Join me in my return to Internet radio

You know, I've completely forgotten to mention to TAIB readers that my Internet radio show is back on the air, with a new name and a new format!  I'm very excited about it and I hope you will make it appointment listening!

The new show is called Association Foresight on the Association Internet Radio Network.  It is also a segment that will air every other week as part a show called Association Nation, hosted by AIR Network Founder and CEO Kevin Murphy, on WMET 1160 AM Talk Radio For The Rest Of Us every Sunday morning at 10 am EST.  Two Association Foresight shows/segments, with authors Frans Johansson of The Medici Effect (10/24) and John Beck of Got Game (11/7), are already available online at the show's Internet archive link just above. 

You can actually listen to Association Nation and Association Foresight on the Internet this coming Sunday morning (10 am EST) for another segment of Association Foresight.  This week, I'll be interviewing Boston University professor Anita McGahan about her new book, How Industries Evolve:  Principles for Achieving and Sustaining Superior Performance.  It's a fascinating new book and I'm sure that we'll have a very rich discussion.  Future Association Foresight segments/shows will air on WMET on Sunday, December 5, Sunday, December 19 and Sunday, January 2, 2005, so please stay tuned!

Many thanks to all of you who tuned in to Inside Associations during the summer.  I apologize for the long hiatus, but I'm very excited about the new show and I hope you will be as well.  If you have feedback on show, questions or suggestions for authors you'd like me to interview, please send me an e-mail.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Posted on November 15, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why not make a bid?

At this year's The Center for Association Leadership Silent Auction in Minneapolis, I offered a prize through my company, Principled Innovation LLC, in conjunction with my colleagues at KRM Information Services. The prize is something we're calling "The Total Virtual Seminar," which is simply a real-time e-learning session for which I will be the speaker that uses KRM's outstanding virtual seminar services. This prize is an excellent way for an association to try our the virtual seminar format at very little cost.

There is still an opportunity to bid on our prize online through November 1, 2004. Not only will you be securing a great learning experience for your organization to offer, but you will be supporting the very important activities of The Center for Association Leadership.

Why not make a bid? I promise that you and your members will be quite pleased with the experience you receive!

Posted on September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ISO Innovation Democracy in Associations

By now, I hope you've read my "mini-manifesto" on innovation democracy. I am now asking for your assistance in identifying examples of innovation democracy from across our association community that I can include in my forthcoming book, "Innovation Democracy: Relevance, Renewal and Resilience for the 21st Century Association."

You can post your examples here as comments or you can send them to me directly by e-mail. Please explain why you think your example illustrates the ideas of innovation democracy I outline in my mini-manifesto. If there is a way I can follow-up with you to find out more, please include that as well. Thanks!

Posted on September 28, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Innovation Democracy: A Mini-Manifesto

I've spent the last few months thinking about some ideas about innovation that I think are very important for the association community, and I wanted to share them for you in the initial form of a "mini-manifesto." Basically, I want to try to re-frame the challenge of association innovation as an even greater political and ideological problem than it is a business or strategic problem. This mini-manifesto is attempt to call our attention to what is possible if we live up to the values our organizations represent even as we seek to to create meaningful economic value for our stakeholders.

Whether you agree or disagree with my views, I very much want your feedback on the thinking. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail. Thank you!

Associations today face a potent and relentless adversary: profound change. Yes, it’s true, we’ve always faced change in our organizations, but not like this. The very nature of change itself is changing. Change today is more constant than episodic, more complex than clear, more non-linear than cyclical and it is occurring at a greatly accelerated pace. We find that in this environment many of the tried-and-true heuristics of association management are remarkably ineffectual and, sometimes, counterproductive. Unfortunately, far too many association leaders continue to struggle with the politics of incrementalism, cost-cutting and risk avoidance as they try to come up with fresh answers about what to do next.

In face of such harsh and unforgiving realities, staff and volunteer association leaders must respond in a way that is just as forceful and unyielding. But that response cannot come in the form of tips, tools or techniques for “managing change” or “doing more with less.” That is just so much tinkering around the margins. Instead, what we need is a new ideology, a different system of beliefs that challenges us to rediscover the “plausible promise” of our organizations and to act confidently and decisively to make them relevant, renewable and resilient for the 21st Century.

For me, that ideology is what I call “innovation democracy.” It is grounded in the fundamental conviction that, at their core, both innovation and associations are about freedom. Associations are about the freedom to collaborate, to serve and to act collectively on behalf of a worthwhile vision of what the world can be. And that is where innovation comes in. Innovation is about the freedom to imagine what is possible, to create it and, in so doing, make an enduring contribution to the world in which you live. In my view, one that is largely contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy of the association world, innovation and associations are intimately, if opaquely, connected.

The ideology of innovation democracy seeks to shed light on how associations can fully embrace innovation in a manner that is consistent with the underlying values that animate our organizations. Innovation democracy is about getting as many people involved as possible, about capitalizing on diverse experiences and perspectives and about creating associations that, at once, are honoring the past and focusing on the future. The principles that follow address the six critical, dynamic contexts (strategic, technological, cultural, intellectual, financial and leadership) of every association’s existence. And while some may regard these principles as “theoretical,” I believe that they are quite the opposite. Taken together, they form a very pragmatic basis for creating the association of the future, a mechanism for continuous and consistent innovation that also embodies our most cherished human aspirations.

·Strategy is a coherent portfolio of experiments developed across the association--Let’s be clear about something once and for all. Strategy is not a plan. Strategy is an evolving understanding of the world combined with the deep capacity to act intelligently and creatively to achieve growth even as conditions change. The underlying intention of strategy cannot be to control (because real control is unattainable), but rather to create coherence and provide a gravitational field for the strategic experiments of many different stakeholders. A clear, simple and focused strategic direction offers such coherence and is not only the friend of innovation, but is also a compelling basis for broader and more novel engagement in the association.

·Technology supports the social architecture of association innovation--Technology can be quite useful in increasing our efficiency and perhaps even our productivity in the workplace. But in the flesh-and-blood world of organizations, people need to leverage technology toward their ends and not the other way around. Robust human relationships bring plenty of “bandwidth” to the table. When we use technology well, we accelerate connectivity, enhance connectedness and nourish community. And with both skill and serendipity, we also open many doors to powerful insights that may lead us down unexpectedly fruitful pathways of future success.

·Association culture remains vibrant by emphasizing variety, transparency and inclusion--Our associations will never achieve genuine breakthroughs in thinking and action if we don’t regularly challenge conventional wisdom and split-the-difference decision-making by actively involving individuals, groups and organizations with divergent perspectives and experiences in our work. Furthermore, we greatly enhance our ability to identify new threats and act on emerging opportunities when we operate on the basis of openness and transparency. By acting to include our stakeholders to the greatest possible extent in the work of innovation, we live up to the promise of what our associations can become.

·Curiosity, inquiry and discovery shape the association’s intellectual environment--Ideas are the true currency of innovation, particularly in pure knowledge organizations such as associations. In the absence of a basic organizational curiosity around the possibilities of original thinking, most ideas never see the light of day. We must constantly direct our associations toward the kind of robust inquiry that asks the difficult and provocative questions to which we need answers. And while we recognize the absolute importance of ideas to innovation, we also understand that, by themselves, they are insufficient to make innovation happen. We must create, therefore, fair, open yet disciplined processes of discovery that ensure our best ideas come to the surface and are allowed to flourish.

·A high “return on engagement” in the association drives financial investment--Business return on investment (ROI) is a measure of how much a company earns on the money it has invested. ROI can be quickly calculated by dividing the company's net income by its net assets. In associations, however, true success cannot be measured in purely financial terms since most of our so-called “net assets” are intangible, including brand, influence, reputation, knowledge, networks and so forth. From a standpoint of association innovation, then, the “smart money” must be invested in fully leveraging those intangibles to create new value through the active engagement of our stakeholders. Financial investment decisions made by boards and staff must be guided not simply by a desire to earn income, but also by the need to build engagement.

