Monday, April 30, 2018

Design Constraints Make Innovation Happen

I participated in a SURGE Spring 2018 session on co-creation. Don't know what SURGE Spring 2018 is? It's an online, virtual conference put on by Association Success. Sessions have been recorded and are being posted this week (May 2-4, 2018). Mine will be posted on May 4. Go here for more info.

Don't know what co-creation is? You're not alone. In planning for our session my fellow panelists and I decided that we needed to start with a definition of the term -- and then discovered that we all had a slightly different one.

Here's mine. Co-creation is when an association and its members work together to create something that has value to both the association and its members.

The session was a fairly free-wheeling discussion of that topic. I think it was a good one, but I won't try to recap it here. What I'm doing instead over a series of posts is highlighting some the the new thoughts that occurred to me as I listened to the comments of my fellow panelists.

I already talked about one: The Process is the Product.

Here's another. Design constraints make innovation happen.

"Design constraints" was actually a new term for me. But once I heard it, I realized I had been describing them using different words when I've talked about the need for staff to keep the keys to the resource closet in their possession in any co-creation activity.

One perceived danger of associations co-creating with their members is the idea that members, if given the chance, will gobble up all of the association's resources for their pet projects. By resources I mean money, yes, but I also mean staff time. How, someone may ask, are we supposed to support a hundred different projects for a hundred different members?

I think the people asking those kind of questions are missing the point. Hopefully, when you apply the principle of design constraints the point of this exercise will make itself more clear. Just because most associations are not in a position to allow co-creation to take place at whatever level their members would define, that doesn't mean that those same associations can't allow co-creation to take place at levels that they themselves define.

In other words, an association might invite its members to come in and co-create a program or a service with it but, in doing so, that association can legitimately place limits on the amount of resources that will be applied to the project.

Our members, the association might say, tell us they need a program that serves a particular need, and we want a group of members who feel that need to work collaboratively with us to build that program. But in doing so, know that the association has only so much to spend on the program, and only so many staff hours will be dedicated to its development and delivery.

Those limits on available resources are the design constraints (or the keys to the resource closet). And here's the best part. They are what makes actual innovation happen.

Anyone can design and deliver a program with unlimited resources. Doing it with constraints on those resources forces fresh ideas and creativity into the process. Not only is the association co-creating needed programs with its members, it is doing it in a way that fosters new ways of thinking and new ways of getting the work done.

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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, April 28, 2018

Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom by Robert V. Remini

This is Volume 2 of a three volume biography of Andrew Jackson. I blogged about the first volume back in August 2012 -- more than five years ago. That shows you how long books sometimes linger on my “to-read” shelf, as all three volumes were sent to me as part of my now lapsed subscription to the History Book Club.

Going back and reading my post on Volume 1, it seems like my investigative interest in that volume was trying to determine if the author was biased in favor of his biographical subject. This will happen to me frequently when reading. Some question will present itself to me (i.e., is this author a trustworthy source of information?), and that question will preoccupy my mind as I journey through the rest of the book. Many dogears and marginal comments will follow, some in support, some against the question, until I’m ready to either decide the case, or give up the quest as fruitless.

A similar thing happened to me with Volume 2, but the question had nothing to do with Remini’s trustworthiness. (To be fair, I eventually absolved Remini of that accusation as I journeyed through Volume 1.) Here, the investigative interest was something much more likely to be supported by the author.

In fact, I’ll let Remini introduce the subject:

Andrew Jackson was the product of the Revolutionary generation and he absorbed many of its prevailing ideas and beliefs. From colonial days through the Revolution and well into the nineteenth century, Americans believed that those who exercised power were naturally inclined to suppress liberty and that they regularly devised means to limit if not abrogate the rights of the people. They viewed corruption as power’s greatest weapon and virtue as freedom’s greatest defense. The struggle between liberty and power during the colonial era produced the Revolution and ultimately achieved independence from the British empire for the American people. But the dangers to freedom persisted. They persisted as long as power could be concentrated and the operation of government corrupted. The only defense rested upon the virtue of the American people.

The history of the United States following the adoption of the Constitution was a continuation of this struggle, and the rise of political parties and expression of it. The Federalist and Republican parties quarreled over the limits of power to be exercised by the central administration. They disagreed about the objects of government. They entertained different views about the governed. Whereas Federalists distrusted the people, Republicans maintained that the people would protect and defend their government when its actions were just. Federalists required patronage and large expenditures of money by the central authority to perpetuate their power and position. Republicans claimed that patronage corrupted honest government and that expenditures should be appropriated to carry out the practical and natural services of government; they could not abide artificially contrived projects whose principal aim was to attract votes. Federalists needed a large standing army and navy; Republicans declared that free men had no need for peacetime armies.

These two paragraphs come early in the volume and they, with the next and following two that I’ll transcribe, constitute an excellent historical primer for those (including myself) who are less than familiar with this period of American history. But it is their general theme that I am trying to highlight here. The idea that much of that American history can be, perhaps best, understood as a struggle between man’s twin desires for liberty and power.

After the War of 1812 the Federalist party, which flirted with secession at the Hartford Convention, became moribund and slowly disappeared from the national scene. But its principles did not disappear. They resurfaced in the political thinking of many Republicans who believed that the War of 1812 demonstrated the need for a strong central government capable of advancing the material and intellectual well-being of the American public. As a consequence, demands flooded into Congress following the war urging the passage of a protective tariff, a national bank, and internal improvements such as roads and canals and bridges and many other forms of transportation. The country took off on a nationalistic spending splurge that slowed only with the economic breakdown of 1819.

The events that transpired during the administration of James Monroe -- especially after the Panic of 1819 -- revealed anew that the old tensions between liberty and power had not evaporated. The exercise of increased authority by the central government, the large expenditures of money on internal improvements, the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, the rising demand for greater tariff protection, the revelations of corruption within the government, the abuse of the federal patronage, the demand for a congressional caucus -- all these sounded alarm bells in the minds of those familiar with the ideology of “republicanism,” the ideology of the Revolutionary generation.

