Monday, January 26, 2015

Is Your Association a Skunk Works for Your Industry?

I recently listened to a podcast put out by Seth Kahan (bonus points if you know both what a "podcast" is and who Seth Kahan is) that contained the following anecdote.

A consultant, trying to shake an association executive out of his complacency, asks how he would feel if his association spent gobs of time and money developing an unique product for its membership, only to have a for-profit company sweep in, develop, and launch a competing product, at a significantly lower price, for the same audience two months after the association's launch. The exec's answer? Great! That would simply mean that the marketplace has adapted to serve the needs of our members. It is becoming a more friendly environment for our members, and we can re-focus our resources on the remaining margins that can drive widespread adoption.

I thought it was a remarkable answer. The association in question was one with a social service mission, and such an answer may make more sense in that environment, but it immediately made me think about the possible applicability to trade associations and professional societies. Are there any of those associations out there who position themselves as the skunk works of innovation for the industry or profession it represents? In other words, the association takes on the experimental risk associated with the development of new products, using reources it is able to crowdsource across its wide membership base.

If a new product works--great, some for-profit entity can take it (or buy it from the association) and use their typically better developed production and distribution channels to bring the product to the world. If a new product fails--no harm, no foul. The resources are only applied to risks that the association's members wouldn't otherwise take. And each member only put a tiny portion of its own resources into the effort. The experiments are by design high-risk, high-payoff ventures. Most won't work. But those that do will bring tremendous rewards to the industry and its association.

In my experience, most associations aren't geared to be on this kind of footing. My own association can only be said to do something similar in the sense that our members collectively fund some pre-competitive research projects inside our partner universities, seeking technological breakthroughs that no one member would seek on their own, but which all agree would dramatically advance the base technology of the industry. Other than that, we, like many others, are more geared towards servicing increasingly legacy products for what we all fear is a dwindling market.

Still, there's a lot of talk in the association market about the threats posed by for-profit competitors. Perhaps the anecdote contains the seeds your association needs to better respond to those threats?

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

Image Source
http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2013/03/05/whats-that-smell-skunk-works-meets-collaborative-innovation/

Saturday, January 24, 2015

We Who Dared to Say No to War, edited by Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

This is a collection of American anti-war writings, which begins with Daniel Webster arguing on the eve of the War of 1812 that the draft is unconstitutional and ends with Jon Basil Utley arguing in 2007 that the time has come for a “Left-Right” political alliance against war. After reading them and all those in-between, I find myself agreeing with the simple sentiment the authors express in their short introduction.

What the reader of this book will discover is that what we have endured over the past five years in the Iraq campaign is not unusual at all. The history of American wars is littered with propaganda, falsehoods, a compliant media, the manipulation of patriotic sentiment--everything we’ve seen recently, we’ve seen before. Time and again.

Indeed, the reader can pull passages out of many of the essays and speeches annotated in this book, present them in their full context, and completely lose the sense of which particular war is being discussed or railed against. An example:

On our entrance into the war there were many persons who predicted exactly this derangement of values, who feared lest democracy suffer more at home from an America at war than could be gained for democracy abroad. That fear has been amply justified. The question whether the American nation would act like an enlightened democracy going to war for the sake of high ideals, or like a State-obsessed herd, has been decisively answered. The record is written and cannot be erased. History will decide whether the terrorization of opinion, and the regimentation of life was justified under the most idealistic of democratic administrations. It will see that when the American nation had ostensibly a chance to conduct a gallant war, with scrupulous regard to the safety of democratic values at home, it chose rather to adopt all the most obnoxious and coercive techniques of the enemy and of the other countries at war, and to rival in intimidation and ferocity of punishment the worst governmental systems of the age. For its former unconsciousness and disrespect of the State ideal, the nation apparently paid the penalty in a violent swing to the other extreme. It acted so exactly like a herd in its irrational coercion of minorities that there is no artificiality in interpreting the progress of the war in terms of herd psychology. It unwittingly brought out into the strongest relief the true characteristics of the State and its intimate alliance with war…

That was written by Randolph Bourne regarding World War I, but it could just as easily have been written today about the War on Terrorism. The essay it is taken from is, in fact, the essay, famous in libertarian circles, that elsewhere proclaims that war is the “health of the state,” and, in that sense, Bourne is indeed writing about all wars, not just the last one he lived to see.