·Association leaders create leaders by distributing responsibility for innovation--The increased complexity of today’s operating environment demands a kind of association leadership that focuses more on coordination than on direction. Association leaders should seek to distribute the majority of the responsibility for advancing innovation away from the organizational “black space,” i.e., the staff, the board and the official volunteer corps, and toward the “white space,” the invisible web of conversations, learning exchanges and relationships involving members, non-members, business partners and other key stakeholders. By focusing their energy and attention on facilitating broader involvement, today’s leaders will help to create new value and make real progress in identifying and developing their eventual successors.

This document is something of a manifesto for the courageous and future-focused association leader. Still, it’s important to remember that there are no panaceas, no silver bullets for moving our organizations forward. There are only better ways of thinking that we can translate into better ways of working together. The ideology of innovation democracy is a better way of thinking about how to create both the organizations we need and the organizations we want. It’s about building a new heritage for our associations in the face of daunting challenges. It’s about taking control of our own destiny. Isn't that what associations are supposed to be about anyway?

Posted on September 19, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Just a quick note...

I just wanted to post a quick note to let you all know that I am currently traveling in British Columbia and I'll be back in DC on Sunday evening. As the summer draws to a close, I plan to return to making more regular postings to my blog on a variety of topics. Just to prime the pump for the thinking to come, let me offer a few questions I'll try to answer and a few thoughts I'll try to develop in the weeks and months ahead:

1. What are the "new fundamentals" of association success?

For years, I have thought that the most important question for association leaders to ask is, "What will help our association remain relevant?" While I continue to think this is an important question, I no longer view it as most important. Indeed, I think that mere relevance has become nothing more than a baseline consideration for association survival and success. There are two higher-level issues--renewal and resilience--to which association leaders must also devote their attention in order to identify new trajectories of organizational vitality.

2. What is the relationship between economic VALUE and individual/collective VALUES as they pertain to associations and the need for innovation?

In today's world, we are seeing growing convergence between people's desire to economic value and their desire to hold true to their personal values. This issue is being written about and talked about in various circles. As a result of my on-going inquiry into innovation within the context of associations, I have come to believe that the more compelling rationale for the pursuit of innovation in our organizations isn't purely economic, but grounded in the most basic common value that "associations" and innovation share: freedom.

3. What is the role of intangible factors in driving association growth going forward?

I have written on this topic on this blog before. My view is that we don't pay sufficient attention to intangibles, such as influence, reputation, networks, knowledge and so forth, not only as drivers of more tangible growth but also as critical forms of growth in their own right. The emerging paradigm of association success (relevance, renewal and resilience) will absolutely demand that we learn how to think about, talk about and steward intangible resources in new ways in the years to come.

I hope I have whet your appetite for more thinking that will challenge the prevailing orthdoxies of the association world. I look forward to your comments and questions.

Posted on August 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dead Tired at ASAE


Well, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted since very late on Saturday/way too early on Sunday morning. As the picture above makes clear, its been an exhausting few days at ASAE's Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. I've been up early and late to bed, and it's taking its toll. I guess I'll sleep next month...

It's been a fun meeting, and one at which I've had the opportunity to re-connect with many friends and colleagues from across the association community. To be honest, I haven't attended any education sessions other than my own pre-conference on Saturday, and so I don't really know how that part of the meeting is going. I've heard comments on both sides: some great sessions and others that are putting people to sleep. (Probably a good thing that I didn't make the latter sessions then, right?) But I think that with the merger, we can expect a very different meeting next year. Stay tuned...

On that same score, I really want to give credit to the ASAE and Center staff for working hard to help educate all meeting attendees about the merger and about some of the new opportunities it has already created for them and for the community. Of course, the merger is only six weeks old and there is still much work to be done and much to be learned from across the country. With that in mind, the staff of the Center who are brand new to ASAE are taking the time to talk with members from outside DC to better understand their hopes and concerns. I'm confident that these informal conversations will be quite fruitful, both in painting a picture of what people are thinking about in the merged organization, as well as in building new trusted connections between ASAE and The Center and its members.

I'm getting pretty tired again, so I'm going to wrap up this post. If you're interested, please check out my post to the ASAE Minneapolis 2004 blog. I hope you'll like it. Thanks...I'll post again soon. I promise!

Posted on August 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Live from Minneapolis: On-site at ASAE

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A post from VERY late last night in Minneapolis. A fun, but tiring day! I'll be posting more soon.

Posted on August 15, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh, I almost forgot...

I was so terribly excited about the news of the new ASAE/The Center blog that I forgot to mention that I will be participating as a guest host in the upcoming FCNow Blogjam on the Fast Companyblog this Thursday and Friday. Like many of you out there, I've been a reader of Fast Company since its inception, and I love how it covers business in an interesting and irreverent way.

So on Thursday and Friday, take some time to visit the blog. I will cross-post my articles from the FCBlog just as soon as I can each day. Check it out!

Posted on August 10, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Okay, okay, I know...

Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking. I said that I would get back in the swing of things with the blog following my vacation and it didn't happen. It's been more than a month since I posted to the blog and for that I'm sorry. I do plead guilty to falling down on the job a bit in the last few weeks. It's only because I've been incredibly busy with both client projects and projects that I consider to be contributions to the community. But I'm committed to getting the blog rolling again (so to speak) in the weeks ahead!

On Friday, I am flying up to Minneapolis for ASAE's Annual Meeting and I'm very excited about the stuff I'm doing there. I am facilitating a pre-conference workshop on innovation on Saturday, August 14. On Sunday and Monday, I am leading two "strategic dialogues" in The Center for Association Leadership Community Café. The first dialogue, which is on Sunday, August 15 beginning at 3:45 pm, will focus on an article I've written for this month's Executive Update magazine called "Beyond Pretend and Defend." On Monday, August 16 at 12:15 pm, we'll once again be discussing "Leading Innovation in the 21st Century Association." If you're attending ASAE, I hope you will stop in to Minneapolis Convention Center Room 209B for one or both of these informal sessions.

In addition, I am pleased to say that my company, Principled Innovation LLC, and my friends at KRM Information Services are offering a joint silent auction prize called The Total Virtual Seminar. If you are the high bidder on this prize, you will have my services as a content expert and virtual presenter and KRM's outstanding virtual seminar technology and services at your disposal for a learning experience you can offer to your leaders as a training opportunity or to your members as a public program. Please consider placing a bid either online (before 5 pm EDT tomorrow) or onsite. Your contribution supports the very important work of the ASAE Foundation, which is now doing business as The Center for Association Leadership.

I hope to see many of you at ASAE! And I'll see you on the blog more often as well!

Posted on August 08, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

It All Started with "Yuppie"

This item, titled "It All Started with 'Yuppie'," appeared in the March/April 2004 issue of Across the Board, the Conference Board's bi-monthly magazine. The item is by Ben Schott, a British-based author of several books on miscellany. It is attributed to Schott's Original Miscellany, published by Bloomsbury in 2002. I talked about it on the July 6th edition of Inside Associations.

It All Started with "Yuppie"
by Ben Schott

BOBO--Burnt Out But Opulent
BUPPIE--Black Urban Professional
DINK--Dual Income, No Kids
DINKY--Double Income, No Kids (Yet)
DUMP--Destitute Unemployed Mature Professional
GOLDIE--Golden Oldie, Lives Dangerously
GUPPIE--Gay Urban Professional
LOMBARD--Lots of Money but a Real Dickhead
OINK--One Income, No Kids
PIPPIE--Person Inheriting Parents' Property
PUPPIE--Poncy Urban Professional
SCUM--Self-Centered Urban Male
SILKY--Single Income, Loads of Kids
SINBAD--Single Income, No Boyfriend, Absolutely Desperate
SINK--Single, Independent, No Kids
SITCOM--Single Income, Two Children, Outrageous Mortgage
WOOPIE--Well-Off Older Person
YAPPIE--Young Affluent Parent

Obviously, some of these are definitely tongue-in-cheek, but it may be worth asking how many of each of these types of people (or other types) you have in your association. You may be able to gain some powerful insights!

Posted on July 06, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I'm back!

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last two weeks, but I was on vacation for the last week of June and I'm just getting back into the swing of things. I will be posting again today in anticipation of tomorrow's edition of Inside Associations at 1 pm EDT. I hope you'll tune in and check out the blog as well.

