Monday, February 19, 2018

Run Your Next Welcome Reception Like an Apple Store

This week I reviewed the free e-book, Fueling Exceptional New Member Experiences, from Amanda Kaiser at Kaiser Insights and the Smooth the Path blog. My favorite part was the section that talked about the importance of making a positive first impression with new members.

These first impressions can be very positive and assure the new member that they did not make a mistake in joining. ... It is no accident that staff at the Apple Store greets you as soon as you walk in the door. They inquire about what you need; they alert the person you need to see, they tell you how long it will take to get served and where to meet your contact. They actively orchestrate each and every first impression. The message is: you are being taken care of, you are in good hands, and you matter to us.

It got me thinking. Apple isn't the only retailer that treats its customers this way. Indeed, when I went to the internet to find an appropriate photo to accompany this post -- and was so turned off by all photos of mindlessly happy people mobbed inside of Apple stores -- I decided to use the more iconic shot of the Wal-Mart greeter with his mission of engagement clearly spelled out on the back of his blue vest.

What if, as I suggest in my post title, an association ran the welcome reception at its Annual Conference like that? Station a group of staff people near the entrance -- blue vests optional -- with the express purpose of greeting every member that enters the room. But not just greeting them. Engaging them. Asking them what it is they need and then doing the best they can to deliver it.

I firmly believe that one of the best services a staff person could perform in such a situation is to make an introduction that would otherwise be difficult for the member -- especially for a new member in the association.

We talk about the value of networking in our associations -- indeed, we pitch it as one of our most valuable member benefits -- but our approach to facilitating it is frequently haphazard at best. We book a room, put bars in the far corners, and vegetable and cheese platters in the middle, and then we step out of the way. The member, especially the member who is new, who doesn't know people, has to initiate conversation and navigate the cliques all by herself.

I, on the other hand, know practically everyone in the room. I would be happy to introduce a new member to the most senior individual present -- perhaps the president of a company she has always wanted to do business or otherwise get to know. The member may not realize it, but all she has to do to get that introduction is ask.

But here's the point. The greeters at Wal-Mart or the Apple Store don't wait for you to tell them what they need. They step right up and ask you.

How may I help you?

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://time.com/money/4319310/walmart-greeters-new-jobs/





Saturday, February 17, 2018

Duma Key by Stephen King

I like Stephen King. I don’t know if I’ve told this story on this blog before, but when I was a college student, taking a class on 20th century fiction in pursuit of my English degree, the professor on the very first day of class passed around a set of index cards and asked everyone to write down their name, their major, their phone number, and the name of their favorite 20th century author. He then collected them and began reading off the list of authors, providing twenty or so seconds of commentary -- good or bad -- to the students who had identified the authors.

As I heard the selections of the other students -- Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemingway, Salinger, Dreiser -- my level of angst and discomfort grew and grew, knowing how embarrassed I would be when the professor got to my card.

“Stephen King,” he eventually said, and then looked up at the class. “Who said Stephen King?”

Meekly, I raised my hand, drawing looks of scorn and contempt from much of the class.

The professor made no immediate reply. His eyes seemed to be searching for the words forming in his mind, and slowly, his head began to nod.

“King’s a good writer,” he said with authority, and then slowly moved onto the next card.

King is a good writer. But Duma Key is not one of his better works. It suffers from the same failing as many of King’s novels -- the distinct impression that every character in it is secretly Stephen King in a not-so-subtle disguise, with the same patterns of speech and the same reservoir of slightly-alt pop culture and literary references to draw on.

Duma Key’s first person narrator is Edgar Freemantle, the wealthy but more blue than white collar owner of a successful construction company who is seriously injured in an accident -- losing his right arm -- gets divorced in the painful fallout of his recovery, and decides to try and start something new -- the life of a painter -- renting a lonely house on the fictional island of Duma Key off Florida’s Gulf coast.

It’s a Stephen King novel, so spooky stuff starts happening. It’s good spooky stuff in the sense that it is at first unexplained, but when it finally comes time to explain it, it turns bad because the explanation doesn’t really hang together all that well. Yes, she’s evil and powerful, but why is she evil and powerful again? Because spooky?

But the bigger distraction is trying to make sense of Edgar Freemantle, the construction contractor from Minnesota who knows who George Babbitt is -- indeed, who at one point laments a culture that can't tell the difference between George Babbitt and John Bobbitt -- but doesn’t know who Vladimir Nabokov is.

