Monday, November 13, 2017

Automation Is Not Always the Answer

I had an interesting conversation this week with a colleague on the subject of membership engagement tracking. It's not something that every association does, evidently, but it is something that my association does. We track many of the activities that our members participate in for the purpose of determining which are and are not highly engaged with our association.

We were talking about why some associations don't do it, and she mentioned her belief that some shy away because of how complicated the task can be, and how difficult it can be to find an automated solution for it. Their AMS (association management software) system may not have that capability, she said, and trying to build it where it doesn't already exist could be time and cost prohibitive.

Well sure, I replied, that may certainly be a case. Our tracking system, after all, is not incorporated into our AMS. It's essentially a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, updated a few times a year by a designated staff person, who, admittedly, has to pull information from a variety of different people and places in our organization to do it. It's time-consuming, but it gives us the information we're looking for, and we've used it to good effect in our organization -- reaching out to engage those less engaged, and adjusting our marketing strategies to better target them.

And that's when something else hit me. Automating our process within our AMS -- basically re-programming it to scour what would have to be a variety of different participation databases (some already digital, but others currently analog, which would have to be made digital) so that all the right ones and zeros could be put into the right fields, and then formatting a report that could be run at the touch of a button -- doing all of that, is utterly out of the question for an association of our size and budget. No question.

But that didn't stop us from creating our own, workable process for membership engagement tracking.

Too often, I've found, a desire for automated processes stops important work from getting done inside an association, and this struck me as one of those cases. An automated process can return tremendous economies of scale once the investment has been made to create it, but just because that initial investment is too much for an association to contemplate does not mean that the process can't be conducted via other means.

Specifically with regard to our process of membership engagement tracking, the knowledge we've gained from our efforts is valuable enough that, dare I say, even if we didn't have access to Microsoft Excel, we'd still be tracking what we could in a drawer full of three by five index cards.

Sometimes, doing it old school is not just the only option, it is, in fact, the best one.

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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, November 11, 2017

Man at Work by Klaus Turk

The Eckhart G. Grohmann Museum of Industrial Art is an impressive building of art on the campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a native of Milwaukee and as someone with several professional connections to MSOE, I have been inside the building many times and have always enjoyed the minutes I have spent perusing and contemplating its art collection.

Man at Work is a coffee-table sized book that showcases and describes the museum’s collection in some detail. Its subtitle, 400 Years in Paintings and Bronzes: Labor and the Evolution of Industry Art, gives you some sense of the scope of what is ready to confront the casual viewer who visits the museum. As I have described to many a friend and colleague, it’s generally not until you move onto the museum’s third floor that you begin to appreciate how deep this tradition is in the history or art -- this depiction of man at work -- and how illuminating this collection is on that penetrating subject.

The book, however, is a bit of a disappointment. Not in its colorful reproductions of this wonderful collection, but in what it has to say about it.

Here’s an example -- the reproduction, with the author commentary that accompanies it.

Unknown: Large Hydraulic Forge Press With Workers, oil on canvas, 39x31 in., signed

A hydraulic six-post forging press is shown. It is capable of producing force of up to 30 tons on workpieces. In the operation illustrated in this painting, large blocks formed in the steel mill casting house are initially heated to a glowing state and forged at the ends to form two end supports, or plugs. Each end plug is hung from a chain loop as seen in the painting. Then the rough workpiece between the end plugs is lengthened to a six-sided shaft with continual pressing in the forge, guided by transverse movements of two overhead cranes and the turning of the piece. The turning of the forge piece is accomplished by the chain loop at each end. The worker in the foreground supervises the lengthening process with a measuring stick.

There are literally hundreds of pages like this. Colorful and abstract renderings of heavy industry processes and the men who skillfully carry them out -- accompanied by commentary that penetrates no deeper than a surface level description of the work being depicted. Exploration of such artistic concepts as composition and color are almost entirely absent, as is any illumination regarding artistic intent or sociological significance.

Typically, the only places where these concepts get any play is in the short introductions that head each thematic section of artwork. But even here, the intense artistic motivations that drove the creation of these wonderful pieces seem to be recognized as subservient to the much more useful role of these paintings and sculptures as accurate records of historical significance.

Metal Processing

After melting, forging and rolling, the finished metal becomes raw material for the metalworking industry. This is a widely diversified industry which produces a variety of both capital equipment and consumer products. Artists have not found the metal processing industry to be as appealing a theme as mining and ore processing. The spectacles of fire and smoke are diminished in metal processing, providing less drama. The symbolic confrontation between work and the power of nature is also less of a factor.

In spite of this, art history comprises a considerable number of visual pieces featuring the metalworking sector, including examples in the Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection. These examples range across the spectrum from allegorical works … to portrayals of grinding and polishing, wire drawing, construction projects, the building of industrial installations, machining and shipbuilding. All these pieces afford a view of the intermediate production and work processes. They combine machines and tools with human effort, mostly performed in large manufacturing plants. The technologies they portray are not always historically accurate, but they generally reflect the working atmosphere of industrial production.

As such, they are not primarily historical technical documents, but rather reflect an artistic impression of the complex system of industrial production, including a sociological view of the work environment in which the workers spend a great deal of their lives.

It was a pity for this reader, who is much more interested in the “artistic impression of the complex system of industrial production,” than in “historical technical documents.”

In service of that former interest, here are the few examples that really stood out for me.

Gärtner, Fritz [German, 1882-1958]: Bread and Iron, oil on canvas, 29x43 in., signed

Both allegorical paintings by Fritz Gärtner reflect a cultural view common in the period between 1900 and 1945. Agriculture and iron production are combined in the same scene to emphasize both sources of national wealth. Implicit in the scene is mining, which makes the production possible. Gärtner’s style yields an idealized and romanticized picture. A grain field in the foreground has been harvested and the sheaves set up to form stock. The industrial complex looms in the background along the banks of a river. A bridge, heavy with traffic, spans the river symbolizing triumph over nature. From the right bank of the river a new expressway bridge is under construction, its cantilever projecting over the water. Two blast furnaces at the center release a fiery glow and a pair of recuperators occupies the right side. A forest of smoke stacks dominates the entire scene, the resulting fumes nearly eclipsing the sun.

Gärtner, Fritz [German, 1882-1958]: Fire and Grain Sheaves, oil on cardboard, 27.5x39 in., 1914, signed

The [second] painting stresses a romantic view through its nocturnal version with a combination of royal blue and gold colors. It also emphasizes the unceasing power of production, in contrast to the interrupted farming in the foreground.

Looking at these paintings with my modern eye, the last thing I thought the artist intended was a positive message about national strength. To me, the juxtaposition of the by-products of heavy industrial production with the output of human agrarian effort more easily lends itself to a mournful interpretation. One age passing to the next. And the visual similarity of Gärtner’s Fire and Grain Sheaves and Van Gogh’s Starry Night is too obvious not to receive a comment.

The sociological meaning of this next one is too important to keep even the author of this work from providing its context.

