Four Things I Learned About Learning at XDP

20170523_074444ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership has just closed its Experience Design Project conference, which it called XDP. It was an experiment to reinvent the professional conference in front of potentially the most discerning audience of all, event and conference professionals.

While some logistical issues could be improved, they were quite minor in the context of the big picture. I say it was a tremendous success – not only because of the event itself, but because of what I learned from it. The top four:

1. Death by PowerPoint isn’t inevitable.

I count myself among those who can talk a good game about how the standard adult learning experience (PowerPoint) needs to be changed, but tend to slip into the default mode when leading a learning session. I didn’t believe I had the skill set or the confidence to try something different.

What I learned is that there is no single antidote to the PowerPoint death ray. At any given moment around the room, each of the five sectors in the room was applying new learning approaches in five distinct ways. Like all participants, I attended three of the five sectors. They were all different, and each of them worked.

2. The answer is in the room.

I was one of about 100 people who volunteered to lead tables of 8 to 10 association professionals and vendors throughout the day. The responsibility rather intimidated me, until it was stressed at the orientation that we didn’t have to be the experts; that “the answer is in the room.”

That was liberating! Our job was to facilitate conversations, not direct them. We were there to foster learning, not to teach. The wisdom comes from the participants.

You know what? That’s exactly what happened. The people at my table were highly engaged all day long, and they shared awesome wisdom for each of the challenges we were asked to discuss. Results may have varied a little among the tables, but from what I heard, the overall result was positive

3. There’s still a role for the leader in the front of the room.

Anarchy in the room is not the answer. The way I see it, the leader:

  • Frames the problem
  • Poses the questions
  • Provides feedback and curation

That’s a very different role from the traditional teacher. It requires a different intention from the leader, as well as a different set of skills and intentions.

4. Have some fun. Play with it.

ASAE and its event partners came up with brilliant technology and design ideas for this new conference. My first impression upon entering room was, “Wow.”

In our own group, we had fun developing solutions to problems, including creating a networking event at which people design the most ridiculous Mr. Potato Head ever.

What was the point? Improving the participant’s experience. Would it work? Who knows – but it sounded like it would be fun, and it has to be better than Death by PowerPoint.

Kudos to ASAE for undertaking this bold initiative. I’d love to see this approach adopted more broadly. Are you up for it?


Reflections on ASAE 11: The Sexiness of Unsexy Innovation

Exactly one week after ASAE’s annual meeting, the line that’s sticking with me came from the final keynote speaker, Peter Sheahan: “Nine times out of 10, it’s the unsexy stuff where innovation happens.”

That’s the game I’m playing right now.

A few months ago, I was given an additional title: Chief Digital Strategist. No one ever had the title before, so I have the privilege of defining what that means. Right now, I’m focusing on bringing order to chaos, helping everyone prioritize what they need, and securing the resources to get it done.

As the weeks progressed, I noticed something else that was really interesting. I got a sense that our real problem wasn’t time, money or myopia. I realized that we weren’t paying attention to the basics. These included:

  • Clean data about our members
  • Confusing workflows on our website
  • Email address acquisition and maintenance
  • Landing page optimization

I know – how geeky!

But these issues are putting a serious drag on our efforts to grow and improve. How? Well, if our member data isn’t clean, we can forget about meaningful personalization on our website, let alone effective market segmentation. And if the current workflows on our website confuse people, we’re losing money and customers. And if we don’t keep our lists up to date, those emails that we labor over are only half as effective as they could be (or worse).

Don’t get me wrong – we’re definitely working on our future. We’re currently choosing a new content management system for the website, with requirements that will provide an entirely new experience for our members. That’s exciting new stuff. But if we fail to address the basics, we’re digging ourselves into an deeper hole.

Is this work innovative? Probably not in the most common sense of the word. Many organizations figured out this stuff a long time ago. But we are now having conversations across business groups that we’ve never had before. We’re making promises and keeping them. We’re hoping to build confidence and trust in this new approach, one step at a time. If this works, we’ll all be very successful.

And that is very, very sexy.

Pulling it All Together: The 360 Degree Marketing Communications Strategy

We’ve seen several distinct stages in the association sector’s journey into and through the world of social media.

At first, the evangelists spread the good news, and a few eager souls experimented. Early adopters followed their example, and soon, the growth from seed concept to mainstream was amazingly rapid – three or four years, depending on how you count.

At each stage, there were successes, failures, and lessons learned. Most of us are continually refining our objectives, strategies and technologies. And we’re learning from each other, which is absolutely AWESOME. As somebody said at an ASAE Annual session in Chicago, we’re all figuring this out together.