By the way, I just learned this weekend that for its first three shows, Inside Associations has a rolling average of 400 unique listeners! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT! I'm very excited by the response and I hope we'll keep it up. We're going to take a summer break for the next few weeks, but the show will be back on again on August 17 and I hope you'll tune it again at that time!

Posted on July 05, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An open letter to the association community

This is an open letter on the ASAE-ASAE Foundation-GWSAE-The Center for Association Leadership proposed merger to the association community that I am reading during the June 22, 2004 airing of Inside Associations on the Association Internet Radio Network.

Dear Colleagues:

In a matter of just eight days, we will arrive at what I consider to be a watershed moment in the history of the association community. The final member vote on the proposed ASAE-ASAE Foundation-GWSAE-Center for Association Leadership merger will be completed and announced at a special meeting on the evening of June 30. Unfortunately, my schedule does not permit me to attend this meeting, and my standing as an association business partner does not afford me a vote even if I were able to attend. But as someone who cares deeply about the future direction of our community, I feel compelled to share with you my final thinking on the merger proposal. To the extent that anyone listening today or in the days ahead finds my perspective informative or useful as he or she strives to decide how to vote on the merger, I’m glad. But mostly, I’m sharing my thoughts today with you, my association colleagues, because I care what happens to you, your organization and our community, and I’m hoping that my words can help to re-frame the dialogue in which we are currently engaged and that we will continue to have about the future of our profession going forward.

Before I dive into how I’m thinking about the merger proposal today, I believe it is important for me to establish the context of my thinking from the outset of this process. Like many people in our community, I learned at ASAE’s Annual Meeting in Honolulu last August that ASAE and GWSAE had formed a joint leadership team to open the channel for dialogue between two organizations that had been competing pretty hard against each other for just about ten years. It was only through my network of contacts in the community that I began to put together, piece by piece, the real story about what was under consideration in those discussions. To me, at that time, the notion of consolidation or merger or whatever was anathema. As someone who had worked twice for GWSAE, is an ASAE Fellow and an active contributor to both organizations, it was crystal clear to me that the very idea was a grievous strategic error. And it was precisely that message that I delivered in a one-on-one conversation with Susan Sarfati last fall, months before the actual merger proposal was approved in concept by the four boards and subsequently announced to the community.

I must confess that on the day of the merger’s initial announcement back in January, I was deeply disturbed by the news. I sent Susan and John Graham a tersely worded e-mail with ten questions about how the decision to move forward was reached that read more like a set of interrogatories you might receive from an attorney in a lawsuit than a meaningful inquiry designed to better understand the process. My frustration with the possible merger grew after I attended the January 28 Town Hall meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building. Let’s just say that I did not feel that meeting presented the idea in the most complete and forthright manner possible. The overarching message of the presentation that night seemed to be, “Trust us, we’ve thought of that, and we’ll take care of it.” At that particular point in time, I was not ready to accept the wisdom of the merger as an article of faith, and I was not alone. Although I chose not to speak up during the meeting, others did, both those in favor of the idea and those expressing reservations. It was the beginning of what I think has been a necessary and frequently difficult conversation for our community.

Over the ensuing months, there have been further Town Hall meetings, further requests for input from the community, further work on the merger proposal by the staff-led Integration Steering Committee, and further discussions of the Joint Organization Leadership Team (JOLT) and among the four current boards. There has also been much reported on the process by the community’s media outlets, some of it based on facts and information, some of it grounded primarily in rumor, innuendo and gossip. Political issues and agendas have been playing themselves out and advocates on both sides of the issue have sought to position themselves and frame the choice on the merger in ways that are suitable to their desired outcomes. Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to me, and I sure to not to any of you either.

What has come as a surprise to me is that over this same period of time, I have changed my mind about the merger. While for many months I thought it was, quite simply, a terrible idea, I now believe it is the best opportunity we have to change the future of an association community that has deep emotional equity invested in sustaining its past. I don’t think there is any assumption or hyperbole in saying that many associations face an uncertain future. The fundamental and rapid change we are experiencing along multiple dimensions today strongly suggests that our organizations must get on with the business of re-thinking why we exist and how we create value for our members, customers and stakeholders and for society. To challenge ourselves to move beyond the tried-and-true, the well understood and the familiar, we must create the conditions for original thinking and innovation in our community. Although the ASAE Foundation, GWSAE and, more recently, the Center for Association Leadership have sought to play this role and enjoyed some success along the way, their efforts have gone neither far nor deep enough. We need something more and I believe that the merger gives us the best chance to bring forward that intangible “something more” in the months and years ahead.

Now, let’s be clear about something. Like many people in our community, I’m not satisfied with the merger proposal as it is written. I think it is a flawed document, the result of what was certainly a highly political negotiation process. But the fact that it is flawed doesn’t make it bad by definition. Sure, I wish the proposal included a more complete discussion of how the merged organization will relate to other societies of association executives around the country and around the world. Absolutely, I wish the proposal was more clear in recognizing the profound difficulty of cultural change in the merged organization, and more specific on how that work will be pursued. Certainly, I wish the merger proposal contained that one really big idea that made everyone say, “Oh, of course. Why didn’t we think of that before?” But none of those things, and I’m sure many other things we wish we it had, are in the document. At first, I was concerned about these omissions, but I have since decided that it is okay, because it sets the table for what must come next in this process.

So what’s next? Well, for me, what’s next is also the reason why we need to re-frame the terms of the merger discussion. For me, what’s next is building a genuine shared commitment among everyone who cares about the future of the association community to make the merger work should it be approved. This is a critical point. Part of the reason why I’ve changed my mind about the merger is the realization that WE should not be ones relying on John and Susan to make the merged organization great, but that John, Susan, the staff and the boards should be the ones relying on us to invest our time, attention, energy and intellect to make sure that the new ASAE and the new The Center for Association Leadership achieve greatness far beyond our wildest dreams. It’s the recognition that only through our efforts as positive contributors can we transform a flawed document into a flourishing reality. It’s the understanding that “the big ideas” will come from those who devote the passion and the vision and the commitment to the task of bringing them forward for collective consideration and action. In short, whether the merged organization ultimately achieves everything I know we want and need from it will depend primarily on US and not on someone else. Whether we like it or not, we ARE this merger. At this time and in this place, there can be no more “us and them.” There must only be we.

Now, of course, there is alternative path that the community can choose to pursue. The merger could be rejected on June 30 and, presumably, we would be right back where we started. It is a path, however, that I hope we will avoid. In my view, the rejection of the merger proposal will have profoundly negative if unintended consequences for our community. It will send a powerful signal that association leaders are unwilling to embrace change, and that they are more interested in politics than in possibilities. I am concerned that the defeat of the merger will set off a chain reaction of criticism and recrimination that will distract us from the important work we have to do. In short, I do not believe our community can afford the setback that rejecting this proposal will deal to the four organizations and their leaders.

So, instead, I urge us to capitalize on this opportunity to announce what we’re for, rather than what we’re against. I’m not claiming that this idea is perfect and that it doesn’t contain significant risks. Indeed, I would admit that it is profoundly imperfect, which is what makes it so powerful as a platform for engendering our commitment. I would also admit that approving the merger is a risky proposition, but then again, so is defeating it. All that’s left, then, is trust and faith. But it isn’t trust and faith in others or in circumstances. It is trust and faith in ourselves, in our abilities and in our desire to prevail. If it is to work, we will make it work together, because that’s the only way it can. I hope everyone will join me in supporting the ASAE-The Center merger proposal, for the good of both our community and our legacy.

Thank you,

Jeff De Cagna

Posted on June 22, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

IOM: Live from Notre Dame

Once again, I'm posting from the road. This time, I'm teaching at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Organization Management program at the University of Notre Dame. This is the last year that the Midwest Institute will be held at Notre Dame. It will move next year to the Fluno Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame this week. It is an impressive campus, and its graduates are justifiably proud of the place. I even went to the football stadium on a brief tour, and learned a fair bit about Notre Dame football history.

I'm also pleased to have this first opportunity to teach at Institute, something I've wanted to do for many years. I have been very impressed by the quality of the participants in the program, although it didn't surprise me to be working with some talented people. Institute definitely has a culture all its own, a genuine sense of community among its long-time participants, as well as a strong impulse to learn from their instructors and each other. In this sense, it does represent a reasonably significant departure from the more traditional association conferences at which I usually speak. While each of those conferences brings something unique to the table, it's hard to compete with the rich atmosphere of learning and campus setting that Institute can provide.