The construction of the Autobahn, or German national highway system, was driven by the Third Reich and based partly on earlier plans from the 1920s. It not only created employment for a large number of the unemployed and demonstrated the increasing power of the Third Reich, but also created a major military transportation asset. As with other major projects of the Hitler regime, the workers were subjected to enormous propaganda. Many artists were commissioned to document the construction activities. … Bridges are the favorite subject of those who paint Autobahn construction scenes. In a special way, bridges embody the art of engineering, the productivity of construction, and the resulting accomplishment.

Mercker, Erich [German, 1891-1973]: Teufelstal Autobahn Bridge Between Jena and Gera, Germany, oil on cardboard, 16x20 in., signed

Here Mercker intentionally presents a more impressionistic rather than a technical documentary view of a large Autobahn bridge construction. The power of the construction is emphasized by the view from below. The goldlike color of the bridge, together with the brilliant blue sky, results in an edification of the project normally seen only in religious structures. The “Bridges of the Führer” became the symbols of the new Nazi rulers.

In these few examples, we see that these painting contain a richer tradition than simply that of documenting industrial processes and construction projects. A more enjoyable book would have been one that explored both with equal rigor.

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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, November 6, 2017

A New Kind of 80/20 Rule

Most people are familiar with the 80/20 rule. If not, Google it, which, oddly in my browser, consistently provides the definition from Wikipedia in a box at the very top of the search results. Maybe I should cut out the middle man and just start searching for things on Wikipedia? But I digress. Here's the definition given: "The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes."

In the association world, I've heard this principle cited for many phenomena, appropriately or otherwise. 80% of the volunteer positions are filled by 20% of the members. 80% of the revenue generated by the association is based on the activities of 20% of the members. You probably have your own examples. Well, I'd like to propose a very specific 80/20 rule in the realm of association education activities.

Spend 20% of the time delivering information from the podium, and let the participants spend 80% of the time discussing and contextualizing the information to their individual situations.

I've recently returned from another association education conference where I wish the organizers would have adhered to this rule. By my count, I spent 315 minutes listening to people speak from the podium, and 45 minutes in structured discussion sessions with my fellow participants. That's the opposite of my new 80/20 rule. 88% of my time spent listening ad 12% of my time spent discussing.

I feel strongly about this. Why? Because, as my most recent experience showed once again, the hard, tangible value that I received from the conference came not from the 315 minutes I spent listening to other people talk, but from the 45 minutes I spent trying to applying new information to my real situations and the real situations of my peers. Now, almost a week later, I remember very little of the information presented to me from the podium. I do remember, however, what we talked about in our 45-minute discussion session, and I have a concrete takeaway from that discussion that I plan to use in my work.

So, please, if you're in charge of planning an association education conference, give my new 80/20 rule a try. There is a place for podium presentations -- especially for the new ideas or new perspectives that they can effectively introduce to us. But if you expect me to do something with that information, if you expect me to actually change my behavior, then you'd better give me time to hash out the details with my peers. They, more than any outside speaker you can find, can help me problem solve around the issues that are really holding that change in behavior back.

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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, October 30, 2017

The Joy of Membership Interview

I was recently interviewed by Joy Duling of The Joy of Membership blog, for The Movement Summit, an online event she is creating and hosting, which will be happening live next week, November 6-10, 2017. Click on either of the links above if you're interested in learning more or perhaps participating.

My interview, along with many others that Joy is collecting for the event, is on the often thorny problem of member engagement. In it, I elaborate on some of the related themes that I've explored on this blog.

For example, the importance of defining the rules of engagement:

You really have to define the rules of engagement with your members. In a very professional, but very transparent and above-board kind of way. Member engagement is a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and so you have to be really clear about it. Are you talking about increasing attendance rates at your conference? Are you talking about increasing the number of members that serve in your leadership structure, either on committees or on task forces? Those are two very different kinds of things.

My own focus is primarily on that leadership angle. Trying to get more of our members involved in the different aspects of our committees or our task forces or, yes, even on our board of directors. In that space, it's really important for you to be, again, above-board and transparent with the member that you're bringing in, about what job it is that you're asking them to do. What is the time commitment involved? What are the expected outcomes that their involvement are going to have? They have to understand what they're getting into from the very beginning.

And the value of interpersonal connections:

I've come to rely more heavily on the value of interpersonal connections. There is no limit to amount of email you can send to a member. There is a limit to how many emails a member is going to choose to read. Those are two dynamics that often work at cross purposes in the larger objective of  increasing the level of engagement with your association. It's kind of like fundraising. If you want somebody to give money, you have to ask them to give money. You have to reach out with a personal appeal and see if you can connect them into an engagement opportunity. It's important for you to be a face rather than just an email or a text message coming through. 

But, this powerful tool also has a limitation to it, because you can only ask a member to do so many things. Like most associations, our association has at least dozens of opportunities, whether they're leadership opportunities or member programmatic opportunities, for people to get engaged. And, to pretend that someone's going to get engaged in more than three or four of those things is probably unrealistic in a lot of ways. And yet, again, many of our structures are designed to blast messages out to everybody. Even those who are already engaged with this laundry list of things that people can get engaged in. I've just not seen a lot of success driving up engagement numbers with that kind of broad approach.

And the fear that many associations have of trying something new:

In a lot of the associations that I've had experiences with there is a hesitation to experiment with either a new program or a new twist on an existing program because there is a fear of losing face in front of the members. This is a half-baked idea, and we're not sure how people are going to react to it, and it's important for us to maintain the reputation of this association, so we better not do that. I just feel the opposite. That, in most of my experiences when you do attempt something new or unique or innovative or different, yes, it's not always going to resonate with people, but, almost always, the people that you're pitching it to appreciate the creativity and the effort that went into it. And that helps build bridges to further conversations and new opportunities to find a project that actually will work for them.

It's a great conversation and I had a good time recording it. I hope you'll give the interview a listen and let me know what you think.

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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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha

I took a class in college on the Bible as literature, and this edition of the Bible was the recommended text for that course. Indeed, my copy still has the price stamp from the college bookstore on its first blank page -- $27.95.

Now, years later, when I had set out to read the entire thing, I knew that, unlike many of the books I read, I had no intention of composing a long and detailed review of my experience for the pages of this blog. That would require far more effort than I was willing to offer this experience. And indeed, after the first seven hundred pages or so, the reading became so tedious that I purposely moved onto other books, simply trying to knock off ten more pages of the Bible every day I could. With the books of the Apocrypha included in this volume, the total page count topped out at just over 1,900.

Why? Simply so that I could say whenever asked that I had, in fact, read the Bible. Yes. The whole damn thing.

Of all the things I could cite, therefore, let me reference only three. First, this early paragraph in this edition’s preface, which, to me, serves as a more than adequate warning against believing that you have achieved any true understanding on the words printed on these pages.