And there is, in fact, a lot of libertarian fire and brimstone in this volume.

If their object had really been to abolish slavery, or maintain liberty or justice generally, they had only to say: All, whether white or black, who want the protection of this government, shall have it; and all who do not want it, will be left in peace, so long as they leave us in peace. Had they said this, slavery would necessarily have been abolished at once; the war would have been saved; and a thousand times nobler union than we have ever had would have been the result. It would have been a voluntary union of free men; such a union as will one day exist among all men, the world over, if the several nations, so called, shall ever get rid of the usurpers, robbers, and murderers, called governments, that now plunder, enslave, and destroy them.

This from Lysander Spooner, writing at the time of the American Civil War, in which he presents, as many of the other essayists do, the idealized libertarian non-State as the overarching panacea for all of society’s ills--in his case, slavery.

And it is Spooner who, in this volume, first exposes one of Leviathan’s essential tools. The control and devaluation of the money supply. No Federal Reserve Bank existed in 1867, but in railing against the National Debt, Spooner evokes the same accusations of duplicity and perfidy espoused by today’s “End the Fed-ers.”

As long as mankind continue to pay “National Debts,” so called--that is, so long as they are such dupes and cowards as to pay for being cheated, plundered, enslaved, and murdered--so long there will be enough to lend the money for those purposes; and with that money a plenty of tools, called soldiers, can be hired to keep them in subjection.

This provides an illuminating historical perspective for me, who, as of late, has become something of a student of libertarian thought. Unfortunately, the libertarian rhetoric captured here at times drifts into incomprehension, as when David Lipscomb, a Church of Christ minister, writing in 1889, tries to make a biblical case for a voluntary society along libertarian lines.

To the Ruling Authorities of the State of Tennessee:

WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ feel a deep sense of the responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide and authoritative rule of action, and as being of superior authority to, and more binding upon the subjects of the kingdom of Jesus Christ than any human rules or regulations, they would most respectfully represent.

(1) That they recognize the necessity of the existence of civil government, so long as a considerable portion of the human family fails to submit to the government of God.

(2) That while God demands of his servants that they should submit cheerfully and heartily, to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the requirements of civil government, involves the violation of God’s law, they are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of civil government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian is, upon peril of his eternal well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.

There are five more points that follow these first two, but two was enough to twist my mind into illogical knots. If God’s law is superior, then why should we obey man’s? Because God told us to? Why did He do that, if it’s inferior to God’s own law? And not, evidently, when civil government compels action that is contrary to God's law. Who decides that?

But although I don’t agree with every philosophical or political position expressed by every author, there are still some passages that speak powerfully to me--mainly those that address the duplicity and human misery that accompanies war and war-making. The following section from a 1916 speech by Helen Keller is a good example. In it, albeit through her unrepentant socialist ideology, she describes the way people are used and manipulated by a system they are taught and trained to support, thinking that it is responsible for their freedom and liberty.

All the machinery of the system has been set in motion. Above the complaint and din of the protest from the workers is heard the voice of authority.

“Friends,” it says, “fellow workmen, patriots; your country is in danger! There are foes on all sides of us. There is nothing between us and our enemies except the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Look at what has happened to Belgium. Consider the fate of Serbia. Will you murmur about low wages when your country, your very liberties, are in jeopardy? What are the miseries you endure compared to the humiliation of having a victorious German army sail up the East River? Quit your whining, get busy and prepare to defend your firesides and your flag. Get an army, get a navy; be ready to meet the invaders like the loyal-hearted freemen you are.”

Will the workers walk into this trap? Will they be fooled again? I am afraid so. The people have always been amenable to oratory of this sort. The workers know they have no enemies except their masters. They know that their citizenship papers are no warrant for the safety of themselves or their wives and children. They know that honest sweat, persistent toil and years of struggle bring them nothing worth holding on to, worth fighting for. Yet, deep down in their foolish hearts they believe they have a country. Oh blind vanity of slaves!

