan to stay engaged in 2019.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, December 24, 2018

A Holiday Break: The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Books are always the best holiday gift for me. The only thing I like better than the anticipation of reading a long sought after title is the fondness that comes with remembering the discovery of an unexpected treasure.

As I look back on all the books I've profiled here in 2018, the one I'd most like to revisit is The Bell by Iris Murdoch. I blogged about it back in September, and found it to be a novel rich in the interior lives of its characters, where dark and foreboding shapes of the “not wholly describable thinginess of the physical and moral world” emerge slowly out of the fog of character thought and action.

It is also a novel that underscores the importance of art in a dark and turbulent world. One of the central characters is Dora Greenfield, a former art student, and now the disillusioned wife of one Paul Greenfield, an art historian spending a summer at the Abbey that forms the backdrop of the novel. At one point in the narrative, she flees from her husband and from the lay community near the Abbey and visits the National Gallery in London, a place she had been in “a thousand times,” where “the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face.”

Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvellous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect. Who had said that, about perfection and reality being in the same place? Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it part of her fantasy make it worthless. Even Paul, she thought, only existed now as someone she dreamt about; or else as a vague external menace never really encountered and understood. But the pictures were something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly and yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or values. But now there was something else in it after all.

That, in the end, may be the most important aspect of art, be it paintings in the National Gallery, or interior novels by Iris Murdoch. It provides an objective rock in the sea of subjectivity we otherwise find ourselves swimming in.

As you enjoy your holiday break, I hope you find some time to curl up with a good book. I know I will.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Association CEO Handbook by Paul A. Belford

The subtitle here is “A Personal Guide to Leadership and Career Fulfillment in Association Management.” How it came into my possession I no longer remember, but my copy is signed by the author himself.

Sept 25, 2013
Eric -
Thought you might find this of interest.
Best regards
Paul Belford

Did I meet Paul somewhere, at one of the many conferences I attend? Did I hear him speak and was so moved by his presentation that I bought his book and had him sign it at the author’s table in the foyer? I doubt it. More likely, he sent it to me unsolicited, hoping that I would be intrigued and book him as a speaker at one of my own conferences.

No matter. What, if anything, did I find of interest? Just this:

Imagine yourself at your 25th college reunion. It opens at the student union and there’s a whole bunch of folks around by the time you arrive. You’re walking in, cool, hair right, looking for some classmates you’ve arranged to meet when up comes someone you recognize, but haven’t a clue as to the name.

This comes near the end of Belford’s book, after he has walked the reader through numerous bugaboos of the association industry and the essential elements of being an effective staff executive.

You remember thinking back once that you might have been close friends if you had been in the same carpool or dorm… No matter now, What’s the name? You smile and nod. Awkward is how you feel as you hear your name spoken. “Pat!” (That’s you, you’re Pat.) You smile. Without the name, in the game of social encounter, you’re already down one. And of course there’s that look of success. Down two? “So, Pat, tell me, how goes it? Life’s been good?”

Issues vs. services, Board vs. staff-driven, benefits to membership, networking, organizational profile, industry/profession life cycle, Board governance, membership composition, culture, member/staff relations, mission vs. momentum, mission alignment, resource relationships, vision statement, membership engagement, planning. Belford has talked you through all of these issues and, seeing that this is a handbook, has tried to lead you through several exercises to better understand what they mean for the organization you’re leading.

Now what do you say to that. ‘Well, actually, I just spent the entire remainder of my most recent bankruptcy on the ticket to fly out here and tell everyone all about it.’? Easy, now. None of that… The name, What’s the name? Stalling, you come back with “Great. Really great. Looking pretty good yourself…” That’s it, take the initiative, that’s the rule. The name will come. “And what’ve you been up to?”

Belford is weaving a story here. Not sure where he’s going, but he titled this short chapter “Personal Identity” and he gave us a warning in his short introduction. It may be a little off-beat, but we may find it useful.

“Hollywood.” A big grin, but fun. No bragging, here, just fun, pleasant. You work on your smile, good eye contact, that’s the rule, keep it moving and the name will come, be positive…

“Private banking of a sort. We finance movies and advise the stars on what to do with all their money. Tons of fun, tons.” A smile and nod. “And you? An Accounting major, right?”

Where is Belford going with this?

You’ve been the CEO of the American Widget Manufacturers Association for four good years, and loving every minute of it… and the name comes, Leigh Smith! That’s the name. Sat next to you in Cost Accounting. Not a bad sort at all, really. Your mind flashes back to the mini-rally Leigh organized for your soccer team as it boarded the bus for the conference finals senior year. A big win, the biggest.

You’re relaxing now, an easy breath taken, feeling good, more memories coming, you’re among friends … and Leigh’s one of them. A smile comes to your face and you’re home again … this is why you came…

And for Leigh’s question? Well, there are two ways you can go--

--”Widgets, I’m in widgets,” or

--”I’m an association executive.”

Much of a difference? Could be. Could be huge.

What’s your answer?

It’s fair to say that this is the only chapter in Belford’s book that was of interest to me … and it’s something I think he should have led with, not saved for near the end. Any association executive looking for a “personal guide to leadership and career fulfillment” has to absolutely start with the mindset that they are first and foremost an association executive, not “in widgets.”

Indeed, the rest of Belford’s handbook will make little sense to anyone who thinks of themselves as in the industry that their association represents. He might as well put the question on page one, with the instruction that if you say anything other than “I’m an association executive,” you can be spared from reading any further.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at