The first English version of the Scriptures made by direct translation from the original Hebrew and Greek, and the first to be printed, was the work of William Tyndale. He met bitter opposition. He was accused of willfully perverting the meaning of the Scriptures, and his New Testaments were ordered to be burned as “untrue translations.” He was finally betrayed into the hands of his enemies, and in October 1536, was publicly executed and burned at the stake.

We know that the meaning of the words we read in the Bible have been argued and fought over for centuries. But contemplate for a second that, regardless of the English edition, we’re not even reading them in their original human language. Which, of course, presupposes the idea than any human language can adequately contain the transcendental truth of the omnipotent, timeless creator of the universe. Any way you slice it, keeping your focus on the cultural influence of these words, and not their literal meaning, is the only reasonable way to approach them.

Second, this excerpt from the editor’s introduction to the Book of Philemon, which contains one of the most shocking apologetics for human slavery that I’ve encountered. Here’s the situation:

What should be done when a runaway slave who has robbed his master repents of his misdeeds and becomes a Christian? The Letter to Philemon, a resident of Colossae in Phrygia, is a model of Christian tactfulness in seeking to effect reconciliation between Onesimus, the runaway slave, and his master, who according to Roman law had absolute authority over the person and life of his slave.

And here’s what the editor have to say about it:

When it is realized that in the ancient world slavery was regarded as a legitimate and necessary segment of the social order, and that severe laws punished those who interfered with the rights of slave-owners, it is not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the apostles attacked the institution of slavery as such.

Stop. Read that sentence again. Only this time, in place of “the ancient world”, insert “1850s America”. Now, is the first half any less true? And is it or is it not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the apostles attacked the institution of slavery as such? Okay. Let’s keep reading.

At the same time, Jesus’ teaching of the essential worth of every human soul … and the church’s recognition of the brotherhood of all Christian believers … were destined to reorganize society. This Letter to Philemon reveals yet another side of the apostle Paul. In a situation which involved no doctrinal or ecclesiastical dispute, he writes with a delicate appreciation of the legal rights of Philemon, while inculcating at the same time a principle … which would soften the harshness of slavery and eventually operate to banish it altogether.

So in other words, slavery in the ancient world was okay because Christianity, through a series of tepid and deferential entreaties to slave owners, eventually accreted enough human sympathy to banish it as an institution. Well great. I guess all the uncounted millions who lived lives of abject suffering pale in comparison to such models of Christian tactfulness.

But this really shouldn’t surprise any critical reader of this text. Slavery may be the most visceral example of the dynamic of gods who care almost nothing for human suffering, but the Bible is littered with other less obvious examples. In fact, as I came to understand, when you dismiss the editorial frame that the prefaces and book introductions attempt to impose, and when you approach the flawed English text directly, you find a surprising number of examples of a very impersonal god. Here’s my third citation, from the great Book of Job:

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear try words as the palate tastes food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings, and binds a waistcloth on their loins. He leads priests away stripped, and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted, and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes, and looses the belt of the strong, He uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them: he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth, and makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in the dark without light; and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.

So impersonal, in fact, to be almost entirely absent. Because here, as in many other places, all the things that God is said to be able to do can alternatively be seen not as the exertions of an all-powerful agent, but as the inscrutable whims of an infinitely complex system.

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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, October 23, 2017

Peer Surveys Protect the Status Quo

Like many association professionals, I suspect, I belong to a number of associations myself. One of those associations -- comprised primarily of the staff executives of associations that look and behave like mine -- recently conducted a survey of its membership. It was a survey designed to assess and illuminate the practices of all its association members with regard to one particular area of strategy and management.

What that area was isn't important for the purposes of this blog post. What is important is how I reacted to the results.

First off, let me say that I like filling out this kind of survey. Especially for an organization that I believe accurately represents a peer group for my association. It's great, in my opinion, to benchmark what my association is doing against its peers and competitors. So I dutifully filled in all the fields, hit submit, and waited patiently for the results to be tabulated and published.

When those results appeared in my inbox, I remember feeling a small measure of apprehension. I think my association is doing well. But is it? What will the marketplace of my peers say? Are others achieving more or less success that we are?

As I scrolled through the results, examining chart after chart of tabulated results, however, my apprehension quickly went away. For question after question, I saw, the strategy and management of my association was squarely in majority. We did this, and so did the majority of our peers, We did that, and so did the majority of our peers. Great!

It wasn't until well after I closed the document and safely filed it away in my "Benchmarking" folder that I began to reflect on and question my reaction. I was reassured, I realized, that my association wasn't an outlier in these data sets. That, I suppose, was a natural reaction, but it made me think how I would have reacted had the opposite been the case. What if I had been the outlier? What if the majority of my peers were doing something different? Would I have interpreted that as some kind of call to action? As a pressing need to do something different in my association?

No. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that if the results would have shown my association to be different from its peer group, I would have either dismissed the survey as faulty, or figured out a way to convince myself that what we were doing, although different from most of our peers, was right and appropriate for our situation and our association.

That's how powerful the barriers to change are in most organizations. Even reliable data isn't enough to overcome it. In either case, with a peer survey that either reinforces or contradicts our practices, I would've had my association keep doing the same old thing.

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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, October 16, 2017

When Action Items Aren't Action Items

Last week I wrote about a message my Board chair and I had crafted to help frame the discussion at our recent Board meeting. With a Board that was committed to maintaining a governance role for the organization, the message was designed to help them determine and decide the pertinent strategic questions that were to be addressed at this point in our annual strategy and execution cycle.

Essentially, the message reminded them that the year's strategy had been set, and that the Board's job at this meeting was not to re-invent that strategy, but to review the action plans that had been put in place by staff. If those actions plans were adequate to the strategic tasks, then, see where Board members could help execute them. If not, then determine and provide the additional resources that would be necessary. At the end of the blog post I said I would be curious to see how our Board members would react to the message and what kind of discussions would ensue.

Well, now it's a week later, and the Board meeting in question is in the past rather than the future. The reaction of our Board members was universally positive. They are all very busy professionals, leading companies and divisions of companies in our industry, and they have all readily embraced the tenets of the Governance Policy we recently put in place.

That policy says the Board is in charge of determining the ends the association will achieve and the staff, under the leadership of the CEO, is in charge of determining the means for how those ends will be achieved. The message and the discussion frame it provided was viewed as a simple and welcome extension of that principle. We're not hear to tell you what to do, they seemed willing to say. We're only here to tell you if the things you're doing are the right or wrong things.

So that's great. The Board members all reacted positively. But as for the discussions that ensued; well, that's where things get a little more complicated.

A typical pattern for these discussions went something like this. The agenda would turn to a new strategic objective. Something the Board had said was important for the organization to achieve in the coming year. Staff would give a short report on the action plan that we were following to achieve that objective, even citing, when appropriate, places were individual members of the Board could get engaged and help move the action plan forward.

The Board would then discuss the action plan. Almost always, quick agreement would be reached that the action plan was appropriate and should be pursued. But also almost always, a number of suggestions would be made for how to improve the action plan. Those suggestions rarely included the requested actions for individual Board members to take. Much more frequently, they included new and somewhat speculative ideas. Actions whose resource ramifications were sometimes uncertain and other times unknown.