The clever ones, up in the high places know how childish and silly the workers are. They know that if the government dresses them up in khaki and gives them a rifle and starts them off with a brass band and waving banners, they will go forth to fight valiantly for their own enemies. They are taught that brave men die for their country’s honor. What a price to pay for an abstraction--the lives of millions of young men; other millions crippled and blinded for life, existence made hideous for still more millions of human beings; the achievement and inheritance of generations swept away in a moment--and nobody better off for all the misery! This terrible sacrifice would be comprehensible if the thing you die for and call country fed, clothed, housed and warmed you, educated and cherished your children. I think the workers are the most unselfish of the children of men; they toil and live and die for other people’s country, other people’s sentiments, other people’s liberties and other people’s happiness! The workers have no liberties of their own; they are not free when they are compelled to work twelve or ten or eight hours a day. They are not free when they are ill-paid for their exhausting toil. They are not free when their children must labor in mines, mills and factories or starve, and when their women may be driven by poverty to lives of shame. They are not free when they are clubbed and imprisoned because they go on strike for a raise of wages and for the elemental justice that is their right as human beings.

It is of course a reminder of how bad worker conditions were at the start of the 20th century, but it is also a dissection of a dynamic that continues in some ways to this day. In yesterday’s worker whipped into a frenzy to fight “the Hun”, I think we can see shades of today’s Tea Partier, voting to curtail the very benefits that support and sustain their way of life.

And indeed, this cry of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” did not begin with World War I. Another famous socialist, Eugene Debs, reminds us…

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose--especially their lives.

And, when necessary, there is conscription to compel what Debs calls the subject class to fight. Although declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is difficult to see how conscription--or “the draft”--can be viewed by the authors in this collection as anything but an outrage against the rights of the individual. Libertarian founding father Murray Rothbard gives a typical opinion.

A final word about conscription: of all the ways in which war aggrandizes the State, this is perhaps the most flagrant and most despotic. But the most striking fact about conscription is the absurdity of the arguments put forward on its behalf. A man must be conscripted to defend his (or someone else’s?) liberty against an evil State beyond the borders. Defend his liberty? How? By being coerced into an army whose very raison d’etre is the expunging of liberty, the trampling on all the liberties of the person, the calculated and brutal dehumanization of the soldier and his transformation into an efficient engine of murder at the whim of his “commanding officer”? Can any conceivable foreign State do anything worse to him than what “his” army is now doing for his alleged benefit? Who is there, O Lord, to defend him against his “defenders”?

Some say that every war America has fought was based on a lie. Whether or not that’s the case, there are clearly some who believe they were lied to, and that their support of one of America’s wars was therefore erroneous. One powerful testimonial in the latter case is W. D. Ehrhart, a former U.S. Marine, who delivered the following remarks about his involvement in Vietnam to high school students in 1982.

I was not even drafted; I volunteered. I based my decision on every responsible source of information I had available to me at that time. According to the information I had--information disseminated by my government and all the major news media--Communists from North Vietnam, supported by the Russians and the Chinese, were waging a terrible war of aggression against the free Republic of South Vietnam. Moreover, not only was the freedom of the South Vietnamese at stake, but because Vietnam was part and parcel of the Communist conspiracy ultimately to take over the world, my country’s freedom and my own freedom were at stake. It was something called the Domino Theory.

This was all taking place about the time I was your age, and I believed sincerely that if we did not stop the communists in Vietnam, we would one day have to fight them in San Diego. I had no reason up to that point in my life to doubt either my government or my high school teachers or the New York Times. I believed in my country and its God-given role as leader of the Free World--that it was the finest nation on earth, that its political system and its leaders were essentially good, and that any nation or people who opposed us must be inherently bad. Furthermore, I valued my freedom, and took seriously the notion that I owed something to my country. The draft was already cranking into high gear in the spring of 1966 when I decided to turn down four college acceptances and enlist in the United States Marine Corps. I was 17 years old, nine days out of high school.

What follows in a list of all the actual truths Ehrhart discovered in Vietnam, truths that directly contradicted the information he had been told by his government and in his media, and truths that wound up eroding the esteem in which he held his nation. This, I think, is one of the neglected consequences of war, especially wars fought on false or whitewashed pretenses, and is likely why the anti-war movement was so vigorous during Vietnam.