I'm speaking at the ASAE & The Center 2010 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA!These days, we’ve seeing another branch of the conversation emerge and begin to dominate: How does everything fit together in a single, cohesive marketing communications ecosystem?

For every association, every community, and every audience, the details of the answer will be different. Each of our communities has different inclinations, biases and preferences. There are great limitations to what we can crib from each other. But there are some universal principles, I think.

  1. There is no magic pill, and no killer app. No single channel will get every job done.
  2. Nothing goes away; every tool has value. This is a corollary to #1. I used to think that perhaps fax was an exception to this principle, but if you’ve recently bought property or had a major medical engagement, you can’t avoid the fax.
  3. They all have to work together. Each of our tools can, and must, work together. Remember that our members and audiences don’t relate to us through our technologies, but through the experience we provide them. So our platforms and channels must support the same brand proposition.
  4. The marketing funnel is still relevant. It’s evolved some, but it’s still relevant. I think marketers’ biggest mistakes occur when we apply the wrong tools to the wrong parts of the funnel.
  5. Know thy communities. Unfortunately, there is no short cut to obsessively learning about your members and your members’ communities. Your community of engineers acts very differently from my community of doctors. Even different communities of doctors have differences.
  6. Experiment and learn – quickly and cheaply. An old principle, but it still applies. There’s still no playbook, no “Ogilvy on Advertising” to rely on. We’re collectively writing today’s equivalent of that book as we go along.
  7. Communicate to your outposts, and bring them back home. Our members are playing all over the digital landscape. Find them, and show them the way back to your website and your blog.
  8. Prioritize and focus. You can’t do everything well, so don’t even try. Your member research should tell you where to focus.
  9. Measure, measure, measure. It’s the only way you’ll know if you’re succeeding.
  10. Warning: This WILL disrupt your business. This project will make silos teeter, and encroach on long-existent turf. Be prepared to deal with this. Do it well, and it will be an exhilarating experience!

My colleagues Jaime Nolan, Nan Dawkins and I will discuss these and other issues at our Learning Lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting this coming Sunday, at 1:30 p.m.

Our combined handouts are here. (.pdf)

My own slideshare set is here.

We hope to see you there!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Association of the Future

One of the most interesting sessions at the Great Ideas Conference last week was “The Association of the Future” – but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

It’s a project of ASAE and the Center, where young staff and volunteers invent and try to improve a fictitious association in a kind of test kitchen. Its mission was to improve the professional development opportunities of young professionals.

It had a four-part mantra: Members come first. No silos. Listen and then talk. Go techno.

So far so good.

After developing their initial model, the members’ early feedback was that the volunteer opportunities for this faux association weren’t meaningful. OK, stuff happens. So the staff went to the drawing board and came back with solutions sounded decidedly old school, including:

  • Restructure councils
  • Invent new councils
  • Create ad hoc groups and task forces
  • Develop partnerships with other organizations.
  • Develop new incentives and recognition programs

These recommendations all rely on tweaking governance an infrastructure, instead of questioning whether they were actually addressing what members want and need.

To several of us in the room, these were surprising and disappointing remedies, especially since the people doing the work were millennials and Gen Xers, supposedly immune from these old-school tactics!

Not surprisingly, the “member” feedback was less than enthusiastic. Among other things, they said they were overwhelmed by the number of suggestions. The “staff” admitted they used a throw-spaghetti-on-the-wall approach – see what sticks. As an experiment, this might be defensible. But in real life, it usually isn’t.

Was this project a failure? No! It was actually incredible instructive. It demonstrated that:

  • Reinventing yourself is deceptively hard work
  • Your age and generation guarantees nothing
  • It’s really easy to lapse into the familiar
  • It’s hard to re-examine fundamental assumptions, even if the association is new and it’s not even real
  • Crowdsourcing might have produced a different result. Doing things the same old way usually produces the same old result.

The staff and volunteers who presented this session have to be commended for their courage in subjecting themselves to this kind of public autopsy. I love the way they took it as a learning opportunity – one that we can all learn from as they move forward.

The Game Changer: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

The Great Ideas Conference, sponsored last week by ASAE and the Center, was more than another conference with some interesting education sessions and good times with friends. It featured a game changer that will stay with me for a long time.

Many others have written about Dan Pink’s exciting talk about intrinsic motivation, the forces that really motivate human beings today. I had finished reading Dan’s book on the flight to the conference, so the content of his talk wasn’t a revelation. But his appearance imprinted it on my brain. It’s rocked me in a big way.

A quick recap:

At the beginning of our existence, humans were motivated by basic bodily needs: Food, sex, shelter, etc. That’s Motivation 1.0.

