Monday, November 27, 2017

It Takes Resources

Another lesson for me this week that demonstrates how a strategy without the resources to support it is a recipe for failure.

We sometimes deceive ourselves in the association business. We know our strategies are compelling and our volunteers are dedicated, and we think that if we simply bring the two in alignment with each other the execution will take care of itself. Often, unfortunately, it doesn't. Even the most compelling strategy coupled to the most dedicated volunteers will falter in its execution if the association doesn't also bring its resources to the table.

What resources are those? Dollars, certainly. In the specific situation the confronted me this week, we needed to start spending money on something we hadn't spent money on in years. But the need for resources almost always extends beyond just dollars. It almost always also includes staff time. An association staff person has to make space on an already crowded plate to organize and coordinate a new effort.

In my experience, one of the toughest challenges associations face when it comes to resource allocation is opening up staff time for the strategic projects that matter most to the association. Adding project after project ultimately serves neither the staff person nor the association. The reason the strategic project is not getting the attention it needs is almost always associated with staff plates already being full. In these situations, if you're going to pursue something new, you have to take something else off the plate.

And that leads me to the biggest resource need that I find myself identifying, again and again, when a strategic project has stalled. Yes, it needs dollars and yes, it needs staff time, but more than anything else it needs leadership. The willingness and ability of someone in a leadership position to step in, shepherd it, and make it happen through the force of his or her will.

That person can be the association staff executive, but it doesn't have to be. I work hard in my association to consistently communicate the message that the most valuable trait any staff person can exhibit is leadership -- specifically, the kind of leadership I'm taking about in this post. The strategy is compelling, the volunteers are dedicated, but neither is truly the catalyst for true success. For that, we need a staff person to step up and make something happen.

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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 25, 2017

The March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman

This is a marvelous book, full of deep historical and sociological insight. Its subject is not just one historical episode or period of time, but a universal sociological phenomenon, manifesting itself again and again throughout the storied history of human culture.

Why, to begin at the beginning, did the Trojan rulers drag that suspicious-looking wooden horse inside their walls despite every reason to suspect a Greek trick? Why did successive ministries of George III insist on coercing rather than conciliating the American colonies though repeatedly advised by many counselors that the harm done must be greater than any possible gain? Why did Charles XII and Napoleon and successively Hitler invade Russia despite the disasters incurred by each predecessor? Why did Montezuma, master of fierce and eager armies and a city of 300,000, succumb passively to a party of several hundred alien invaders even after they had shown themselves all too obviously human beings, not gods? Why did Chiang Kai-shek refuse to heed any voice of reform or alarm until he woke up to find his country had slid from under him? Why do the oil-importing nations engage in rivalry for the available supply when a firm united front vis-a-vis the exporters would gain them control of the situation? Why in recent times have British trade unions in a lunatic spectacle seemed periodically bent on dragging their country toward paralysis, apparently under the impression that they are separate from the whole? Why does American business insist on “growth” when it is demonstrably using up the three basics of life on our planet -- land, water and unpolluted air?

It is all folly, defined by Tuchman as the pursuit of policies contrary to the interests of those pursuing them. In the three primary examples that she examines -- the Renaissance popes provoking the Protestant secession, the British losing America, and America betraying herself in Vietnam -- she not only expertly describes the sequences of historical events, but also shines a light on the human and organizational frailties that are common to all three.

Walking Into Water Over Their Heads

[Folly] often does not spring from great design, and its consequences are frequently a surprise. The folly lies in persisting thereafter. [The] point is reinforced … in a perceptive comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who cautioned, “In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.” This is a factor usually overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, already treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect. They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water over their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do. The trappings and impact of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life.

This, I think, is one of the most important insights in the book, and hopefully will color my reading of history from this point forward. One of the most striking examples from Tuchman’s analysis is the following quote attributed to President John Kennedy. Remember for this purpose that prior to America’s involvement in Vietnam, the French had fought there for years, and had eventually lost to local forces.

The American failure to find any significance in the defeat of the French professional army, including the Foreign Legion, by small, thin-boned, out-of-uniform Asian guerrillas is one of the great puzzles of the time. When David Schoenbrun, correspondent for CBS, who had covered the French war in Vietnam, tried to persuade the President of the realities of that war and of the loss of French officers equivalent each year to a class at St. Cyr, Kennedy answered, “Well, Mr. Schoenbrun, that was the French. They were fighting for a colony, for an ignoble cause. We’re fighting for freedom, to free them from the Communists, from China, for their independence.”

Wow. Talk about a man walking into water over his head. Evidently, the only thing that mattered in Kennedy’s estimation was the motivation of the occupying force. The sympathies and preferences of the occupied mattered for not, a point Tuchman summarizes well in her concluding sentence.

Because Americans believed they were “different” they forgot that they too were white.

Or, here at greater length.

