Monday, December 31, 2018

My Top 5 Blog Posts of 2018

As we end another year, here's a look back at the five posts on this blog that received the most page views in 2018.

1. Stop Calling It Strategic Planning
This has been on every year-end list since it was originally posted in January 2012, and keeps getting a ton of traffic, including as the page through which the highest number of people enter my site. It was inspired by the take-down of strategic planning in Humanize, and in it I pledge to stop using that term to describe the messy, constantly evolving process my association uses to determine our direction and set our objectives. In laying out the guidelines that govern our activities, I realize that only one term makes any sense--association management.

2. The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
This one was originally posted in May 2014, and returns for a fifth placement on these year-end lists. It summarizes my takeaways from the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The book's subtitle is “Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals,” and it contains a deceptively simple and oddly compelling system for doing exactly that--with a lot of potential applicability for associations. Among the many practical tools it taught me was the need to create "winnable games" for your team to go after, with regular and visual scorecards showing the team's progress towards each goal. As the authors continually remind the reader, people play differently when they are keeping score. When they can see at a glance whether or not they are winning they become profoundly engaged.

3. The Chairman's Gift
Originally posted in July 2012, this one has now been on six of seven possible year-end lists. It tells the story about how my association ensures that our outgoing Board Chair receives a gift that recognizes not just his service to the association, but the fact that he is an individual who has made a personal sacrifice to serve in that capacity. The true value is the message it sends to others who might be considering a similar commitment in their futures.

4. Membership Sales Is About More Than Just Increasing Membership Numbers
This is a newcomer to the list -- and one that was actually posted this year! In it, I describe an epiphany I had, as the title suggests, that the efforts my association puts into increasing our membership numbers are, ultimately, about something more than just increasing membership numbers. They are also very much about defining and shaping the value proposition that our association offers its members. A sales discussion is an opportunity to sell something, of course, but it is also an opportunity for crucial market research and education.

5. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
This first appeared on the list last year, having been originally posted back in January 2015. It's one of the many "mini term papers" I tend to offer up, free of charge, to desperate freshman English majors the world over. My overall theses: This is a play about the balance between order and freedom, and specifically order’s ultimate triumph over its weaker counterbalance. The historical setting is, of course, the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. The order is that of the theocratic state, its functionaries able to convict, jail and hang those they determine to be in league with the Devil. The freedom is that of John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and their fellow villagers, who are held hostage by the accusations of a group of vengeful teenage girls. It may seem silly to our modern sensibilities, but these people very much believed in God and the Devil, and the way the two of them battled for people’s souls right here on earth. And Miller paints no one in his drama as a fool, just as people with clashing motivations interpreting the world as they understand it.

My thanks to everyone who has been reading what I've been putting up here. I hope you plan to stay engaged in 2019.

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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, December 24, 2018

A Holiday Break: The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Books are always the best holiday gift for me. The only thing I like better than the anticipation of reading a long sought after title is the fondness that comes with remembering the discovery of an unexpected treasure.

As I look back on all the books I've profiled here in 2018, the one I'd most like to revisit is The Bell by Iris Murdoch. I blogged about it back in September, and found it to be a novel rich in the interior lives of its characters, where dark and foreboding shapes of the “not wholly describable thinginess of the physical and moral world” emerge slowly out of the fog of character thought and action.

It is also a novel that underscores the importance of art in a dark and turbulent world. One of the central characters is Dora Greenfield, a former art student, and now the disillusioned wife of one Paul Greenfield, an art historian spending a summer at the Abbey that forms the backdrop of the novel. At one point in the narrative, she flees from her husband and from the lay community near the Abbey and visits the National Gallery in London, a place she had been in “a thousand times,” where “the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face.”

Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvellous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect. Who had said that, about perfection and reality being in the same place? Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it part of her fantasy make it worthless. Even Paul, she thought, only existed now as someone she dreamt about; or else as a vague external menace never really encountered and understood. But the pictures were something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly and yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or values. But now there was something else in it after all.

That, in the end, may be the most important aspect of art, be it paintings in the National Gallery, or interior novels by Iris Murdoch. It provides an objective rock in the sea of subjectivity we otherwise find ourselves swimming in.

As you enjoy your holiday break, I hope you find some time to curl up with a good book. I know I will.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Association CEO Handbook by Paul A. Belford

The subtitle here is “A Personal Guide to Leadership and Career Fulfillment in Association Management.” How it came into my possession I no longer remember, but my copy is signed by the author himself.

Sept 25, 2013
Eric -
Thought you might find this of interest.
Best regards
Paul Belford

Did I meet Paul somewhere, at one of the many conferences I attend? Did I hear him speak and was so moved by his presentation that I bought his book and had him sign it at the author’s table in the foyer? I doubt it. More likely, he sent it to me unsolicited, hoping that I would be intrigued and book him as a speaker at one of my own conferences.

No matter. What, if anything, did I find of interest? Just this:

Imagine yourself at your 25th college reunion. It opens at the student union and there’s a whole bunch of folks around by the time you arrive. You’re walking in, cool, hair right, looking for some classmates you’ve arranged to meet when up comes someone you recognize, but haven’t a clue as to the name.

This comes near the end of Belford’s book, after he has walked the reader through numerous bugaboos of the association industry and the essential elements of being an effective staff executive.

You remember thinking back once that you might have been close friends if you had been in the same carpool or dorm… No matter now, What’s the name? You smile and nod. Awkward is how you feel as you hear your name spoken. “Pat!” (That’s you, you’re Pat.) You smile. Without the name, in the game of social encounter, you’re already down one. And of course there’s that look of success. Down two? “So, Pat, tell me, how goes it? Life’s been good?”

Issues vs. services, Board vs. staff-driven, benefits to membership, networking, organizational profile, industry/profession life cycle, Board governance, membership composition, culture, member/staff relations, mission vs. momentum, mission alignment, resource relationships, vision statement, membership engagement, planning. Belford has talked you through all of these issues and, seeing that this is a handbook, has tried to lead you through several exercises to better understand what they mean for the organization you’re leading.

Now what do you say to that. ‘Well, actually, I just spent the entire remainder of my most recent bankruptcy on the ticket to fly out here and tell everyone all about it.’? Easy, now. None of that… The name, What’s the name? Stalling, you come back with “Great. Really great. Looking pretty good yourself…” That’s it, take the initiative, that’s the rule. The name will come. “And what’ve you been up to?”

Belford is weaving a story here. Not sure where he’s going, but he titled this short chapter “Personal Identity” and he gave us a warning in his short introduction. It may be a little off-beat, but we may find it useful.

“Hollywood.” A big grin, but fun. No bragging, here, just fun, pleasant. You work on your smile, good eye contact, that’s the rule, keep it moving and the name will come, be positive…

“Private banking of a sort. We finance movies and advise the stars on what to do with all their money. Tons of fun, tons.” A smile and nod. “And you? An Accounting major, right?”

Where is Belford going with this?

You’ve been the CEO of the American Widget Manufacturers Association for four good years, and loving every minute of it… and the name comes, Leigh Smith! That’s the name. Sat next to you in Cost Accounting. Not a bad sort at all, really. Your mind flashes back to the mini-rally Leigh organized for your soccer team as it boarded the bus for the conference finals senior year. A big win, the biggest.

You’re relaxing now, an easy breath taken, feeling good, more memories coming, you’re among friends … and Leigh’s one of them. A smile comes to your face and you’re home again … this is why you came…

And for Leigh’s question? Well, there are two ways you can go--

--”Widgets, I’m in widgets,” or

--”I’m an association executive.”

Much of a difference? Could be. Could be huge.

What’s your answer?

It’s fair to say that this is the only chapter in Belford’s book that was of interest to me … and it’s something I think he should have led with, not saved for near the end. Any association executive looking for a “personal guide to leadership and career fulfillment” has to absolutely start with the mindset that they are first and foremost an association executive, not “in widgets.”

Indeed, the rest of Belford’s handbook will make little sense to anyone who thinks of themselves as in the industry that their association represents. He might as well put the question on page one, with the instruction that if you say anything other than “I’m an association executive,” you can be spared from reading any further.

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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, December 17, 2018

Program Goals and Marketing Objectives

I've been thinking this week about metrics for the marketing and communications function of my organization. Specifically, what's the best way to measure the contribution of our marketing efforts in the achievement of our program goals?

Maybe I need to explain that. In my organization there are program goals. We want to recruit new members. We want to increase the number of members attending our conferences. We want more members to volunteer their support for our workforce development programs.

In order to help achieve those goals, we engage in a variety of different marketing activities. We deliver information about our association and its benefits to our membership prospects. We populate our weekly e-newsletter with information about our conferences. We solicit members at those conference to become volunteers.

Holding these marketing activities up to the metric of the program goal seems wrong. In other words, if we fail to increase the number of members attending a particular conference, while having populated the weekly e-newsletter with information about that conference, we shouldn't say that the marketing activity failed because the program goal wasn't reached. There should be some other metric, some other objective that we can set that will measure the success of the marketing activity.

Following this logic typically leads an organization to what I call activity rather than outcome metrics. In this example, an increased number of members at the conference is the outcome we're seeking, so measuring that is an outcome metric. One of the activities we engage in to achieve that outcome is placing a promotional article in each week's e-newsletter. Publishing articles is not the outcome we seek, it is an activity that we believe will lead us to the outcome, so measuring how many articles we publish is an activity, not an outcomes, metric.