But there were many who supported the war in Vietnam--just as there have been many who have supported every war America has found itself in. Why people do this is an interesting sociological question, because I think it can be argued reasonably well that very few people actually benefit from most wars. As Lew Rockwell describes in a 2005 essay:

Why the bourgeoisie back war is another matter. It is self-evidently not in their interest. The government gains power at their expense. It spends their money and runs up debt that is paid out of taxes and inflation. It fosters the creation of permanent enemies abroad who then work to diminish our security at home. It heads to the violation of privacy and civil liberty. War is incompatible with a government that leaves people alone to develop their lives in an atmosphere of freedom.

Nonetheless, war with moral themes--we are the good guys working for God and they are the bad guys doing the devil’s work--tends to attract a massive amount of middle-class support. People believe the lies, and, once exposed, they defend the right of the state to lie. People who are otherwise outraged by murder find themselves celebrating the same on a mass industrial scale. People who harbor no hatred toward foreigners find themselves attaching ghastly monikers to whole classes of foreign peoples. Regular middle-class people, who otherwise struggle to eke out a flourishing life in this vale of tears, feel hatred well up within them and confuse it for honor, bravery, courage, and valor.

The libertarian emphasis on individual rights is a frame that is fundamental in understanding Rockwell’s comments--and the comments of many of the other authors in this book. If one does not hold them in pristine primacy, than many of the arguments presented may seem short-sighted or downright daffy.

My own struggle--as it is with many libertarian perspectives showcased in this collection--is not with the viewpoint that war is essentially an immoral endeavor. I believe that it is. Rather, I chafe against the assumption of intentionality that is all-too-often expressed. They, the government, is deliberately deceiving and manipulating us to trick us into fighting their lucrative wars for them. As I may have expressed before, I question how many puppet masters there actually are and how much string pulling they’re actually doing. A more plausible--but far less satisfying to the conspiracy-minded--explanation is that countries fight wars because that’s what countries do. The system that we call our government will inevitably come into conflict with other such systems, and war is the instinctual tool that is has to resolve those conflicts.

Although there have clearly been politicians throughout history who have been much more Machiavellian about the whole affair. As a 2007 essay by Sheldon Richman reminds us:

On their own, people do not go to war, and without compulsion they would never pay for it--they have better things to do with their money. Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second in command, understood this: “Of course the people don’t want war … But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it’s a democracy or a fascist dictatorship of a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

It’s something that even Abraham Lincoln noticed. In 1848, as a member of the House of Representatives, he spoke out against the confusing Mexican War policy of James Polk, accusing him of trying to…

...escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory--that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood.

Now there’s a man who knew how to turn a phrase.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

And, You Have to Have the Right Staff

Last week I wrote about my experience as Board Chair for the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE). I stepped down from that position at the end of 2014 and, although I had written about some of my takeaways from that experience before, I thought it was time to reflect on the experience as a whole, and offer some words of advice to any association staff person who was thinking of taking on a similar volunteer position.

Time goes fast, I said, and you'll get very little done. Focus on shaping the environment, not directing specific actions. And don't go it alone. Recruit your fellow Board members to make a more lasting impact. All good advice, if I say so myself, but I realize now that I forgot to mention one other very important thing.

Make sure you have the right staff.

What do I mean by the right staff? Well, I guess primarily I'm talking about the right staff executive, because everything will succeed or fail based on the competence, vision, and energy of that individual.

A competent executive will have the right team around him. He will delegate the things the should be delegated, and will tackle the things that shouldn't. A visionary executive will push the Board to think outside the box. He will provide them with the tools and environments that will allow them to do so. An energetic executive will exude passion and enthusiasm for everything the association is seeking to accomplish. He will engage others in the vision of the association, and find creative ways for achieving difficult goals.

All three attributes are essential to the success of any Board Chair, regardless of how aggressive and "steady state" her vision for the future of the association. The two positions--the Board Chair and the Staff Executive--must work in alignment with each other for any agenda to advance in such a short period of time.

So if you're thinking about becoming a volunteer Board Chair, take a close look at the person serving as the association's staff executive. Do the two of you see eye-to-eye on the ideas you have for the future of the organization? Will he advance objectives between Board meetings in the manner that you would expect? Does he have the three attributes I described above?

