Monday, March 11, 2013

A Faster Horse

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"If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."
We've all heard this quote attributed to Henry Ford. And if you don't know who that is, I'm sure you've heard one the dozen or so similar quotes attributed to Steve Jobs. Ford or Apple, they were both famous in their day for delivering products their customers didn't know they wanted, but couldn't live without once they had them.

These thoughts are on my mind as I prepare to leave for my association's Annual Conference. Part of me is excited. Another opportunity to connect with our members. To interact with them directly and gain more perspective on who they are and what challenges they are facing. But another part of me feels trepidation. We have a number of committee and task force meetings scheduled, and they have a tendency to push us towards faster and faster horses. 

Part of this is our own fault. We put the agendas together, and they always have the same mindset behind them. Tell us what we should do. You're the member. We're here to serve you.

What if we took a decidedly different approach? What if, once we got the fifteen members around the table we didn't ask them what we should do? What if we instead told them what we thought we understood about their world, and then what we planned to do differently in the year ahead to help them succeed in that environment?

We might not get the marching orders we're used to, but we might get everyone thinking differently about what we're here to do. We might learn something we didn't know before. We might realize that it's our job to solve the problems the members can't solve themselves. And more importantly, we might actually have a chance of breaking free of the paradigm of the faster horse.

That's something worth getting excited about.

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