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 eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://utoptens.com/top-10-facts-hurricane-irma/




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 eric.lanke@gmail.com.


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 eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-board-of-trustees.htm






Monday, September 4, 2017

Board Selection Quiz

Another association has invited me to speak at their Annual Leadership Conference on the subject of high-functioning association Boards.

A handful of these opportunities have come my way since I started blogging, and I frankly relish them. They are much more than a chance for me to showcase my expertise, they do a great deal to help me frame and process my thinking on the subjects I blog about. Pumping out a weekly 300-word blog post in one thing. Getting up and speaking in front of an audience is something else. It forces me like nothing else to get my ducks in a row.

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 selection.

Which statement most closely describes the process by which candidates are selected for your Board?
(a) Our Board candidates are selected based on their possession of competencies that are deemed valuable to effective Board service.
(b) Our Board candidates are selected based on the stakeholder groups within our organization that they represent.
(c) Our Board candidates are selected based both on their valuable competencies and the stakeholder groups they represent.
(d) Our Board candidates select themselves.

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 defining the competencies that are needed for their organization, and then building ways to screen for those competencies in their Board candidate selection process.

For my own association, the answer is (c). We select candidates based both on their valuable competencies and the stakeholder groups they represent. We, in fact, have a Governance Policy, which is reviewed and approved each year, and which includes, among other things, the competencies that we believe are valuable to effective Board service. Those competencies are listed on the interest form we ask all potential Board candidates to complete, and they are asked to check the ones that they possess and which they believe they can effectively leverage for the organization.

Our Nominating Committee then uses the competencies that are leaving the Board in each cycle as the screen for helping to identify the candidates that will be nominated. In doing so, we understand that not every Board member need possess every competency, but that, as a whole, the Board should always possess that mix of competencies that it has determined are essential for its effective functioning.

Following the presentation of this material, I plan to ask the participants to discuss some of these concepts at their tables. Which competencies are important for their own Boards to possess? How might their organizations begin the process for selecting Board candidates based on those competencies?

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 eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://www.currych.org/about-us/board-of-directors/




Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Hermit’s Story by Rick Bass

I don’t remember how I stumbled across Rick Bass. Maybe I heard one of his stories read on The New Yorker Fiction podcast that I listen to, and then, liking what I heard, added his name to a growing list of authors I’d like to read more.

I know I picked up The Hermit’s Story at one of my favorite used book stores, a collection of Bass stories that was published in 2002. To be honest, very few of them worked for me. Some of them, in fact, seemed formulaic and not well crafted.

The exception is The Distance, a story about a man named Mason, who returns to Monticello --Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia -- with his family, twenty-five years after he first visited it as a school boy. Jefferson, to Mason, is more of an enigma than a hero -- “a crackpot, quite possibly a loser, or at best a bully -- trying to impose his rigid principles on everybody around him.” And it is with this issue of control, and ultimately its ephemeral nature, that the subtext of the story really shines.

How he had wanted to control his world, and, for a little while, how he had succeeded. Jefferson has kept pet mockingbirds that were trained to fly in and out of his open windows. He had once owned a semidomesticated bull elk that would wander the grounds, not too tame and yet not too wild, either, moving along always in that blurred perimeter between the groomed orchard and the deeper woods, moving gracefully in the last wedge of each day’s waning light and sliding-in dusk: the elk in that manner seeming poised perfectly between the land of dreams and the land of the specific, the knowable.

This elk, Mason imagines, became Jefferson’s enigma, the elusive puzzle that alone could unlock his unique perspective on himself and his place in the world around him.

Historians say that for much of Jefferson’s later life, after the first elk vanished, he kept hoping to train another elk to fill that space, and those crepuscular moments, in the same fashion, but he was never again quite successful; all the other elk either became too tame, wandering up onto the porches even in the broad light of day, hoping for handouts, or were too wild, bolting for the deep woods immediately upon being released, and never being seen again.

How his precisionist’s heart must have raged against this fluidity, this refusal to adhere specifically to his ironclad plans and schemes. He died on the fourth of July, fifty years after he and his peers had penned the Declaration of Independence -- lingering on his deathbed for weeks, it is said, in order to make it to that anniversary -- and yet Mason has to wonder if in his last moments Jefferson was not remembering any declarations scripted, but instead dreaming yet again of that mythic antlered beast, the one whose force he wished to harness and whose dim blue shadow he had been able to glimpse out of his window at that one and perfect hour, each dusk, striding just barely in sight through the trees and the failing light, at the far and outer reaches of reality, less than a bound, a step, away from the land of dreams. A messenger, each evening, between that world and this one.

And it is through these imaginings, these proposed obsessions and symbols of Jefferson’s control, that Mason begins to explore his own motivations, the path his own life has taken as a result, and his own understanding of himself and his place in the larger world.

Doesn’t anyone, everyone, after twenty years of sameness, encounter such crises? Aren’t we all extraordinarily frail and in the end remarkably unimpressive, creatures too often of boring repetition and habit rather than bold imagination?

Who will rescue us, if not ourselves? Who will emancipate us, if not ourselves?

There is no one among us, Mason thinks, who does not dream of that wild elk. There is no one who is not, in some part, to some degree, both the animal itself -- torn between wanting to slip off down farther into the dark wilderness, and back up into the clean lawns and orchards of the tame, the possessed, the cared-for -- and yet also the viewer rather than the elk -- the watcher who waits and watches and hungers for that elk.

Eyes staring, right at dusk, for movement right at the edge of the great woods.

Waiting, right at dusk, for that lift of heart, upon first seeing the great beast take its first step from out of the impenetrable, magnificent wilderness.

It’s a gorgeous story.

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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 eric.lanke@gmail.com.