Friday, December 30, 2005

Time Management from the Inside Out

Now, you all know that I'm a fan of Julie Morgenstern's books on organizing. This is because I believe that the underlying philosophy is useful for just about any undertaking from accounting to volunteering, etc. And I happen to be doing some research on this topic for an article I'm writing.

So the book has got really good perspective on getting more done, and on feeling more zen about life in general. Now, you should go get the whole book if you find yourself interested in what you can do to be more productive, or if you have OCD tendencies ane wish you could just pick up an edge to your organizing activities. One reference she gives comes from Abby Marks-Beale, a corporate productivity specialist who helps busy people manage their time, reading and email. You can check out her website here.

How to Read a Sunday Paper
A daily edition of a big city newspaper contains approximately the same number of words as a typical novel. And the Sunday edition contains the same number of words as four to six novels! No wonder you may feel overwhelmed by reading an entire Sunday newspaper!

Truth – You CAN read an entire Sunday paper, if you are very judicious with how you spend your time.

Here’s an easy-to-follow process:

  • Get rid of the clutter: Start your process by getting rid of the unwanted circulars and sections that you don’t need or want to spend your time on. They get in your way and distract you. For me, I immediately remove the Real Estate section (unless I am looking to buy some), Help Wanted, and Sports (I get enough info from my husband and sons!)

  • Set it up for faster reading: Lay the newspaper flat out on a table with all the sections neatly underneath.

  • Organize the sections based on your interests: Looking at the cover page of each section, decide which ones intrigue you the most and prioritize them accordingly. This way, if you run out of time, you have read the sections of most value, to you.

  • Skim the headlines: Look for articles of interest. Disregard those you have no interest in.

  • Read the first few paragraphs: Most newspaper articles are written in an A-frame style: the most important, new information is upfront, then the other, unimportant or older news details follow.

  • Continue reading if you want more: If not, don’t! And for those that know the faster reading techniques in my book, use them to get through the text faster.

  • Now, I don't even do the hard-copy paper news thing and haven't seen it done since I was in high school, but the principles are really good for getting through my to-read file in a methodical manner.

    By Julie Morgenstern
    ISBN# 0805075909

    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    The Universal Benefits of Volunteering

    Maybe it's just me but reading this book is like being hit over the head. It has tons and tons of lists and policies and the like, but it assumes an alternate reality. This alternate reality involves people who want to volunteer and therefore make themselves spreadsheets of the kinds of experiences they would like to encounter in the process of volunteering. It involves boards of directors who sit down and methodically merge volunteering into the organization's strategic plan.

    Now, to be fair, the book is very good at providing example documents to use in beginning a program. These would be good for someone running homeless shelters or other outreach-intensive organizations. Or as part of research on volunteering. But even this poses a problem since they're just thrown at you without any context, visual or otherwise. I am serious, the book would be useful in those instances, so go out and get it if that applies. However, if you're an ASAE/trade-association type, this one is not worth the trouble.

    By Walter P. Pidgeon, Jr.
    ISBN# 0471185051


    Have you ever heard of it? I'm not that crunchy, but it could be fun actually...

    Google Zeitgeist

    Here's their year-end coverage for '05. Pretty interesting stuff.

    Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    BrainDeath by micromanagement

    This one is pretty good.
    "Be careful of every order you give. Once you give an order on a particular topic, you are responsible for always giving orders on that topic."

    Olive Garden soup

    I'm excited I found the recipe for the Zuppa Toscana soup that they have at Olive Garden. Now I don't have to go there any more just to get the soup!

    UPDATE: Made the soup. It's a pretty good knockoff. Tips: make sure everything is cut up quite small. Drain the italian sausage very well if you don't want to skim fat off the top (still tastes good, though).

    Year-end magazine dump

    So, I'm cleaning out my office and getting ready for the new year. I am throwing away lots of mags, but I had put post-it flags on some articles I came across in 2005.

    This article, while about entrepreneurship, has lots of applications in the association environment. It is also useful for productivity in general.

    This is a VOIP primer (originally in Entrepreneur). Also - I've found this blog to be an excellent resource for this emerging disruption.

    Also, an article I snagged from the February issue of Executive Update on keeping members and modeling pricing for dues seems useful. The same issue has a great discussion of "bad board behavior" and an interesting piece on what's called one's "likeability factor."