And it is how those twin desires -- one, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, the first, for liberty, and the second for power -- how those twin desires manifest themselves in the rise and fall of political parties; this is the question that would come to form my investigative interest in Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom. Put concisely: (1) Can the history of political parties in the United States be accurately seen as an ongoing struggle between these desires? (2) If so, has that struggle resulted in a kind of ratchet effect towards ever-increasing federal power? and (3) If so, is such a trend inevitable?

Liberty and Power

Let me try to explain by way of example. In the beginning there were two political parties -- the Federalists (who wanted the federal government to have more power over the states) and the Republicans (who wanted the states to have more power over the federal government). These positions don’t map directly onto the monikers of “power” and “liberty,” but for the sake of the example, let’s assume that they do. Eventually, the Republicans (called Democratic-Republicans by historians to distinguish them from our modern-day Republicans) win this ideological battle, and the Federalists disappear from the scene. In the absence of their political foil, the Republicans become the entrenched party, and their policies take on significant elements of the “power” they used to fight against. As a result, a new party, the Democratic, is formed, dedicated to fighting the abusive power of the Republicans, and returning the nation to a position of “liberty.” It works. Significantly for the purposes of this write up, under Andrew Jackson the Democrats become the dominant party, and they, like the Republicans before them, begin to embrace power over liberty. As a result, another new party is started -- first called the National Republicans and then the Whigs -- dedicated, guess what, to fighting the abusive power of the Democrats, and returning the nation to a position of liberty.

It worked less well for the Whigs than it did for the Democrats, but the pattern is the same. A party first fights for liberty against the entrenched power, then becomes the power and works to entrench itself, then is challenged by another new party pledged to liberty.

That much seems clear to me. Indeed, I’m clearly not the first person to recognize this dynamic. Many a political scientist and animal throughout history has seen this on-going leapfrogging of two parties as not just natural, but as essential to the smooth functioning of the republic.

But Van Buren’s move to join the Jacksonian party represented a deliberate attempt to revive the two-party system in American politics. Unlike the Founding Fathers, who cursed parties as divisive and destructive, [Van Buren] regarded the party system as an essential ingredient for representative government. Modern, efficient government, he preached, demanded well-functioning political parties openly arrayed against each other. Without parties, a democracy cannot function. A well-defined two-party system provides a balance of power between opposing forces and this in turn safeguards liberty and the institutions of republicanism. The era of a one-party system under James Monroe produced a concentration of power in Washington that necessarily generated corruption and led inexorably to the fraudulent election of John Quincy Adams. Only a revival of the two-party system could restore the healthy interplay between opposing interests and insure order and stability.

And more than this. Apparently, not only did Van Buren think competing political parties were necessary, he saw the specific party that was forming (eventually, it would come be to called the Democratic Party), as I describe in my thesis above, as liberty’s check against power.

Van Buren envisaged a party system consisting of Adams and Clay and their friends on one side, advocating Hamiltonian principles…

That is, a strong, centralized federal government.

...and Jackson, Calhoun, and the Radicals, on the other side, committed to Jeffersonian principles. ...

That is, with power distributed among the states and their people.

… Thus, when Van Buren set out to join the Jackson camp he did so not simply to defeat Adams -- important as that was -- but rather to connect Jackson’s enormous popularity around the country with republican principles by which the nation could once more function under a constitutional form of government with the liberties of the people adequately protected. If Jackson were elected President in 1828 that election must mean something, something more than personal triumph. Something more than patronage. It must be made to represent the restoration of the two-party system and the rededication of Republicans to the old Jeffersonian doctrines of ‘98.

But my bigger investigative interest has to do with the “ratchet” I alluded to earlier. I’m clearly borrowing the term from Robert Higgs’s classic Crisis and Leviathan, where he used it to describe what he saw as a steady (and inevitable?) increase in the government’s authority as a result of responding to national crises (real or manufactured). In the time of crisis, the government takes on more authoritative powers, and when the crisis is over, it relinquishes few or none of them. With the next crisis, more authoritative powers are taken (or given), and again, when the crisis is over, few or none of them are relinquished. In this manner, the government becomes larger and larger, more and more powerful.

What I’m questioning here is if something similar isn’t happening, not through responses to crises, but through the struggle of political parties for dominance. Imagine a scale where absolute individual liberty equals one and absolute government power equals ten. At the beginning of our republic, the Republicans wanted government at two and the Federalists wanted three. Eventually the Republicans win the argument, the Federalists go by the wayside, and the Republicans, initially committed to two grow in their use of power and become in actuality a four.

Enter the Democrats. They rebel against the Republicans, but advocate not for the two originally sought by the Republicans, but because the position and apparatus of a centralized government have become normalized under the Republican rhetoric of liberty, the Democrats are now looking for a three. Eventually, the Democrats win the argument, the Republicans go by the wayside, and the Democrats, initially committed to three grow in their use of power and become in actuality a five.

Enter the Whigs. They rebel against the Democrats, but advocate not for the three originally sought by the Democrats, but because the position and apparatus of a centralized government have become even more normalized under the Democrat rhetoric of liberty, the Whigs are now looking for a four.

My example may break down there because, of course, the Whigs don’t win that argument (but eventually a new party, also called the Republicans, will). But hopefully you get my point. Through this interplay, the centralized power actually grows, albeit through a series of staggered steps and checks back towards liberty.

And what makes this all the more interesting is the case that Remini persuasively makes that it is the person of Andrew Jackson who, at this critical moment in American history, comes to both embody and transcend this struggle, to transform it from something none of us moderns would understand or recognize into something that seems as familiar as our last presidential campaign.

Because, seen through this lens of liberty and power, Andrew Jackson is a figure of staggering contradictions.