If not, I would seriously recommend you take a pass on the volunteer obligation. Given the small amount of time you will have to spend on your volunteer responsibilities, a staff executive who is not your staunch ally, and who does not possess the competence, vision, and energy to do most of the heavy-lifting, will keep you from accomplishing all that you might otherwise hope.

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

Image Source
http://smartbusinesstrends.com/characteristics-and-qualities-of-great-employees/

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reflections on a Year as Board Chair

One of the things that came to an end in 2014 was my year as chair of the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE). I've already written from time to time on how valuable this, my first experience as a volunteer Board member, has been for me as an association executive--essentially being able to see the world from the other side of the Board table--but now that I've gotten through a year as Board chair, it seems appropriate for me to summarize some of my important takeaways from the experience. Think of the following as my advice for any association staff person thinking of taking on this difficult--but very rewarding--challenge.

1. Time goes fast--and very little will get done. We've all heard it, and some of us have even engaged in it. The complaints that Board members don't do much, that they're disengaged, and come to meetings unprepared (if they bother to come at all). Well, let me personally state how difficult it is to get meaningfully engaged in an association volunteer role as significant as that of a Board member, while still maintaining the professional (and frankly, the more pressing) responsibilities that come with a "day job." A Board member that reads the materials distributed before Board meetings, engages thoughtfully at the Board table, and effectively follows up on one or two simple tasks after each meeting, is doing about as much as anyone can reasonably expect. In my own experience, that's about all I could manage before getting carried away in the swift-moving river that is running my own association. And in this reality, you have to temper your expectations about what can be accomplished. Diving in, thinking that you're going to help the association re-invent itself in your year as Chair, is a foolhardy perspective. You won't. You won't have the time.

2. You have to shape, not direct. And so, as a result, if you want to make an impact, you have to pick something and stay focused on it. And when I say "stay focused," I don't mean start telling everybody what to do. I mean, take some of the little time that you have and think carefully about how you can shape the way the organization works to begin moving it in the direction you intend. Remember that if the thing you picked is worth doing, the organization is likely to fight you on it. Not necessarily any one person or any group of people in the organization, but the organization itself--the system of beliefs, practices, and outcomes that are they way they are for some very good reasons. If you choose to slay a dragon that lives in that cave, be cognizant that the dragon is the way the dragon is not because it is a dragon, but because it lives in the cave. When your initiative isn't targeted at the fire-breathing monster everyone can see, but instead at the stalactites hanging in the dark from the ceiling, you have to stay focused on shaping the environment rather than dictating actions.

3. Don't go at it alone. But you absolutely can not do that alone. Working in a vacuum only means that whatever impact you do have will disappear after you release the reins of power that were temporarily bestowed on you. And guess what? The organization knows that your power is time-limited, and it will always have more patience than you do. So, remember that it's called a Board for a reason, and that it is the entity that really has the power in the situation that you've found yourself in. Even when you're the chair--perhaps especially when you're the chair--talk to your other Board members (away from the Board table is best) and find out what they think about your ideas. There will be a certain amount of automatic support that they will offer you. You are, after all, the chair, and they're secretly glad that the job has been thrust upon you instead of them. But they will have their own frustrations about the organization and how it works, and you will be far more successful as their chair if you champion an idea that they all agree with than if you pursue a problem that only you perceive.

All in all, my year as Board chair was a tremendous experience. I learned a lot about how associations actually function, and about what Boards can and cannot do to change things. As I recently did from a podium in a hotel ballroom, just before handing the ceremonial gavel over to my successor, I want to offer my heart-felt thanks to the people I served with on the WSAE Board. It's safe to say that they both challenged and inspired me to give more of myself to that organization than I initially thought I could.

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

Image Source
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118836/

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

A great play. Miller uses extensive stage directions when introducing many characters for the first time, using them to convey information about their individual histories and the times that they lived in. I suppose a lot of this information is lost when the play is performed, but it gives the reader a good deal to think about as he hears the characters speak on the stage of his imagination. It’s in one of those extended stage directions that Miller says this about the historical figures that populate his drama:

When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

And Miller is right—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.