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Library time

    Back to the library with two books I didn't get to:

    Common Sense Business, by Steve Gottry, looks likes what it claims to be. Clear structure and basic, if useful content.

    Emotional Intelligence at Work, by Hendrie Weisinger. I picked it up because I've been wondering what "emotional intelligence" looks like. When I worked for the therapists, they used the term constantly.

    Another book I'm taking back is the Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership. I have read the book before and picked it up for a review. It is an excellent compilation of articles to help with all kinds of association challenges.

    Library Thing

    Okay, I finally started putting my books into Library Thing. Since I've got a "book blog," I figured that was the least I could do. Now, you all will realize that I'm not much into the whole social tagging phenomenon (although I am not antisocial!) so I have not availed myself of those provisions. They quote the Christian Science Monitor on their homepage: ""LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation." I like the idea of cataloging one's own books. In the old days, they had so few there was probably not much of a need. But nowadays, we can accumulate books pretty darn fast, and you gotta keep a handle on your inventory, know what I'm sayin'?

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Christmas eve

    How to Be a People Magnet

    I'm a little embarrassed I got this book. I have been thinking about the whole "soft skill" thing a lot recently, and kind of reflecting on the fact that it really is good relationships that have the power to make just about anything happen. So, the book seemed interesting from a skim, so I picked it up and read it.

    Really, the book is kind of facile and way too autobiographical about the author, Leil Lowndes, whom I'd never heard of before. But apparently, she has a cult following, at least to believe what you read. However, if you look at the book from a "tip" perspective, there are some useful tidbits, and the points she raises are basically wise reflections from someone who's good with people. For instance:
    When I knokw in my hear that something is right, I will go for it. Whether it's as important as racial relations or as insignificant as cracking a click in one high school, I'll be the first to stand up--or sit down--for my folks. Yes, they will like me for it. But most of all, I will like myself. (And that's the first step to making everybody like me.)
    I apologize if that makes you choke back your breakfast, but it is good advice and a good perspective on things--and a good way to keep balanced when dealing with people. It's easy to get along if you go along. Less easy to stand your ground and have people like you for who you are.

    By Leil Lowndes
    ISBN# 0809224356

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    User interface and volunteering

    I follow A List Apart somewhat, mostly because I like to follow web happenings and design, not because I know anything about how to do that stuff. Also 37 Signals for the same reason. However, I find lots of things that help me organize my thinking about association management. For example this post talks about usability. Of course this is immediately applicable to web design, like duh. But it also can be applied to dealing with volunteers. Why, you ask? Because website users are volunteers coming to your site. How do you make them happy, and keep them? Do the things this article says. How do we make volunteers happy and keep them? Read the post and think about it.

    Final thoughts on Roberta's Rules

    Okay, just some final thoughts on this book before I throw it into the drop box. Really a good way to summarize her approach is to say it is a softer, more relationship-driven model than Robert's. This approach seems advantageous to nonprofit groups because a lot of times, people who volunteer in these organizations are trying to connect with a community and it's good to try and work together to maintain these positive working relationships.

    However, Roberta's does not substitute for Robert's -- sometimes she admits this freely, other times she doesn't. Roberta's is more an approach to meetings rather than a parliamentary system. You could--and probably should--develop governance policies that would be based on some of these practices, but using this approach solely would leave you with little recourse if things really went south. Like I said, the author admits this sometimes, but other times she'd like to push her system.

    Like I mentioned yesterday, though, I am going to go ahead and buy this one and keep it on the shelf the next time I am needing to brush up on board process. This and the real Robert's would really hook you up.

    Here's list of useful reading I pulled from the book's references:

    How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation in All Fifty States. Mancuso (2000)

    Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations. Axelrod (2000)
    The definitive guide for anyone who wants to start a nonprofit organization, this book shows step by step how to form and operate a tax-exempt corporation in all 50 states. It includes complete instructions for obtaining federal 501(c)(3) tax exemption and for qualifying for public charity status with the IRS. It also includes essential forms both as tear-outs and on disk such as Incorporation Checklist, Incorporation Contact Letter, Name Availability letter, Application for Reservation of Corporate Name, Articles Filing Letter, and Bylaws. (1997, 368 pages, softcover with disk, ISBN 0-87337-451-7)
    Your Roles and Responsibilities as a Board Member. Carver and Carver (1996)

    The Policy Sampler: A Resource for Nonprofit Boards. BoardSource (2000).

