fearless at digitalNow conference

The word ‘fearless’ was literally front and center this year at the digitalNow conference. In the opening and closing sessions, digitalNow’s Hugh Lee and Don Dea talked about the need for association execs to be fearless.

The choice of ‘fearless’ as the unofficial conference motto irked me. I understand why people find ‘fearless’ inspiring. With all the challenges facing associations and the people who run them, you can’t let fear influence your decisions. You can’t hide your head in the sand and avoid dealing with the scary emotions that come with change and conflict.

Does that mean you have to be fearless? No, a thousand times no. You need to be courageous. That’s not the same thing as being fearless.

But ‘fearless’ is a mindset that gets an audience excited. Who doesn’t want to self-identify as someone who doesn’t fear change. Soon after the ‘fearless’ slide went up, tweets with the hashtag #fearless started appearing in the #diginow stream. Hoorah. Yeah, it’s a macho word, for sure. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against macho, in fact, I like macho.

Admit it, you’re scared.

Hugh and Don weren’t trying to be macho, they were just acknowledging the state of associations today: “The pace of change can lead to paralyzing fear.”

Fear has a way of disguising itself. Instead of admitting it’s fear that’s holding us back from action, we imagine it’s reason, deliberation, common sense, caution, prudence, tact, wisdom, or some other positive attribute. But not fear, no, we’re more progressive than that, right?

Wrong. If you dig deep and keep asking Why, you may find that fear is lying behind the resistance to change. Rightfully so, we fear the possible consequences of change. We fear the effects of failure. We fear losing our reputation, status, or job.

But, I don’t believe in being fearless. Fearless = foolhardy. Fear is a natural, healthy, and acceptable emotion. It’s an instinct that has saved our butts since our knuckle-dragging days. However, we must acknowledge and be okay with fear instead of letting it become an excuse for inaction.

Angel's Landing

Fear and courage co-exist.

Fear can help you prepare for what lies ahead. When you figure out what really scares you about something, you can begin to make peace with that fear. Don’t expect to overcome fear, that’s not the point. Instead, learn to live with fear.

One of the scariest things I’ve ever done is hike Angels Landing, a rock formation in Zion National Park. Once a year I hike out west with my boyfriend Jim and his sister Patty who both love the challenge of scary hikes. I don’t have those genes. I can hike long and hike hard, but I’ve never been good with exposure.

Over the years, hiking with these two, I found myself having to deal with more and more exposure on canyon walls and fins. But nothing like Angels Landing. Take a look at this short video and you’ll understand why. And these too, especially the second video. Just watching these made my hands and feet sweat and tingle.

In the weeks leading up to our trip to Zion, I watched dozens of videos like these so I could get used to the exhausting fear I was going to have to deal with on that hike. Fear came along with me on that hike but I kept going up (and down) one step at a time. Was I fearless? Hell, no, but I was courageous and did something I never thought I could do. Jim and Patty said they gave me a 40% shot at making it to the top. They had more faith in me than I did: I had given myself a 30% shot.

Since then, I haven’t missed a chance to talk about this hike. I find all kinds of ways to bring it up, like this post, because I’m proud of my accomplishment. I accepted my fear and walked alongside and through it. And that’s exactly what any of us should do when we’re dealing with change or some other scary thing.

fear the backseat driver

Let fear sit in the backseat.

Identify, if you can, what scares you, your staff, or your board. Acknowledge it, make room for it and walk through that fear. Walking through fear stretches you, and makes you more resilient and stronger. The courageous aren’t fearless, but they take action despite their fear.

I like author Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on fear. In her recent book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, she says, “Fear will always show up—especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative…When people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.”

She advises “making space for fear.” She acknowledges its presence and lets it come along for the ride as long as it sits in the back seat. She never lets it drive and doesn’t even allow any backseat driving.

Help others deal with fear.

You must address fear if you want to successfully manage change. You can’t discount people’s feelings of fear, or their feelings of anxiety, stress, or worry. You have to identify and acknowledge that fear and then help them transition through it. I read somewhere that it’s not the ultimate change that people dread, they dread how they’ll feel during the transition.

How well people adapt to change is a function of many variables, but one is the trust they have in you to provide a safe place for change. In a session about culture at digitalNow, moderator Jamie Notter, co-founder of WorkXO, said the innovators on your staff must trust that when they try something that aligns with your organization’s strategy and goals, they won’t be punished.

Make peace with uncertainty.

“Fear comes from uncertainty. So if we can begin, as a group, to identify those issues that worry us, we can begin to attack what often our associations feel are insurmountable odds,” said Hugh during the opening session.

We will always live in uncertainty. In the closing session, Marc Randolph, best known as the founder of Netflix, talked about the need to move forward in uncertainty – an action that goes against everything your self-preserving brain wants you to do. But, as humans, we have to do it to grow, and as organizations, we have to do it to survive.