One problem I often see is a conflation of these outcome and activity metrics -- that measuring the success of an activity that supports the outcome becomes the same thing as measuring the success of the outcome. As a result, the organization is question quickly finds itself in the "business" of publishing articles. Substantial attention is paid and rewards begin to be offered, not to increasing conference attendance, but to publishing articles in the e-newsletter. "What else do you expect us to do?" an executive might hear once this mindset has taken over. "We published more articles in our e-newsletter than we ever have before!"

Avoiding this problem is what I've been thinking about this week. One way might be to focus attention not on the volume of the marketing activity that is taking place, but on the effectiveness of the marketing activity in delivering its message to the intended audience. In other words, stop counting how many articles you publish, and start tracking (and driving up) how many members click on the link in each article that takes them to your conference's registration page.

This should not only give the marketing department of your organization marketing objectives to hit (i.e., we need to increase our click-through rates on published articles about our conference), but, by focusing these objectives on improving the effectiveness of your marketing activities, you should be increasing marketing's overall contribution to achieving the program goal itself.

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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, December 10, 2018

Constraints + Creativity = Innovation

My association sponsors an undergraduate education program we call the Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge. Essentially, it challenges undergraduate engineers to design and build a human-powered vehicle (typically a bicycle, but not always) that uses my industry's technology (i.e., hydraulics) as the method of propulsion.

It's awesome. Responding to the distressing lack of fluid power education in our nation's undergraduate mechanical engineering programs, we now have a way to engage students with a hands-on application of our technology. The students are generally seniors, who claim the vehicle as their capstone design project, earning credit while at the same time interacting with mentors in my association's member companies to make sure their designs are safe and effective. They learn fluid power, and the mentors recruit them into positions in their companies. We're in our third year of sponsoring the program, and we have a record number of 15 universities participating.

One difficulty we've had with the program is that the design challenge itself is hard. Hydraulic systems are typically driven by an electric motor or internal combustion engine (what our engineers call a "prime mover"); and we're telling our students that they can't use either. The vehicles are meant to be human-powered. This means that the students themselves have to take the place of the prime mover. They can only pedal so fast, and that can only produce so much flow to make the hydraulic system work.

We've been wringing our hands for the last three years, trying to figure out what to do about this problem. One of the goals of the program is to get these engineering students excited about fluid power, and if they determine that, because of the limitation that we've put on them, fluid power is just too hard to work with -- then we're actually hurting ourselves by doing it. Some of our industry mentors have suggested that we let the students use a small internal combustion engine (the kind you might find on a lawnmower) in order to let them see and experience the true capabilities of hydraulics. It is, after all, an extremely power dense technology. It's very claim to fame is the ability to provide a ton of power in a very small package.

I've resisted making this change, primarily for safety reasons, but also because the idea of "adding an engine" would require us to redesign the entire program. The whole program culminates in three competitions: a sprint race, an efficiency challenge, and an endurance race. Right now, with human-powered vehicles, these are challenging tests for the vehicles and their riders to perform. Add an engine, and the vehicles essentially become hydraulic go-karts, easily racing around for as long as there is gasoline in their tanks.

But while we've been wringing our hands, something else has been slowly happening. The student teams have been applying their collective intelligence and creativity to the problem. We open-source all the designs pursued each year, so each new team has a growing record of successful and unsuccessful experiments to draw on when putting its ideas together. And slowly, in an iterative fashion, the student teams are figuring out how to make efficient and swift-moving vehicles, even given the limitations that we've placed on them. Just check out this video the vehicle designed and built by last year's team from Murray State University:

Pumping with their arms, steering with their feet, tapping their hydraulic accumulator for bursts of acceleration, the vehicle is a marvel to behold. And this year's Murray State team, we know, is hard at work at making further improvements to this design. Whereas last year's vehicle topped out at 30 miles per hour, the creative and motivated students at that university this year have set their sites on breaking 50.

In many ways, it is a textbook example of innovation -- and how it is design constraints themselves, coupled with creativity, that allows it to flourish.

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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, December 8, 2018

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A lot has already been written about this book. And from my point of view, it stands up very well to all the attention it had received.

Tons of focus seems to be on what was taken from Henrietta Lacks without her permission, and whether or not her family should share in the benefits that have come as a result.

An Era Without Informed Consent

Like a reporter, Skloot is careful to document the facts of the case.

Henrietta went straight to the admissions desk and told the receptionist she was there for her treatment. Then she signed a form with the words OPERATION PERMIT at the top of the page. It said:

“I hereby give consent to the staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital to perform any operative procedures and under any anaesthetic either local or general that they may deem necessary in the proper surgical care and treatment of: __________________.”

Henrietta printed her name in the blank space. A witness with illegible handwriting signed a line at the bottom of the form, and Henrietta signed another.

That, evidently, was it. Informed consent and signing away of rights of bodily integrity, all in an era in which such terms and concepts were all but unknown. Whether Lacks was aware of it, or even in a position to give her consent, samples were collected as they were from all other patients seen in that hospital for the same procedure.

With Henrietta unconscious on the operating table in the center of the room, her feet in stirrups, the surgeon on duty, Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr., sat on a stool between her legs. He peered inside Henrietta, dilated her cervix, and prepared to treat her tumor. But first -- though no one had told Henrietta that [Dr. Richard Wesley] TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor -- Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby. Then he placed the samples in a glass dish.

But there are a lot of complicating factors. There was no law or code of ethics at the time that required doctors to ask permission before taking tissue from a living patient. Indeed, doctors of the era were known to do much worse than surreptitiously take samples from their patients.

In February 1954, [virologist Chester] Southam loaded a syringe with saline solution mixed with HeLa. He slid the needle into the forearm of a woman who’d recently been hospitalized for leukemia, then pushed the plunger, injecting about five million of Henrietta’s cells into her arm. Using a second needle, Southam tattooed a tiny speck of India ink next to the small bump that formed at the HeLa injection site. That way, he’d know where to look when he reexamined the woman days, weeks, and months later, to see if Henrietta’s cancer was growing on her arm. He repeated this process with about a dozen other cancer patients. He told them he was testing their immune systems; he said nothing about injecting them with someone else’s malignant cells.

Intentionally injecting patients with cancerous cells without telling them (or perhaps even knowing) the risks. Lying to them, in fact. All of the patients that Southam did this to developed hard, cancerous tumors like the ones that had grown initially inside Henrietta Lacks (HeLa, get it?). Most of these tumors he was able to remove, but in four of his patients, these nodules of cancer kept growing back.

He removed them, but they returned again and again. In one patient, Henrietta’s cancer cells metastasized to her lymph nodes.

Oh well. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, right? But injecting the most aggressive cancer ever discovered into other cancer patients wasn’t good enough for Southam. He wanted to inject HeLa into healthy people. He needed, you know, a control group. So he turned to a group of men imprisoned at Ohio State Penitentiary, who had volunteered for similar experiments of Southam’s in the past.

Sixty-five prisoners -- murderers, embezzlers, robbers, and forgers -- lined up on wooden benches for their injections. Some wore white hospital garb; others came off work gangs wearing blue dungarees.

At least is can be said that some rudimentary form of informed consent was at work with these prisoners. When asked why they would volunteer for such a risky test…

The prisoners’ replies were like a refrain: “I done a girl a great injustice, and I think it’ll pay back a little bit what I did to her.” “I believe the wrong that I have done, in the eyes of society, this might make right on it.”

But not all of Southam’s victims were volunteers. Did that matter to him? After all, he was pursuing a higher calling.

In a statement he’d later repeat again and again during hearings about his research, Southam wrote, “It is, of course, inconsequential whether these are cancer cells or not, since they are foreign to the recipient and hence are rejected. The only drawback to the use of cancer cells is the phobia and ignorance that surrounds the word cancer.”

Because of that “phobia and ignorance,” Southam wrote, he didn’t tell patients the cells were cancerous because he didn’t want to cause any unnecessary fear. As he would say, “To use the dreaded word ‘cancer’ in connection with any clinical procedure on an ill person is potentially deleterious to that patient’s well-being, because it may suggest to him (rightly or wrongly) that his diagnosis is cancer or that his prognosis is poor. … To withhold such emotionally disturbing but medically nonpertinent details … is in the best tradition of responsible clinical practice.”

Skloot correctly points out that the deception was not for the benefit of his patients, but for his own, for certainly fewer patients would have agreed to be part of his medical experiments if they had known what he was doing to them.

But Southam was far from the only doctor who acted this way. This was an era in which the idea of informed consent did not exist, in which doctors routinely did what was best for their research interests. It was not until the horrors of the Tuskegee experiment became public -- and its comparisons to the medical ethics of the Nazi regime -- that things began to change.

You Still Don’t Own Your Tissues

Unfortunately, the medical profession is no less conflicted today on a similar issue. Although it is now more or less universally understood that doctors can’t perform research on humans without first documenting that they have obtained informed consent from them, the larger issue raised by Skloot’s book and Henrietta Lacks’s case -- that of a person’s ownership of their bodily tissues -- remains murky and unresolved.

Much of the medical profession actively opposes the idea.

David Korn, vice provost for research at Harvard University, argues that giving patients control over their tissues is shortsighted. “Sure,” he says, “consent feels nice. Letting people decide what’s going to happen with their tissue seems like the right thing to do. But consent diminishes the value of tissue.” To illustrate this, Korn points to the Spanish flu pandemic. In the 1990s, scientists used stored tissue samples from a soldier who died in 1918 to re-create the virus’s genome and study why it was so deadly, with hopes of uncovering information about the current avian flu. In 1918, asking that soldier’s permission to take tissues for this kind of future research would have been impossible, Korn says. “It was an inconceivable question -- no one even knew what DNA was!”