    "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1970, 3, 151-164. Freeman

    All Hands on Board: The Board of Directors in an All-Volunteer Organization. Masaoka (1999)

    Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure
    4th ed. AIP (2000)

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Checking in...

    Well, it's been a couple of days... Things get busy this time of year. I am blogging today from Seattle where I'm visiting family for Christmas. It is warm (fifty degrees) and raining. I am trying to tie off some of the books I've been working on, but have bitten off more than I can chew. I am trying to finish off my reading of Roberta's Rules of Order, and it's such a reference that I'm just going to finalize my notes and plan on purchasing a copy.

    Then, I'm working on The Martha Rules, which is a business book by you guessed it, Martha Stewart. I have to say I respect her opinions on business because props to anyone who can make a fortune off of gilded pumpkins. Seriously, the book is way more insightful than her works on Christmas decorating.

    On the long plane ride yesterday, I began Carnegie by Peter Krass, which is of course the biography of Andrew Carnegie.

    On Tuesday, I had a dinner meeting at Tyson's Corner, so I stopped in at the Waldenbooks to kill some time. I skimmed the Moo book I talked about earlier, and found that Carnegie the steel baron had had the same thought: "The rising man must do something exceptional, and beyond the range of his special department. HE MUST ATTRACT ATTENTION.' Or, as his mother would say, he must light the fire to boil the water." Everything old is new again.

    Now, at the Waldenbooks I skimmed a book, Bait and Switched, by Barbara Ehrenreich. It talks about how there is a "broken contract" with the American worker, wherein the worker pays his or her dues and is rewarded with a successful career and stability. The book's premise is that this is no longer the case. Not really an original observation, however, she is a good writer and uses investigative reporting to make her case.

    So I'm making comparisons between these two philosophies and trying to figure out where the middle ground is. But obviously, when one is considering one's own personal success, we'll learn more from Carnegie than from Ehrenreich's contemplation on victimization.

    Feel free to comment, these are just some thoughts I'm having in the course of my reading.

    Monday, December 19, 2005

    How to reach a human!

    Check this out, this made my day. Obtained clandestinely from the DC Web Women. Full disclosure. Note to vendors: if people have to do this to talk to a person, you have got a problem. I mean, I am a skilled internet problem-solver, but when you need a person, you need a person.

    Associations Now, December Issue

    Just getting some time to peruse the latest issue; I really have to say it's better than ever. I really like the short, helpful bits of information along with giving references for more in-depth information.

    Some things I found useful for my work:

    p. 15: Case study on developing an "irresistible information resource." Looks at the American College of Rheumatology's methods for engaging an audience.

    p. 16: Book review of The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable. Looks like a good read.

    p. 20: Tips on getting gubernatorial proclamations. A good write-up if you've not done it before. Long story short: get on the phone and do some work!

    p. 23: "Lessons from failure." That's rough as titles go! This is basically like Ben Martin's idea for "worst practices."

    p. 39: Interview with Kotler on marketing for associations.

    The features look good if they're relevant to your work, but they aren't for me right now, so I just skimmed a bit.

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    Thoughts on service...

    I went to a seminar on innkeeping in New Hampshire last weekend. (One goal of mine is to open a small inn in several years' time.) One of the smaller, operational-type things mentioned was that when you change a guest's sheets, you should put sheets on with a different color, so that people know that a service has been performed for them.

    So, I got to thinking today, what else is like that? There are lots of things you could point out to an employer, client, etc., to let them know that you have performed service for them. So I'm going to think about using different colored sheets more in my career in association management.

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    National Association of Professional Organizers

    As part of some research I'm doing, I've come across this organization. They have this cool teleclass you can take for $39 which gives you an intro to the profession. I don't know what their numbers are or how successful the program is, but this seems like a great way to raise awareness and cash in on people who are exploring options. It could probably be a lot more widespread. And, since it's a teleclass, the costs would be essentially just a little staff time.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    New job

    I have accepted a new position as membership manager at the Color Marketing Group in Alexandria, Virginia. I am really excited about the opportunity and can't wait to get started! I will start after things calm down from the holidays. The downside is that it's back across the river every day, but the job ought to be worth it in many respects. Also, since I used to work down there I know the area, and that's a plus.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Niche marketing

    Here's an article on niche marketing--very applicable to membership organizations.