I'm delighted to be here, although my schedule does not permit my full engagement in the experience. I am also teaching at the Northeast Institute at Villanova in early August, and I hope to be able to spend more time there. So, I encourage you to check out the Institute program and see how it fits with your learning and development needs!

P.S. I'll try to write more about my Institute experience once it's over. Tonight, however, I'm pretty tired!

Posted on June 08, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GSAE: Live from Augusta

I'm in Augusta, Georgia, speaking for the Georgia Society of Association Executives and its annual meeting and I'm having a great time. Everyone here is very friendly and deeply committed to the future success of the association profession. And GSAE's new president, Sharon Hunt, CAE, executive director of the Southern Association of Orthodontists, issued what I think are a couple of rather compelling challenges to the members during her "inaugural address" at this afternoon's board installation luncheon. Three key points:

1. Sharon made it point to emphasize the importance of ethics, particularly in view of the misconduct and malfeasance we've seen in both the corporate and non-profit sectors in the last few years. Sharon challenged GSAE members to make ethics both a personal and organizational priority. I truly applaud her for raising this issue because quite honestly while it is important, it isn't terribly popular. Most people don't want to talk about ethics, it's uncomfortable and, for some, it is a discussion that often takes on a judgmental tone. But Sharon is absolutely correct in raising it, because it is already a critical question for the association community.

2. Sharon also made the case for the importance of education--something with which we can all agree to be sure--but then she took it one step further. She reminded us how hypocritical it is for association leaders to ask their members to attend their associations' educational programs while not attending (or allowing others to attend) these same kinds of educational sessions in the association community. Right on Sharon! A big part of being a leader is telling it like it is, and Sharon is spot on here.

3. Finally, Sharon challenged everyone attending today's luncheon to take at least 15 hours of education during the next 12 months. Fantastic! It is really refreshing to have a volunteer leader issue that kind of challenge from the stage. It is my fervent hope that GSAE members (and association leaders across the country who are reading this blog) will embrace what Sharon said and make education a key priority not only for themselves but also for their teams.

Congratulations to GSAE on a great meeting and to Sharon Hunt on using "the bully pulpit" of the GSAE presidency to deliver a powerful and important message!

Posted on June 03, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Read it, question it and think about it...VERY carefully!

Last week, ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership announced that its four boards had approved the proposed merger of the four organizations (ASAE and its Foundation, GWSAE and the Center) into two entities, i.e., ASAE as the membership entity and the ASAE Foundation and The Center integrated as a the research and education arm under The Center's name. The next step in this process is a vote of GWSAE's association professional members on the matter of dissolving GWSAE as a legal entity that will take place on June 30. The full merger proposal is available online at I really want to encourage everyone to read it, question it and think about it VERY carefully. This proposal is so important to our community that it really deserves and demands a critical reading on the part of every association community stakeholder.

To assist you in the questioning process, let me offer you a few sample inquiries you might ask yourself:

1. What are the 2-3 key themes or ideas that the define the merger proposal? If these themes or ideas are brought fully to fruition by the merged organization, what impact (positive and negative) do you forecast they will/may have on the association community in both the short term and the long term?

2. What are the fundamental strategic assumptions on which this proposal is based? Do you agree with those assumptions? Does the proposal provide you with sufficient information in order to make an informed assessment of its strategic appropriateness?

3. Are there specific ideas in the proposal that appeal to you? Are there specific ideas that concern you? In what ways are the ideas that appeal to you different from and the same as the ideas that concern you?

4. As you read the merger proposal, what most surprises you about it? Also what if anything is missing from the proposal, i.e., are there issues the proposal doesn't discuss either fully or at all that are conspicuously absent in your view?

5. How do you assess the candor of the merger proposal with regard to the likely challenges of merger, including developing a successful strategy, building a sustainable business model, bringing about enduring cultural change, integrating disparate technology platforms and so forth? Are there merger challenges the proposal doesn't address at all?

6. As someone who will/may be asked to "invest" in this merged organization in some way (either financially or perhaps through your commitment of time, attention and energy), does the merger proposal describe an organization in which you would willing make those or any investments?

7. If you ARE NOT a GWSAE association professional member and do not have a vote on June 30, would you still vote in favor of this proposal if you could? Why or why not?

I think Question 6 is particularly important. It reflects what I have repeatedly referred to as "the investor standard," a level of scrutiny that I believe we must all invoke in considering this proposal. Each in our own way, we are asked to invest ourselves in these organizations to help make them go. It is appropriate in my mind for us to ask whether we feel comfortable with or excited by the idea of making those investments in the new organization contemplated by this proposal.

At this point, I'm going to hold off on providing my perspectives on this proposal, because I'd really like to know what you think first. Instead, I will offer some of my thoughts on the proposal during my June 8 radio show, which I will be recording this weekend because we are unable to do the promised live broadcast from South Bend, Indiana next Tuesday. So please send me your thoughts and comments at or post them as comments to this blog. THIS IS IMPORTANT! I REALLY WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! I hope you'll take a few minutes to share your perspectives with me and with your association community colleagues.

Posted on May 31, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

We're in the air!


Well, the first-ever "Inside Associations" on the Association Internet Radio Network was "in the air" this past Tuesday afternoon. To the left, you will see a picture of me doing my thing during the show. I want to thank those of you who listened in. Unfortunately, there may not be an archive of the audio to listen to for this show (I'll let you know), but I know we'll get that issue taken care of in the weeks ahead.

Among the issues I discussed during the show were the ASAE/GWSAE merger, the need for our community to get serious about developing the next generation of leaders by, in part, developing a master's degree in association leadership, and the importance of raising the level of discourse in our community. I hope that Inside Associations will contribute to the discussion of critical issues and questions of importance to you and our community.

The next show is June 8 at 1 pm EDT. I urge you to submit your comments, questions and topic ideas to me for upcoming shows. And stay tuned for an announcement about the new Inside Associations blog coming soon!

Posted on May 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Just a reminder...

Just a reminder that tomorrow, May 25th at 1 pm EDT, history will be made:

Inside Associations with Jeff De Cagna will be live in the air on the Association Internet Radio Network!

I hope you will be able to join me live on the Web. If you can't, stay tuned to listen to the archived audio soon!

And please send your feedback on the show, including questions, comments and topic suggestions, to me at

Okay, let the conversations begin!

Posted on May 24, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

All you do is talk, talk...

AIR-home-3_09Well, I'm pleased to announce today that I am going in an important new direction in my continuing effort to engage the association community in dialogue around the major issues facing our organizations today and going forward. Beginning May 25, I will be hosting my own Internet radio show called "Inside Associations" on the Association Internet Radio Network. I am very excited about this great opportunity to chat directly with listeners across the association community every other week about how we can work together to build stronger associations and a stronger association community.

Here is the description of the show:

Inside Associations with Jeff De Cagna
Every other Tuesday from 1 pm-1:30 pm EDT beginning May 25, 2004!

Opinion. Perspective. Insight. It's what association staff and volunteer leaders need to successfully navigate their organizations through today's fast-paced and turbulent business environment. Join your host Jeff De Cagna--the association community's leading voice for innovation--for intelligent talk that will challenge prevailing association orthodoxies and expand the scope of what is possible "inside associations."

As loyal subscribers to The Association Innovation Blog know, I will use my radio show to be provocative with a purpose, namely to challenge associations and their leaders to shed outmoded ways of thinking and embrace new and even radical possibilities. I hope you will tune in beginning on May 25 and make the show "appointment listening" on every other Tuesday in the months ahead!

And to get "Inside Associations" off the ground, I need your help. One of the show's original segments will be something I call "Quick Hits." These will be brief commentaries on items or issues that have recently captured my imagination or that of the listening audience, such as a compelling newspaper article or perhaps a book. If you'd like to submit something for me to talk about on May 25 or on any future show, just post it as a comment here on the blog. (For the May 25 show, please post your item by this Friday, May 21.) Be sure to include a link if possible and any information I need to know. If I select your item, I'll mention your name on the air! I'd also love to have your feedback on the show, even before it begins and certainly once we get going. For now, you can post your comments in response to this message.