Korn’s argument is persuasive as far as it goes, but it assumes that owners of tissue would need to consent to every future use of their tissues. A more blanket permission could conceivably be given -- much the the consent now routinely used for organ donation. Those donors don’t get a say in what their organs may be used for. But, honestly, I don’t know how seriously I should be taking Korn’s arguments, since he reveals some pretty sloppy thinking the the very next paragraph.

For Korn, the consent issue is overshadowed by a public responsibility to science: “I think people are morally obligated to allow their bits and pieces to be used to advance knowledge and to help others. Since everybody benefits, everybody can accept the small risks of having their tissue scraps used in research.” The only exception he would make is for people whose religious beliefs prohibit tissue donation. “If somebody says being buried without all their pieces will condemn them to wandering forever because they can’t get salvation, that’s legitimate, and people should respect it,” Korn says. But he acknowledges that people can’t raise those objections if they don’t understand their tissues are being used in the first place.

So, let me get this straight. Right now, tissues are routinely taken for research without obtaining consent or even disclosing to the donors that it is happening. And that’s the way it should stay -- unless someone has a religious objection. If you have ethical concerns, or evidence-based reasons why someone shouldn’t use your tissues without obtaining your consent: tough, you have a moral obligation to advance knowledge and help others. But if your objection is religious in nature, then you no longer have that moral obligation? Better not to risk you “wandering forever because you can’t get salvation.”

Despite my derision, I think I actually agree with the concept that people are morally obligated to advance knowledge and help others. But there have to be some limits and what can be taken from you without your consent and how it can be used. And some of the things now happening in this space legitimately leave me scratching my head.

Gene patents are the point of greatest concern in the debate over ownership of human biological materials, and how that ownership might interfere with science. As of 2005 -- the most recent year figures were available -- the U.S. government had issued patents relating to the use of about 20 percent of known human genes, including genes for Alzheimer’s, asthma, colon cancer, and, most famously, breast cancer. This means pharmaceutical companies, scientists, and universities control what research can be done on those genes, and how much resulting therapies and diagnostic tests will cost.

When I read this my first instinct was that it had to be wrong. The “gene for Alzheimer’s,” for example, if such a thing really exists, is, as far as I understand, biologically identical in every person that it occurs in. If my grandmother had it, and if I also have it, then those two genes are the same genes. Perhaps not comprised of the exact same materials, but functionally indistinguishable from one another. They’re kind of like two of the same kind of cakes made from two bags of the same brand of sugar. They’re not made of exactly the same sugar molecules, but they are otherwise identical to one another. If I’m thinking about this right, then how can someone else own a patent for the genes in my own body?

And sure enough, it turns out someone can’t. Patents on naturally-occurring genes were outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, a few years after Skloot’s book was published.

Human Tragedy and Magical Thinking

But my focus while I read this book was frankly less on these medical and ethical issues, and more on the human tragedy that seems to surround Henrietta and her family.

In the wake of Lacks’s death, a cousin named Ethel moved into her home to help care for her children. The family gossip was that Ethel was more interested in Henrietta’s widower husband than her children, and that certainly seemed to be the case.

Henrietta’s children grew up hungry. Every morning Ethel fed them each a cold biscuit that had to last them until dinner. She put latches and bolts on the refrigerator and cupboard doors to keep the children out between meals. They weren’t allowed ice in their water because it made noise. If they were good, she’d sometimes give them a slice of bologna or a cold wiener, maybe pour the grease from her bacon pan onto their biscuit, or mix some water with vinegar and sugar for dessert. But she rarely thought they were good.

[Henrietta’s oldest son] Lawrence came home from the military in 1953 and moved into a house of his own -- he had no idea what Ethel was doing to his brothers and [his sister] Deborah. As the children grew, Ethel woke them at dawn to clean the house, cook, shop, and do the laundry. In the summers she took them to Clover, where she’s send them into the fields to pick worms off tobacco leaves by hand. The tobacco juice stained their fingers and made them sick when it got in their mouths. But they grew used to it. The Lacks children had to work from sunup to sundown; they weren’t allowed to take breaks, and they got no food or water until nightfall, even when the summer heat burned. Ethel would watch them from the couch or a window, and if one of them stopped working before she told them to, she’d beat them all bloody. At one point, she beat Sonny so badly with an extension cord, he ended up in the hospital.

I’m no psychiatrist, but it seems safe to conclude that Ethel was a sick woman, whose perceptions of reality were twisted by her own feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. She took out her anger and frustrations on all the children of her former rival, but as Skloot goes on to explain, Ethel reserved her bitterest rage for Henrietta’s youngest son, Joe.

Sometimes [Ethel] would beat Joe for no reason while he lay in bed or sat at the dinner table. She’d hit him with her fists, or whatever she had close: shoes, chairs, sticks. She made him stand in a dark basement corner on one foot, nose pressed to the wall, dirt filling his eyes. Sometimes she tied him up with rope and left him down there for hours. Other times she left him there all night. If his foot wasn’t in the air when she checked on him, she’d whip his back with a belt. If he cried, she’d just whip him harder. And there was nothing Sonny or Deborah could do to help him; if they said anything, Ethel just beat them all worse. But after a while it got to where the beatings didn’t bother Joe. He stopped feeling pain; he only felt rage.

The damaging effects of all this abuse on Joe should have been plain for all to see.

The police came by the house more than once to tell [Henrietta’s husband] Day or Ethel to pull Joe off the roof, where he was lying on his stomach, shooting strangers on the sidewalk with his BB gun. When the police asked what he thought he was doing up there, Joe told them he was practicing to be a sniper when he grew up. They thought he was joking.

But, inexplicably (to my way of thinking, at least), the family came to blame Joe’s anti-social behavior on something else.

Joe grew into the meanest, angriest child any Lacks had ever known, and the family started saying something must have happened to his brain while he was growing inside Henrietta alongside that cancer.

Yes. That’s right. Years of child abuse had nothing to do with it. Gestating inside of mother with cervical cancer must be the answer. It’s magical thinking. And it permeates generations of Lackses and the people that populate Skloot’s moving portrait.

Even Joe (who later changed his name to Zakariyya) suffers from the cognitive dissonance.

“I think them cells is why I’m so mean,” he said. “I had to start fightin before I was even a person. That’s the only way I figure I kept them cancer cells from growin all over me while I was inside my mother. I started fightin when I was just a baby in her womb, and I never known nothin different.”

Deborah thinks it was more than that. “That evil woman Ethel taught him hate,” she said. “Beat every drop of it into his little body -- put the hate of a murderer into him.”

Zakariyya snorted when he heard Ethel’s name. “Livin with that abusive crazy woman was worse than livin in prison!” he yelled, his eyes narrowing to slits. “It’s hard to talk about what she did to me. When I get t thinkin about them stories, make me want to kill her, and my father.”

In the same moment that he is able to express anger at Ethel and her abuse of him, he is unable to connect it to his own violent temper and uncontrolled rage. It’s the cells. It’s HeLa. That’s why he is so mean.


Henrietta’s daughter Deborah is very much the protagonist of Skloot’s book. It is Deborah that Skloot spends the most time with and who serves as her primary portal into the Lacks family history.

Growing up in the same house as Ethel, Deborah experienced abuse that was similar to that of her brothers. But after she and her brothers moved out and into the home of her brother Lawrence and his new wife Bobbette, a special kind of abuse was brought upon her by Ethel’s husband, Galen.

Deborah was ten years old. … She tried to tell Day when Galen touched her in ways she didn’t think he was supposed to, but Day never believed her. And Ethel just called Deborah words she’d never heard, like bitch and slut. In the car with Day driving and Ethel in the passenger seat, and everybody drinking except her, Deborah would sit in the back, pressed against the car door to get as far from Galen as she could. But he’d just slide closer. As Day drove with his arm around Ethel in front, Galen would grab Deborah in the backseat, forcing his hands under her shirt, in her pants, between her legs. After the first time he touched her, Deborah swore she’d never wear another pair of jeans with snaps instead of zippers again. But zippers didn’t stop him; neither did tight belts. So Deborah would just stare out the window, praying for Day to drive faster as she pushed Galen’s hands away again and again.

Imagine this scene. A ten-year-old girl. Sitting in the back seat of a car while her father has his arm around a woman that is not her mother. And while the husband of that woman is in the backseat with her, forcing his hands into her pants.

It gets worse.

When Deborah got to Galen’s house, she found him lying naked on the bed. She’d never seen a man’s penis and didn’t know what it meant for one to be erect, or why he was rubbing it. She just knew it all felt wrong.

“Ethel want a six-pack of soda,” Galen told Deborah, then patted the mattress beside him. “The money’s right here.”

Deborah kept her eyes on the floor and ran as fast as she could, snatching the money off the bed, ducking when he grabbed for her, then running down the stairs with him chasing after her, naked and yelling, “Get back here till I finish with you, Dale! You little whore! Just wait till I tell you father!” Deborah got away, which just made him madder.

Galen did tell Deborah’s (or Dale, as she was known in the family) father.

Deborah had started scrubbing people’s floors and ironing for small amount of money. She’d try to walk home alone after work, but Galen would usually pick her up along the way and try to touch her in the car. One day not long after her twelfth birthday, he pulled up beside Deborah and told her to get in. This time she kept walking.

Galen jammed the car into park and yelled, “You get in this damn car girl!”

Deborah refused. “Why should I get in?” she said. “I ain’t doing nothing wrong, it’s still daylight and I just walkin down the street.”

“Your father is looking for you,” he snapped.

“Let him come get me then! You been doin things to my body you ain’t supposed to do,” she yelled. “I don’t want to be nowhere with you by myself no more. Lord gave me enough sense to know that.”

She turned to run but he hit her, grabbed her by the arm, threw her into the car, and kept on having his way with her. A few weeks later, as Deborah walked home from work with a neighborhood boy named Alfred “Cheetah” Carter, Galen pulled up alongside them, yelling at her to get in the car. When Deborah refused, Galen raced up the street, tires screaming. A few minutes later he pulled up beside her again, this time with Day in the passenger seat. Galen jumped out of the car, cussing and screaming and telling her she was a whore. He grabbed Deborah by the arm, threw her in the car, and punched her hard in the face. Her father didn’t say a word, just stared through the windshield.

I guess my point is that these people -- Joe and Deborah and many other members of the Lacks family -- were abused. And the portrait that Skloot offers of Deborah in her later years, when Skloot was working with her to learn and expose the things that had happened to her mother -- is a direct result of this abuse.

Deborah’s was a world without silence. She yelled, punctuated most sentences with a raspy, high-pitched laugh, and maintained a running commentary on everything around her: “Look at the size of those trees!” “Isn’t that car a nice green!” “Oh my god, I’ve never seen such pretty flowers.” She walked down the street talking to tourists, sanitation workers, and homeless people, waving her cane at every person she passed, saying “Hi there, how y’all doin?” again and again.

Deborah was full of oddly charming quirks. She carried a bottle of Lysol in her car that she would often spray at random, only half-joking. She sprayed directly in front of my nose several times when I sneezed, but mostly she sprayed it out the window when we stopped somewhere that looked particularly unsanitary, which happened often.

These are not “oddly charming quirks.” They are signs of mental illness, of a flawed understanding of the world around her and the way it works. Deborah’s ups and downs are dramatic and sometime violent, and although Skloot never calls her manic depressive or bipolar, it’s difficult to reach another conclusion.


Deborah had an older sister. Her name was Elsie, and Deborah never knew her because she was mentally impaired and was institutionalized in Crownsville State Hospital at a young age. After Henrietta died, she was more or less forgotten about. With Skloot’s help, Deborah is finally able to learn what became of her, and the facts are nothing short of gruesome.

The Crownsville that Elsie died in was far worse than anything Deborah had imagined. Patients arrived from a nearby institution packed in a train car. In 1955, the year Elsie died, the population of Crownsville was at a record high of more than 2,700 patients, nearly eight hundred above maximum capacity. In 1948, the only year figures were available, Crownsville averaged one doctor for every 225 patients, and its death rate was far higher than its discharge rate. Patients were locked in poorly ventilated cell blocks with drains on the floors instead of toilets. Black men, women, and children suffering with everything from dementia and tuberculosis to “nervousness,” “lack of self-confidence,” and epilepsy were packed into every conceivable space, including windowless basement rooms and barred-in porches. When they had beds, they usually slept two or more on a twin mattress, lying head to foot, forced to crawl across a sea of sleeping bodies to reach their beds. Inmates weren’t separated by age or sex, and often included sex offenders. There were riots and homemade weapons. Unruly patients were tied to their beds or secluded in locked rooms.

It was barbaric. And it is, unfortunately, the unremitting history of the world. A long and eternal river of human suffering, channeled by ignorance, fear, and loathing.

And it gets worse.

I later learned that while Elsie was at Crownsville, scientists often conducted research on patients there without consent, including one study titled, “Pneumoencephalographic and skull X-ray studies in 100 epileptics.” Pneumoencephalography was a technique developed in 1919 for taking images of the brain, which floats in a sea of fluid. That fluid protects the brain from damage, but makes it very difficult to X-ray, since images taken through fluid are cloudy. Pneumoencephalography involved drilling holes into the skulls of research subjects, draining the fluid surrounding their brains, and pumping air or helium into the skull in place of the fluid to allow crisp X-rays of the brain through the skull. The side effects -- crippling headaches, dizziness, seizures, vomiting -- lasted until the body naturally refilled the skull with spinal fluid, which usually took two to three months. Because pneumoencephalography could cause permanent brain damage and paralysis, in was abandoned in the 1970s.

There is no evidence that the scientists who did research on patients at Crownsville got consent from either the patients or their parents. Based on the number of patients listed in the pneumoencephalography study and the years it was conducted … it most likely involved every epileptic child in the hospital, including Elsie. The same is likely true of at least one other study, called “The Use of Deep Temporal Leads in the Study of Psychomotor Epilepsy,” which involved inserting metal probes into patients’ brains.

Medical experiments on a marginalized population without consent. It is a fitting coda to Skloot’s sad and tragic tale.

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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, December 3, 2018

Traveling Is So Much Fun

I flew in and out of LAX this week. It's not a frequent airport for me -- I can't even remember the last time I was there. But something happened there that I thought was worth blogging about.

When I arrived for my return flight home I didn't at first recognize anything as unusual. My Uber driver dropped me off curbside, I got my boarding pass from the automated machine, I found the TSA pre-check line and went through security. All normal. But when I got into the gate area something was very different.

Live musicians were playing on professional sound systems. Scores of people were wearing white "I LOVE LAX" t-shirts. Airport muckety-mucks in three-piece suits were scattered about in unusual numbers. Several TV cameramen were moving about, capturing B roll or chronicling stand-up interviews. And amidst it all, many of my fellow travelers seemed to stumble around in happy amazement. Look at all the glitz. Look at all the pretty people.

Needless to say, I was not one of them. I was annoyed, not amazed. I was just trying to get to my gate. Can you get out of my way, please?

At the gate I asked the agent what was going on. Was this a brand-new terminal or something?

No, she said, but the food court is new. They opened it recently and today they decided to have a media event.

I looked over at the food court. Most of the brands were unfamiliar to me, but the options weren't. Coffee. Burgers. Burritos. Pizza by the slice. Chicken sandwiches. That's it? Really?

The gate agent gave me an understanding look. What are you going to do?

Look, don't get me wrong. I spend a fair amount of time in airports, and I appreciate any of all efforts to make them more pleasant places to spend that time. But here I was, traveling home after attending another conference, stuck with a humorless Uber driver for an hour in Los Angeles traffic, trained by TSA to keep my electronics and carry-on liquids to an absolute minimum, and looking only for a quick bite to eat, an electrical outlet, and a WIFI connection before folding myself into an uncomfortable coach seat for the next four hours -- and all around me people seemed to be celebrating, seemed to be excited about this strange and somewhat soulless experience known as modern air travel.

It was surreal. I'm not sure there's any other word to describe it. And amidst all the fanfare and flashing flat panel television screens, I saw an ad for the new People Mover that was evidently the next step in these magical LAX improvements. Coming soon, the ad said. Opening in 2023.

2023? Remind me not to go back to LAX until then.

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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 26, 2018

Inside Baseball

I'm not much of a sports fan, but one sports analogy I use pretty consistently is the term "inside baseball." I use it to describe a situation when I'm going into too much jargon and detail in front of an audience that doesn't understand or doesn't need such an in-depth explanation. I'm even self-conscious about doing it, often warning people before plowing deep into the picayune that what I'm about to say may be too much "inside baseball" for them.

Never, however, did I think that the very name of my association's industry would be too much "inside baseball" for some people.

I mean, in a way, I did. As the staff executive of the trade association that represents the fluid power industry I have long gotten used to explaining at cocktail parties not just what an association is but what "fluid power" means. "Does that have something to do with hydro-electric dams?" is the most common inquiry on this front. No, I have to explain, fluid power is an umbrella term that encompasses both hydraulic and pneumatic technologies. They both use a fluid to transmit power through a system. For hydraulics, that fluid is a liquid. For pneumatics, it is air.

It happens so frequently that I knew it was something I had to address when I was recently given the chance to present on career opportunities in the fluid power industry to a group of U.S. Army service men and women who would soon be returning to civilian life.

"How many of you know what fluid power is?"

It was the first sentence out of my mouth. And, as I expected, not a single hand in the room went up. I was ready for that. My presentation began with a basic definition of the term, a schematic of a simple fluid power system, and several examples of the technology at work in the real world. But before advancing the slide, a strange inspiration struck me.

"How many of you know what hydraulics is?"

Every hand in the room went up.

"How many of you have had hydraulic oil on your hands?"

Every hand in the room went up again.

And that's really when it struck me. After all those explanations at all those cocktail parties, it hadn't really sunk in until that moment in front of our nation's soldiers. Fluid Power, the very industry I represent and to which my career is dedicated to strengthening, is too much "inside baseball" for practically everyone on the planet.

The term works well in our industry, but for everyone coming at us from the outside, "hydraulics and pneumatics" is the way to go.

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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 24, 2018

Association 4.0 by Sherry Budziak and Kevin Ordonez

This book was handed to me at a recent WSAE event I attended -- handed to me not by the authors (who were also there) but by the WSAE staff executive, and with a specific request.

“Eric, you like to read. Will you please read this book and write a review of it.”

“Sure,” I replied. “But only if I can be brutally honest.”

The WSAE staff executive’s response? “I would expect nothing less.”

So here goes. Brutally honest. The book has a lot of good content but it is poorly organized and it embraces a flawed premise.

Innovation Does Not Necessarily Mean Technology

Let’s start with the flawed premise. Here’s an excerpt from the author’s introduction:

One of the advantages of being a consultant is the opportunity to see how many different organizations approach similar problems. With a finger on the industry’s pulse, we can recommend best practices, identify emerging trends and help our clients stay ahead of the curve. Over the last 25 years, technology has been front and center in our business. We have helped associations of every stripe organize and plan their technology functions and solve the sticky problems that come with the territory.

When we started out, IT was often an after-thought for clients, pushed to the back burner by more important priorities. In the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from bricks and mortar to carrying the world in our pockets. There is an app for everything from grocery shopping to picking stocks. Technology has invaded our lives with speed and rapacious zeal. We are connected to our possessions, our environment and each other in ways we could not have imagined fifteen years ago. IT departments, which once might have been a single misunderstood employee working in isolation, are now the nerve center of the organization.

We are standing at the precipice of an era that has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- a time when the line between the physical, digital and biological will disappear. Current assumptions about the meaning of work, culture, and even humanity will be as altered as the world seen through Alice’s looking glass.

I appreciate the literary reference, but allow me to cite another of Lewis Carroll’s famous works in an attempt to tone down the hyperbole.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

What, exactly, are the authors talking about? It’s a big, scary world out there, and you, you associations; you’re just not ready for it.

The question is not whether to take the leap, it’s how to survive the fall and the wildfire change that is certain to be a hallmark of this new era. Associations are whales, not dolphins. Turning on a dime is not in their DNA. Yet agility will be a requirement for the coming years, along with other shifts in attitude and behavior. For many association executives and boards, these new paradigms may feel as uncomfortable as the wrong shoe sizes until they are recognized as a mainstream approach.

Ah yes, the slow-moving and bureaucratic association. Later in the same introduction, the authors will read out the charges against these behemoths even more starkly.

The way associations deliver products and services may have changed, but their organizational structures have not. They continue to be locked into bureaucratic, paternalistic systems that stifle innovation and, in some cases, actually prevent it from occurring. Acceptance of the status quo is entrenched in the culture. The willingness to change is overshadowed by the difficulty and risk involved in building something new.

It’s time for a reality check. Sorry to sound like such an old guy, but I’ve been reading about how broken associations are for twenty-five years now -- and yet they still exist in sometimes surprising numbers and, based on the profiles shared in this very book, a good percentage of them are stronger than ever.

My friend Tom Morrison is one of the voices crying in the wilderness on this point. And it’s helpful that he is one of the association executives profiled in this book.

“Don’t listen to people who say the membership model is dead. There’s no other model that allows you to come together as a group of people or companies and facilitate or fight for a cause.” Morrison believes that the associations that struggle with recruiting members are challenged because they haven’t figured out how to sell the power of that group dynamic.

Maybe the association model is not only not broken, maybe its slow-moving and bureaucratic structure is one of the unique ingredients of its success. Ask the tortoise. Going slow (but together) when everyone else is racing around you is sometimes the better strategy.

But that’s not the flawed premise that I’m talking about. Be innovative! The authors seem to be saying, concluding their introduction with the following advice for association leaders:

We’ve also identified attitudes that permeate the culture of the most successful associations and help them manage the uncertainty in the outside environment. Effective leaders:

  • Value professional development. They facilitate learning through formal education as well as through experience. They encourage employees to gain insights from one another and to respect their colleagues’ expertise and professionalism.
  • Foster creativity. New ideas are expected and welcomed.
  • Promote a culture of innovation among the staff and the board.
  • Allow the freedom to act. Staff members are supported to make decisions and take risks.
  • Are unafraid to acknowledge failure and learn from it.
  • Invest in the technology they need to be successful and keep ahead of the electronic curve.
The link between the all the items on this list is implied, but I believe it is unsupported with regard to the last item. There’s a category error here. Technology may be an area where one can express innovation, but technology is not a prerequisite for innovation to take place. Valuing professional development, fostering creativity, promoting a innovative culture, allowing the freedom to act, and learning from failure -- do all of those, in whatever domain you choose, and you’re doing innovation. And sometimes, for those slow-moving and bureaucratic association, technology can actually get in the way.

And, given the advice offered by the other association executives in this book, many of them might agree with me.

So that’s the flawed premise. Innovation does not necessarily mean technology. Now, let’s talk about how the book is poorly organized.

Begging For An Index

The book is organized into 18 vignettes, each featuring one association executive and the things they’ve done at their associations to embody the book’s subtitle: “Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption.” The content of these vignettes is generally excellent, and the authors helpfully summarize each one with a tight summary of “What Association Executives Can Learn From” each association example.

These learning points, however, are all over the map. Organizing them by subject area, rather than by the association executive that implemented them, would be a thousand times more helpful, and would additionally help organize the content into several coherent themes.

Let me show you want I mean. Here, in bullet points largely provided by the authors themselves, are the 75 learning points from the 18 vignettes.

  1. Confront disruption creatively.
  2. Question everything.
  3. Seize the UBER mentality.
  4. Create opportunities for leadership.
  5. Be a big tent.
  6. Consider a more fluid organizational structure.
  7. See opportunity over challenge.
  8. Continue to read your customers.
  9. Know when to engage outside help.
  10. Cast a wider net.
  11. Experiment with new models.
  12. Remain a trusted source of information by attracting new intellectual capital.
  13. Maintain your integrity.
  14. Understand and build expertise in related fields.
  15. Collaborate upstream and downstream.
  16. Become a master consensus-builder.
  17. Consider technology to be just another acquired expertise.
  18. Governance is a journey that never ends.
  19. Leverage your chair as a champion of change.
  20. Expect bumps along the road.
  21. Build trust on transparency.
  22. Technology works only when part of a larger strategy.
  23. Leaders can emerge from all backgrounds.
  24. Broad staff leadership, buy-in, and involvement is essential for change to occur.
  25. A risk-taking culture is a must.
  26. Think like a start-up.
  27. CEOs: Run your board right.
  28. Boards: Empower your staff leaders.
  29. There is a world beyond members.
  30. Be fearless taking on the challenge of growth.
  31. A fully integrated organizational structure may not be the best path to growth.
  32. Embrace purpose, run the business.
  33. Give HR a seat at the strategic table.
  34. Recruit the best talent -- people are your organization’s differentiator.
  35. Consider a contingent workforce.
  36. Transform your volunteer labor into volunteer leaders.
  37. Become a conscious leader in diversity and inclusion.
  38. Because times are changing rapidly, it is imperative that associations be run by business-savvy leaders.
  39. Identify three to six things your members can’t do without you, and focus on just those things.
  40. Focus on Gen X, not Millennials.
  41. Make value proposition your number one priority.
  42. Resist the temptation to model the competition.
  43. Focus on only two to three large goals and use everyone’s support in executing them.
  44. Provide “just-in-time” volunteering.
  45. Manage disruption by planning for it.
  46. Show younger members the value of meeting with colleagues in person.
  47. Don’t underestimate customer service and personalization.
  48. Make advocacy a priority if your industry is heavily regulated.
  49. Focus on working smarter, not harder.
  50. Control and trust are the largest barriers to adopting a flexible work environment.
  51. Moving to an agile workplace model boosts productivity, attracts specialized talent, and reduces operating costs.
  52. Team engineering, whether in a traditional sense or with contractors, requires the right people with the right skill sets, strengths, and motivation.
  53. The path to growth is empathy.
  54. Build where you already have residency.
  55. Know your worth.
  56. Engage in philanthropy outside your work.
  57. Learn to collaborate.
  58. Understand your organization’s unique value.
  59. Focus volunteers on where they add value.
  60. Be a learning organization.
  61. Tie digital strategies to your business goals.
  62. Know your audience.
  63. Establish a culture of knowledge management.
  64. Harness big data to continually improve and provide better service.
  65. Break it down.
  66. Embrace a challenge.
  67. Get out of the office … a lot.
  68. Know your type.
  69. Enable dissenters.
  70. Recharge your members.
  71. Be your industry’s data warehouse.
  72. Monopolies kill innovation.
  73. Create a sense of urgency.
  74. Float new ideas early and see if they take hold.
  75. Use consultants to help drive change in both front- and back-office operations.

Lost yet? I was about halfway through, and stopped reading the vignettes as carefully. If you are, in fact, leading one of those slow-moving and bureaucratic associations, where on earth do you begin? Wait. I need to do all seventy-five of these things in order to position my organization for success in this era of disruption? Forget it.

It would be far better, in my mind, to organize this list (and the book) by common subject areas. Perhaps like this:

Determining Your Mission and Sticking To It

  • Confront disruption creatively. See Chapter 2.
  • Embrace purpose, run the business. See Chapter 8.
  • Identify three to six things your members can’t do without you, and focus on just those things. See Chapter 10.
  • Resist the temptation to model the competition. See Chapter 11.
  • Focus on only two to three large goals and use everyone’s support in executing them. See Chapter 11.

Living Your Values

  • Maintain your integrity. See Chapter 3.
  • Understand your organization’s unique value. See Chapter 15.

Getting Governance Right

  • Governance is a journey that never ends. See Chapter 5.
  • Leverage your chair as a champion of change. See Chapter 5.
  • Expect bumps along the road. See Chapter 5.
  • Build trust on transparency. See Chapter 5.
  • CEOs: Run your board right. See Chapter 7.
  • Boards: Empower your staff leaders. See Chapter 7.
  • Transform your volunteer labor into volunteer leaders. See Chapter 9.

Environmental Scanning and Scenario Planning

  • See opportunity over challenge. See Chapter 2.
  • Because times are changing rapidly, it is imperative that associations be run by business-savvy leaders. See Chapter 10.
  • Manage disruption by planning for it. See Chapter 12.

Understanding the Needs of Your Members

  • Continue to read your customers. See Chapter 3.
  • Focus on Gen X, not Millennials. See Chapter 10.
  • Make value proposition your number one priority. See Chapter 11.
  • The path to growth is empathy. See Chapter 14.
  • Know your audience. See Chapter 16.
  • Get out of the office … a lot. See Chapter 17.

Being Agile and Taking Risks

  • A risk-taking culture is a must. See Chapter 6.
  • Think like a start-up. See Chapter 7.
  • There is a world beyond members. See Chapter 8.
  • Be fearless taking on the challenge of growth. See Chapter 8.
  • Build where you already have residency. See Chapter 14.
  • Embrace a challenge. See Chapter 17.
  • Monopolies kill innovation. See Chapter 19.
  • Create a sense of urgency. See Chapter 19.
  • Float new ideas early and see if they take hold. See Chapter 19.

Innovation in Business Models and Practices

  • Question everything. See Chapter 2.
  • Seize the UBER mentality. See Chapter 2.
  • Consider a more fluid organizational structure. See Chapter 2.
  • Experiment with new models. See Chapter 3.
  • A fully integrated organizational structure may not be the best path to growth. See Chapter 8.
  • Provide “just-in-time” volunteering. See Chapter 11.
  • Focus volunteers on where they add value. See Chapter 15.
  • Break it down. See Chapter 17.
  • Enable dissenters. See Chapter 18.
  • Use consultants to help drive change in both front- and back-office operations. See Chapter 19.

Developing Your Team

  • Create opportunities for leadership. See Chapter 2.
  • Leaders can emerge from all backgrounds. See Chapter 6.
  • Give HR a seat at the strategic table. See Chapter 9.
  • Recruit the best talent -- people are your organization’s differentiator. See Chapter 9.
  • Consider a contingent workforce. See Chapter 9.
  • Focus on working smarter, not harder. See Chapter 13.
  • Control and trust are the largest barriers to adopting a flexible work environment. See Chapter 13.
  • Moving to an agile workplace model boosts productivity, attracts specialized talent, and reduces operating costs. See Chapter 13.
  • Team engineering, whether in a traditional sense or with contractors, requires the right people with the right skill sets, strengths, and motivation. See Chapter 13.
  • Be a learning organization. See Chapter 15.
  • Know your type. See Chapter 17.

Harnessing the Power of Diversity

  • Be a big tent. See Chapter 2.
  • Become a conscious leader in diversity and inclusion. See Chapter 9.

Using and Leveraging Technology

  • Consider technology to be just another acquired expertise. See Chapter 4.
  • Technology works only when part of a larger strategy. See Chapter 6.
  • Broad staff leadership, buy-in, and involvement is essential for change to occur. See Chapter 6.
  • Tie digital strategies to your business goals. See Chapter 16.
  • Harness big data to continually improve and provide better service. See Chapter 16.

Program Design and Management

  • Remain a trusted source of information by attracting new intellectual capital. See Chapter 3.
  • Show younger members the value of meeting with colleagues in person. See Chapter 12.
  • Don’t underestimate customer service and personalization. See Chapter 12.
  • Make advocacy a priority if your industry is heavily regulated. See Chapter 12.
  • Establish a culture of knowledge management. See Chapter 16.
  • Recharge your members. See Chapter 18.
  • Be your industry’s data warehouse. See Chapter 18.

Successful Outsourcing and Partnerships

  • Know when to engage outside help. See Chapter 3.
  • Cast a wider net. See Chapter 3.
  • Understand and build expertise in related fields. See Chapter 4.
  • Collaborate upstream and downstream. See Chapter 4.
  • Become a master consensus-builder. See Chapter 4.
  • Learn to collaborate. See Chapter 15.

Personal Growth and Development

  • Know your worth. See Chapter 14.
  • Engage in philanthropy outside your work. See Chapter 14.

There. I even put them in order for you. If you are the executive of one of those slow-moving an bureaucratic associations, and you want to better position yourself for success in this era of disruption, then start at the top of this list and work your way down. Have you clearly identified your mission and are you sticking to it? No? Then look at the cited excerpts in Chapters 2, 8, 10 and 11, and get to work on fixing it. Yes? Great! You can skip this one and move onto living your values.


And, finally, notice how much of this is specifically about technology, and how far down the priority order issues of technology come. By my count, only 5 of the 75 learning points in this book are specifically about using and leveraging technology, and, as a group, I would position that issue as 10th on a list of 13 priorities. The author’s flawed premise of “technology = innovation” really comes through when you look at the book’s content through this lens. Remember, all I did was organize and prioritize it. It is the association executives featured in the book’s vignettes that are actually telling you to focus on things that will have a broader impact on your association’s success that its use of technology.

In closing, here’s two choice quotes to drive that point home:

“Digital transformation isn’t really about technology at all. It’s about the need to anticipate and enhance the customer’s experience. That’s where associations fall short. We say that we are membership based, but are we really making it easier to do business with us? Are our products and services enriching people’s lives?”
Peggy Winton, President and CEO, Association for Intelligent Information Management

Everyone has technology, but not everyone has the right talent to serve its customers and achieve strategic goals. Even the best, most robust systems and the newest technology won’t have the intended impact unless you have the right personalities with the right drive and experience behind the controls. The process of identifying the talent and the attributes of an ideal staff may vary from organization to organization, but HRMAC and its members believe the “people” fit is more important that the technology fit.
From the vignette on M. Bernadette Patton, CAE, Former President and CEO, Human Resources Management Association of Chicago

As I said, all in all, a lot of great content. I just wish it was better organized, and didn’t try to push me towards technology solutions.

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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 19, 2018

Member Visits Are the Way

Two unconnected things got connected this week in a fun and interesting way.

First, at the beginning of the week I was in Texas for another one of the conferences I've been talking about. And as I often do when I travel, I built some extra time into my schedule so that I could go visit one of the members of my association that was in the same general vicinity.

It was great. It always is. This particular member has been in and out of our association over the years, is currently in, and is deeply involved in only one of our four main program areas.

The visit was a great opportunity for me to introduce them to the other three, but more importantly, it was an opportunity for me to learn more about them. Learn about their business, their people, their products, and their challenges. When I do these member visits, I'm certainly there to talk, but I am also very much there to listen. To listen and learn. And I learned a lot.

Second, at the end of the week I interviewed another candidate for an open position at my association. This candidate asked a lot of good questions, one of them being: "How does a new employee coming into your association best go about learning more about the members and their businesses?"

I kid you not. "By visiting them," I happily answered. "By sitting across the table from them and asking them about their business and the challenges they are facing. By touring their production facilities and trying to understand how the products they make are created and how they make their way into the marketplace. I have been leading this association for more than eleven years now, and to this day, every time I visit a member I learn something new about them and our industry that helps me do my job better."

Member visits are the way. I couldn't have scripted it any better if I had been given the chance.

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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 12, 2018

The Importance of Interviewing for Values

I interviewed a candidate for a position my association is looking to fill this week. I think I've written before about how interviews are one of those places where the values of an organization need to come into play, and my experience this week was a great illustration of why.

First a little background. My hiring process has evolved over the past several years -- in part to make sure an assessment of cultural fit became an important part of the process. When someone looks good on paper, and after confirming that their salary expectations are in line with what we plan to pay for the position, I'll first conduct a phone interview. The focus on this screening interview is almost entirely on career history and skills.

Where did you go to school? What did you study and why? Tell me a little about each position you've held. What did you do at each? What major things did you accomplish? Why did you move from place to place? What do you think your strengths are? What are you looking to do next?

Almost all of this is usually on a candidate's resume, but the point is to get the person talking about themselves, their skills, and their decisions. And all the time I'm listening. Does this person have the skills and experiences they need for success in this position?

If a candidate passes the phone interview, I'll ask them to come in for a face-to-face meeting. I've already decided that their skills are a fit, so in this second interview I turn my focus almost entirely to the culture and values of our organization, and whether or not the candidate is a fit there as well. And this is where I was with the candidate I interviewed this week.

After some ice breaking conversation, the questions in this second interview begin. Sometimes I go over the same ground as the phone interview, but now I'm listening for something entirely different. As the person begins to answer my questions, I try to turn the back and forth into a casual conversation. I'm less interested in the concrete answers to whatever questions I'm asking. I am much more interested in seeing if I can relate to the candidate, if I can envision interacting with them in a staff meeting, on an airplane traveling out to a conference, over a coaching lunch, or in a disciplinary discussion. How would this person, I mentally ask myself, conduct themselves as a member of my staff team, or in front of my board?

One way to turn the interview into a conversation is to invite the candidate to ask questions of their own. Most times, in fact, I find myself encouraging the candidate to ask as many questions as I am. I want dialogue, not just responses to questions. And it was one of the questions that the candidate asked me this week that practically stopped me in my tracks.

"Are there any aspects of my skills or experiences that you think are lacking?"

I quickly recognized it as one of those savvy questions that coaches tell candidates to ask of their interviewers. I'm supposed to answer it in one of two ways. I can either tell the candidate where their skills are lacking (which gives them crucial information about how to position the rest of the conversation) or I can admit that the candidate has no skills gaps relative to the position (which is supposed to implant the suggestion in my mind that I should really be hiring this person).

But, as with many things in life, there is a third path.

"No," I told the candidate flatly. "Your skills are a great match for the position. We wouldn't be having this second conversation if they weren't. But I'm no longer interviewing you for skills. I'm trying to figure out if your a good cultural fit for our organization."

In other words, you've passed the skills test, but there more to this process than just skills. And what was amazing to me was how much this admission threw the candidate off their game. I think the candidate thought they had the position locked up, and only suddenly realized that there was another series of tests that they needed to pass.

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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 10, 2018

Yankee from Olympus by Catherine Drinker Bowen

In Bowen’s introduction to this volume she says:

The story of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is the story of his country. The narrative cannot begin with the flat date of his birth -- 1841. This was a man whose presence carried tradition. Everyone who met him felt it, and it was not oppressive but inspiring. Over his shoulder one glimpsed somehow his ancestors. His roots reached deep into American earth; it was the strength of these roots that permitted so splendid a flowering.

And Bowen evidently means it, because this is not just a biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, but also a biography of his father and his grandfather. His father was a doctor and his grandfather was a reverend, and together the lives of these three men described in this book begin in 1800 and end in 1935.

Personal and Social History

As such, Bowen is writing a kind of social as well as a personal history. The story, not just of three men, but of the society in which they lived, and the transitions -- sometimes painful ones -- that it went through.

Holmes’s grandfather was named Abiel, and, like any true reverend, early on he is worried about the very soul of the American nation. Here is he, shortly after the death of his own father, encasing that national worry in concern for his son, also named Oliver.

Oliver missed his grandfather. Abiel Holmes, observing his son, whose customary chatter was stilled, wondered if he had been seeing too little of the boy. He began inviting Oliver to drive with him to Dorchester or Lexington to hear him preach; the two would jog off together in the two-wheeled chaise behind a quiet horse, and the boy loved it. They would leave on Saturday and come home on Monday. Abiel, on these trips, talked religion to his son. Oliver listened vaguely. By the time he was ten the Westminster Catechism had lost its bite not only for Oliver Holmes but for most of New England. Oliver was still afraid of the Devil, but the doctrine of transmitted sinfulness, justification, sanctification, meant no more to him than the mystic syllables by which his friends counted each other out in their games.

But to Abiel Holmes the old doctrines had become more important than ever. It seemed to him that New England was rushing toward Unitarianism like the Gadarene swine to destruction. Theologically, Unitarianism meant God as One, rather than God as Three in One. As long as the movement had been confined to theology, Abiel had paid little heed. Any good historian knew such quarrels were forgotten in a generation and the true doctrine prevailed. But Unitarianism had obviously gone far beyond doctrinal matters. The old morality was disappearing with the old religion. Abiel, who had cautioned his congregation against singing Watts’s hymns with levity, saw crowds go to church gayly, in their best bonnets, as if they were going to a show. Pipe organs and mummery took the place of solemnity and the Long Prayer; if men still loved God they most certainly did not fear Him. And fear of the Lord, Abiel told himself passionately, was the beginning of wisdom.

Were drifting away from personal and towards social history -- something Bowen does regularly with grace and skill.

The truth was that the Unitarian movement was a natural concomitant to events that were not churchly but sociological, not local but nation-wide. The Jeffersonian ideal of individualism, opportunity for all, refused to jibe with the notion that man was born wicked, doomed forever. Federal or Democratic-Republican -- no matter what one’s politics, the ideas of Jefferson and of Rousseau before him had penetrated too far to be revoked. The Rights of Man -- was this consistent with a doctrine of total depravity and everlasting damnation? If you could get ahead on earth, said Yankee common sense, you could get ahead in heaven. And to this notion the new applied science was a potent ally. A man who had seen his mother die of the smallpox and who now saw his son saved by vaccination could no longer believe that prayer was the only salvation against present danger. Lavoisier had said that matter was indestructible; even smoke was but another form of the wood it rose from. John Dalton advanced his atomic theory. Down in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson was experimenting with the rotation of crops, using calculus as well as common sense on his farm, and at the same time planning a university that was to embrace all creeds.

And now, back to the personal -- connecting and encompassing the social in the lives of her subjects.

With every step that science took, Abiel was in keen accord, setting it down in the Annals whether it was a mere tally of the number of spindles in Baltimore’s cotton factories or the founding, in 1818, of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. But to the new spirit that went along with science, the new agnosticism, Unitarianism -- whatever name man called it -- Abiel was deeply opposed. When a man invented a cotton loom, a water-driven spindle, let him dedicate it to the glory of God! Let him go down on his knees and thank the Father who had put this invention into the mind of His humble servant. Life was becoming easy, conditions of daily living much softer. And man, Abiel Holmes observed, no longer feared his Maker. His house warmed by stoves, man looked out at the raging blizzard and smiled, forgetting to propitiate his God.

Generational Divides

In part because Bowen is telling the story of three lives -- a man, his son, and his grandson -- and in part because of her helpful bent towards social history, generational differences grow into a major theme in her overall work. The defining generational event for the grandson was clearly the American Civil War -- in which he fought and was wounded several times. Bowen expertly uses those experiences to illuminate the generational divides that were already then beginning to shape changes in the American experiment.

In the excerpt below, the grandson, the future Supreme Court justice, is called Wendell to distinguish him from his father of the same name.

To Wendell it seemed incredible that people would ask for stories of the battlefield as for tales of a circus, or of a boat race on the river Charles. He had forgotten his own eager garrulousness after Ball’s Bluff -- a battle in which he had not seen ten minutes of fighting before being carried unconscious from the field. What he knew now of battlefield was better forgotten, but Wendell could not forget. Dead men sprawled among the corn, naked, stripped of trousers and boots, eyes staring, limbs flung out in awful abandon. For those boots and trousers the Rebels had fought like tigers. If the North fought for “victory,” for “Union,” “freedom,” the South fought for shoes to put on its bleeding feet, pants for its legs, and fought no less bravely. Here on the streets they called the Rebels cowards. They were not cowards.

Cowardice, gallantry, chivalry -- how wearily a soldier, returned from the field, met such words! At home they thought of battle as if it were fought on Boston Common. As if a man came down the steps of his house pulling on his gloves, smoking a cigar -- then got on his horse and charged a battery up Beacon Street while the ladies waved handkerchiefs from a balcony. What really happened was that you spent the night on the wet ground with your bowels open and fought on a breakfast of salt meat and dirty water.

There is much of the weary soldier in this, the clash between the swelling patriotism of the homefront and bitter vigilance and desperation of the front lines. But there is also something generational going on here.

Wendell had heard his father talk of Antietam battlefield; apparently he had gone out there while waiting for the evening train from Frederick. He had brought home souvenirs -- a Rebel canteen, a note that said, “tell John that nancy’s folks are all well and has a verry good Little Crop of corn a growing.” Half a dozen times, Wendell had heard his father tell the story; he strongly suspected it had been written down in some kind of memoir his father made of the trip.

The visitors who came to Charles Street to pay their respects to the wounded hero were charmed with this story. But when they turned to the hero himself they were offended by what he said. “War?” Captain Holmes repeated coldly, his gray eyes remote. “War is an organized bore.”

The visitors went down the steps shaking their heads. “Captain Holmes used to be so agreeable. How changed he is! Is it possible,” they asked one another doubtfully, “that he is going over to the radicals? How hard for his dear father and mother!”

How changed he is, indeed. And not just him, but an entire generation. And the worry over “the radicals” is also telling, conjuring, as it does, the great and unremitting battle of ideology that is the very essence of the American experiment. More on that in a minute. For now let’s dwell a little longer on the generational divide that the Civil War so clearly illuminates, with Captain Wendell Holmes as far from his father and the world he would make for his son as the non-intersecting orbits of two planets going around the same sun.

The most disagreeable episode of his stay at home had not been a national matter at all, but something highly personal. Proof sheets of the Atlantic had arrived; Wendell’s father with a pleased smile had turned them over to his son. Carrying the story upstairs to his room after the family was in bed, Wendell read them, his flesh crawling. He tried to skip, tried to stop reading, but continued in horrid fascination to the end … “for this our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found … Lay him in his own bed, and let him sleep off his aches and weariness …”

Oh my God! thought Captain Holmes, blushing to the roots of his hair. What if Company A should get hold of this?

“In the first car, on the fourth seat to the right, I saw my Captain; there I saw him, even my first-born, whom I had sought through many cities.

“‘How are you, Boy?’

“‘How are you, Dad?’”

Boy? … His father had never called him “Boy” in his life. What would the Twentieth Regiment think of that for a salutation? And the details of the battlefield. That gimlet eye had missed nothing. How could a man be so infernally curious about every stick and stone, every sound and sight? … “tell John that nancy’s folks has a verry good Little Crop of corn a growing.” Those notes his father made on the train must have been calculated straight to this article. As far as description went it was all true, too. Those army wagons, bearing down the road, changing their course for no man. …

It was extraordinary how fast the Atlantic Monthly traveled. From Sharpsburg, Virginia, with the Forty-first Massachusetts, John Gray wrote home to his mother: --

“I was much obliged for the Atlantic Monthly. The little doctor’s conceit and pertness appears more fully than in anything else of his I ever read (though I should make such a statement with hesitation) and I should think his “Hunt” would be considered too long by those who take no personal interest in the persons and things described, and he certainly talks more freely about the appearance and character of those he meets than he had any right to do; but I was very much interested in it and his description of the people and country is wonderfully correct and graphic, considering what a cursory view of them he must have had.”