None of that is bad, per se. Often times, our Board members, as members of the association we work for, and of the industry that the association represents, have really good suggestions that staff needs to take seriously. They are the eyes and ears of the marketplace we're trying to serve, and they can absolutely help us get more quickly to the tactics that will help us best achieve our strategy.

The problem, as I see it, is therefore not with the suggestions themselves, but with how to position those suggestions in the context of Board discussions and decisions. In other words, are they action items? Are they the kind of Board decisions that should be duly noted in the minutes, and to which staff resources should be assigned in order to ensure their execution?

The day after the Board meeting, as I sat down to hobble together the minutes from the scribbled scraps of paper I had kept at my side during the discussions, my first inclination was that they were. They were action items. But as I began to transcribe them as such, I started to doubt myself. Really? This relatively minor suggestion, this simple tweak to a staff-level action plan, this was an official action of the Board? This is something I would have to document for posterity and then report back on at the next Board meeting?

That, I realized, was not in keeping with the very message that my Board chair and I had offered at the very beginning of the meeting. We are not here to micromanage the staff. Only to review their work and to decide if it has the adequate resources to succeed. For a Board as committed to a governance role as mine was, and with nothing but the best of intentions, the results of many of its discussions at our most recent Board meeting had a decided management feel.

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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, October 14, 2017

25 Years of Tomorrow by Dan Perkins

I’m a big fan of This Modern World, a weekly satire in cartoon form published by Dan Perkins under the pseudonym Tom Tomorrow.

A while back, he had a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund the printing and publication of a two-volume “boxed set” of his entire career -- twenty-five years of his creative output.

I kicked in my seventy dollars, and two coffee-table-sized books, titled 25 Years of Tomorrow, Volumes 1 and 2, arrived at my doorstep a few months later.

For this fan, they were an absolute delight to read, filled with treasures both expected and unexpected. No where else was I likely to come across the very first incarnation of This Modern World, a self-published “zine” from 1987.

It is 27 pages of vintage Perkins -- in many ways laying the foundation for much of his satirical view and sense of humor. This Modern World, then, was a place where citizens have mandatory consumer quotas (because it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law), industry mines the very fabric of reality (for the good of mankind), and children are well cared for in a null-entropy stasis field where they don’t grow older or make any noise (a real boon for modern parents).

Like a piece of pork fat, the satire may sometimes be difficult to swallow, but it is always delicious.

Today, and for much of the intervening 25 years, This Modern World has taken a decidedly political bent. Many would call it liberal, but I think it is more properly thought of as progressive. Perkins exposes both Republicans and Democrats for the politicians they are, often more occupied with placating their own egos and their electoral bases than with any of the progressive causes Perkins loves and to which at least half of the politicians he portrays pay lip service.

Yes, President Trump was shown as an Incredible orange Hulk during the recent primary season, smashing all challengers with his unhinged utterances…

...and is shown now as a giant man-baby, throwing tantrums on Twitter and complimenting anyone who pays him doting attention.

But before him President Obama was shown as a superhero called Middle Man, seeking compromise on even the most right-wing proposals…

...and before that as a plain politician with a ghostly image of himself hovering nearby -- the progressive fantasy of his presidency that many of his supporters voted for and continued to assume that he was.

And that’s just the tip of the crazy (and clever) iceberg. Above all, This Modern World is a place where the otherwise dying art of satire still reigns supreme. That, if nothing else, was worth my seventy bucks.

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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, October 9, 2017

When Governance Means Governance

I'm gearing up for another Board meeting this week. That means, among other things, that I've been in communication with our Board chair about necessary agenda items and things that we would like the Board to achieve by the conclusion of the meeting.

Now, as I've recently blogged, a few years ago my association's Board adopted a Governance Policy that, among other things, clearly separates responsibility for ends and means determination. In other words, it puts the Board squarely in charge of governance, the association CEO squarely in charge of management, and creates a bright line between the two.

This year's Board chair takes that policy seriously, and in our planning discussion a major focus was on how we would keep the Board "out of the weeds" and focused on either: (a) determining the outcomes the association should achieve; (b) monitoring whether or not the plans put in place by staff were achieving those outcomes; or (c) allocating the resources needed for successful execution of those plans. In the view of my Board chair, those were the only kind of discussions that would keep the Board squarely in its governance role.

It's a more complicated situation than it may seem. Four months ago, at the Board's annual strategic retreat, high-level outcomes for the association were determined, as well as a set of metrics that would be tracked over the next fiscal year to determine if the association was moving productively towards those outcomes. In the intervening months, most of the activity of the association has been at the staff level -- setting goals, developing the program objectives that would help us achieve them, and moving forward with the individual and necessary action plans.

Now, we're only one third of the way through our fiscal year. Some of those action plans are already producing the desired results, but not all, and many are not expected to. The plans and programs, after all, are designed to manifest over the course of an entire year. To me, pulling the plug on them after only four months makes even less sense that re-discussing, and potentially changing, the desired outcomes that we determined back in June. But, if we're not careful, the Board, given its focus on governance not management, may find itself going down either of those trails.

What are we to do?

Well, working with my Board chair, we crafted the following message, which will be included as one of our first agenda items:

At the June 2017 meeting, the Board set our “ends” – and described them in our ends statements, success indicators, and approved budget.

Since the June meeting, the staff has defined our “means” – and have described them in a series of goals, program objectives and action plans that should help us achieve our ends within the limits of the budget approved by the Board.

During the October 2017 meeting, the program objectives and action plans associated with several of our key goals will be described and discussed. The Board is asked to focus its attention on the following questions:

1. For each goal, are the means in alignment with the ends that the Board has defined? Does the Board believe that execution of the described plan will result in the achievement of the goals?

2. If yes, what role can Board members play in the execution of the means? Remember that in addition to serving a governance function at our Board meetings, Board members can be asked to provide key support for our operational objectives.

3. If no, why not?

4. Do the proposed resources appear adequate to fund the means? What additional resources might be needed? How can those additional resources be provided?

It's a good message. It reinforces our strategy and execution process and provides the Board with clear expectations for its role at this stage -- four months in to what must be viewed as a twelve-month journey. It seems to communicate, remember, we have already set our goals, and now we are working the plan. If the plan is sound, good, we can rest easy. If it isn't, then we must ensure that it is made sound, and especially that it has the resources it needs to succeed.

I'll be curious to see how the other members of the Board react and what kind of discussion ensues.

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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, October 2, 2017

Board Succession Quiz

As I said a few weeks ago, another association has invited me to speak at their Annual Leadership Conference on the subject of high-functioning association Boards. I'm going to hit four subjects during my presentation: Board selection, Board discussions, Board decisions, and Board succession. Each one is going to begin with a one-question quiz, with which I hope to take the temperature of the participants in the room.

Here's the question I've drafted for Board succession.