I'm really looking forward to talking about the issues on which I focus my attention in this new format. I'm also excited about the future possibilities of the show, which will include regular guests and thought leader interviews. Thank you in advance for joining me "Inside Associations" beginning in just NINE DAYS!

Posted on May 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I went too far...

Regular readers of this blog know that I strive to be as provocative as possible in my postings, that I court controversy in an effort to push our thinking about what is possible in the association community. Unfortunately, in my zeal to continue pushing our collective dialogue, I have crossed the line, insulted someone I consider to be a friend, and I may have cost myself that friendship in the process.

In my April 28 post about leadership blindspots, I referenced a recent dinner conversation with an association community colleague as an illustration. (I'm not going to reiterate that illustration here. If you want to read it, just scroll down.) I wish to retract those words, right here and right now. Whatever substantive differences this individual and I may have on the issue in question, it was absolutely wrong for me to be critical of my colleague in the way I was. This person is a smart, capable and hard-working leader who is doing a terrific job in the association in which he/she works, and this person absolutely deserved better treatment from me than he/she received. I have already tried to personally apologize to this person, but I fear it may be too late. I have hurt this person deeply with my words, and the damage to our friendship may be irreparable. If that is the case, I will regret this mistake for the rest of my life.

I love writing this blog, but I think that going forward I will need to adopt a different and more responsible tone in my postings. Throughout my career, I have been known, depending on your point of view, as a contrarian and a bombthrower. I suppose I am both those things, with all of the upside and downside that comes with both labels. What makes blogging so much fun for someone like me, and yet so dangerous, is the ability to instantly make accessible even your half-baked thoughts on a particular topic and engage other interested people in that conversation. But with the commitment to writing a blog such as this one comes an absolute and irrevocable need to take responsibility for the words you write and to admit when those words are ill-considered, inappropriate and hurtful to others, as I am doing today. I don't believe that being radical and being respectful must be mutually exclusive, and I will work harder going forward to live in the space where these two values overlap.

To my readers, I thank you for being a part of this community of ideas and perspectives. I hope you will continue to be a part of it, and will not choose to view this post as a sign of weakness or a willingness to recant "the brutal facts" at the first sign of disagreement by others. Rather, I encourage you to look upon this post as a signal of the profound regard in which I hold each and everyone of you and the association community, to which I have devoted my career. To my friend, I can offer only my most sincere apology for making a terrible error in judgment and beg for your forgiveness. I hope that on this occasion I have chosen my words with greater care to demonstrate that I know what I did was wrong. I went too far, and I am sorry.

Posted on May 02, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thoughts on Google IPO: Part I

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I encourage you to read the entire letter from Larry Page and Sergei Brin. It offers compelling insights into Google's strategy and culture, and is worthy model for associations to consider for themselves.

QUESTION: If you were to write a letter like this about your association, what would it say?

Posted on April 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What leaders THINK they know...

Okay, I know. It's been awhile since I've posted and many of you probably thought I fell off the face of the Earth. Well, in a sense, I did. I've spent the last couple of weeks working quite hard on a variety of projects and, in all candor, I could not overcome my own sense of guilt about spending time posting to the blog (which I love to do) rather than doing work for my paying clients. But while I'm still busy today, I thought enough time had passed and I should really get back to the blog. So, I'm back!

Today, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on what leaders think they know. I'm always impressed with the self-assurance and self-confidence found in so many senior executives in today's associations. In the midst of great turbulence and complexity in the operating environment, I still encounter association CEOs and senior leaders who are quite convinced of the essential correctness of their point of view. Steadfastness is an admirable quality, and I'm glad that it works for them. My concern is for their organizations.

What leaders don't realize is that they have blind spots, things they don't or can't see because of the position they occupy in the organization. The experience of the association CEO in requesting and receiving information, for example, is quite different from the typical employee. In the associations in which I've worked, when the CEO wanted to know something, everything else was dropped until that information had been provided and any follow-up handled. But when anybody else on staff needed something, the response from colleagues was something like, "Yeah, okay, can I back to you next week?" The leader expects and receives an immediate response, while the rest of the hierarchy struggles along as best it can. These are two very different experiences, and the discrepancy between them is one that the leader often doesn't observe or perceive.

It's the same thing when I interact with leaders who still believe that top-down pronouncements about what the organization is or should become will sustain long-term change. The notion that the leaders can send out an e-mail to everyone reading, "Hey, guess what everybody, we're about innovation!" is fundamentally flawed and, quite frankly, absurd. Unfortunately, many leaders simply have a blind spot to the need for the hard work of meaningful organizational change and capacity building. All too often they do not, cannot or will not see the need for more fundamental and less glamorous change at the level of practice and process, especially when window dressing and igniting the burning platform will suffice. The toll of this myopia is taken on the long-term success of the organization and the depth of commitment among its people.

I recently had dinner with one of my favorite association community leaders and we debated the changing relationship between staff and members. I advanced the notion that in today's environment we need a new construct for thinking about that relationship that transcends the ubiquitous and often misapplied idea of "partnership." My colleague could not get beyond the partnership idea because that is the reality in which this person lives, an organizational reality this person has sought to cultivate. After a quick back-and-forth, I believe that my colleague concluded I was wrong because I've never been an association CEO. This person's comment to me: go out and get a CEO job and you'll understand this issue better. Well, possibly, but I don't think so.

I'm not saying that I'm right and my colleague is wrong. Nor am I trying to pick on my colleague, a wonderful person who is a friend. What I am saying is that my colleague had difficulty locating a blind spot that could have an effect on the organization, perhaps not in this instance but in others. In the case, the blind spot is a misplaced certainty about what is true and what is open for reconsideration. No matter how intuitively appealing it might be to operate otherwise, I caution association leaders today to approach what they think they know today with far less certainty, more humility and a genuine spirit of inquiry and learning. It's what your members, your staff and your organization as a whole really needs from you.

Posted on April 28, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thinking aloud about intangibles

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A KEY QUESTION: How can we educate association leaders about the growing importance of intangible drivers of organizational success, especially in a time when a full embrace of the tangible seems so much more safe and appealing?

Posted on April 13, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

7DoB Day 8+: Closing Thoughts

Well, the first-ever Seven Days of Blog has now come to an end. I hope those of you who have been reading and listening to the blog in the last week have found it interesting and provocative. I'll be picking up on the themes I've suggested in my postings in the weeks and months ahead. And stay tuned for another Seven Days of Blog during the summer!

Today, I learned that the Air Conditioning Contractors of America has started a blog called ACCAbuzz. I've added it to my online reading list and I encourage you to check it out. I'm very pleased to see that some associations are trying out blogs and I hope others will follow suit. If you're aware of other association or association-related blogs, please contact me. I'd like to add them to my list.

Posted on April 06, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

7DoB Days 6 and 7: Apologies from Austin!

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Posted on April 04, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

7DoB Day 4: Associations embrace innovation!

This just in...

In a stunning reversal of their traditional perspective on innovation, the association community has come together to announce a collective commitment to "making innovation our number one priority for the rest of this decade." Having been forced to recognize the brutal fact of profound, rapid and accelerating change, association leaders are already registering in record numbers for a national innovation summit that will take place in conjunction with the ASAE Annual Meeting in Minneapolis this August. The agenda for the meeting will include:

1) How to challenge (too many) boards to stop being obstacles to strategic progress in their organizations

2) How to challenge (too many) CEOs to stop being obstacles to strategic progress in their organizations

3) A change in language so we can stop talking about (and thinking about) things that matter to us by using words that describe what they're not, such as non-dues revenue and non-members

4) An exploration of how to get our organizations to kick their addiction to sponsorship, the crack cocaine of the association world

5) A memorial service for strategic planning, followed by a big, fat party complete with strategic plan bonfire!

6) An open forum on how we can co-create the association community we would most like to have, even if we knew that failure was a distinct possibility!

Yeah, okay, check the date boys and girls. You get the message. Happy April Fool's Day from your friendly AIB fool!