It may be a nitpicking point, but, of course, it is Stephen King, not Edgar Freemantle, who knows who both George Babbitt and Vladimir Nabokov are. It's just that in one scene King remembered that Freemantle is supposed to be his own character and in another scene he didn’t.

At least, Freemantle is not a writer from Maine. Other than that, there's not much that separates him from King's other go-to protagonists.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Step Two: Creating Scenarios Based on Megatrends

Two weeks ago, in Step One: Identifying the Megatrends, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our upcoming Board meeting. I ended the previous post with our decision to construct a short, one-question survey for the Board members to respond to prior to our Board meeting. We asked them to tell us the Megatrends that they see having the greatest possible impact on our industry in the next five years.

A Megatrend, as a quick reminder, is an external force acting on the industry our association represents. It is something everyone agrees will create change in our environment, but for which few can accurately predict the full impact of that change. It could reasonably force our industry in multiple possible directions. Our plan was to collect all the suggestions that come in, examine them for common themes, and prepare what appears to be the most relevant subjects for deeper analysis and discussion at the Board meeting.

Here, verbatim, are the results of our Megatrend survey:
  • Aging workforce, lack of qualified replacement. Industry 4.0/Connected Industry, how does that impact fluid power technologies?
  • Miniaturization of components.
  • Lack of interest in fluid power from graduates; stronger electric drives and cylinders and battery advancements.
  • (1) Globalization of demand, consumption and production; (2) Impact of adjacent competing technologies upon fluid power products/producers.
  • Electric.
  • Adaptive manufacturing.
  • Continued electrification of power source and power train.
  • Demographics, North American energy independence, sovereign debt, hardware digitization.
  • Augmented reality & artificial intelligence.
  • Politics.
  • (1) IoT integration into all products; (2) Electric prime movers; (3) Continued pressure on energy management.
  • Digitalization, replacement with electronics.
  • Electrification.
  • Digitalization.
  • Full automation of industries; Adoption of artificial intelligence; Electric powered transportation.
  • Electrification of off-highway machinery, battery technology, micro-farming, strength of the dollar and Brazilian farming coupled with the end of ethanol subsidies causing major contraction on the American agricultural industry.
  • (1) Globalization of demand and consumption; (2) Merging of technologies.
  • (1) Industry 4.0 (smart/connected systems); (2) Security/Safety; (3) Aging manufacturing workforce; (4) Globalization of supply chains (and ecommerce).
  • IoT and electronics.
  • Interconnectivity of equipment and machinery, push toward electrification of mobile for "green" sake.
All in all, a good response rate (20 responses out of 24 people polled) and a lot of common ideas. In terms of what we plan to do with these responses at the Board table, it's important to look at our next step in the Scenario Planning process: Creating Scenarios Based on Megatrends.

Allow me to ground this description in the results of our Board's last Scenario Planning exercise, conducted in 2013 and looking ahead to 2018. Then, the two Megatrends chosen were the hybridizaton of technologies in our industry and the globalization of our supply chains and market strategies. For each of these Megatrends, two alternate futures were chosen that described the possible impact of the Megatrend on our industry. Remember, by definition, a Megatrend is an external force working on an industry, which could reasonably force it in multiple directions.

For what we called "Technology" we envisioned two possible futures: One in which fluid power was successfully hybridized with its competing and complementing technologies, and a second in which fluid power proved resistant to hybridization and became a stand alone technology solution for an increasingly niche set of applications. And for what we called "Geography" we also envisioned two possible futures: One in which fluid power companies were more focused on international markets, and a second in which they were more focused on U.S. markets.

With me so far? Because now comes the sometimes confusing part. The future that our industry actually finds itself in will not be any one of the four futures I just described. It will instead be an unpredictable combination of those four futures. Our technology will be either more or less hybridized AND our industry will be either more or less global. In other words, the two futures associated with each Megatrend can be combined in four different ways: (A) Less hybridized and less global; (B) More hybridized and less global; (C) Less hybridized and more global; or (D) More hybridized and more global.

Look at the diagram accompanying this post and you may get a better sense of what I'm talking about. In a way, it's a simple quadrant analysis, where two variables result in four different outcomes. These four Scenarios are the possible futures that our industry may possibly face -- the ones that bound the Cone of Uncertainty that I talked about in my previous post.

So this will be one of our essential tasks at our Board meeting in two weeks: To look at the responses from our Megatrend survey and select two Megatrends, two futures, and four Scenarios that the rest of our Scenario Planning exercise will be built around.