Which statement most closely describes your knowledge about the people who will be joining your Board in the next two years
(a) I know the people who will be joining our Board in the next two years and they are already engaged in Board activities and decisions.
(b) I know the people who will be joining our Board in the next two years but they have not yet been engaged in Board activities and decisions.
(c) I do not know the people who will be joining our Board in the next two years.
(d) No new people will be joining our Board in the next two years.

The "right" answer, of course, depends on the specifics of your own situation, but I plan to make the case that, for high-functioning Boards, the correct answer is (a). Boards interested in increasing their effectiveness should be sure that the people joining their ranks in the next two years have been identified and are already engaged in Board activities and decisions. The speed of business, and the need for association Board members to make quick and meaningful contributions, require nothing less.

For my own association, the answer is (a). A few years ago, we created a structure we call Strategic Task Forces that have helped us not only identify viable candidates for future Board service, but get them plugged into Board activities and decision-making from a very early stage.

Our Strategic Task Forces are task forces of the Board, which means that all Board members serve on one of them, but they also very consciously include non-Board members from some of our most important stakeholder groups. The job of the Task Forces is to assist our Board in determining the appropriate metrics by which we will measure the success of our strategic objectives, in tracking the progress of those metrics over time, and in deploying the needed resources.

The real magic, however, comes from the fact that our Strategic Task Forces only meet at our Board meetings. The Board meetings themselves are two-day events. On the first day there is an opening lunch and a strategy briefing, where we bring all the attendees (Board and Task Force members alike) up to speed on the strategy of the organization, and the issues that will frame the rest of the Board meeting. In the afternoon following the strategy briefing, the Task Force meetings are held where the Board and non-Board members of the Task Force engage with the issues presented and interact with each other. A social dinner is held that evening, and on the following morning comes the Board meeting proper, where the Task Forces report on their discussion and the Board takes formal action on any recommendations coming from the Task Forces. One more social lunch as people begin to rush off to airport brings everything to a close.

Two otherwise difficult things happen as a result of this structure and schedule of meetings.

First, the non-Board Task Force members get an in-depth preview and orientation on the Board and how it operates. No one is trying to describe or present it to them. They are experiencing it, participating in it, in real time, with real issues and real decisions.

Second, sitting Board members, especially those on our Nominating Committee, get to know the candidates and witness how they perform and communicate on issues of importance to the organization. Do they contribute effectively? Do they have the necessary vision and perspective? When it comes time to select one of the Task Force members as a nominee to the Board itself, there usually isn't any doubt that the individual will make a positive contribution to the Board and its objectives.

Following the presentation of this material, I plan to ask the participants to discuss some of these concepts at their tables. How does their organization identify and engage future Board members in the activities and decisions of their Board? How might their organization start engaging future Board members in the activities and decisions of their Board?

Knowing that every association faces a different situation, I fully expect the most practical learning to come out of these table discussions, and the brief report-outs that I will facilitate at their conclusion. I can set the stage and provide some examples, but if their experience is anything like mine, finding their own specific way forward is something only they can do.

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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, September 30, 2017

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

My edition of The Good Soldier comes with an introduction. Here’s the first paragraph.

This may or may not be ‘the saddest story’ you will ever hear, but it will certainly be one of the best. As a tale of the ‘broken, tumultuous, agonized and unromantic’ human condition it has few equals and it spellbinds from the beginning. Ford once said that he and his friend and collaborator Joseph Conrad (whom he first met in 1898) strove for progression d’effet in their novels, where ‘every word set on paper -- every word set on paper -- must carry the story forward, and, that as the story progressed, the story must be carried forward faster and faster and with more and more intensity’, and The Good Soldier, with its tortuous retreat from the farthest reaches of the Empire and the cosmopolitan watering-places of Europe to a loose box in a Hampshire stable (by way of two suicides, one fatality and one mental collapse), achieves progression d’effet of rare degree. It is universally regarded as one of the masterworks of modernist literature, a novel which explores tensions between light and darkness (epistemological, moral and narrative), speech and silence, desire and restraint, order and chaos with an ever-tightening power. Sadness is one of its many attributes; humour, oddly enough, is another.

Wow. I happened to read this at the very end of a period of personal tribulation and at the very beginning of a period of personal reflection, and I thought I had stumbled upon the perfect novel to assist me with that process of transition.

It may be worth a re-read. Truth be told, I had trouble penetrating it.

On the surface, The Good Soldier is a story told by John Dowell, our American first-person narrator, whose wife, Florence, has an affair with the philandering Englishman Edward Ashburnham; both of whom, sequentially and for different reasons, wind up committing suicide.

That, in itself, is a sad story. Indeed, Ford “had wanted to call the novel The Saddest Story, and had only offered an alternative as a joke when his publisher insisted that his preferred title would render the book ‘unsaleable’ following the outbreak of the First World War.” But Dowell’s story is not, I think, the saddest story that Ford had in mind.

For, whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who loved a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. And that will be the mainspring of his desire for her. We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.

So, for a time, if such passion come to fruition, the man will get what he wants. He will get the moral support, the encouragement, the relief from the sense of loneliness, the assurance of his own worth. But these things pass away; inevitably they pass away as the shadows pass across sundials. It is sad, but it is so. The pages of the book will become familiar; the beautiful corner of the road will have been turned too many times. Well, this is the saddest story.

Remember, this is Dowell’s first-person voice. He is commenting that the story he is telling is the saddest story -- as he has done numerous times in the text. But it isn’t Dowell’s story that is the saddest. It is the deeper human pattern that his story follows that is indeed the saddest story of them all. The loss of both the passion and the security of love, which, in Ford’s metaphoric imagination, is all but inevitable.

Inevitable, and impenetrable.

I call this the Saddest Story, rather than ‘The Asburnham Tragedy’, just because it is so sad, just because there was no current to draw things along to a swift and inevitable end. There is about it none of the elevation that accompanies tragedy; there is about it no nemesis, no destiny. Here were two noble people -- for I am convinced that both Edward and [Edward’s wife] Leonora had noble natures -- here, then, were two noble natures, drifting down life, like fire-ships afloat on a lagoon and causing miseries, heartaches, agony of the mind and death. And they themselves steadily deteriorated. And why? For what purpose? To point what lesson? It is all darkness.

These things happen. In this world, these sad things happen to both the great and the small, with no apparent distinction or motivation. One must add this into the mix if one is to transform the sad story of Edward and Florence into the saddest story of the human condition.

Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people -- like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of the Dowells, of the Ruffords -- broken, tumultuous, agonized, and unromantic lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?

And this inscrutability connects directly the Ford’s method of storytelling.

I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affair -- a long, sad affair -- one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.

It was the introduction that tipped me off to this aspect on the novel -- that in it, Ford is experimenting with this very real authorial theory, that a narrative that rambles and jumps around in time, the same way that human beings verbally relate past events, would seem more realistic and natural to the reader. You’re not supposed to be able to connect every dot, to follow every plot point chronologically from one to the next. This novel is messy because life is messy, and memory is both fallible and subjective.