When basic needs were more-or-less handled in developed countries, Motivation 2.0 was designed: rewards and punishment. Most management practices are based on this 2.0 model. But social scientists have noticed something very strange. Motivation wasn’t 2.0 was working. And the more it was applied, the results were worse. What was missing?

It’s the recognition that human beings have powerful intrinsic motivations that are not addressed by the old models – intrinsic motivations that common management techniques write off. Ever see a young child play? Do they need a bonus to be engaged in what they do?

It’s Motivation 3.0, and its three building blocks are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy: The more people have control over their lives, the happier they are. Self determination is the path to engagement. Our country is built on this principle.

Mastery: We are wired to want to be better at what we do. The mastery of something is its own reward. It may be the most powerful thing driving us.

: We are happiest when we are working for something larger than ourselves.

This is a game changer of the highest order. Autonomy is deeply threatening to those who micromanage. Mastery is disorienting to those who believe people try to do the least they can get away with. The purpose motive is unfathomable to those who lock “strategic planning” in the organization’s ivory tower.

I like to think that I intuitively lean in the direction of Motivation 3.0, probably because I crave this for myself. But Dan Pink’s talk had me reflecting on the areas where I still fall short – in my own life, in my family, with the people in my department, and even with the members of our medical society who volunteer for committees.

In my career, work is least fulfilling when one of these three pieces is missing. My daughters chafe the most when autonomy is not an option (admit, parents, you do it too). At work, I can almost see them go numb when I become unnecessarily prescriptive.

The entire vocabulary of management needs reinvention under this framework. People don’t “report to me” and they don’t “work for me.” Even the word “management” has to be re-examined. Words matter, because they frame thinking and inform action.

Of course, anarchy is not the answer. There’s always work to do, and objectives to accomplish. And as Dan Pink said, you can’t get to Motivation 3.0 if the other needs aren’t addressed adequately and fairly. But he has plenty of ideas to have an engaged workforce or community, while getting the work done, within the framework of Motivation 3.0.

But this line of thinking shouldn’t stop with Dan. For those who us who have been inspired by this, we must keep the conversation alive, and put it in place where we live, work, and play.

To get started, you really should read Dan’s book, Drive. Here it is on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

UPDATE: ASAE and the Center has done something awesome. It’s offering a video of Dan’s Great Ideas talk free, both to members and non members. Enjoy!

UnTech 10: A Glimpse of the Future

A couple of quick thoughts about the #untech10 conference starting tomorrow.

This is what will happen to traditional associations if we don’t get our act together. A crazy group of committed, spirited and smart volunteers can move the world – and they are more than willing to work around a traditional association to get the job done.

Traditional associations can not only coexist with such groups, but thrive. They can always be the platform for like-minded people to get together, learn something together, and do something together – but only if they’re willing to shed outmoded governance and financial structures to do it. As those of us in associations know, this is easier said than done, because there is always a powerful group of stakeholders ready to defend anything of the status quo.

ASAE and the Center is playing its cards right on this one – starting with the wise decision to keep people home, safe and out of DC, and its tacit support for what Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and many others have put together.

This is totally inspiring. I can’t listen to every minute of every session, but I will drop in as often as I can. I can’t wait!

Forrester: Social Media Is Now Mainstream Media

Photo by Matthew Field, via FlickrForrester Research today released its third annual social technographics profile of online adults around the world, and there’s only one possible conclusion: Social media is now in the mainstream – at least the consumption of social media.

Social technographics is Forrester’s lens through which it analyzes what people do with social media. Do they read it or look at it, do they create it, do they share it, or are they doing something else?

In the latest survey, 73% of all US adults are “spectators,” which means they read it, or look at it, at least once a month. Half of adults are “joiners,” which means they participate in a social network like Facebook. This is double the percentage from just two years ago.

Curiously, the number of people who regularly write blogs, upload video and music, or otherwise create content remains at 24%, compared to 18% in 2007. This does not disprove the importance of social media. To the contrary, it ratifies a hypothesis of Clay Shirky’s, which is that inside any collaborative effort, there is always a tiny group of people running the engine.

These findings echo the recent social technographic survey my association conducted on our members, Massachusetts physicians, around the same time that Forrester was in the field with its survey. Even among our members – median age around 50 – social media is a regular part of their existence.

Shel Holz wrote earlier today that NOW is the time to get into the online conversation with your communities. Couldn’t agree more.

But be careful. There is still much wisdom in the notion that you must start small, get it right, attract a following , and then grow.

As Shirky told the ASAE and the Center ‘s annual meeting last week, it’s a lot easier to start small, get good and get bigger, than to start large, be bad at it, and then try to make it better.

I would add, it’s not only easier, but probably a lot faster, too.