A states’-rights advocate of the Jeffersonian school, [Jackson] regarded the Constitution as a limiting rather than an enabling document. He suspected any concentration of power at a central point and he preached the necessity of preserving the “natural” associations of the people in their respective states. Yet, as President, he contributed his share to widening the scope of the Constitution, enlarging the powers of the central government, and weakening the authority of the states. Like many other Presidents’, his thinking and political faith were fundamentally conservative, but his actions frequently pursued the reverse direction.

In other words, Jackson was someone who would use power, ostensibly to preserve liberty, but ultimately, I think, to limit it. Limit, at least, the kind of liberty that was commonly understood to exist in the early to mid 1800s.

The Liberty to Own Slaves

Remini does an admirable job separating, as I think I’ve called it in previous blog posts, “the cause of liberty from the effect of slavery.”

Thus, the Jacksonian movement as it began had nothing to do with the desire of southerners to protect slavery, as sometimes suggested. Despite the Missouri Compromise, that “alarm bell” in the night, it had nothing to do with the “peculiar institution.” Slavery was not the coalescing force drawing Republicans together behind Jackson. Nor did slavery represent any great fear among them. The coalescing force was the desire to protect liberty. The great fear was the loss of the government to men who lusted after money and power and would sacrifice liberty to attain them. The “honorable men in this great republic,” said Henry Lee to Jackson at the end of the 1828 campaign, “hope by electing you to preserve our liberty.”

Remini’s text seems to admit that he is swimming upstream on this one -- with not only lay people but professional historians unable to thread a needle between the two positions he’s trying to discriminate, one in favor of liberty as an abstract concept and the other in favor of the liberty to own other people. He has a somewhat easier time separating the two concepts when he replaces slavery with some other issue that southerners saw as odious because it threatened their conception of liberty.

Just as Jackson’s contest with Adams was a question of freedom, southerners saw the tariff problem in the same light. It was freedom, not tariff protection per se, nor slavery, that lay at the heart of southern fears. Some of them threatened secession, and eventually in 1860-1861 they departed the Union because they believed absolutely that liberty had succumbed to power.

It is, I think, one of the most difficult and complicated aspects of American history -- this idea that an objection on the grounds of an honorable principle should justify the practical application of that principle in a way that can only be viewed as immoral. The moral ambiguity of tariffs may allow us to better see the distinction, but the moral absolutes of slavery (at least in today’s perspective) perhaps appropriately blur the distinction into non-existence. I can’t, after all, object to a law that prevents me from beating my neighbor by claiming that it is an infringement upon by liberty to do so.

A Democratic Policy Towards Indian Removal

But an even greater contradiction that occurred during Jackson’s time as president was not protecting slavery in order to defend liberty, but perpetrating federal action to protect states’ rights. The issue at hand?

It is an awesome contradiction that at the moment the United States was entering a new age of economic and social betterment for its citizens -- the industrial revolution underway, democracy expanding, social and political reforms in process -- the Indians were driven from their homes and forced to seek refuge in remote areas west of the Mississippi River. Jackson, the supreme exponent of liberty in terms of preventing government intervention and intrusion, took it upon himself to expel the Indians from their ancient haunts and decree that they must reside outside the company of civilized white men. It was a depressing and terrible commentary of American life and institutions in the 1830s.

That’s the first paragraph of Remini’s chapter 15, and the following page and a half constitutes another one of those excellent historical primers for anyone unfamiliar with this time in American history. I feel compelled to quote it in its entirety.

The policy of white Americans towards Indians was a shambles, right from the beginning. Sometimes the policy was benign -- such as sharing educational advantages -- but more often than not it was malevolent. Colonists drove the Indians from their midst, stole their lands and, when necessary, murdered them. To the colonists, Indians were inferior and their culture a throwback to a darker age.

When independence was declared and a new government established committed to liberty and justice for all, the situation of the Indians within the continental limits of the United States contradicted the ennobling ideas of both the Declaration and the Constitution. Nevertheless, the Founding Fathers convinced themselves that men of reason, intelligence and good will could resolve the Indian problem. In their view the Indians were “noble savages,” arrested in cultural development, but they would one day take their rightful place beside white society. Once they were “civilized” they would be absorbed.

President George Washington formulated a policy to encourage the “civilizing” process, and Jefferson continued it. They presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans. Both Presidents wished the Indians to become cultural white men. If they did not, said Jefferson, then they must be driven to the Rocky Mountains.

The policy of removal was first suggested by Jefferson as the alternative to the “civilizing” process, and as far as many Americans were concerned removal made more sense than any other proposal. Henry Clay, for example, insisted that it was impossible to civilize these “savages.” They were, he argued, inferior to white men and “their disappearance from the human family would be no great loss to the world.”

Despite Clay’s racist notions -- shared by many Americans -- the government’s efforts to convert the Indians into cultural white men made considerable progress in the 1820s. The Cherokees, in particular, showed notable technological and material advances as a result of increased contact with traders, government agents, and missionaries, along with the growth of a considerable population of mixed-bloods.

As the Indians continued to resist the efforts to get rid of them -- the thought of abandoning the land on which their ancestors lived and died was especially painful for them -- the states insisted on exercising jurisdiction over Indian lands within their boundaries. It soon became apparent that unless the federal government instituted a policy of removal it would have to do something about protecting the Indians against the incursions of the states. But the federal government was feckless. It did neither. Men like President John Quincy Adams felt that removal was probably the only policy to follow but he could not bring himself to implement it. Nor could he face down a state like Georgia. So he did nothing. Many men of good will simply turned their faces away. They, too, did nothing.

Not Jackson. He had no hesitation about taking action. And he believed that removal was indeed the only policy available if the Indians were to be protected from certain annihilation. His ideas about the Indians developed from his life on the frontier, his expansionist dreams, his commitment to states’ rights, and his intense nationalism. He saw the nation as an indivisible unit whose strength and future were dependent on its ability to repel outside foes. He wanted all Americans from every state and territory to participate in his dream of empire, but they must acknowledge allegiance to a permanent and indissoluble bond under a federal system. Although devoted to states’ rights and limited government in Washington, Jackson rejected any notion that jeopardized the safety of the United States. That included nullification and secession. That also included the Indians.

Jackson’s nationalism, a partial product of his expansionist ideals, and his states’ rights philosophy, a product of his concern for individual liberty, merged to produce his Indian policy.

And that policy, of course, was removal. Rather than let the states “annihilate” the Indians (either by taking their lands, assimilating them into their “white” culture, or both, I could never really be sure), the federal government would forcibly remove them to the yet-to-be-organized territory west of the Mississippi River. There was intense debate in Congress over the numerous bills that would give the president the authority for these actions and, perhaps as expected, only some of them were premised on a concern for the Indians and their culture. Most, it seems, were argued over the more abstract (and political) concepts of liberty and power.

Serious debate on the bill began on May 15 [, 1830], when Henry R. Storrs of New York took dead aim on the White House and fired a powerful salvo. He accused Jackson of attempting to overthrow the constitutional securities of the states and their authority as well as assume the power of Congress to abrogate existing treaties in cases of necessity or war. The friends of states’ rights who are such strong supporters of the administration ought to see this, he facetiously remarked. Already the President has given notice that his administration will be one of aggressive action by the central government to address problems and resolve them -- with or without the cooperation of Congress. The “military chieftain” is about to demonstrate what his brand of leadership is like. “If these encroachments of the Executive Department,” said Storrs, “are not met and repelled in these halls, they will be resisted nowhere. The only power which stands between the Executive and the States is Congress. The States may destroy the Union themselves by open force, but a concentration of power in the hands of the Executive leads to despotism, which is worse. Of the two evils, I should prefer the nullifying power of the States -- it is less dangerous.”

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that such a question -- the limits of Executive power -- should be argued in the context of “Indian removal.” Not many years later, after all, it would be argued in the context of an even greater moral wrong -- slavery. In both cases, the fact that it was an argument, meaning that men of intelligence and refinement had strong feelings (or at least political ones) on both sides of these issues. What is surprising, is that with regard to Indian removal, it was Jackson, the Democrat and champion of states’ rights, who was fairly charged with boxing out of the old Federalist corner. In Jackson’s view, the states clearly had the right to decide what to do with the African slaves within their borders, but not, evidently, with the Native Americans.

And this, I think, supports my theory of the steady and perhaps inevitable encroachment of executive power in even the most liberty-minded administrations -- however those two concepts are defined in each historical period. Jackson’s contemporaries saw it.

Jackson had been elected to the presidency to protect freedom by limiting federal power; instead he had been increasing it over the past two years, particularly executive power. “To my chagrine and mortification,” fumed [Virginia Governor John] Floyd, “every principle and every power claimed by [John Quincy] Adams and [Henry] Clay, as belonging to the Federal Government, has been acted on, or claimed by President Jackson.” We exchanged one princely power for another, he said. “To talk about the benefits this administration has brought or will bring to States Rights, is an insult to the plain understanding of all.”

As does Remini. And because he can’t avoid the same conclusion, as a professional historian, he does his best to place it within context and to explain it.

What indeed had happened to all the promises about preserving liberty? Quite obviously, Jackson was himself slowly and unconsciously subverting that concept, and he did it by imposing a different definition of the term. Heretofore freedom had meant the right of the individual to be left alone to enjoy the fruits of his labor without interference by government. To a certain extent that notion continued under Jackson. He would revert to it, for example, during the opening phase of the Bank War. But more and more during his presidency the term “freedom” became identified with majority rule. A free society was one that conformed to the will of the masses. Since Jackson represented the people it therefore followed that what he proposed by way of a program of “reform retrenchment and economy” constituted their sovereign command. To reject that program denied majority rule. To contest majority rule jeopardized freedom.

This seems accurate to me based, at least, on the information that I’ve read in Remini’s own books. Jackson equated his will with the “will of the people” because “the people” had elected him. (A write-up on the third volume is coming, where this same theme takes on even greater importance.) But I would dispute Remini’s statement above that, prior to Jackson, freedom in the American experiment dealt with the right of the individual to be left alone by government. Or, if not dispute it, at least dispute its position as the counterpose to the definition that Jackson embraced. The original American experiment was premised on a collection of independent states, in which the will of the people was expressed through their state governments and their state-based representatives in the federal government. A republic, in other words. What Jackson helped do, was push into ascendancy the notion that the people had a national will, and that this will, expressed through its election of a national president, trumped the power of the states. It was the first sense that America was not a nation made of states, but made of people. As Remini himself says:

Thus Jackson subverted not only the meaning of freedom but the entire concept of “republicanism” as it had come down from the Founding Fathers. By responding naturally and unconsciously to the new impulses within American society -- a dynamic economy, an emerging industrial state, an expanding population, a more involved electorate enjoying greater suffrage rights -- he assisted in the conversion of a republic into a democracy.

Moreover, then, it is this perspective that lay at the foundation of Jackson’s Indian policy. The perspective is not twisted (although it seems erroneous, given what the Constitution and the Founding Fathers said and thought about the states), but its application to the American Indians definitely is.

This is a government of the people, Jackson argued, and the President is the agent of the people. The President and the Congress exercise their jurisdiction over “the people of the union. Who are the people of the union?” he asked. Then, answering his own question, he said: “all those subject to the jurisdiction of the sovereign states, none else.” Indians are also subject to the states, he went on. They are subject “to the sovereign power of the state within whose sovereign limits they reside.”

So, federal intervention in a dispute between a state at its people (when those people are Indians) is permitted because those people, by dint of being subject to the sovereign power of the state, are by extension, people of the union to which that state belongs. I wonder if the same principle would have held in Jackson’s mind if the people in question were not Indians but the wealthy landowners of the state?

To Serve When Called

Like many of politician of his era, Andrew Jackson can, I think, be flatly called a hypocrite when it came to expressing his own base desire for power.

To the increasing suggestions that he run for the presidency, Old Hickory did not say no. Rather he said he would not seek the office. It must come to him. To every application that he enter the race, he told Dr. James C. Bronaugh, “I give the same answer that I have never been a candidate for any office. I never will. But the people have a right to choose whom they will to perform their constitutional duties, and when the people call, the Citizen is bound to render the service required.”

After his military career ended, Jackson very obviously had his eye on the presidency, and he derived even more motivation for that goal after the “corrupt bargain” of 1824, when the House of Representatives, dealing with a situation in which no candidate won a majority of Electoral College votes, selected John Quincy Adams as president, despite Jackson receiving more Electoral College and popular votes than any other candidate. Through another convoluted process, Jackson was subsequently elected as a Senator from Tennessee, but that was an office he never truly desired. A few years later, he found it necessary to make a different decision.

At approximately the same time Jackson decided he would no longer continue as United States senator. In the first place his election to the post had come under very unusual circumstances. He never really wanted the office and then found himself in an awkward position when the presidential election landed in the House of Representatives. If he continued as senator, now that he was again a presidential contender, that awkwardness could become more acute. Besides, if he intended to give more attention to the campaign -- and he did -- he was probably better off staying at the Hermitage, where he could meet with politicians relatively free from observation. He might then direct the activities of his friends in their efforts to organize a political party in his behalf.

In a speech before the Tennessee legislature -- who, remember, at this point in history were the bodies that elected U.S. senators -- Jackson said:

To start, Jackson carefully reminded his audience that he had never sought the position to which they had selected him and, of course, he would continue to serve if his “feeble aid” might in some way advance the “security of our Republican system.” But he doubted that he was needed in Washington. Moreover, in view of the recent resolution of the legislature in “proposing again my name to the American people for the Office of chief magistrate of the Union,” he felt constrained “to ask your indulgence to be excused from any further service in the counsils of the Country.”

So much for serving if called. More like serving if called to do something he desired. Even Remini can’t fail to see through the subterfuge.

Jackson’s prudence in playing the role of reluctant candidate did not in any way change the fact that he alone headed the elaborate apparatus starting to emerge in 1826 to engineer his election to the presidency.

A Different Time

More than anything else, however, I think it must be remembered that Andrew Jackson served as U.S. president during a very different time in American history.

The possible action of the nullifiers in response to the new tariff was not Jackson’s only worry in the summer of 1832. Toward the close of the long debate on this issue the nation suddenly became aware of the frightful danger of the cholera plague that had swept Europe the year before and had now found its way to the United States. Henry Clay readied a resolution requiring the President to appoint a day of fast and introduced it into the Senate on June 27. Meanwhile the synod of the Reformed Church of North America recommended that the President designate a “day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.” Jackson responded promptly. He had strong feelings on the subject, for it touched directly on his understanding of the function of the central government. While he concurred in the efficacy of prayer and hoped that the nation would be spared the attack of pestilence, he told the synod, he flatly refused to comply with the request because it would transcend the limits of federal authority prescribed by the Constitution and “might in some degree disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.” It was the province of the states and the pulpits “to recommend the mode by which the people may best attest their reliance on the protecting arm of the almighty in times of great public distress.” Not the President of the United States.

Sorry, can’t resist. What about the welfare of the “people of the union”? If a state isn’t going to see to the needs of the people subject to its sovereign power, why shouldn’t the federal government intervene and make sure that the people are appropriately instructed to take full advantage of the “efficacy of prayer” in a national crisis? I mean, if you’re willing to force people out of their homes and march them to their deaths, what additional indignity would a call to prayer constitute?

It was a different time. A time when the president wouldn’t dare mingle religion with politics, but still have the gumption to re-interpret what was seen as the basic tenets of the constitutional form.

Indeed, Jackson’s Bank veto is the most important veto ever issued by a President. Its novel doctrines advanced the process already in train by which the presidency was transformed and strengthened. To begin with, Jackson accomplished something quite unprecedented by writing this veto. Previous Presidents had employed the veto a total of nine times. In forty years under the Constitution only nine acts of Congress had been struck down by the chief executive, and only three of these dealt with important issues. In every instance the President claimed that the offending legislation violated the Constitution. It was therefore generally accepted that a questions of a bill’s constitutionality was the only reason to apply a veto. Jackson disagreed. He believed that a President could kill a bill for any reason -- political, social, economic, or whatever -- when he felt it injured the nation and the people. The implications of such an interpretation were enormous. In effect it claimed for the President the right to participate in the legislative process. Jackson invaded the exclusive province of Congress. According to his view, Congress must now consider the President’s wishes on all bills before enacting them, or risk a veto. It must defer to the will of the executive if it expects to legislate successfully. Jackson’s interpretation of presidential prerogatives, therefore, essentially altered the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government. The President now had a distinct edge. He was becoming the head of the government, not simply an equal partner.

This doesn’t seem revolutionary to us, but Jackson lived in a very different time. Remember…

From the founding of the nation under the Constitution, the legislative branch was generally regarded as preeminent. In the minds of most, it was Congress, not the President, who embodied and secured representative government. The generation of Americans who fought the Revolution had been very suspicious of a strong chief executive. To them, executive power meant monarchical (and ultimately dictatorial) power. Thus, in dedicating themselves to the perpetuation of individual liberty they devised a system of government with a strong legislature elected by the people and in full control of the purse strings. Jackson changed that. Thenceforward the President could participate in the legislative process. Coupled with that was his total success in establishing the concept that he, as President, represented all the people. And he, as President, protected their liberty.

And so we have come full circle. Jackson effectively won the fight between liberty and power by cloaking executive power in the vestments of individual liberty. And in that, we may see things about Jackson’s time that are not so different than the times we live in today.

The American people loved Jackson and trusted him. “They believed him honest and patriotic; that he was the friend of the people, battling for them against corruption and extravagance, and opposed only by dishonest politicians.” They voted to place him at the head of their government with the expectation that he would, in Jackson’s own words, “purify the Departments” and “reform the Government.” In this “triumph of the great principle of self government,” wrote Edmund P. Gaines, who better to lead the people and “cleans the Augean stables” than the foremost Democrat of them all, Andrew Jackson?

Drain the swamp, anyone?

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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, April 23, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 2

Two weeks ago, in Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our most recently completed Board meeting. I ended the previous post with a comment that the only thing left to discuss was the process by which we'll determine which future is actually occurring.

I promised to address that in this, the next post in this series, but I need to come clean about something. Having led my Board through this exercise and now having created four compelling versions of our industry's future, I don't in fact know how we're going to determine which of those futures is actually starting to occur.

I know how I think we're going to do it. Or, at least, I've come up with a proposal for how we might do it. Prior to our next and each future Board meeting, we’ll survey our Board members on the indicators that define each of the future scenarios. For each indicator, we'll ask each Board member to select the descriptions they believe most likely to be true for our industry in 2023.

For example, we've called one of our indicators "IoT Products," and it has the following two possible descriptions: (1) The growth of fluid power products with IoT connectivity has kept up with or outpaced that of competing technologies; OR (2) The growth of fluid power products with IoT connectivity has fallen behind that of competing technologies. One of those descriptions will be true in 2023. Each Board member will have to read their own tea leaves and determine which they think will likely be true in that future year.

We’ll then use all these responses to create a chart like the one shown below.

The Xs represent the majority of votes by the Board for each of the 19 indicators that they themselves defined. In this example, most of the votes are on the "Benefits" side of the Internet of Things megatrend and on the "Easier" side of the Workforce megatrend. That would mean that we seem to be heading towards Scenario C, and the Board can then review the contingency plan for that scenario, update it if necessary, and, if deemed prudent, could choose the necessary actions for our association to take.

That's the proposal. But it has problems. Even in the example shown above, the opinions of the Board are not unified. Not every answer points to the "Benefits" side of Internet of Things or the "Easier" side of Workforce. Some indicators seem to be pointing in the other direction, as, I believe, they inevitably will. The future scenarios that the indicators described are complex, but idealized ones. The real future is much more likely to be messy, in which some of our indicators point one way and others point the opposite way. If the way forward doesn't clearly point to one of our scenarios, which part of which contingency plans are we supposed to activate?

How we're going to resolve this, or how we're going to deal with it if it can't be resolved, is not clear at this time. In an initial discussion with my Board chair, we thought that reducing the number of or at least prioritizing the indicators might help -- essentially giving the Board fewer possible divergent paths to walk down. I'm not sure that is the answer, and neither is he.

You'll have to stay tuned. We're just starting to plan for our next Board meeting in June 2018, where this issue will be tackled in one way or another. I'll be sure to continue this series as our revised plan unfolds, and especially as our Board grapples with it.

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

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Monday, April 16, 2018

The Process Is the Product

I participated in a SURGE Spring 2018 session on co-creation. Don't know what SURGE Spring 2018 is? It's an online, virtual conference put on by Association Success. Sessions have been recorded and are being posted the week of April 30. Mine will be posted on May 4. Go here for more info.

Don't know what co-creation is? You're not alone. In planning for our session my fellow panelists and I decided that we needed to start with a definition of the term -- and then discovered that we all had a slightly different one.

Here's mine. Co-creation is when an association and one of its members work together to create something that has value to both the association and the member.

The session was a fairly free-wheeling discussion of that topic. I think it was a good one, but I won't try to recap it here. What I'll do instead (now and over a few more posts) is highlight some of the new thoughts that occurred to me as I listened to the comments of my fellow panelists.

Here's one. The process is the product.

It might be best to explain by way of example. In my association we do something called technology roadmapping. It is a process by which we identify the needs of the customers that our member companies serve, and then identify improvements to the technologies our member companies produce that are necessary if they are to better serve those customer needs. It is a process that requires the involvement of a broad cross-section of our membership, hence the co-creative element to it. It is something the association and its members work on together, and it has value to both.

But there is another value point in this relationship. The end product, the technology roadmap that we create, has value. But the process by which we developed the roadmap may have even more value. We use the process to develop an industry-wide roadmap, but the same process can be used by an individual member to create a roadmap for their own company. Relying on the industry-wide roadmap to benchmark and position their company's technology is important. But using the same process to identify the specific needs of their own customers and then identify the technology development objectives that will help them better meet them may be even more important.

I do not believe that these dual value points -- the product and the process -- are unique to our roadmap. The same dynamic exists in many co-creative exercises between associations and their members. But, too frequently, the value of the process is not recognized and promoted by the association. They tell their members all about the products that they create, but hardly ever stress the value associated with the co-creation process 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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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Without a Hero by T. C. Boyle

I didn’t dogear any pages on this one, or scribble any notes in any margins. Normally, when I read a book, I do both, conscious of the blog post I will eventually write and wanting to be sure to come back and revisit essential aspects of my reading experience.

But I didn’t do that this time.

I could have. As I’ve mentioned many times, Boyle is one of my favorite authors. Someone I was introduced to in that 20th century fiction class my senior year of college, and who has stayed with me ever since. As I count them Without a Hero is the thirteenth Boyle book I’ve read. And as if this writing, seven more are already on my to-read shelf.

So why didn’t I keep notes while reading Without a Hero? Probably because I just wanted to enjoy the experience of reading it. Letting his delightful prose flow over and around me without having to mark the magic elements of its passing. Reading things that way is a treat for me, and Boyle is one of the better authors to do it with.

But now, as I reflect back on the experience, I find myself regretting the decision not to mark the passing of some of these stories. There are, after all, some real gems here. Filthy With Things. Without Hero. Sitting on Top of the World. And as I flip back through the pages, reading a paragraph here and there to refresh my memory, two slow, dawning realizations comes over me.

First, Boyle’s stories all have interesting, and sometimes quirky, premises.

And second, he’s much better at starting them than he is at ending them.

You could shoot anything you wanted, for a price, even the elephant, but Bernard tended to discourage the practice. It made an awful mess, for one thing, and when all was said and done it was the big animals -- the elephant, the rhino, the water buff and giraffe -- that gave the place its credibility, not to mention ambiance. They weren’t exactly easy to come by, either. He still regretted the time he’d let the kid from the heavy-metal band pot one of the giraffes -- even though he’s taken a cool twelve thousand dollars to the bank on that one. And then there was the idiot from MGM who opened up on a herd of zebra and managed to decapitate two ostriches and lame the Abyssinian ass in the process. Well, it came with the territory, he supposed, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t carry enough insurance on the big stuff to buy out half the L.A. Zoo if he had to. He was just lucky nobody had shot himself in the foot yet. Or the head. Of course, he was insured for that, too.

That’s the first paragraph from Big Game, the first story in the collection, where Boyle manages to introduce not only the lead character and the narrative voice, but essentially the plot and the climax, as well. And the ending, when it comes, although told in pure Boyle style…

It wasn’t panic exactly, not at first. Bender…

Bender is a client of Bernard’s, a self-made real estate king with a trophy wife and emotionally detached teenage daughter in tow. Earlier on, Boyle writes: “Real estate people. Jesus. He’d always preferred the movie crowd -- or even the rock-and-rollers, with their spiked wristbands and pouf hairdos. At least they were willing to buy into the illusion that Puff’s African Game Ranch, situated on twenty-five hundred acres just outside Bakersfield, was the real thing -- the Great Rift Valley, the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti -- but the real estate people saw every crack in the plaster. And all they wanted to know was how much he’d paid for the place and was the land subdividable.”

...shot wide, and the heavy shock of the gun seemed to stun him. Bessie Bee…

Bessie Bee is an old female elephant on the Game Ranch, that Bender has paid a lot of money for the privilege of shooting. Earlier on, Boyle writes: “For her part, Bessie Bee was more than a little suspicious. Though her eyes were poor, the Jeep was something she could see, and she could smell the hominids half a mile away. She should have been matriarch of a fine wild herd of elephants at Amboseli or Tsavo or the great Bahi swamp, but she’d lived all of her fifty-two years on this strange and unnatural continent, amid the stink and confusion of man. She’d been goaded, beaten, tethered, taught to dance and stand on one leg and grasp the sorry wisp of a tail that hung from the sorry flanks of another sorry elephant like herself as they paraded before the teeming monkey masses in one forbidding arena after another. And then there was this, a place that stank of the oily secrets of the earth, and another tether and more men. She heard the thunder of the guns and she smelled the blood on the air and she knew they were killing. She knew, too, that the Jeep was there for her.”

...came straight for them, homing in on them, and Bernard bit down on his mustache and shouted, “Shoot! Shoot, you idiot!”

He got his wish. Bender fired again, finally, but all he managed to do was blow some hair off the thing’s back. Bernard stood then, the rifle to his shoulder, and though he remembered the lion and could already hear the nagging whining mealy-mouthed voice of Bender complaining over lunch of being denied this trophy too...

Once before, Bernard had been forced to kill a game animal, a lion named Claude, when Bender’s shots had gone wide. Earlier one, Boyle writes: “But there was Bender, stuck in a morass of dead black branches, trembling all over like a man in an ice bath, and the lion coming at him. The first shot skipped in the dirt at two hundred feet and took Claude’s left hind paw off at the joint, and he gave out with a roar of such pure raging claw-gutting, bone-crunching nastiness that the idiot nearly dropped his rifle. Or so it seemed from where Bernard was standing, fifteen yards back and with the angle to the right. Claude was a surprise. Instead of folding up into himself and skittering for the bushes, he came on, tearing up the dirt and roaring as if he’d been set afire -- and Bender was jerking and twitching and twittering so much he couldn’t have hit the side of a beer truck. Bernard could feel his own heart going as he lifted the Nitro to his shoulder, and then there was a head-thumping blast of the gun and old Claude suddenly looked like a balled-up carpet with a basket of ground meat spread on top of it.”

...the situation was critical; desperate, even -- who would have thought it of Bessie Bee? -- and he squeezed the trigger to the jerk and roar of the big gun.

Nothing. Had he missed? But then all at once he felt himself caught up in a landslide, the rush of air, the reek of elephant, and he was flying, actually flying, high out over the plain and into the blue.

When he landed, he sat up and found that his shoulder had come loose from the socket and that there was some sort of fluid -- blood, his own blood -- obscuring the vision in his right eye. He was in shock, he told himself, repeating it aloud, over and over: “I’m in shock, I’m in shock.” Everything seemed hazy, and the arm didn’t hurt much, though it should have, nor the gash in his scalp either. But didn’t he have a gun? And where was it?

He looked up at the noise, a shriek of great conviction, and saw Bessie Bee rubbing her foot thoughtfully, almost tenderly, over Mike Bender’s prostrate form. Bender seemed to be naked -- or no, he didn’t seem to be wearing any skin, either -- and his head had been vastly transformed, so much more compact now. But there was something else going on too, something the insurance company wouldn’t be able to rectify, of that he was sure, if only in a vague way -- “I’m in shock,” he repeated. This something was a shriek too, definitely human, but it rose and caught hold of the tail of the preceding shriek and climbed atop it, and before the vacuum of silence could close in there was another shriek, and another, until even the screams of the elephant were a whisper beside it.

It was Mrs. Bender, the wife, Nicole, one of the finest expressions of her species, and she was running from the Jeep and exercising her lungs. The Jeep seemed to be lying on its side -- such an odd angle to see it from -- and Mrs. Bender’s reedy form was in the moment engulfed by a moving wall of flesh, the big flanks blotting the scene from view, all that movement and weight closing out the little aria of screams with a final elephantine roll of the drums.

It might have been seconds later, or an hour -- Bernard didn’t know. He sat there, an arm dangling from the shoulder, idly wiping the blood from his eye with his good hand while the naked black vultures drifted down on him with an air of professional interest. And then, all at once, strange phenomenon, the sun was gone, and the vultures, and a great black shadow fell over him. He looked up dimly into the canvas of that colossal face framed in a riot of ears. “Bessie Bee?” he said. “Bessie Bee? Shamba?”

This ending, when it comes, as I said, told in pure Boyle style, leaves this reader a little wanting. That’s it? They go up against nature and get slaughtered?

But that’s what traditionally happens with Boyle’s stories. They are wonderfully fun to read. They consistently transport you, not just to another time and place, but to another mind, another way of viewing reality. They do that in spades. But, odd as it is to say, too often that is all they do. They don’t do what great stories must -- at least not frequently enough. They don’t transcend the chimerical mechanicals of which they are so ably constructed.

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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, April 9, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications

Two weeks ago, in Step Three: Writing Snapshots for Each Scenario, Part 2, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our most recently completed Board meeting. I ended the previous post with a comment that, now that we had our four scenarios and snapshots in hand, it was time to begin discussing the strategic implications of everything we have done.

This is the step of the exercise that we have, in fact, not yet done. Our goal was to complete the first three steps (Identifying the Megatrends, Creating Scenarios Based on Megatrends, and Writing Snapshots for Each Scenario) at our last Board meeting in February, and save the last step (Discussing the Strategic Implications) for our next Board meeting in June 2018. I'm sure I'll write more about prepping for that experience as we draw closer, and about the experience itself when it is completed, but for now, let me simply describe what I think it going to happen next.

The fundamental premise of Step Four is that the association is now in a position to develop four separate contingency plans, one for each of the four future scenarios that the first three steps of the process has helped create. We don't know which of these futures (if any) will come true, but by having a plan for each one, we put the association in a position where it can more thoughtfully react and position itself as the actual future unfolds.

Our discussion will, by necessity, be a strategic one. Trying to plan for the development of new programs, or for specific changes to existing programs, would take too much of the Board's valuable time and likely result in ideas that are out of sync with the actual future that manifests itself. We'll need to stay on the strategic side of the business -- our mission and our core strategic objectives -- if we are to create something that is useful to the organization.

One way to summarize the forthcoming discussion is through the chart included below.

In addition to our mission, NFPA has the five strategic objectives shown in the chart. In previous posts I've referred to these objectives as our "ends statements," because they describe the high-level ends, or outcomes, that, based on our mission, we seek to achieve for our members.

What we need to do at our June Board meeting is discuss the changes, if any, that would need to occur to our mission and these five ends statements in each of the four scenarios that we have described.

"Effective Forum," for example, our objective associated with bringing the industry together for unique and valuable education, networking, business opportunity, and collective action, might mean something very different for an association facing Scenarios A and C than one facing Scenarios B and D. (i.e., an increasingly IoT connected industry vs. one maintaining its advantage outside the IoT space). Similarly, our objectives associated with educating the future workforce (Technically Trained People and University Engineers) would likely each require a different focus depending on the type and level of IoT integration occurring in the overall industry.

The goal will be to develop a short list of strategic actions that would need to be taken in each of the scenarios. Recruit more IoT technology providers into the membership, for example, or increase exposure to IoT technologies in our partner colleges and universities. These lists will then comprise and set of contingency plans that can be activated, in part or in whole, as the future occurs. How we would accomplish these things -- through the development of new or refinement of existing programs -- is what we would then address only as part of that activation process.

So, that only leaves the process by which we'll determine which future is actually occurring, and I'll save that for the next post in this series.

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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, April 2, 2018

Membership Sales Is About More Than Just Increasing Membership Numbers

We focus a lot on membership sales in my association. This year perhaps more than at any time in recent memory because we have identified increasing our membership numbers as our Wildly Important Goal for the year. In true 4DX fashion, we're trying to engage the whole organization in a concentrated effort on identifying membership leads and recruiting them in as members.

In one of our recent meetings and discussions on the topic, something important occurred to me. As important as increasing membership numbers is in my association, the efforts that we're putting into that objective 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.

Too often, it seems, our recruitment efforts are framed around our own perceptions of value. How we talk about networking is a good example. We sometimes talk as if networking was a commodity that we were selling. Why should you join our association and come to our conference? Because of the networking! The networking is just fantastic. Exactly what a busy professional like you is looking for.

But from the prospective member's point of view, they are probably less interested in the networking and more interested in what the networking can do for them. They want to learn from other professionals in the industry, or open up new business opportunities, or benchmark their companies against others in their competitive space. Descriptions of this nature are more likely to resonate with a prospect than any generic statement about the value of our networking. Join our association and come to our conference, where you can learn from other professionals in our industry, open up new business opportunities, and benchmark your company against your competition.

Here's the point. Statements of value like the example I provided above get written, revised, and become most effective when they are tested and developed in discussion with real members and membership prospects. Crafting all your marketing copy in the office and launching it untested on the world is one of the best ways to get it wrong.

A sales discussion is an opportunity to sell something, yes, but it is also an opportunity for market research and education. Maybe what we're saying isn't resonating with our prospects. But we shouldn't assume that means they don't want what we're selling. Perhaps what we're offering has no value, but perhaps we're just not describing the value in terms that are meaningful to the prospect.

Either way, a missed sale should always be viewed as a teaching moment for the organization. Whether the disconnect came from a true lack of value or from a perceived lack of value, there is work that the organization needs to do. In simple terms, it may need to change its programs or change their marketing copy.

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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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