And add to all of that Dowell’s status as an unreliable narrator. From the introduction:

Ashburnham is most certainly a bit of a mystery, but Dowell is English literature’s most fascinating enigma. Paradoxically, the more gushingly he idolizes the errant ex-soldier and the more contradictory his appraisals of the other main characters turn out to be, the more urgently we feel the need to fathom not them but him.

Put plainly, Dowell consistently praises Ashburnham for his virtue, all the while providing details of a life seemingly dedicated to the absence of virtue. And he is equally as unreliable in portraying the actions and motivations of the novel’s other main characters. Is Dowell blind? Or lying? Or something else?

Ultimately, depending on how Dowell’s relationships with Florence, Leonora, Nancy and Ashburnham are configured; on how the reader interprets the various relationships amongst these last four and, above all, on whether the reader sees Dowell as ‘an American millionaire of exaggerated destiny’ or a more switched-on and manipulative story-teller, seemingly intent on hiding rather than revealing the truth, ‘analysis of [his] … psychology’ is probably the only reliable angle from which the novel may be approached.

What is one to make of such a novel? Like peeling back the layers of an onion: an unreliable narrator, ineptly telling a story about characters, whose interactions represent the sadness and futility of the human condition.

Yes. Definitely worth a re-read.

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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, September 25, 2017

Board Decisions Quiz

As I said a few weeks ago, another association has invited me to speak at their Annual Leadership Conference on the subject of high-functioning association Boards. I'm going to hit four subjects during my presentation: Board selection, Board discussions, Board decisions, and Board succession. Each one is going to begin with a one-question quiz, with which I hope to take the temperature of the participants in the room.

Here's the question I've drafted for Board decisions.

Which statement most closely describes the level of decision-making your Board engages in most of the time?
(a) Most of our Board’s decisions are about our ends – the outcomes that our organization will achieve.
(b) Most of our Board’s decisions are about our means – the tactics that our organization will pursue to achieve our ends.
(c) Our Board’s decisions are about equally divided between our ends and our means.
(d) Most of our Board’s decisions are about something else besides our ends or our means.

The "right" answer, of course, depends on the specifics of your own situation, but I plan to make the case that, for high-functioning Boards, the correct answer is either (a) or (c). Boards interested in increasing their effectiveness should be sure that most of the decisions they make are about the ends, or outcomes, that their organization will achieve.

For my own association, the answer is (a). Inspired by the Carver Policy Governance Model used by one of our former Board chairs with his corporate Board, my association's Board drafted a clear Governance Policy for our organization that, like Policy Governance, clearly separates responsibility for ends and means determination.

The two most relevant points of our Governance Policy are:

“Ends” determination is a pivotal duty of the Board. The Board will determine what results are to be achieved, for whom, and at what cost, and clearly express these “ends” in the mission, strategic priorities, ends statements, success indicators, and budget of the association. 

Tactical responsibility is delegated to the CEO. The “means” employed to achieve the association’s “ends” are the responsibility of the CEO and the staff members and association volunteers he or she assigns and recruits to assist him or her. In providing needed direction to the CEO, the Board will only describe the “means” that are unacceptable, and will neither approve nor micromanage staff-level activity. The Board will rigorously monitor the performance of the CEO, but only to the degree that identified “ends” are being achieved without violating the unacceptable “means.”

There's a lot packed into those two short paragraphs. But it breaks down into two very simple concepts. First, the Board owns "the what": what will the organization achieve? And second, the staff owns "the how": how the organization will achieve what the Board says it will achieve.

In practice we've found the need to split the traditional strategic planning process used by many associations into two discrete segments. The first segment is called the Strategy Agenda, it is a work product of the Board, and it contains the following elements:

Mission: This is the overall purpose of our organization, our highest possible "end," the goal towards which all of our activities should lead. It's what the organization is here to do. Specifically, for us, it is to strengthen the fluid power industry.

Ends Statements: These are the high-level outcomes that we will achieve for our members. They all support achievement of our mission, of course, but they also deal with the specific benefits that will accrue to our members if our subsequent programs are successful. In previous blog posts, I have sometimes referred to our ends statements as the "business units" of my association, because they define broad areas of activity and service delivery. At our Board table, we frequently ask the question, "What business are we in?" The ends statements are the answers to that question. They describe how we will fulfill our mission. We currently have five ends statements. To give an example, we refer to one as "Effective Forum." It says that our association will provide an effective forum for fluid power manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to advance their collective interests.

Success Indicators: These are the metrics by which we'll know that we are achieving our ends statements. In determining success indicators, the Board has to carefully review the capabilities of the organization, because in order to be a true success indicator, not only does it have to reflect advancement towards the ends statement, it also has to be something that the organization can affect, and can measure. Frequently in our environment, metrics are chosen based on only one or two of these conditions. It takes real work, often including experimental activities in the marketplace, to identify metrics that meet all three conditions: the organization can measure it, the organization can affect its movement, and its movement reflects advancement towards the outcome described by the ends statement. To continue my example, in my association, our "Effective Forum" ends statement has four success indicators associated with it: (1) Is the membership growing? (2) Are members generally participating in our activities? (3) Are members engaged in our leadership functions? and (4) Are members attending our networking events?

One final point, for each of the success indicators, our Board determines something we're beginning to call our Idealized State, by which we mean the level of success that equates with fulfillment of the ends statement. Building an effective forum for our industry is an important objective, but we've found that all of the success indicators associated with that ends statement are susceptible to the law of diminishing returns. Sure, you'd like to have 100% of your members attending your networking event, for example, but is that really worth the investment of resources it would take to make such a result come about? Can not the effective forum you're looking to build come into existence with "only" 90% of your members in attendance at the event? What about 80%? 70%? Finding the line between what is needed for optimal performance in one area, while reserving resources to tackle all the other areas defined by our Board has been one of the most challenging discussions my Board has engaged in.

And that's it. Believe it or not, the vast majority of decisions made by our Board fall into one of these four categories. What is our mission? What are the ends we must pursue if we are to fulfill that mission? What are the metrics we should track if we are to know that we are achieving our ends? And what level of success within each metric is required if we are to declare victory? It is the way the Board decides to answer those questions that we call our Strategy Agenda.

All other decisions -- including answers to questions like what goals should we set this year to move us closer to our idealized states, which programs should we conduct in order to achieve those goals, and how should each of the programs be managed -- are part of what we call our Operational Plan, and they are the purview of me, the association CEO, and my staff. As reflected in our Governance Policy, the Board may advise (and frequently their advice is helpful), but the only decisions in this sphere that they can make are ones that define unacceptable methods for pursuing our idealized states.

Following the presentation of this material, I plan to ask the participants to discuss some of these concepts at their tables. What are their organization’s ends and success indicators – the outcomes they will achieve, and the metrics that show they are being achieved? How might their organizations start discussing and defining their ends and success indicators?

Knowing that every association faces a different situation, I fully expect the most practical learning to come out of these table discussions, and the brief report-outs that I will facilitate at their conclusion. I can set the stage and provide some examples, but if their experience is anything like mine, finding their own specific way forward is something only they can do.