What fears have you walked alongside and pushed through? I bragged about my Angels Landing experience, now it’s your turn.

<Twitter photo by Sig VanDamme (fearless), Creative Commons licensed photos by Dale Beckett (Angels Landing) and modernrockstar (backseat driver)>

(This post includes an Amazon affiliate link. I receive a tiny commission if you click on the link and purchase the product.)

four truths about the future of associations

“Innovation” is such a buzzword now that I wouldn’t blame association execs for tuning out when they hear it. But I like Jim Carroll’s slant: “Innovation is all about adapting to the future.” Now that’s something we can work with.

Jim Carroll is the opening keynote at the digitalNow conference which will take place in less than a month (April 21-23) in Orlando. Carroll will talk about:

  • technologies and innovations that will affect association business models
  • strategies for reacting to these innovations with greater speed
  • challenges associations will face ahead

Innovating is not about surviving, says Carroll, it’s about thriving. Surviving, like relevance, is a low bar. Associations must aim higher—aim to thrive and become indispensable to their community.

Carroll lays down ten truths about the future. Let’s take a look at four of those truths and think about how your association is handling them.

The future is incredibly fast.

How can you, your staff, and your board keep up? Can you adjust your business processes quickly? How long does it take to discover a need, develop a solution, and roll it out to your community?

Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate’s session at digitalNow, The Lean Startup Changes Everything, is bound to give us some ideas on how to experiment with and speed up program development. Get a sneak preview of his thinking in the white paper he co-authored with Elizabeth Engel: Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment.

The future involves a huge adaptability gap.

This one blew me away because it’s so true:

“Earlier generations – boomers – have participated in countless change management workshops, reflecting the reality that many of them have long struggled with change. Gen-Connect – today’s 15 and under – will never think of <the> change management issue. They just change.”

Change management experts say it isn’t the actual change we resist, it’s the psychological transition we have to make to accommodate change, that’s the tough part. Adapting to change is a skill set, one you can teach your staff and your members. Today, knowing how to develop new skills is the most important skill of all.

The future is being defined by renegades.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote two articles for Avectra (now Abila) about for-profit online communities: The New Competition: For-Profit Communities with Deep Pockets, part 1 and part 2. Since then these “renegades” have become even more popular and profitable. They saw an opportunity to deliver value to markets long served by associations, and they went for it.

“Increasingly, the future of many an industry is being defined by industry expatriates. When a real innovator can’t innovate within a company, they step outside, form a startup, and spark massive industry change on their own. Before you know, they’ve reinvented you.”

Keep an eye on innovators and hold them close. What if associations had been part of these ventures? What if associations were agile enough to play the game at that level?

The future involves partnership.

How can you help your members—both professional and vendor members—become more successful? Associations have always declared themselves member-centric, but too often their perspective is inside-out rather than outside-in, as Anna Caraveli points out in her excellent book, The Demand Perspective. The value proposition has always been based on what the association says is valuable, not what members believe is valuable. Crazy, right?

Partnering means regularly listening to members (and non-members) and involving them in the early stages of discussions about value delivery—behaving like a real partner in their success. Don’t assume you know what members need, instead be guided by member behavior (data) and conversations for your direction.

To do this, you’ll have to schedule more member interaction than you’re used to, and not just interaction with the usual suspects, but interaction with “regular” members and non-members too. But think about all you’ll learn—they call this business intelligence for a reason.

Don’t ignore those other members—you know, the vendors, consultants, affiliates, associates, or whatever you call them. Here’s what you should call them—partners. How can they help you become more successful and, in turn, how can you help them become more successful? What can you learn from each other? What access and resources can you provide each other?

Associations and their boards need to get over themselves and treat vendor members as partners in their success. You can help each other succeed if you get together and figure out how to deliver value to members in ways that help both of you.

The future requires rethinking value.

This bonus truth is from me. Many associations are still struggling financially and would benefit from rethinking the whole non-dues revenue issue. Heck, rethink the whole value issue. If you’re struggling, it’s a sign you aren’t delivering value to your community. If you were, they would be joining, renewing, registering, sponsoring, and buying.

The digitalNow conference is a great opportunity to get away for a few days to rethink everything in the company of curious association execs who don’t accept mere relevance. The speakers from outside and inside our industry poke at our assumptions and introduce us to new ideas. I can’t wait.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Rennett Stowe)

Have you ever seen one of these?

association maker culture

UCF’s 3D printer at digitalNow

That’s a 3D printer from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training METIL Lab. David Metcalf and two of his students brought it to the digitalNow conference for The Maker Society, a session they presented with Jenny Levine, Strategy Guide at the American Library Association. 

Jenny made it clear up front: “Your association does not need a 3D printer.” Instead she focused on the maker culture and what it means for associations.