    The long tail

    I've been a little out of it regarding lots of recent coversations involving the long tail. Wikipedia has a good primer, and now I'm up and rolling.

    Web typography

    Interesting topic over at Signal vs Noise. It occurred to me that my attention to designy-type stuff might not make too much sense to everyone given my association/nonprofit bent. To me it makes sense though and here's why: 1) design is more and more important in our lives and anyone who's a manager of anything ought to follow design trends at least cursorily; and 2) a lot of design and usability issues can be used as metaphors--or as models--for organizational issues faced by managers. More on this topic as it emanates from my gray matter, which is a sight to behold!

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Sales mistakes and wheely orgs

    This is an article in Entrepreneur on the subject. Also in the magazine this month there's a cool little blurb about this guy who has what he calls a "wheel management system." The piece would be interesting reading for anyone who's in the business of designing a staff model. The photo shows the org chart which is wild, and looks like--you guessed it--a wheel.
    His system is based on a chart that identifies all employees based on their skills and expertise. The chart is constructed so that if, for example, an environmental scientist requires additional materials during subsurface drilling, he immediately knows whom to call and has the authority to do so. "There is no hierarchy," says Vigneri. "The goal is to keep the project moving forward."
    The thing I find interesting about all these small business articles I read is how applicable their processes are to associations and other nonprofits. Empowerment issues like these are really important when you have a small staff, whether or not you're in the business of making lots of dough.

    UPDATE: Forgot to mention, Signal v. Noise has the second in its series on starting your own business up. It's great advice.

    Roberta's Rules (6)

    Chapter six gets in to the physical details of meeting and making that meeting work. A summary of the chapter is to keep the board happy. There's no reason to stick to all kinds of rules when the basic principle is to create an environment where people can get their work done. The rest of the chapter is basically guidelines for effective email, which can be easily found elsewhere.

    Chapter seven goes into how to run a smooth meeting so you can respect people's time. This is really important, actually, yet you run into so many meetings where people aren't respecting others' time and it's really a huge demotivating factor--not very long and you'll notice people aren't showing up for the meetings. So, it's best to make sure these meetings are very productive, even if that means postponing--altho that's not a good option either (my opinion).

    Since the author likes these little matrixy model thingies, she gives one on shared roles in meetings.

    So you can see that the different roles are outlined as to whether people are dispensing content or encouraging participation.

    She quotes from Peter Block, who is quoted in Axelrod (2000).
    We act as if "process" and "content" are somehow separate questions, and often at odds with each other.

    A good group process is needed wherever two or two hundred people meet, and the tension between process and content is a fool's dilemma. There is no need to choose between the two--both are essential; they fail without each other.
    So the author (who I want to keep calling Roberta--but her name is not Roberta, it's Alice) says
    Under Robert's Rules of Order a parliamentarian knows all the rules and instructs the group in how to follow them. Under Roberta's Rules of Order, everyone can easily know the rules and the parliamentarian is replaced by the egalitarian, a member of the group who is willing to keep an eye on the process and on how the participation is balanced. While filling this role, the member should generally not participate in the content of the cocnversations, unless he or she steps out of this role temporarily. To tap everyone's expertise, rotate this role frequently.
    So staggering this role is her answer to the fool's dilemma.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Healthcare trends

    I found this website today in the course of some research, and this powerpoint from the Forbes Group (not exactly sure what it is their focus is) is particularly interesting. Of course, being a PPT, there's not much context. Still, being in the healthcare advocacy arena, these are interesting points and I do see a lot of what's being talked about happening out there.

    I think it's interesting that we need to talk about the "consumerization" of healthcare at all. It should never have gotten away from a consumer-driven model, IMHO.

    Congressional Info

    This is a winner, via Shawn at Big Picture Blog. Excellent resource for advocacy departments. Props to WaPo for this - CQ et al are currently running a racket for this kind of stuff. I paid $12 apiece for just a simple congressional directory for a conference I was running once - and people throw them away. There's some room in this market for some competition.