The reason why the French with superior manpower and American resources were doing so poorly was not beyond all conjecture. The people of Indochina, of whom more than 200,000 were in the colonial army together with some 80,000 French, 48,000 North Africans and 20,000 Foreign Legionnaires, simply had no reason to fight for France. Americans were always talking about freedom from Communism, whereas the freedom that the mass of Vietnamese wanted was freedom from their exploiters, both French and indigenous. The assumption that humanity at large shared the democratic Western idea of freedom was an American delusion. “The freedom we cherish and defend in Europe,” stated President Eisenhower on taking office, “is no different than the freedom that is imperiled in Asia.” He was mistaken. Humanity may have common ground, but needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances.

Persistent Aspects of Folly

But not seeing the situation from an opponent’s point of view is a persistent aspect of folly. And, as that is Tuchman’s primary purpose, her text is full of other commentary on these persistent aspects of folly. Here’s the diagnosis that comes at the end of her section on the Renaissance popes.

Their three outstanding attitudes -- obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, illusion of invulnerable status -- are persistent aspects of folly. While in the case of the Renaissance popes, these were bred in and exaggerated by the surrounding culture, all are independent of time and recurrent in governorship.

Indeed. The one that was especially noteworthy for me was the obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents. Whether we’re talking about the Renaissance popes and their attitudes towards their common congregants, the British royalty and government and their attitudes towards the American colonists, or the American government and their attitudes towards their allies and enemies in Vietnam, the common perspective of the identified constituents was hardly ever taken into account. And it’s not because those in power were necessarily unwilling. As this revealing passage in regards to the Britain’s repeal of the Stamp Act shows, it was primarily because the governments in question did not have the apparatus to capture and consider other ideas.

After a mistake so absolute as to require repeal, British policy-makers might well have stopped to reconsider the relationship with the colonies, and ask themselves what course they might follow to induce a beneficial allegiance on the one hand and ensure a secure sovereignty on the other. Many Englishmen outside government did consider this problem, and Pitt and Shelburne, who were shortly to come to power, entered office intending to calm the suspicions and restore the equanimity of the colonies. Fate, as we shall see, interfered.

Policy was not reconsidered because the governing group had no habit of purposeful consultation, had the King over their heads and were at odds with one another. It did not occur to them that it might be wise to avoid provocative measures for long enough to reassure the colonies of Britain’s respect for their rights while leaving their agitators no excuse. The riotous reaction to the Stamp Act only confirmed the British in their belief that the colonies, led by “wicked and designing men” (as stated in a House of Lords resolution), were bent on rebellion. Confronted by menace, or what was perceived as menace, governments will usually attempt to smash it, rarely to examine it, understand it, define it.

Despite this judgment, Tuchman often goes out of her way to stress the existence of another of her pre-existing conditions before diagnosing anything as folly -- and that is that there were plenty of people, at the time of each government’s actions, who could see and who vocally advocated for another course of action.

In Britain’s loss of America, there were members of Parliament, and even members of the Cabinet, who saw the folly and spoke against it.

Meanwhile within the Ministry, if not the inner Cabinet, Viscount Barrington, the long-serving Secretary at War, entered a dissent. Although formerly in favor of a hard line toward America, he was one of the few in any group who allowed facts and developments to penetrate and influence their thinking. By 1774 he had come to believe that to coerce the colonies to the point of armed resistance would be disastrous. He had not turned pro-American or changed his political loyalties in any way; he had simply come to the professional conclusion, as he explained to Dartmouth in two letters of November and December 1774, that a land war in America would be useless, costly and impossible to win. Useless because it was plain that Britain could never successfully impose internal taxation; costly and impossible to win because conquered areas must be held by large armies and fortresses, “the expense of which would be ruinous and endless,” besides producing “the horrors and bloodshed of civil war.” Britain’s only war aim was proving supremacy without being able to use it; “I repeat, our contest is merely a point of honor” and “will cost us more than we can ever gain by success.”

Same story with America betraying herself in Vietnam. When America first got involved, it was in an attempt to help the French maintain their colonial rule there as a bulwark against Communism. But that didn’t have to be her policy, and there were plenty at the time who said so.

The alternative was present and available: to gain for America an enviable primacy among Western nations and confirm the foundation of goodwill in Asia by aligning ourselves with, even supporting, the independence movements. If this seemed indicated to some, particularly at the Far East desk, it was less persuasive to others for whom self-government by Asians was not something to base a policy on and insignificant in comparison to the security of Europe. In Indochina choice of the alternative would have required imagination, which is never a long suit with governments, and willingness to take the risk of supporting a Communist when Communism was still seen as a solid bloc. [Marshal Josip Broz] Tito [of Yugoslavia] was then its only splinter, and the possibility of another deviation was not envisaged. Moreover, it would be divisive of the Allies. Support of Humpty-Dumpty was chosen instead, and once a policy had been adopted and implemented, all subsequent activity becomes an effort to justify it.

Whether it is the British in the 1770s or the Americans in the 1950s, the machinery of their governments prevented them from considering options contrary to their firmly held beliefs. The American colonies are wholly subservient to the British crown. Communism is a threat that must be contained, and will be conquered by the freedom-loving instincts of humanity. Perhaps most telling of all is this quote from Lyndon Johnson.