These articles will give you a better understanding of the maker culture:

Who’s a maker? Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE, defines a maker as:

“Someone who is a builder, a creator, a producer, a developer, someone who has an active sense of taking an idea and developing it into something that’s real and tangible and can be shared with other people.”

Sounds like the ideal association leader to me.

The Maker Generation

A generation of makers is coming of age — our future members. How do we become organizations they want (and need) in their lives?

Librarians, as usual, are ahead of the game. At work, they’re creating maker spaces for kids and adults. At their association, the American Library Association (ALA), they’re experimenting with new approaches to membership issues. Like many associations, ALA has seen a decline in volunteerism. Fewer members are willing to commit to time-intensive volunteer roles. So what can an association do? Jenny  appeals to the maker in her members.

  • Listen to member conversations. What are they talking about? What inspires their passion? Jenny monitors an unofficial group of 3000 members and non-members on Facebook – the ALA Think Tank. She looks for short-term project ideas that she can help facilitate.
  • Create new pathways to bring members into association involvement. In addition to the traditional, time-intensive style of volunteer service, offer project-based entry points that require less of a time commitment.
  • Nurture the maker ethos – “let’s just do it” – by providing support or, at least, encouragement to member-organized projects.

One of the UCF students mentioned how fun it is to get a maker community going. The community was already there, UCF only needed to give it resources and get out of the way. You have communities of members who are passionate about different issues or causes. Find them and listen to them. What types of projects would give them a sense of satisfaction while also staying aligned with the association’s mission?

Maker governance

When Jenny looks for projects, one of her criteria is purpose. David Metcalf looks for passion about a social mission. The motivation behind these projects is a yearning to create or accomplish something. That’s such a powerful desire – the drive to create – yet how often do associations satisfy it?

After the session, I wondered: What will happen to the traditional association governance model? Is the next generation of members willing to put in time serving on committee after committee in hopes of getting a board position and then, maybe one day, being nominated for an officer position? Is that a desirable path? Is that how they want to serve? Is that how they envision an association experience?

Will this generation of makers be willing to deal with the slow-moving engines of association governance? Does “let’s just do it” work in the association world? Can we find ways to let people get together and make “things” that help their fellow members, attendees, profession/industry or community? 

I’m excited about this emerging culture of makers and here’s why. Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, says the best leaders are makers:

“All humans have at least a touch of what I call the maker instinct, but most leaders have a serious dose since they must make and remake the organizations they lead. The best leaders have always been tinkerers who imagine alternative structures and love to play around with them to see what new things they can create.”

Why wait for the young ones to start hacking our associations. Let’s figure out how to just do it ourselves.

association maker motto

Photo by NoSoma (Flickr CC)

Steven Rosenbaum says, “Stop knocking curation.” I agree. There’s a big difference between aggregation and curation. I can do without the daily paper.li aggregations. I rarely read them, even if one of my tweets is featured as a “top story.” Too many of them don’t have the human (or curator’s) touch. However, as Rosenbaum says, “Information overload drives content consumers to look for human-filtered, journalist-vetted, intellectually-related material. This hunger for coherence isn’t unreasonable; it’s essential.” He’s talking about curation, like this post. My Reads of the Week posts take some time to put together, but I love doing it, and I appreciate when others do the same. Long live curation!

Are you making marketing’s biggest mistake? It’s an easy mistake to make. Jay Baer warns us about making assumptions based on our own experience — a dangerous thing to do as a marketer. He says that Marketers from Mars, a new report from ExactTarget, “found big differences between how marketers (that’s you and me) use social media, compared to how real people (your customers) use social media.” Watch his two-minute video and check out the data in the infographic. A good wake up call.

I make my living providing content that helps businesses educate clients and prospects, so I’m obviously a big advocate of content marketing. Fact: it works. Andrew Hanelly at TMG is in the same camp. He says, “What was once a secret weapon to savvy brands is now a marketing staple. And if it isn’t yet for your organization, it probably should be.” He provides a list of reasons to embrace content in your marketing mix and backs them up with data and charts.

Geoff Livingston’s interview with Andrew Keen is a must read. They discuss a bunch of meaty topics, including the downside of transparency for individuals, the importance of “dark spaces” and invisibility for creatives, the rise of influencers, narcissism fueled by new media, and the danger of the echo chamber. Lots to chew on here, but I loved this less meaty remark: “I loathe MSNBC equally as Fox because neither of them actually reports the news.” So damn true although their fan bases would argue differently.

I love seeing associations experimenting with new ideas, so kudos to the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). Michelle Bruno just returned from their Convening Leaders conference and says, “More than any specific program feature or technological innovation, it was PCMA’s attitude toward digital disruption that was so obvious at the event. They must have trepidation about keeping pace with technology and the future of meetings—their members surely do—but they didn’t let that paranoia stop them. If the level of experimentation at the meeting was any indication, PCMA is always in beta, trying new form factors and delivery systems.” Let’s hear more stories like this – they inspire all of us in the association community.