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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, September 18, 2017

Hurricanes and Asynchronous Communication

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were on everyone's mind these last few weeks. Even if you weren't directly affected by them through mandatory evacuations, storm damage, or the tragic loss of life, the hurricanes were undoubtedly on your mind and they probably impacted the way you did your job.

My social media feeds were full of examples of associations pitching in to help storm victims or otherwise changing their marketing and communications strategy to give members in the hurricane affected areas a break from what otherwise must be an onslaught of association messages.

My association, however, didn't do any of these things. We have members in Texas and Florida (Houston and Sarasota, to be precise), but everything coming out of our office was, damn the hurricanes, full speed ahead.

I'm not bragging. In fact, I feel a little ashamed. We don't have that many members in the affected areas. A few personal reach-outs would have been easy and probably would have been well received. Hey, how are you guys doing down there? We're thinking about you. We'll lay off for a few days, but please, let us know if there is anything we can do to help.

Perhaps it is the overwhelming asynchronicity of our regular communications that is responsible. Increasingly, real-time communication with our members only happens in person at our live events. My schedule and theirs are so full of meetings and travel commitments that even phone calls have to be scheduled. Hey, there's something I need to talk to you about. What's your schedule look like for the next two weeks?

In this environment both my members and I have become used to and somewhat proficient at asynchronous communications through email. Just this past week my Board chair and I have been discussing topics for our next Board meeting, with his emails coming in at 1:42 AM as he moves from Europe to India.

In this way, the idea of suspending communications to members in hurricane affected areas seemed unnecessary. After all, I'm already not expecting an immediate response. Whether you're in the office and everything is fine, on the road on a planned business trip, or, heaven forbid, forcibly evacuated from the path of a terrible storm, getting back to me sometime in the next couple of days is totally fine.

Was I wrong?

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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, September 16, 2017

Games People Play by Eric Berne, M.D.

Occasionally, I’ll pick up an old psychology book from a used bookstore on the strength of its title. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships is one such book. I knew nothing else about it. One of its preliminary pages says it was copyrighted in 1964 and, at least at the time of the edition I had picked up, it had already gone through forty printings.

And even at no more than 192 pages, it was a tough read.

The premise seems sound. Berne defines his “games” like this:

A game is an on-going series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially, a series of moves with a snare, or “gimmick.” Games are clearly differentiated from procedures, rituals, and pastimes by two chief characteristics: (1) their ulterior quality and (2) the payoff. Procedures may be successful, rituals effective, and pastimes profitable, but all of them are by definition candid; they may involve contest, but no conflict, and the ending may be sensational, but it is not dramatic. Every game, on the other hand, is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality.

And, more specifically, he claims his study will focus on one particularly unique set of games.

What we are concerned with here, however, are the unconscious games played by innocent people engaged in duplex transactions of which they are not fully aware, and which form the most important aspect of social life all over the world.

And that all sounds great to me. An analysis of the unconscious games that people play, the social transactions that they unknowingly and repeatedly engage in, in order to achieve the dramatic outcomes they secretly covet, and around which much of our understanding of human psychology can be based? That sounds like a very interesting read.

But things quickly go south.

A large cocktail party often functions as a kind of gallery for the exhibition of pastimes. In one corner of the room a few people are playing “PTA,” another corner is the forum for “Psychiatry,” a third is the theater for “Ever Been” or “What Became,” the fourth is engaged for “General Motors,” and the buffet is reserved for women who want to play “Kitchen” or “Wardrobe.” The proceedings at such a gathering may be almost identical, with a change of names here and there, with the proceedings at a dozen similar parties taking place simultaneously in the area. At another dozen in a different social stratum, a different assortment of pastimes is underway.

Pastimes may be classified in different ways. The external determinants are sociological (sex, age, marital status, cultural, racial or economic). “General Motors” (comparing cars) and “Who Won” (sports) are both “Man Talk.” “Grocery,” “Kitchen,” and “Wardrobe” are all “Lady Talk” -- or, as practised in the South Seas, “Mary Talk.” “Making Out” is adolescent, while the onset of middle age is marked by a shift to “Balance Sheet.” Other species of this class, which are all variations of “Small Talk,” are: “How To” (go about doing something), and easy filler for short airplane trips; “How Much” (does it cost), a favorite in lower middle-class bars; “Ever Been” (to some nostalgic place), a middle-class game for “old hands” such as salesmen; “Do You Know” (so-and-so) for lonely ones; “What Became” (of good old Joe), often played by economic successes and failures; “Morning After” (what a hangover) and “Martini” (I know a better way), typical of a certain kind of ambitious young person.

The structural-transactional classification is a more personal one. Thus “PTA” may be played at three levels. At the Child-Child level it takes the form of “How Do You Deal with Recalcitrant Parents”; its Adult-Adult form, “PTA” proper, is popular among well-read young mothers; with older people it tends to take the dogmatic Parent-Parent form of “Juvenile Delinquency.” Some married couples play “Tell Them Dear,” in which the wife is Parental and the husband comes through like a precocious child. “Look Ma No Hands” is similarly a Child-Parent pastime suitable for people of any age, sometimes diffidently adapted into “Aw Shucks Fellows.”

I know he’s talking about “pastimes” here, and not “games,” but frankly, despite all his protestations to the obvious differences, I can’t really tell the difference. The Child-Child and Child-Parent stuff is part of his overarching theory, that people adopt different roles in different games -- roles that align roughly with our common concepts of Child, Adult and Parent -- and that they do this regardless of their actual age or station in life. But the way he classifies every common human interaction as a game, pastime, ritual, or procedure -- assuming throughout that the distinctions between those terms have either been clearly differentiated in his text or are self-evidently obvious to the reader -- left me questioning and doubting the soundness of his very premise.

And besides, how can anyone read something like that without drowning in the cynical whirlpool that it creates? Perhaps I am just “Complaining,” seeking someone of like mind to “Trash Talk” with, or to play “Gosh, I’m Smart.”

There are some interesting tidbits. For example, it was fun to stumble across the following paragraph, having just read Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

Thus the young man in New Guinea with an old wrist watch dangling from his ear to ensure success, and the young man in America with a new wrist watch wrapped around his arm to ensure success, both feel that they have a “purpose” in life. The big celebration, the wedding or housewarming, takes place not when the debt is discharged, but when it is undertaken. What is emphasized on TV, for example, is not the middle-aged man who has finally paid off his mortgage, but the young man who moves into his new home with his family, proudly waving the papers he has just signed and which will bind him for most of his productive years. After he had paid his debts -- the mortgage, the college expenses for his children and his insurance -- he is regarded as a problem, a “senior citizen” for whom society must provide not only material comforts but a new “purpose.” As in New Guinea, if he is very shrewd, he may become a big creditor instead of a big debtor, but this happens relatively rarely.

Here is Becker’s vital lie, and the function that society plays -- American or New Guinean -- in providing it as an acceptable purpose through which its citizens dedicate themselves. All of it in replacement of the existential terror that people in all times and societies are doomed to face and desperate to avoid.

But more frequently, the surprises come when Berne’s analysis manages to straddle the dangerous territory between cynicism and sexism. Perhaps you got a sense of that above with his references to “Man Talk” and “Lady Talk.” It gets worse. Here he describes how the game of “Rapo” is played. For clinical purposes, I suppose, he has by now adopted a terminology of “White” and “Black” to “objectively” portray the adversaries in each game.

Third-Degree “Rapo” is a vicious game which ends in murder, suicide or the courtroom. Here White leads Black into compromising physical contact and then claims that he had made a criminal assault or had done her irreparable damage. In its most cynical form White may actually allow him to complete the sexual act so that she gets that enjoyment before confronting him. The confrontation may be immediate, as in the illegitimate cry of rape, or it may be long delayed, as in suicide or homicide following a prolonged love affair. If she choose to play it as a criminal assault, she may have no difficulty in finding mercenary or morbidly interested allies, such as the press, the police, counselors and relatives. Sometimes, however, these outsiders may cynically turn on her, so that she loses the initiative and becomes a tool in their games.

One has to wonder when the vernacular understanding of the word “game” begins to work against Berne’s thesis. “Rapo” is a game? Really? Berne, sexist as his phraseology is, may have been better served by choosing another word to describe such diabolical machinations.

At the end of the book, in a very short, final chapter, Berne seems to recognize what he has spent the previous 183 pages doing.

Chapter Eighteen

After Games, What?

The somber picture presented in Parts I and II of this book, in which human life is mainly a process of filling in time until the arrival of death, or Santa Claus, with very little choice, if any, of what kind of business one is going to transact during the long wait, is a commonplace but not the final answer. For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as “togetherness.” This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

Wow. I think this should have been the first chapter. I might’ve had an easier time with what followed if this had been the context stated up front. He does say early on that games are played unconsciously, but an understanding that awareness, spontaneity and intimacy are the tonic one needs to avoid these patterns of behavior is the most useful piece of information in the entire book.

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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, September 11, 2017

Board Discussions Quiz

As I said last week, another association has invited me to speak at their Annual Leadership Conference on the subject of high-functioning association Boards. I'm going to hit four subjects during my presentation: Board selection, Board discussions, Board decisions, and Board succession. Each one is going to begin with a one-question quiz, with which I hope to take the temperature of the participants in the room.

Here's the question I've drafted for Board discussions.

Which statement most closely describes the perspective that dominates your Board discussions?
(a) Our Board discussions are primarily focused outward – not on the organization, but on the profession or industry it represents.
(b) Our Board discussions are primarily focused inward – on the organization, not on the profession or industry it represents.
(c) Our Board discussions have about equal focus inward and outward – on the organization and on the profession or industry it represents.

The "right" answer, of course, depends on the specifics of your own situation, but I plan to make the case that, for high-functioning Boards, the correct answer is either (a) or (c). Boards interested in increasing their effectiveness should be spending a large portion of their time discussing the profession or industry that the association represents, and not just the activities and structures of the association itself.

For my own association, the answer is (c). We make sure that we engage in what we call Environmental Scanning at each one of our Board meetings. This is where we consciously look outside the organization, into its environment, and discuss the forces and factors that are shaping the future, not of our association, but of the industry we represent.

We have done this in different ways at different meetings. Sometimes we make time for simple Board Member Statements, where we go around the table and have each participant talk for a few minutes about what they see going on in the marketplace. What's the state of their business? What's going well? Where are the pain points? As each additional person speaks, we consciously look for the inevitable themes that will emerge.

Other times we go a little more in depth, conducting Board Member Interviews before the meeting, where I will spend 30 minutes or so on the phone with each Board member, asking each of them the same questions about the state of our industry and where their competitive challenges lay. There are things that they will say one-on-one to me that they won't say with their fellow Board members at the table. Again, I'm listening for common themes, things I can bring to the Board meeting for expansion and discussion.

Sometimes, we theme those interviews around a traditional SWOT Analysis, where the questions are purposely focused both inward and outward. Looking inwardly, what are some of the organization’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? Looking outwardly, what are some of the greatest opportunities and threats facing the organization? Pulling common themes out of those questions always provides for a rich discussion at our Board table -- not just about the environment facing our organization, but also about how we can best leverage our strengths to respond.

But perhaps my favorite environmental scanning technique is something called Scenario Planning. I forget where I picked it up, but we have used it to great effect in my organization. In Scenario Planning, the organization accepts the fact that the future is uncertain, but that by focusing on two of the greatest uncertainties facing the organization, it can create a set of contingency plans so it can respond effectively as the future begins to unfold.

The first step is to identify those uncertainties -- or megatrends, as the technique calls them. A megatrend is an external force acting on the industry or profession the association represents, something everyone agrees will create change in their environment, but about which few understand what that change will be. It could force the industry or profession in two or more different directions. The first, and hardest, part of the process is to identify two of these megatrends, and the two most likely outcomes for each.

For example, the last time my Board did Scenario Planning, we chose the increasing globalization and technological diversification of the industry as our two megatrends. The industry was becoming increasingly globalized, but how would that impact our members? Would they embrace that trend, and globalize their businesses, or would they retreat from the global marketplace and focus their efforts, as they had for decades, on North America? And similarly, the solutions available to our industry's customers were becoming increasingly diversified, but how would that impact our members? Again, would they embrace that trend, and diversify the technologies that they offered, or would they fight back against that competition and focus their efforts, as they had for decades, on the one technology solution that we represented?

Two megatrends with two possible outcomes gives you the ability to set-up a simple quadrant grid, like the one shown below.

Megatrend X could go in direction X1 or X2, and Megatrend Y could go in direction Y1 or Y2. That means four different possible futures that could confront the organization. Based on which direction each megatrend goes, the organization could find itself facing outcome X1/Y2, X2/Y2, X1/Y1, or X2/Y1.

Now comes the elegant part of the process. Take each one of those outcomes, which we have abbreviated above as Outcomes A, B, C, and D, and compare them to the mission, strategic objectives, and programmatic activities of the association. If the association finds itself confronted with Outcome A, in other words, what does that mean for these fundamental elements of the association's existence? Should any changes be made? Any new opportunities to take advantage of or threats to avoid? What about Outcome B? C? And D?

Four possible futures mean four different organizational responses. Scenario Planning gives a Board not just the opportunity to define those futures, but to create organizational contingency plans to implement should any of those futures begin to manifest themselves.

Following the presentation of this material, I plan to ask the participants to discuss some of these concepts at their tables. What are the forces outside their organizations that are important for their Boards to address? How might their organizations start discussing and addressing those outside forces?

Knowing that every association faces a different situation, I fully expect the most practical learning to come out of these table discussions, and the brief report-outs that I will facilitate at their conclusion. I can set the stage and provide some examples, but if their experience is anything like mine, finding their own specific way forward is something only they can do.

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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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