Asked once how long the war might last, [Johnson] answered, “Who knows how long, how much? The important thing is, are we right or wrong?”

Funny. I think America is still debating that one.

Executive War

And speaking of Lyndon Johnson, one of the other things Tuchman’s book helped me wrap my brain around was the, to borrow a phrase, folly of Executive War.

War is a procedure from which there can be no turning back without acknowledging defeat. This was the self-laid trap into which America had walked. Only with the greatest difficulty and rarest success, as belligerents mired in futility have often discovered, can combat be terminated in favor of compromise. Because it is a final resort to destruction and death, war has traditionally been accompanied by the solemn statement of justification, in medieval times a statement of “just war,” in modern times a Declaration of War … However false and specious the justification may be, and usually is, a legalism of this kind serves to state the case and automatically endows the government with enlarged powers.

The first half of this paragraph explains why nations should not go to war. The second half explains why no nation going to war should do so solely on the authority of its Executive. But, of course, neither of these explanations were heeded in the case of America’s war in Vietnam.

Johnson decided to do without a Declaration, partly because neither cause nor aims were clear enough in terms of national defense to sustain one, partly because he feared a Declaration might provoke Russia or China to a response in kind, mainly because he feared it would divert attention and resources from the domestic programs which he hoped would make his reputation in history.

And we know how history has judged that decision.

It would have been wiser to face the test and require Congress to assume its constitutional responsibility for going to war. The President should likewise have asked for an increase in taxes to balance war costs and inflationary pressures. He avoided this in his hope of not arousing protest. As a result his war in Vietnam was never legitimized. By forgoing a Declaration he opened a wider door to dissent and made the error, fatal to his presidency, of assuring the ground of public support.

Of course, today America has figured another way around Johnson’s problem. Still no formal Declarations of War from Congress, but now an Executive with his ear ever on public sentiment for the bombs he decides to drop around the world.

But Tuchman isn’t done diagnosing this problem. She’s writing in 1984, about events taking place in 1965, but how familiar to today’s situation the following excerpt is. It’s regarding the hearings held by Senator J. William Fulbright, investigating the causes and authorities associated with taking America to war.

Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possess secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn “not upon available facts but upon judgment,” with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge “whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve their overall interests as a nation.”

This is a view that is all too frequently absent from our major policy decisions today -- that the nation, and not solely its president, are capable (and empowered by the Constitutional separation of powers) of making them -- and especially those associated with the commitment of U.S. troops to aggressive military action. And, evidently, it was also a minority view in 1965.

The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, “We ought to support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against.” This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. “Foreign policy decisions,” concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, “are in general much more influenced by irrational motives” than are domestic ones.

As is so often in history, what is past is prologue. Imagine what Lyndon Johnson would think of the executive war-making powers afforded our modern presidents. And is Myrdal’s diagnosis about irrational motives any less true?

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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 20, 2017

80% Is Good Enough

I used to blog a lot about innovation in the association environment. I used to think a lot about the subject, I helped write a white paper on the subject, helped launch a regional conference focused on it, and have tried to move my association on to a more innovative footing. All that attention and all those experiments were reflected in the posts put up on this blog.

Lately; not so much.

But recently, I and a group of my staff attended the latest iteration of that regional conference I helped launch, and when we got back I asked everyone to share their major takeaways from the presentations they listened to and the discussions they participated in. And a common theme I heard emerge from that conversation was the need to push partially developed products and services out to our members, and then to refine them based on the feedback received from the very users that the products and services are intended for. 80% is good enough, one of my staff members said. And, another added, you probably can't really get to 100% without the interaction with the marketplace.

It reminded me of the topics I used to post frequently about on this blog. As evidenced by posts like "Who's Your Lead User Community?" "We Can Only See the Destination by Moving Towards It," and especially "Putting Something Unfinished Out There," there was a time when I was writing regularly on this subject. And the theme I often returned to was how difficult this was, how there often seemed to be organizational forces aligned against the idea of "putting something unfinished out there." Indeed, in the post by that title, I did the best I could to call those forces out onto the carpet.

How to combat it? Then, as now, my advice is simple. Start small. Find a member who likes to tinker and may want to try something new. Then...

Get together and talk about something that isn't working in the organization and solicit their help in addressing it. Whatever they say, find a way to do it. Not in a big way, not plastered on the front page of your magazine, but in a small way, a guerrilla way, on your own, without help from anyone else. Maybe it's not even a program at that point. Maybe it's just a document--a document with a combination of words on it that no one has ever suggested before.

Then, share it with another member. Get their feedback on it. Adapt and advance the concept. Repeat and keep repeating.

If you do it consistently, you'll realize two things. First, the thing you're working on will never be finished. At some point it will turn into an actual program, but it will always be open to another interaction and another interpretation. And second, that's a good thing. Believe it or not, putting something unfinished out there will become not just less scary, but enjoyable and productive for everyone involved.

80% is good enough. But you're the one who has to bring that 80% to the table.

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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, 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 paintings 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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