Posted on April 01, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

7DoB Day 2: Random musings

Well, it's Day 2 of The Seven Days of Blog and we're having some interesting discussions in this space. I want to encourage you to get your friends and colleagues in the association community involved in reading and posting to The Association Innovation Blog. TAIB (that's The Association Innovation Blog) is intended to be a dialogue with the association community, and we need to get more people in the conversation. So join us!

Okay, just a few random musings this evening....

+I was down at The Center for Association Leadership for part of today for its Great Ideas Conference. In the morning, I attended a very interesting session on building community that examined the experiences of three different associations. Each experience had similarities and differences of course, but I believe they were bound by the common idea of leveraging social capital to create an engaging, welcoming and compelling space in which community members want to actively participate in co-creating their own value.

Lately, however, I've heard the phrase "building community as a core competence of associations" thrown around a great deal and I'm not sure what to make of it. Specifically, I'm not sure whether we should contemplate something as deep and complex as creating vibrant, lasting communities as the core competence of every association (not every association has it), but rather as an unevenly distributed competence held in part by a number of different organizations in the association world. There are implications to be drawn out here, but I'm still reflecting on this point, so I'd appreciate your perspectives.

+I also participated as a panelist on session that focused on the value of coaching. I worked with a coach for a four-period from 1999 to 2003. It was a great experience for me--one from which I benefited tremendously--and I wholeheartedly encourage others to consider it. You can find coaching resources online at the web site of the International Coaching Federation.

+In the last week or so, there has been a very interesting discussion on strategic planning taking place on the ASAE Executive Management Section listserver. I have been something of an instigator of that conversation since I exclaimed that strategic planning is dead. (I'm not the first, of course, and doubt I'll be the last.) Loyal TAIB readers know that I find strategic planning to be an outdated methodology better suited to an operating environment that no longer exists. In other words, strategic planning is mostly a waste of the association's limited resources. I know that this perspective disappoints many association community leaders, but I believe it's time to face facts. Strategy-making in times of great complexity and limitless opportunity require fundamentally different approaches to get to the clearest, simplest and most focused strategic direction for the organization. Strategic planning just doesn't get us there anymore, so why should we keep on doing it? Why can't we just let it go and move on to what's next? Everyone else has...

+Once again, I want to thank everyone who sent me birthday greetings yesterday. I also want to extend a special thanks to Jackie Huba, yesterday's opening keynote speaker at The Center's Great Ideas Conference for a terrific birthday present: a big-time plug of AIB to conference participants. Apparently, Jackie had very nice things to say about my blog and about me. While I wasn't there to hear any of this, it was reported back to me by multiple sources. Of course, I'm flattered for TAIB to be held up as an example of what associations should be doing. I agree with Jackie that associations must leverage the power of blogs, wikis and social network tools to enrich virtual interaction, create meaningful conversations and support innovation. At the moment, the blogosphere (as the universe of blogs is called) includes relatively few association-related sites. What do we fear from blogging? If anything, I think we should be the ones who are embracing it to the greatest possible extent. I mean, if associations are serious about creating communities, where are the communities of bloggers hiding?

I'm done for tonite. I'm pretty tired, so who knows how coherent it is. Let's learn again tomorrow as 7DoB continues!

Posted on March 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

7DoB Day 1: Wise Words from the West

Thanks to everyone for the birthday greetings, and welcome to the official first day of The Seven Days of Blog! Last night's audio posting was my idea of a fun little surprise to get the ball rolling! I hope you enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it because it produced a very useful response, an e-mail with the subject line "Lost in the Wilderness" sent by an association CEO on the West Coast of the United States. In the e-mail, he reminded me that in the midst of the furor over the proposed ASAE/The Center consolidation (FYI--the link is to a PDF document) in Washington, DC, the rest of the country is "feeling a little disenfranchised by the ASAE because of the beltway focus (and beltway thinking)." He suggested that one of the outcomes of this consolidation effort might be the emergence of a new organization for association executives based in the Western U.S. Personally, I think it is a great idea and, quite frankly, I'd love to see it happen. But that's a story for another day.

His e-mail got me thinking about how those of us who live and work in the Washington, DC association community view the rest of the association world and how that world views us. I confess that I am sometimes guilty of engaging in "Beltway thinking" although I'd like to believe that the message of innovation that lives at the core of my work is good for all time zones. Still, it's easy for an idea guy like me to get focused on the process and forget about the product. Of course, part of the reason why I do what I do is to help create a process, a context, for a new way of thinking about and, ultimately doing work. In the end, however, I am after the same outcome as any association executive: greater effectiveness in creating and delivering value to members, customers and stakeholders.

Now, this same CEO did also suggest that I use a few more bullet points to enhance the value of my postings, and I wish to honor his request. So here goes:

+Living and working in Washington, DC, it is extraordinarily easy to succumb to the belief that the world revolves around you. Needless to say, it isn't true, and association leaders in this geographic region and around the country must wrap their minds to a single basic inquiry: to whom or to what do we owe our allegiance when we're at the office? Is it the work, the chief staff executive, the members or something else? What's your response?

+There are good, smart capable people working in the association community all around the nation, and all too often they don't receive sufficient credit from their peers for their good work. In the hot glare of the Capital spotlight, there are ample opportunities for people to shine. But we need to recognize these anonymous leaders, and we need to support their leadership efforts. It's worth asking tough questions about how the consolidated ASAE/The Center will create value in this regard.

+The minute that innovation stops being something we think about at "a more convenient time" (read that "never" these days), and becomes a central element of our new leadership approach, the next association revolution will begin. For the last two plus decades, we've been obsessed with the need to become "more professional." My hope is that in the next two decades, we will obsess just as much with becoming "more capable." I believe innovation is the key to that endeavor.

So let me thank my West Coast CEO colleague for his wise words. I always enjoy having the opportunity to think. I hope what I've written will make you think as well. Let us know what's on your mind by posting your comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

Posted on March 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

7DoB Day 0: Contributing to a new conversation

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A bonus EARLY posting! The key question YOU must ask yourself as an association leader: will you contribute something original to an authentically fresh conversation or will you just keep swinging the old hammer to try to solve your problems, while you imagine that each of today's new challenges is just another nail?

Posted on March 28, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An observation and some opportunities...

The March 19th issue of Association Trends covers ASAE President and CEO John Graham's recent address to the Washington Nonprofit Legal and Tax Conference. According to the article, "[Graham] told the breakfast group that, by definition, assns are risk adverse: 'If they have 99% of the information they need, they have enough to send it to a committee. We need to get that decision point down near the 75% level.'"

Although I don't agree that associations are risk adverse "by definition" (I believe they make themselves risk adverse through politically-motivated and consensus-driven rather than strategic decision-making) and while I might choose a lower figure than 75% of information as a goal, I am nonetheless encouraged by John's observation about the need for association leaders to increase their risk tolerance. And as the process of shaping the new ASAE/The Center organization continues, I can see some extraordinary opportunities this new entity can leverage to help build a deeper understanding of risk in this community and to assist leaders and organizations in making innovation a priority:

+I recommend that we begin conducting a "State of Association Innovation Survey" of association CEOs around the country. It would help the innovation effort in our community immeasurably if we had some baseline data to offer association leaders as they think through the wide variety of issues--including risk--that affect innovation. It would also provide us with some insights on where to find the small pockets of innovation that must surely exist within our community.

+Last year, my company created a free and open online "idea marketplace" called the Principled Innovation Exchange. The purpose of this marketplace was to make it possible for association leaders to seek and share ideas of all kinds that might be useful in their organizations. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this idea marketplace did not catch on as I had hoped and, at least for now, it has been discontinued. But the need for this kind of idea marketplace still exists and I am thinking that perhaps the new ASAE/The Center organization could be more successful in creating such a space for the benefit of our community. I believe that if we can increase the sharing and discussion of interesting ideas, we will encourage more action on them as well.

+I urge ASAE and The Center to create a community-wide venture capital fund to support innovation that is "open source" and collaborative. If one of the chief concerns about risk is money, then our community has a responsibility to make at least some resources available to support risk-taking on new ideas. As I see it, the basic premise for such a fund would be simple: 1) the community fund would make resources available in an amount equal to what the association is willing/able to invest to ensure risk-sharing and not risk-shifting, 2) the entirety of the innovation project being supported would have to be open for the community to view, study and learn from regardless of its eventual outcome, 3) the association receiving venture capital would be expected to "invest" back into the fund in some fashion should the idea in question generate new revenue. Of course, we would need to put other funding criteria, such as having a business plan, in place as well. The point, however, is to create another access point for funds and to propagate a shared understanding of how innovation actually happens so that other organizations can learn.