Proctor is eventually convicted and sentenced to hang, and the most compelling part of the play for me comes as he wrestles with the choice to confess to the crimes he has not committed. He has maintained his innocence and those of the other townspeople, but the situation has been manipulated against him, and the deputy governor is convinced he is a disciple of Satan. As long as he denies it, he is doomed. But if he confesses it, confesses to being a witch and publicly turns against Satan and back towards God, his life will be spared. And Deputy Governor Danforth very much wants him to do this, as he is one of the leaders of the community, and such an action by him will convince many others to make similar false confessions. And that will help restore order. As the dawn of his hanging day approaches, Proctor succumbs in anguish, ultimately deciding that his life is more valuable to him that his principles.

DANFORTH, with great relief and gratitude: Praise to God, man, praise to God; you shall be blessed in Heaven for this. Cheever has hurried to the bench with pen, ink, and paper. Proctor watches him. Now then, let us have it. Are you ready, Mr. Cheever?

PROCTOR, with a cold, cold horror at their efficiency: Why must it be written?

DANFORTH: Why, for the good instruction of the village, Mister; this we shall post upon the church door! To Parris, urgently: Where is the marshal?

PARRIS, runs to the door and calls down the corridor: Marshal! Hurry!

DANFORTH: Now, then, Mister, will you speak slowly, and directly to the point, for Mr. Cheever’s sake. He is on record now, and is really dictating to Cheever, who writes. Mr. Proctor, have you seen the Devil in your life? Proctor’s jaws lock. Come, man, there is light in the sky; the town waits at the scaffold; I would give out this news. Did you see the Devil?

PROCTOR: I did.

PARRIS: Praise God!

And it is here that I realize that Proctor’s confession is not the false one he thought it would be. In this action of the deputy governor’s, extracting a false confession out of an innocent man under pain of death, and then using it to impose order over the freedoms of the other villagers, Proctor is seeing the Devil, and the rest of the scene, seen through this lens, is a fascinating study.

DANFORTH: And when he come to you, what were his demands? Proctor is silent. Danforth helps. Did he bid you to do his work upon the earth?

PROCTOR: He did.

Indeed he did. Danforth is the devil here, and he has bidden Proctor to do his work upon the earth.

DANFORTH: And you bound yourself to his service? Danforth turns, as Rebecca Nurse enters, with Herrick helping to support her. She is barely able to walk. Come in, come in, woman!

REBECCA, brightening as she sees Proctor: Ah, John! You are well, then, eh?

Proctor turns his face to the wall.

DANFORTH: Courage. Man, courage—let her witness your good example that she may come to God herself. Now hear it, Goody Nurse! Say on, Mr. Proctor. Did you bind yourself to the Devil’s service?

REBECCA, astonished: Why, John!

PROCTOR, through his teeth, his face turned from Rebecca: I did.

And he has—to Danforth’s service.

DANFORTH: Now, woman, you surely see it profit nothin’ to keep this conspiracy any further. Will you confess yourself with him?

REBECCA: Oh, John—God send his mercy on you!

DANFORTH: I say, will you confess yourself, Goody Nurse?

REBECCA: Why, it is a lie, it is a lie; how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot.

DANFORTH: Mr. Proctor. When the Devil came to you did you see Rebecca Nurse in his company? Proctor is silent. Come, man, take courage—did you ever see her with the Devil?

PROCTOR, almost inaudibly: No.

Of course he didn’t. She will not confess to crimes she did not commit and allow herself to be used by the power of the State. She, unlike Proctor, is not in league with that devil.

Danforth, now sensing trouble, glances at John and goes to the table, and picks up a sheet—the list of condemned.

DANFORTH: Did you ever see her sister, Mary Easty, with the Devil?

PROCTOR: No, I did not.

DANFORTH, his eyes narrow on Proctor: Did you ever see Martha Corey with the Devil?

PROCTOR: I did not.

DANFORTH, realizing, slowing putting the sheet down: Did you ever see anyone with the Devil?

PROCTOR: I did not.

No one is. Only Proctor. Because Proctor will help the State crush everyone’s freedom and impose order. All to save his own life. Proctor chooses order over freedom and keeps his life. The others choose freedom over order and they lose theirs. It’s a tight little package Miller has tied up for us, and although we’re no longer hanging witches, this same struggle between freedom and order is with us to this day.