    Web 2.0 and so forth

    Via les boyz at Signal v. Noise, here's a list of the best web 2.0 software from 2005, from Dan Hinchcliffe. Now, I've never been particularly technophilic but I am an avid user of backpack, and the stuff just fits the way I work. I can't help it. Now, as long as you don't ask me how they code it, I will do just fine.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Roberta's Rules (5)

    You should try establish a process that requires more than just a simple majority. In contrast, Robert's only requires a simple majority--50% plus one person. Why should you shoot for more? Well, because then people would be either winners or losers and the losers will make trouble. (That's it in a nutshell.) So you should use some soft skills and run things a little nicer.

    Summary of types of majority

    Anything higher than 75% is called concordance, or a substantial majority.
    Fifty-one to 66% is also in the supermajority range.
    Fifty percent plus one person is just a simple majority.

    She gives a clock graphic to illustrate this concept.

    A useful update is the discussion on the meaning of a quorum. She makes the point that the whole concept's an historical one; that in the old days communication wasn't good enough to vote from a distance. So I'm going to infer that if you're setting up your governance policies in accordance with this book, that you'd make provisions for email-, fax- or telephone-based voting.

    Says you should use nonbinding straw-polling to get a feel of where people stand on the issues. Then, if you see an issue is clearly going one way or another, you can either pass it right away, kill it, or send it back to the drawing table. Good way to save time. She gives some really useful tables that include not only how to get a handle on straw polling, but also example language the board chair can use to administer these proceedings (excellent resource for board training).

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    I've been everywhere...

    Lately I've been traveling quite a bit. I just got back from Kentucky yesterday where I attended a support group meeting. I beat the snow coming back to BWI. (This was a little freaky though since this plane from Baltimore had a misadventure). The objective was to try and get some leads on new leadership for the group since we lost our previous leader. The meeting was great, and I found several leads to follow up on.

    Good post on blogging

    From Shawn at Big Picture blog. Always good when Harvard types give you props.

    UPDATE: Here is the article she links to. Read the whole thing.

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Roberta's Rules (4)

    Okay, back the grindstone of that essential foundational critical thinger (and exciting, too!) which is governance policy. Chapter four of the book is called "Testing the current before heading for concensus." Remember the sailing ship metaphor? Still in effect.

    Seriously, though, I have to say that in studying up on this book, I really get into it more and more. What the author does is to really codify a lot of common sense. I used to kind of think that people who codified common sense were kind of traitors in a way, but I am finding that as I get old (what's that, sonny??) I respect being able to think clearly and articulate processes a lot more than I used to. And that this book ought to belong on a lot more people's bookshelves than it probably is. End tangent.

    The author has this little matrix thingy which is useful. It's called the "complexity-controversy" matrix which is a fun little app you can use to determine readily whether an issue's going to be sticky or not, and then what to do about it (a for example of why this is useful would be the very practical 'how long to give it on the agenda consideration).

    The point behind all this is to determine whether it's worthwhile to try and reach "concensus" which I infer would be her ideal. She uses the examples of Quakers and other religious communities who believe in the practice. She sees voting as mostly hitting a nail in with a sledgehammer, but allows as how it can certainly be necessary if it's high on the controversy-complexity scale.

    [ed. The notation (x), where (x) is an integer equal to the book's chapter number shall henceforth be used. ]

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    How to have a good community

    I have been thinking a lot recently about what it takes to have a good community, and posts by Kevin Holland and others where my take-away was that most of what makes it good is the feeling of community (I don't have a ready source, so take that meditation with a salt pill).

    However, after hearing my spousal unit rave about the DC Web Women listserv, I went and signed up so see what's going on over there. (I know, I'm not a woman and it was especially disconcerting to see the "you've been signed up to the DC Web Women" email next to the one from Men's Health hawking their "Action Hero Workout. Tired of being a mere mortal?" it says. "So what, I hang out with chicks, you gotta problem with that? Sucka."

    Anyway, a glance at their website will let you know exactly what they are. I have to think that this kind of clarity is key to the founding of a great community. There's no question about what it is or how to proceed. Their operations seem to be fairly transparent and inviting. I keep thinking about the interplay between design, organization, and communities, but that's about a book unto itself. In the meantime, kudos to the group for putting this community together.