+Perhaps the simplest thing we can do, however, is to engage association CEOs, senior executives and volunteer leaders in a genuine dialogue around what risk is, what it means and how it is effectively managed and leveraged. We obviously live in a time of increased risk and our real-world focus on increased security measures, financial uncertainty and legal minefields can diminish anyone's appetite for innovation. But even in the face of these considerable challenges, innovation remains an absolute necessity for associations today and in the years to come. The question cannot be whether our organizations should take a risk, but which risks they will take to create new value for their members, customers and stakeholders.

While the jury is still out on the ASAE/The Center consolidation, there are some great opportunities out there that can broaden the rationale for it beyond the rather small goal of simply offering better programs and services. In my view, the consolidated organization should use its increased scale, resources and reach to be a force for fundamental change in the association community. It's a risk, to be sure, but then again what isn't a risk these days?

Posted on March 21, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What's going on?: Announcements of the day

Just a couple of announcements for everyone:

+Actually, this first one is a reminder. You will recall that about ten days ago, I announced that The Seven Days of Blog will begin on March 29. During The Seven Days of Blog, I will post everyday on issues of your choosing and mine. But for this to work, I really need to hear from you on what you'd like me to be writing. So, please make comments to this posting, so I can get an idea of what's on your minds.

+I just received word last night that I will be facilitating the April Leadership Bookclub that got it start from the ASAE Executive Management Section listserver. An official announcement should be going out soon, but I want to let you know that the session will take place on Wednesday, April 21 from 8:30-10 am at The Center for Association Leadership in Washington, DC.

The book we've selected for April is The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers by C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy. I have started reading the book and, so far, I have found it to be a compelling exploration of what I believe will be one of the major business challenges facing association leaders in the years ahead: the work of fully engaging members, customers and stakeholders in the co-creation of their own value through meaningful experiences.

In the weeks ahead, I will post some of my thinking on the issues raised by the book here on the blog. I hope you will share your thoughts. Of course, I'm looking forward to a robust discussion of these issues on April 21 as well, so I hope you will consider participating in that session. Thanks!

Posted on March 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More thoughts on an association master's degree

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And, as mentioned in this audio post, I have made available the article, "Masters and commanders: Why the assn profession needs a master's degree program" that was published in the March 5, 2004 issue of Association Trends as a PDF on my website. Thanks to my colleagues at Trends for publishing the article and for allowing me to make it accessible.

Posted on March 15, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Where's your secret sauce?

In the March 8 issue of the International Herald Tribune, Pulitzer prize winning writer Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times has an article titled, "Innovation is the secret of America's sauce." His piece, which focuses on the issue of job outsourcing, includes the following superb sentiment on innovation, written by the author:

America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can’t be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture-capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.

As I think about the meaning of this quote, it moves me to pose a few questions for association leaders to consider when they are reflecting on Friedman's words:

+What do "extreme freedom of thought" and "independent thinking" look like in your association? Are you and other leaders captive to outmoded assumptions about what your organization can and should be? How open are you and other leaders to hearing ideas and perspectives from members and customers located at your association's periphery, not to mention beyond its boundaries?

+What is your orientation toward risk? Do you view risk and failure as largely black and white, or do they also incorporate more subtle shades of gray? What do you do to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in your organization, and how do you help people learn when the risks they take don't succeed?

+Do you view innovation as primarily a cost or an investment? What would it take for you to develop a meaningful financial model for pursuing innovation in your association? If you developed such a model, what would you say to convince your board/staff to adopt and operate by that model?

+How well does your board understand its role in advocating for and supporting innovation? How much have you done to educate your board--and yourself--about why innovation is so necessary?

Our nation is a hotbed of innovation across sectors, business types and strategies. What could possibly be an appropriate justification for associations choosing to exempt themselves from the responsibility of making innovation a genuine priority? Personally, I cannot think of a single good reason. But what can I think of is a world full of growing opportunity on which associations will be unable to capitalize if they cannot get beyond their current ways of thinking about innovation. Associations today desperately need some of Friedman's special sauce. Where will you find yours?

Posted on March 12, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Random Thoughts on The Day of Rest

As every independent consultant knows, The Day of Rest is usually just another day in the office. Certainly that is true when you're leaving town the next morning on a business trip as I am tomorrow. I'm heading out of town to do a gig and visit a new client. (Yeah!) Since I'm try to get ready for the trip, I only have a few minutes to post today. So, instead of a detailed blog on a single subject, I'm going to post a few tidbits that I'll try to elaborate on going forward.

+In its March 5, 2004 issue, Association Trends published an opinion piece I've written supporting the idea of a developing a new master's degree for the association community. (As I write this posting, the article is not yet online. I'm hoping it will be soon, and I will let you know if and when it appears.) I feel strongly that our profession needs to update and re-define its intellectual core for the future, an effort we are already seeing take place in the major professions, including business, medicine, law, architecture and library science. The world in which associations operate is changing in dramatic and irrevocable ways, and we owe it to the next generation of leaders in this community to offer a way to prepare that connects with the future they can expect to confront.

In my view, the arguments lodged against such a degree offering--it costs too much, there isn't a critical mass of students, people don't stay in profession long enough--represent nothing more than a misplaced commitment to the status quo. All graduate education costs money, so that argument isn't that relevant to me, as long as the quality is there. As for the question of whether there is a sufficient number of potential students willing to stay the course in the association community, perhaps it is worth considering whether we would now have more students staying the course had we taken this issue more seriously sooner. I'm not saying that the failed attempts to create master's degree programs in the past (in both DC and Chicago) lacked seriousness of purpose. But I am suggesting that since those efforts did not pan out, further attempts to pursue the idea of a rigorous, interdisciplinary master's degree program have been dismissed as impractical. But we live in a different world today than we did 10-15 years ago, and as I and others have said, the association community is in desperate need of original thinking. Toward that end, I believe that we need to toss out our outdated assumptions about the difficulties of developing meaningful graduate education in associations and consider just how much is possible if we put our minds to it. (More to come on this issue...)

+The March 2004 issue of Chief Executive magazine includes as its cover article, "Slaves to the Clock", an examination of the challenges that CEOs and senior executives face in controlling their schedules enough to have time for strategic thinking and reflection. It's an interesting article that doesn't really offer a silver bullet to solve the problem (primarily because their isn't one) other than what we already know: we must police our own schedules to ensure that our time is being used wisely, and we have to get better at saying no to those commitments to which we cannot add value or which are simply less important than they are urgent.

One useful approach discussed in the article is to organize your schedule according to your organization's strategic priorities. Of course, using this approach depends on the ability of the CEO and/or senior executive to clearly articulate what those priorities are and then have the discipline to put them first consistently. We know that this kind of strategic clarity and discipline is difficult to achieve, especially in the association community. But it is a worthwhile goal and one that should be pursued.

+There is an interesting article on blogs and blogging in the April 2004 issue of Fast Company that isn't yet online. (It should be in the next week or so.) According to the article, the "blog world" now numbers more than 1.6 million people, including yours truly. What I find so remarkable about this figure is how few blogs there appear to be in the association world. (At present, I am only aware of four active blogs that deal in some way with associations. If there are others, please let me know right away!) Once again, it feels a bit as though we are lagging behind in our willingness to leverage powerful technologies even after they have already gained acceptance in other quarters of our society. Still, I remain hopeful that The Association Innovation Blog, as well as other blogs, will lead the way in generating interest in and increasing the use of weblogs across the association community.

By the way, I just want to remind everyone that blogging is intended to be an interactive effort. As such, I hope you will consider commenting on my observations--random and otherwise--so that we can create some meaningful dialogue around the important issues facing our community. I look forward to the conversation!

Posted on March 07, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Announcing The Seven Days of Blog

My birthday is on March 29, and that is usually cause enough for me to celebrate on that day. But this year, I have something really great to be excited about!

What is that you ask?