Captain Holmes is referring here to a piece his father had written for the Atlantic Monthly, “My Hunt After the Captain,” in which the elder Holmes describes his frantic search through Civil War-torn landscapes for his wounded son. It was wildly popular, but it embarrassed the Captain, illustrating like little else the generational divides that existed even then.

But if the young disapproved the “Hunt,” the old loved it. New England read it aloud to the family, read it from the school desk and the lecture platform. It told people what they wanted to know about Antietam battlefield and told them in a tone they were familiar with -- a kindly tone, filled with sentiment. A father’s tone, with none of the nonchalance of youth, so baffling to middle age in the face of danger and horror. There was no need for Wendell Holmes to tell his father what he thought of this latest performance of the literary mind. Dr. Holmes knew what his son thought -- and ignored it cheerfully. If Wendell did not like the Atlantic he could read Hobbes’s Leviathan. The young were ridiculously sensitive; why should not a man desire to share his experiences with a waiting world?

It is very much like Roth’s American Pastoral -- with Dr. Holmes as Swede Levov and the Captain as Merry -- two people and two generations that love but do not understand each other.

The Great and Unremitting Battle of Ideology

Although three generations of the Holmes family come on and off the stage in Bowen’s work, the bulk of the spotlight is reserved for the grandson in this story -- the Civil War Captain who would one day be a United States Supreme Court Justice. And just as it seems that the Captain’s service in the War Between the States exemplified a period of great generational transformation for the still young nation, his service on the bench would come to exemplify another of the great class struggles in our history -- the never ending fight between collectivism and individualism.

When Holmes came to the Bench, the burning issues of the day were labor’s grievance against the employer, and the people’s grievance against the corporations: two manifestations of the individual’s battle for survival in a collectivist world. The battle was just beginning; it would rage all during Holmes’s lifetime and beyond. And in court the fight hinged always around two clauses of the Constitution: the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment that declared “no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” There was no way for the lawmakers of 1866 to foresee this, to foresee the emergence of a huge corporate ownership that would seek to construe “due process of law” to its own ends.

Things get pretty dense in this section, but I think Bowen does an excellent job keeping the currents of thought and perspective separate from one another, much the way she claims Justice Holmes was able to do. It takes some explaining, but it’s worth it.

After the Civil War, America found a new symbol. Once she had looked to the Declaration of Independence. But the Declaration was a trifle vague -- to a Massachusetts businessman, almost transcendental. By 1880, there was more than a suspicion that in spite of the hopes of the Fathers, political liberty would never result in economic equality. Men became less interested in being born free and equal, more interested in regulating commerce. If the Declaration had been a profession of faith, the Constitution was its working instrument, and America looked now to the Constitution.

The trouble was that the courts gave this working instrument no elasticity; they regarded it as immutable, written in stone on Sinai. Desperately, the people needed judges who possessed historical as well as judicial awareness, judges whose social prejudices were levelled by the long view of the scholar. Only such men, fearing neither socialism, capitalism, nor any other ism, could construe the Constitution according to the needs of the times.

Holmes was such a man. “A constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory,” he said, “whether of paternalism … or of laissez faire. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States. … Constitutional law, like other mortal contrivances, has to take some chances. … The Constitution is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”

It’s a refreshing perspective, this idea that the Constitution is neither a socialist nor a capitalist manifesto, that neither of those economic theories should find a natural home within its articles and sections. The Constitution, in other words, is a document that can be used to govern a nation comprised of those and many other economic theories.

It is a perspective that not everyone holds -- indeed, today, as well as in Justice Holmes’s time. And in the great battle between capital and labor, many a demagogue on both sides of the fight have tried to bend Holmes’s neutral Constitution to their own partisan ends.

One such demagogue, the trustbuster himself, Theodore Roosevelt, did not understand where Justice Holmes was coming from, even after appointing him to the Supreme Court. The case in point was Northern Securities Company v. the United States, in which Roosevelt’s government accused James J. Hill’s railroad company of growing too large and violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. After the case was heard and before a decision came down, the President thought he had it in the bag.

Theodore Roosevelt himself, counting over his nine Justices, was well satisfied. He would win by a seven-two decision, or at worst a six-three. A righteously aroused public opinion would surely react upon what T. R. might have called the conscience of the Court. Let the Justices look to their conscience and settle this case as it should be settled! The atmosphere was auspicious for victory. Concerning his new judicial appointee from Massachusetts, the President had no doubts. Holmes’s labor decisions in Boston, notably Vegelahn v. Guntner and the later case of Plant v. Woods, showed clearly where his sympathies lay.

The President could not have been more mistaken. To Holmes, the Supreme Court existed for the purpose of interpreting the statutes according to the Constitution of the United States -- not as a whipping post for malefactors of great or little wealth. If the Northern Securities Company was proved, under the Sherman Act, to be in restraint of trade, it should be dissolved. If not, it should stand. All this pressure of public opinion served merely to cloud the issue.

Holmes, it was true, had said again and again that judges must bear in mind the economic changes in society, the “felt necessities of the time.” But that was a very different matter from being stampeded by a public opinion which the exigencies of the moment dubbed “righteous.” If the public would come out frankly and say it desired to sock the rich, it would be, Holmes thought, far more admirable than this pretense of using the courts to call the rich illegal simply because they were rich. As for the conscience of the Court, a court that ruled according to its “conscience” would be no court at all. Law was neither morality nor politics nor expediency nor art. Theodore Roosevelt, obviously, chose whichever definition suited the moment.

Justice Holmes, in other words, thought it was his job to be a referee, not on the team of the President that appointed him.

This perspective often got him in trouble.

Theodore Roosevelt heard the decision of the Court and was jubilant. The suit, he said, was one of the greatest achievements of his administration. The Knight case had been overruled, the Northern Securities Company was dissolved, the power of the government against the monopolies was established. The government -- Roosevelt called it “we” -- had gained the power.

But it was a crime that the decision had not been more nearly unanimous. Justice Holmes’s dissent in particular was outrageous. What did the man mean, turning against him that way? Obviously, Holmes had simply lost his nerve. “I could carve out of a banana,” shouted T. R., “a judge with more backbone than that!”

It’s no surprise to this reader that Theodore Roosevelt saw Holmes’s decision as a “turn against him.” Indeed, from that titan’s point of view, what else could it have been?

But Holmes would have none of it.

Holmes himself cared nothing whatever about the Presidential reactions. He was, in fact, as angry as the President. Years later, he wrote to Pollock about it. “[The affair] broke up our incipient friendship, however, as [Roosevelt] looked on my dissent … as a political departure (or, I suspect, more truly, couldn’t forgive anyone who stood in his way). We talked freely later but it was never the same after that, and if he had not been restrained by his friends, I am told that he would have made a fool of himself and would have excluded me from the White House. … I never cared a damn whether I went there or not. He was very likable, a big figure, a rather ordinary intellect, with extraordinary gifts, a shrewd and I think pretty unscrupulous politician. He played all his cards -- if not more.”

It’s fascinating. A struggle between two men and two philosophies -- one focused on calling balls and strikes, the other on swinging for the fences. When Holmes “opposed” Roosevelt, the political animal could interpret no other way. So how confused must he have been when Holmes swung the other way in the next major case to come before the Court?

In Lochner v. New York, the Court ruled that a state placing legal limits on the amount of time a company could ask its employees to work was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the time, it was a landmark case in the battle between capital and labor. And Justice Holmes, like in the Northern Securities case, was in the dissent.

To Justice Holmes, combination on the one side was as lawful, within limits, as on the other. In the Northern Securities dissent he had upheld the side of capital -- although he would have disliked to hear it called a “side.” Now, a year later, he was to uphold the other -- the right of a state to regulate the hours of labor. Holmes’s dissent in the Lochner case was among his most significant utterances in Court. It heralded a long a noble list of such dissents, opinions which were to prove him, old though he was, far younger in spirit than his brethren, at once prophetic in vision and tough-minded in the law.

It is all evidence that Holmes did the best he could to rule in the absence of political or economic philosophy -- and in an age when the foundations of collectivism and labor were being laid. Many viewed collectivism as the fundamental right of the underclass, while others viewed individualism (and its close cousin the ownership of property) as just a fundamental right guaranteed by the republic. Each side had its political champions who sought to bend the Court to its perspective, believing that stakes high enough to warrant the meddling. Holmes disagreed.

Whether these theories, these economic experiments, resulted in disaster was not, Holmes thought, a judge’s business. Just now, in 1905, the experiments tended all towards combination, collectivism. And whether the combination was of capital, as in the Northern Securities case, or of labor wishing to protect itself by state laws, as in the Lochner case -- at all events let the experiments be made. Those men who, fearing experiment, desire to preserve the status quo, let those men -- be they judges, capitalists, or laboring men -- not hide behind the Sherman Act or the vague phrases of the due process clause.

To the partisan, Holmes was trying to have it both ways. He “lacked a backbone.” But Holmes was trying to avoid partisanship and focus solely on what he believed was required in his role as judge. The question was never what do we wish the law said? It was always what does the law actually say?

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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