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

When Old Dogs Have to Learn New Tricks

I'm thinking this week about the opening paragraph of this post from the Demand Perspective Blog:

I am sure that hearing references to information technology as something that resides in an entirely different universe from the one the rest of the organization inhabits, is not new to most of us. Technology is the realm of IT departments, social media community managers, web architects and other specialists; a means for process enhancements and delivery; or a nod to the “younger generation” of members--all this without affecting the organization’s way of doing business, thinking, developing products, learning or designing business models. Surely this must be the main reason for many associations lagging behind their markets.

It has special relevance for my own association as we, like many of our sister organizations, have embarked, and are having some difficulty, in launching and moderating an online community for our members.

The difficulty is somewhat understandable because I have imposed a restriction on how we're going about it. We're not going to use LinkedIn or Facebook or one of the other "free" social platforms that are out there. And we're not going to use one of the off-the-shelf products that can be provided by an increasing number of software vendors. We, instead, are going to build and run the community ourselves.

Don't worry. We have some help. We're using Wordpress for the basic structure, and we have a vendor with Wordpress expertise that will be doing the pick and shovel work associated with coding, programming and formatting. But the vendor is taking direction from us, not selling us something that has already been created. All the decisions about what our community is, how it will function, and what services it will provide, will be made by us.

I think this is key. We know our members. We know what is valuable to them and what isn't. We know which are already ahead of us in the "social organization" game, which are wondering how the tools can be leveraged for their business objectives, and which will never come on board, no matter how many tweets we send out.

Social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, and off-the-shelf communities provided by vendors, are both round holes that the square pegs of our knowledge, expectations, and needs are not necessarily going to fit in. I firmly believe that this is one of those situations where we need to learn how to build the house and we plan to invite our members into.

There's been some resistance. People feel that they lack the expertise. That outsourcing is the better way to go. That I'm asking more than should be expected of them.

But here's the thing. And the Demand Perspective post helped me put it into words for perhaps the very first time. Interacting online with our members is going to change the way we do business. It's going to change the way we think, the way we learn, the way we develop products, and the way we design business models.

And these are not the sort of things that we should be outsourcing. If we’re going to create the future, we need to be thinking in the language the future uses, not asking someone smarter, younger, etc. than us to interpret it for us.

Does that mean that some of us old dogs need to learn some new tricks? It sure does.

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

Image Source
http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com/old-dogs-can-learn-new-tricks-are-the-pups-learning-as-well/


Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014

As we end another year, here's a look back at the five posts on this blog that received the most page views in 2014.

1. Stop Calling It Strategic Planning
This was #1 on last year's list, and #3 the year before that. 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
A newcomer to these lists, this one was originally posted in May 2014, and 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
Missing from last year's list, this one, originally posted in July 2012, made #4 on the list the year before that. 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. No One Knows How to Make a Computer Mouse
This was #2 on last year's list, originally posted in February 2012. It contains a link to a TED talk video featuring Matt Ridley, who makes the case that innovation and progress depend on the accelerating exchange of ideas and information, not on the expertise or creativity of any single individual. To make his point, he uses the example of the computer mouse--a piece of technology we all depend on and that has transformed our world, but which contains so many parts and underlying technologies that no single person on the planet could construct one entirely by themselves. In my commentary, I compare this to the association environment, in which I say the role of the association leader is not to come up with the bright ideas, but to bring together and facilitate the exchange of ideas and information so that the bright ideas emerge.

5. I'm Not Building a Navy SEAL Team
Another newcomer to the list, originally posted in October 2014. I felt this one was going to strike a nerve when I was writing it. In it, I push back on the all-too-common practice of presenting ex-military officers as leadership examples at conferences and seminars. SEAL team members, Army Rangers and Green Beret all deserve our thanks for their heroism and service, but the challenges they face and the methods for team cohesion and development they use don't relate well to the world of association management. We should stop pretending that they do.

My thanks to everyone who has been reading what I've been putting up here. I hope you plan to stay engaged in 2015.

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

Image Source
http://mashable.com/2013/12/31/tech-predictions-2014/