To help jump start that conversation, we've already provided a couple of examples in the agenda materials sent in advance of the meeting to our Board members. Looking for common themes in the responses to our Megatrend survey, we offered the following four examples of Megatrends and their possible future impacts of our industry:


The Megatrends and futures chosen by our Board may come from this list and they may not. We'll have to get through the discussion in order to determine that. But one thing is certain. Given the Scenario Planning methodology that we've chosen, and the way that Megatrend futures combine to form Scenarios, choosing just two Megatrends to focus on will be important -- unless we want to open up our Cone of Uncertainty to a dizzying number of variables. Going with all four of the example Megatrends, after all, does not result in just eight possible futures, but sixteen.

But determining the Scenarios is just one thing we want our Board to do at our meeting in two weeks. The second is to describe them in as much detail as possible. That's Step Three in the Scenario Planning process, and that will be the subject of a future post.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Oranges Are More Important Than Apples

Lately, I've been spending more time than usual on my association's financial operations. After many years of outdated practice, I've decided to bite the bullet and redo my association's account codes and reporting system so that they are better aligned with the current strategy and programmatic focus of the organization.

Now, don't get me wrong. We've been building and maintaining the ability to track and report numbers in strategic categories that make sense at the Board table and in the operation of the business, but we've done it only through the creation of an elaborate and increasingly interdependent series of spreadsheets and translation matrices. Sure, we keep coding our expenses to our old and no longer relevant codes, but when we download the financial data and enter the relevant numbers into an enormous spreadsheet, the programmed formulas sort the right numbers into the right categories, giving us the picture we're looking for.

Our motivation for building and maintaining this system has been legitimate: the desire to be able to compare apples to apples. Years of financial information is in the old format, and when the first change occurs, no one in their right mind would suggest scrapping the system that supports and maintains that information. Better in that case to create just one workaround. Yes, I know that we don't do this conference anymore, but this new conference we're doing is kind of similar, so let's just use the old conference's account codes to track the new conference's expenses. We'll just make a note in the financial statement that up to Year A the expenses on that line item reflect the old program, and starting with Year B the expenses there reflect the new program.

You've just placed the first orange in your apple crate. And if you'll permit me, let me finish this blog post in that particular idiom. You've painted your orange green and you've glued an apple stem on top of it, but it is still an orange. And, as the years pass and the association continues to evolve, you'll find yourself adding more and more of these apple-painted oranges to your crate. Each time, it will seem like a logical decision. After all, our association has always used this apple crate. And just because we've started growing some oranges, the foundation of the organization is still based on apples. If we want to compare what we're doing this year to last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, we'd better keep squeezing these oranges so that they fit in our apple crate.

Expect one day someone -- a Board member, a staff member, the association executive -- will step back and wonder which is more work for the organization -- all this painting and squeezing of oranges so that they fit in an old apple crate, or simply building a new crate designed for oranges. For years, perhaps decades, the answer to that question has always fallen in favor of the painting and squeezing, but eventually -- and perhaps inevitably -- there will come a time when the shorter path to victory is building a new crate.

And the thing, I contend, that tips that balance is not the number of oranges in the apple crate, but rather the realization that oranges, in any quantity, are more important to the organization. Comparing one year's finances to previous ones has undeniable utility, but as soon as allegiance to that functionality gets in the way of driving new initiatives effectively forward, it should be mercilessly sacrificed.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://www.evilenglish.net/apples-and-oranges/





Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Devil’s Chaplain by Richard Dawkins

I have this system that decides which book I’m going to read next. I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to acquiring books I want to read (as of this writing, there are a total of 241 books on my “to read” shelf) that if I don’t have a system to decide which books gets read next, I know that there are some that I will simply never get to.

I won’t go into all the details about how that system works, but one of its fundamental mechanisms is a series of head-to-head comparisons. Of the following two books, which would I rather read right now? After my disappointing experience with The Selfish Gene, the few other books I had already acquired by Richard Dawkins started losing these head-to-head comparisons. It seemed like I’d rather read almost any other book in my possession than another title by Dawkins.

Through a new wrinkle I introduced into the system, whereby I save a handful of books from the oblivion of the bottom of the list, A Devil’s Chaplain recently got the nod. I didn’t know what to expect.

What I got was a collection of essays that did not live up to the hype on the front and back covers of my paperback copy. “Intensely thought-provoking,” and “Each essay will grip you at once” seem like the two biggest whoppers.