When I started reading Nilofer Merchant’s post, Having a Point of View, I thought it was about writing, but it’s about much more. She’s talking about leadership: “To have a point of view is to know why you’re there, to be able to signal your purpose or organizing principle so clearly that the “reader knows”, even before he or she dives into the details. It attracts talent, it creates allies, and it focuses the work. When you have point of view about what matters to you and why, your chances of “changing the world” rise exponentially.”

Here’s a helpful post from one of my favorite writers about digital life, Alexandra Samuel. She shares three tricks for monitoring Twitter mentions and trackbacks. These “tricks” have been part of my digital schedule for a while. They will help you be a better social citizen. Alexandra says, “The whole point of seeing all these links is to engage with them, ideally by replying to any questions or substantive comments, and perhaps by thanking some or all of the folks who have tweeted about your work.”

My community service for the week: take the advice in this Lifehacker article and plug up your computer’s (and network’s) security holes. Adding this to my to-do list.

Happy Friday!

Protectin' Ur Intertubez (photo by Dennis Hamilton/Flickr)

Protectin’ Ur Intertubez (photo by Dennis Hamilton/Flickr)

Eight years ago, the Girl Scouts of the USA decided it was time to transform the organization. “We knew we had to…revitalize the organization to ensure we remain compelling, contemporary and relevant to today’s girls.”

“Girl Scouts was founded 100 years ago. We need to update the organization and our model, or else we’re going to lose people,” says Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.

Sound familiar?

Think big. Act boldly. Transform yourself.

It doesn’t surprise me the Girl Scouts plan to transform themselves. After all, the Girl Scouts have been a transformational experience for many of their alumnae, including me.  According to Girl Scouting Works: The Alumnae Impact Study, Girl Scout alumnae exhibit more positive life outcomes than do non-Girl Scout alumnae, including self-perceptions, volunteerism, community work, civic engagement, education, income and socioeconomic status. Not bad.

Are your members’ lives changed because of their membership? Do they get experiences they wouldn’t have elsewhere? Relationships they couldn’t develop elsewhere? Education they can’t find elsewhere? Does your association provide a transformational experience for your members? Imagine if you did, you wouldn’t have any worries about recruitment, retention or relevance.

Read more about why the Girl Scouts have lessons for associations at the Avectra blog.

My old Girl Scout sash

Quiz time:

  1. How often do you try a new recipe? A different gas station or restaurant? An unfamiliar magazine or radio station?
  2. When’s the last time you talked with someone about an idea or project that flopped, or asked for constructive criticism?
  3. When did you last seek ideas from someone with a different perspective? Or collaborate with a colleague from another department?
  4. Who lights up your office with their energy, passion and creativity? Is it you?
  5. Whose reactions concern you the most: your boss, the CEO, leadership or the average member?

These questions are based on traits identified by Jasper Visser as signs of a good organizational attitude. Visser is a digital strategist and workshop facilitator who works primarily with museums. His recent post, The Future is About Attitude, Not Technology, got me thinking about individual and organizational attitude.

You can have the biggest technology budget on the block, but if your association’s culture and attitude is stuck in the 20th century, that slick AMS or online community is only going to take you so far.

When Visser looks at museums that have successfully adopted new media and technology, he sees five common characteristics that hint at the attitude organizations need to succeed in the 21st century.

Read about these five characteristics at the Avectra blog.

the future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty

Photo by Stephanie Vacher (Flickr)

Brian Solis, in his post, The Importance of Brand in an Era of Digital Darwinism, talks about tone-deaf brands like Netflix that didn’t engage with customers and didn’t monitor social network conversations, consequently screwing up and losing their customers’ trust:

“Brands that fail to instill this level of confidence in consumers run the risk of falling to digital Darwinism. The brands that survive this era of economic disruption, will be the ones that are best able to evolve because they recognize the need and opportunity to do so, before their competitors.”

I wonder how many associations still think it’s business as usual. Many of the large national associations get it, but what about the smaller ones or state associations? They’re not reading the industry blogs. Just what are they reading? Anything? Many of them don’t belong to ASAE, and even if they do, are they paying attention?

Their boards don’t know any better. Why would they? They’re not association professionals.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mourning a patient that doesn’t even know it’s dying. It’s sad. A stupid loss.

The state SAEs, heck, everyone who cares about associations, can’t reinforce this message enough:

“What separates brands that fall to digital evolution from those that excel is the ability to recognize the need for change and the vision to blaze a path toward renewed relevance among a new generation of consumers.”

It’s no different for associations. As Solis says, #adaptordie.

associations adapt or die

Photo by Matt McNier

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