Well, I'm really excited to announce that March 29 will be the first day of the inaugural Seven Days of Blog on The Association Innovation Blog. Beginning on March 29, I will post everyday for seven consecutive days, and the best part is that I am entertaining your suggestions on the topics on which I blog! I want to know which issues are most important to you, and what kinds of things you want to read and listen to over that week.

How do I share my thoughts you ask?

Great question and one with a simple, simple answer! All you need to do is post a comment to this blog posting at some point in the next few weeks, and I will read it. I will give serious consideration to all topic proposals and I will try to post on as many of them as possible. So get involved...set the agenda for this conversation...engage in the very challenging work of thinking big!

I hope you will enjoy the Seven Days of Blog! It should be fun...and if it goes well, it could become a regular thing!

Posted on March 04, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A major upgrade!

Today, I'm very pleased to announce that The Association Innovation Blog has migrated from its original home at Blogger to its new home with TypePad. TypePad is a much more robust blogging application that makes my blog more useful. For example, down the left side of the screen, you'll see that my posts are now in categories. This should make it easier to locate older posts by subject matter. You'll also notice my wonderful picture in the upper left hand corner. I know that many of you may not consider that to be a benefit, but my wife likes it so we're going to give it a whirl.

In the weeks and months ahead, I'll be adding more links to this blog so you can access a greater variety of content on the issues that are the focus of my work. As always, your comments on the blog are very much welcomed and appreciated. I look forward to your feedback!

Posted on February 19, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some thoughts for the holiday...

It's Christmas, a day of peace and joy, and I hope that everyone who reads this blog (and everyone in the world for that matter) experiences a lot of both today. It is a strange time on our planet, and it definitely promises to get stranger in 2004. But, that can be the subject of another post at another time!

Today, I simply want to leave everyone with two inquiries for reflection. Since this blog focuses on the association community, our questions do as well. Here they are:

What would you most like to see happen in associations during 2004? What will you commit to do to make it happen?

Here's your chance to make both a Christmas wish and a New Year's commitment. (Forget resolutions...they never stick.) For me, the wish is that our community will recognize the reality that the changes we're all facing are real, profound and enduring. The wish is that leaders will emerge to embrace these shifts as genuine opportunities for spectacular growth at all levels of this ecosystem. The wish is that we will collaborate to create an environment in our community that is hospitable to innovation, one that challenges us to confront our strategic issues and inspires us to experiment with fresh ideas and approaches.

The good news is that I actually do see some signs of these things happening. But there is still much work to do and my personal commitment is to do all that I can to advance that work during 2004, just as I have tried to do throughout my career. This blog is only one element of that effort. If you are currently reading this blog, please share it with others in the association world and encourage them to subscribe. Please post your comments and question so we can spark meaningful conversations. If we can create our own community around a shared commitment to making association innovation more possible, then we will all take an important step toward fulfilling our wishes for the new year and beyond.

To all of you and to all of humanity, a heartfelt wish for a safe, peaceful and joyous holiday. And, in particular, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is unable to be with friends and family for one reason or another during this holiday season. Happy Holidays everybody!

Posted on December 25, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Audio Post: Thoughts on volunteering in associations

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Posted on December 18, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why we NEED the innovation conversation...

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a very good friend of mine in the association community. We were discussing some ideas for how to advance the innovation conversation in associations and he remarked that he thought some of what I had suggested would get a better reception in a more mature industry and would be difficult to sell in associations. As he is a person I deeply respect and admire, I've taken some time to reflect on his comment.

On the one hand, I definitely can see why he thinks as he does. After all, I spend a great deal of my time advancing the innovation conversation, and I often feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain. Associations today are focused on turning the corner out of a prolonged period of economic downturn. Association CEOs want to stabilize membership number and budgets, and staff specialists want to turn out attractive and reliably profitable products, programs and services. They want to do this in an environment of fewer resources and limited member time and attention. Boards of directors want to live up to their governing responsibilities the best way they know how and are seeking to minimize their organizations' exposure to risk in a time when any risk feels that much more threatening. In this context, any conversation of innovation seems to be particularly discordant. So, in one sense, my friend is correct.

The problem, however, is that the very issues and forces that are driving a laser-like focus on the day-to-day are also combining to make innovation vital. The rules of the game we've been playing for the last three decades are changing and if our organizations do not innovate, we will be lost. I know that this seems like a very unlikely possibility for your organization. After all, you probably have many loyal, dedicated members who would never leave your organization under any circumstances. You probably have a talented, highly motivated, highly capable cadre of staff and volunteer leaders who are deeply committed to your mission and who operate in a vibrant, self-authoring cultural context. You probably have access to ample financial resources and a solid yet flexible business model that can outlast the major societal changes that are wreaking havoc with every other industry in the world.

Then again, maybe you don't...

The economic, social, political, scientific and technological shifts we are experiencing today (and that we will continue to experience in the years ahead) are fundamental and their impact will be acute if we are unable to innovate every phase of the way our associations operate and create value for members and customers. It is perfectly normal for us to deny that such profound changes are at hand, and it is equally typical for us to be defensive about the choice to focus on the present. But there is an undeniable truth that all association leaders ultimately must confront: the work of associations will not be any different or any easier in the years to come unless we begin to get serious about the innovation conversation. The pursuit of innovation does not guarantee our long-term success, but the failure to pursue innovation guarantees that long-term success will become very difficult if not impossible to achieve.

So, with all due respect to my very good friend, I've concluded he's wrong. We absolutely MUST HAVE the innovation conversation in the association community and it must begin to today. Not because I say so, but because the future is telling us to pay attention and we have no alternative but to take heed. Our failure to listen will come at our peril.

Posted on October 17, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A new blog from Association Forum!

I'm pleased to announce that the Association Forum of Chicagoland has launched a new blog called View from a Corner Office. This blog will be anonymously authored by a CEO member of Association Forum. I encourage you to check it out!

Posted on October 06, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Innovation and pain

Last month, I did a couple of presentations for an association group around innovation. In one of the sessions, I asked the question, "How can we make innovation more possible?" One key thread of the ensuing conversation was that innovation would become more possible when the pain became sufficiently great. Leaders who could effectively ignite the burning platform and create enough pain could produce innovation.

Although I wasn't surprised by this line of reasoning, I was disappointed in it, because I think it is a recipe for disaster. I don't think we can have a meaningful conversation about innovation from a place of pain. Perhaps that is why I have encountered denial in some corners of our community over the last 18+ months that I've been doing this work. Pain is about desperation, whereas innovation is about opportunity. Pain is about suffering, whereas innovation is about creating. In the short term, pain may inspire creativity because you have nothing left to lose, so what the hell? But innovation is about a systemic organizational discipline that goes well beyond the creative element.

The hallmark of leadership in 21st Century associations, I believe, will be found in the ability to make the case for innovation to stakeholders in denial and to make innovation a daily priority that is deeply embedded in the organization's strategy, culture, intellectual environment and financial approaches. It's time, I believe, for association leaders to get on with the business creating great organizations and I firmly believe that for associations, greatness will come in large measure from the discipline of innovation and not from responding to the stimulus of pain.

Your thoughts? Send them to me at

Posted on September 04, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Welcome to The Association Innovation Blog

Last summer, I made my first effort at starting a blog. To be honest, at that time, I wasn't really ready to be writing that frequently. But over the last year, I've been doing research about innovation in associations in preparation for my book on the subject that I hope will be out in the first few months of 2004.

Anyway, after getting back from ASAE's Annual Meeting in Hawaii, I decided that I can use the blog as a way to share some of my on-going inquiry and learning in the area of innovation. I will also invite some of the association community's thought leaders to post here so that it is a true "association innovation" blog and not simply a marketing tool for my company.

In this space, I hope we can explore many questions, but here are four questions in particular that are on my mind a great deal these days:

+What are the fundamental dynamics and day-to-day demands of innovation in an association context?

+What does it take to build deep organizational capacity for innovation in associations?

+How can we create a community-based, transparent and "open source" approach to innovation that engages all of our stakeholders?

+What are the challenges and opportunities of innovation leadership in associations?

So, I look forward to writing for all of you and to hearing your thoughts. Please share your reactions with me at Thanks!

Posted on September 02, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack