Monday, August 14, 2017

Sticking to What You Know

It's hard for me to write about anything this week except the presentations that I'm going to give at one of my association's major conferences next week. Hard, because creating and rehearsing them has occupied an enormous portion of my mental life this week.

Preparation for two of these presentations has been fairly routine. They are the presentations that I will give at the start of each of the conference's two major days. One is a report on the activities of our association. The other is a report on the activities of our affiliated foundation. As I think I have written before, these are typically focused on reinforcing the same strategic messages, and creating a new presentation amounts to little more than calling up last year's and updating the facts and figures. Our strategy hasn't changed much. We've just got another year of success to talk about it.

But the third presentation is quite a different animal. It is essentially a report from one of my association's technical committees. The committee is question is responsible for maintaining something we call our technology roadmap -- a document that represents a consensus in our industry about the pre-competitive research challenges that must be addressed if our industry's technology is to continue to meet or better meet the evolving needs of our industry's customers. The committee updates this document every couple of years, and the presentation next week is where we will unveil the latest update.

Why I'm giving this presentation -- instead of say, the chair or other member of the committee -- is an interesting story in and of itself. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that I think it is a reflection of a larger trend within my association where we are becoming more and more staff-driven. Or, if I want to be brutally honest, not staff- but CEO-driven. More on that, perhaps, in a future post.

For now, I'd rather focus on how I approached the task of composing this presentation. I did what I always do, what I have been taught to do from very early in my career. When you're going to get up and talk to a room full of people on a subject -- any subject -- it's essential for you to stick to what you know.

So what do I know about this technical report, this technology roadmap? Quite a bit actually. Putting the document together was a long and involved process, spanning many conference calls and a few in-person meetings. The committee first defined the high-level elements of the document, and then divided into several working groups to examine each of those elements in greater detail. This is the third time we have updated the document after it was first published in 2009, and each time, the process that we use to accomplish it is improved and made more inclusive.

And it is me, not the chair of the committee or any of its members, that is in charge of that process. I was there in 2009 when the document was first created, and I have guided every refresh of the document since then. The committee chairs and members that have come and gone over the last eight years have been the voices that have defined the essential content of the roadmap -- the evolving needs of our industry's customers, the challenges we must confront is we are to meet those needs, and the mechanisms that we should employ if we are to tackle those challenges. That is a picture that the technical experts in our industry have to paint, but I am the individual who has built for them the frame in which their painting will be displayed.

And that gives me some unique perspective in giving the presentation. I can certainly describe the painting, as I was a witness to its creation. But the focus of the presentation I will give will really be on the frame. That is, the purpose of the document and how it will be used by my association and the industry it represents.

I'm looking forward to it.

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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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