There are a few thought-provoking ideas. One comes in Gaps in the Mind, an essay Dawkins describes as his contribution to Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project -- a movement focused on “granting the other great apes, as near as is practically possible, civil rights equivalent to those enjoyed by the human great ape.” Dawkins doesn’t really come down on either side of that issue, choosing to focus instead how arbitrary the separation of different species (great apes or otherwise) are, both in evolutionary science and in their taxonomic designations.

Anyway, the thought-provoking idea comes when he provides the following thought experiment to help contextualize the blurred lines that exist between species.

Happenings are sometimes organized at which thousands of people hold hands and form a human chain, say from coast to coast of the United States, in aid of some cause or charity. Let us imagine setting one up along the equator, across the width of our home continent of Africa. It is a special kind of chain, involving parents and children, and we’ll have to play tricks with time in order to imagine it. You stand on the shore of the Indian Ocean in southern Somalia, facing north, and in your left hand you hold the right hand of your mother. In turn she holds the hand of her mother, your grandmother. Your grandmother holds her mother’s hand, and so on. The chain wends its way up the beach, into the arid scrubland and westwards on towards the Kenya border.

How far do we have to go until we reach our common ancestor with the chimpanzees? It’s a surprisingly short way. Allowing one yard per person, we arrive at the ancestor we share with chimpanzees in under 300 miles. We’ve hardly started to cross the continent; we’re still not half way to the great Rift Valley. The ancestor is standing well to the east of Mount Kenya, and holding in her hand an entire chain of her lineal descendents, culminating in you standing on the Somali beach.

Speculating on why he chose Africa instead of the United States for this thought experiment provides for a nitpicky digression. Seems to me that most of his readers are not that familiar with the geography of Somalia and Kenya. For me personally, the best possible context would be to place me not in Somalia on the shores of the Indian Ocean, but in Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan, and for the line of my ancestors to follow not due west, but along the route of I-94 heading towards Minneapolis -- a drive I have made many times. That way, when he says that the common ancestor I share with chimpanzees stands less than 300 miles away, he can say that that is about 40 miles short of Minneapolis -- perhaps close to Hudson, Wisconsin, on the St. Croix River, where my cousin lives with her family.

I didn’t really expect him to choose Milwaukee as his starting point for the experiment, but it may have made better sense for him to choose New York City (where 300 miles would put you three-fifths of the way across Pennsylvania on I-80), or Washington, DC (on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina, down I-95), or even London (start at Trafalgar Square and catch the M-6 until you’re just short of Carlisle). Any one of these may have made it easier for the majority of his readers to contextualize the point he’s making, but Dawkins seems to have a thing against books written for Americans.

Here’s an excerpt from Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progress, his review of Full House by fellow evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould.

Gould’s modest and uncontroversial statistical point is simply this. An apparent trend in some measurement may signify nothing more than a change in variance, often coupled with a ceiling or floor effect. Modern baseball players no longer hit a 0.400 (whatever that might be -- evidently it is something pretty good).

Wait. Is he trying to be funny there?

But this doesn’t mean they are getting worse. Actually everything about the game is getting better and the variance is getting less. The extremes are being squeezed and 0.400 hitting, being an extreme, is a casualty. The apparent decline in batting success is a statistical artefact, and similar artefacts dog generalizations if less frivolous fields.

That didn’t take long to explain, but baseball occupies 55 jargon-ridden pages of this otherwise lucid book and I must enter a mild protest on behalf of those readers who live in that obscure and little known region called the rest of the world.

No. He’s not trying to be funny.

I invite Americans to imagine that I spun out a whole chapter in the following vein:

“The home keeper was on a pair, vulnerable to anything from a yorker to a chinaman, when he fell to a googly given plenty of air. Silly mid on appealed for leg before, Dicky Bird’s finger shot up and the tail collapsed. Not surprisingly, the skipper took the light. Next morning the night watchman, defiantly out of his popping crease, snicked a cover drive off a no ball straight through the gullies and on a fast outfield third man failed to stop the boundary … etc. etc.”

Readers in England, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and anglophone Africa would understand every word, but Americans, after enduring a page or two, would rightly protest.

Okay. Two things. First, I refuse to believe that a man of Dawkins’s intelligence is not able to understand baseball batting averages. And, more importantly, align his understanding with the metaphor chosen by the author whose book he is reviewing. After all, I’m not nearly as intelligent as Dawkins and I didn’t get my nose bent out of shape when he used Africa instead of Wisconsin for his chains of human and chimpanzee ancestors. So what is this carping really about? He’s English, he’s famous, and he doesn’t like baseball? Again, one has to ask if Dawkins isn’t seriously trying to be funny, because if he is being serious, his attitude is about as funny as they come.

And second, everyone knows the retired English international cricket umpire spelled his name Harold Dennis "Dickie" Bird.

But let’s get back to Africa. Because we still haven’t gotten to the thought-provoking idea.

The daughter that she is holding in her right hand is the one from whom we are descended. Now the arch-ancestress turns eastward to face the coast, and with her left hand grasps her other daughter, the one from whom the chimpanzees are descended (or son, of course, but let’s stick to females for convenience). The two sisters are facing one another, and each holding their mother by the hand. Now the second daughter, the chimpanzee ancestress, holds her daughter’s hand, and a new chain is formed, proceeding back towards the coast. First cousin faces first cousin, second cousin faces second cousin, and so on. By the time the folded-back chain has reached the coast again, it consists of modern chimpanzees. You are face to face with your chimpanzee cousin, and you are joined to her by an unbroken chain of mothers holding hands with daughters. If you walked up the line like an inspecting general -- past Homo erectus, Homo habilis, perhaps Australopithecus afarensis -- and down again the other side (the intermediates on the chimpanzee side are unnamed because, as it happens, no fossils have been found)...

Wait. Stop right there. That’s it. No fossils have been found on the chimpanzee side of Dawkins’s imaginary line? I don’t know when Dawkins wrote his essay, but Google tells me it must have been before 2005 when this article appeared announcing the discovery of the first (and still only?) fossil of a chimp ancestor. Think of all the intermediates on the human side of Dawkins’s line, only some of whom he mentions above. Some may be offshoots and dead ends (Homo neanderthalensis, anyone?) but they are all part of the story that starts with the common human/chimpanzee ancestor and ends with modern humans. And there is nothing on the chimpanzee side of that chain? Nothing, based on the above article, except three fossilized teeth from 500,000 years ago? I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but that seems almost impossible to believe.

Is it a symptom, I wonder, of the special treatment modern humans are afforded in nearly all of our discussions of evolution? One of the things I like about Dawkins’s thought experiment is the way it illustrates that modern humans and modern chimpanzees are evolutionarily equal, that you can’t claim that humans are more evolved than chimpanzees if there are an equal number of generations that take each of us back to our common ancestor. And yet, Dawkins himself sometimes succumbs to this implicit bias. His Gaps in the Mind essay seems singularly written to dispel the notion, self-evident to many, that humans are entitled to some kind of special treatment. Yet in other essays, including here the titular A Devil’s Chaplain, he seems to defend that very instinct.

For our species, with its unique gift of foresight -- product of the simulated virtual reality we call the human imagination -- can plan the very opposite of waste with, if we get it right, a minimum of clumsy blunders. And there is true solace in the blessed gift of understanding, even if what we understand is the unwelcome message of the Devil’s Chaplain. It is as though the Chaplain matured and offered a second half to the sermon. Yes, says the matured Chaplain, the historic process that caused you to exist is wasteful, cruel and low. But exult in your existence, because that very process has blundered unwittingly on its own negation. Only a small, local negation, to be sure: only one species, and only a minority of the members of that species; but there lies hope.

This whole Devil’s Chaplain business is misguided, if you ask me. It comes, evidently, from a letter Charles Darwin wrote in 1856:

What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.

It’s a rhetorical device, I know, idiosyncratic to the age and culture in which Darwin lived, but Dawkins should know better than to embrace it the way he does in this more modern age. Nature is not the work of God or the Devil. Nature is its own thing, and we will fail to truly understand its mechanisms -- evolution perhaps most of all -- if we don’t abandon our obsession with framing it in the context of our human morality and its bugbears.

But the larger point that Dawkins seems to be making above is that humans are special in the evolutionary arms race. Special in a way that he specifically says they’re not other essays in the same book. In Gaps in the Mind he says humans are so un-special that we can’t even draw a line between them and other species, while in A Devil’s Chaplain he says humans are so special that they are the only species in existence that can use something it has come to call imagination.

I’ve trained myself to reflexively question every assertion I come across which makes the claim that humans possess a characteristic that is unique in the animal kingdom. Imagination, consciousness, a soul -- you name it, authors of both scientific and religious mindsets do this, claiming, usually without evidence, that humans are not just special, but unique. They are almost always wrong, as a few minutes on Google will usually reveal.

So why do they do it? Dawkins at least has that part right. Because there lies hope.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.