    One of the things they're discussing today is Bulletin Boards v. Listservs for connecting people. A list put together by a contributor named Siobhan named some pros and cons of Bulletin Boards.
    • encourages lurking
    • easier to archive/follow specific threads
    • harder to forward posts off group
    • easier to moderate/control content
    • easier to track individual users contributions (our old list had a requirement that all users remain active and post at least once per quarter - easeier to track with a bulletin board)
    • people love being able to add signatures, photos, links, etc
    • seems less friendly/less intimate
    • easier for members to ignore threads that don't interest them (so subject lines/switching threads that go off topic is important)
    • much harder for those on dialup to manage
    • users spend more time on the bulletin board than on the list - so
    • harder to jump in and out or hit a quick reply to a specific topic
    Then, a conclusion by a contributor named Susan says
    I think the real question is how best to facilitate good discussion and interaction within virtual groups - understanding that some people will like the listserv approach better, while others will prefer an online discussion forum.

    The best way to approach this is to provide a solution that offers the following options:
    • A web discussion forum, where users can view threaded discussions and search them if they like.
    • The option to receive an email version of each post, a daily digest, or none at all (if they prefer to go to the site).
    This way, it acts like a listserv or a discussion forum, or both depending on how the user wants it.
    Good thoughts. Thanks DCWW!

    UPDATE: So, I found out from the spousal unit that I'm not allowed to be on the listserv at all, so I'm getting you all clandestine information. Hope you enjoy it. (Do you hear me whispering? I am.)

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    How cool!

    Speaking of member experiences, check this out. Found thru B. Mann. Check out the world map done with Google's API.

    Associations I would like to join...

    I come across all kinds of associations I wouldn't mind joining. I guess I'm a joiner, and since I am a professional Association-type, I find them interesting on a couple of levels. But here are the ones whose content seems appealing to me at this point in time. Now, if I could only afford all those dues...
  • The Society for Marketing Professional Services
  • Association for Volunteer Administration
  • American Society for Public Administration
  • The National Gardening Association (hey they're free!)
  • Professional Association of Inkeepers, International
  • American Hiking Society (only $30, not too bad)
  • National Association of Parliamentarians
  • Usability Professionals Association
  • Estimate tutorial

    I just found this site by accident. Although it's intended for Graphic Designers, I think it would help anyone who a) has to deal with graphic design issues and b) has to estimate the monetary value of their work. NB: doesn't work in Firefox.

    Give it up for Craig!

    I would like to welcome my friend Craig who has agreed to be a contributor to NBB. I have known Craig for a long time, and he is quite possibly the brightest light on the porch. He works for an association doing systems and stuff, and I will let him elaborate on his work as he will. Thanks Craig!

    Starting your own business

    Given the entrepreneurial streak that comes with working for a small nonprofit, I found this post (first in a series to come) to have great advice, and to just be an all around good summary of what it takes to start your own shop. Looking forward to future postings over at Signal vs. Noise.

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Roberta's Rules of Order (1-3)

    Roberta's Rules of Order is a book by Alice Collier Cochran, and it presents a fairly comprehensive set of rules for holding meetings. Her deal is not these rules should replace Robert's during large, formal meetings, but rather they are a good solution for smaller, informal groups that meet fairly frequently. She starts from the place that Robert's purpose was to make meetings accessible and to protect people's rights. So she says that you can use those principles to guide your meetings, while adapting certain alterations to the time-honored volume of rules.

    One thing that makes this otherwise quite useful book annoying is that it uses this sailing metaphor throughout. It's a very grating metaphor (milked for all it's worth) that could lessen the book's cachet if you had to do any selling at all to get a board to try something new. Fair warning!

    But if you've been to quite a few board meetings you will probably recognize many of the techniques that she lays out in the book.

    Chapter 3 talks about developing proposals before launching motions. A good idea. One organization I had talked about "board-ready materials," which essentially accomplished this goal. The point is that people have a chance to consider the pros, the cons, etc., before making a motion to do x or y, because "hasty motions can create long-term problems." Hear, hear! However, this is in opposition to the way things are done with Robert's because therein, an issue can't be discussed until a motion is made. "Motions thus put the solution before the problem." So having a proposal first and discussing it ensures that people have a chance to see if they agree on the nature of the problem before the "take up polarized positions."
    Groups need to consider the problem before the solution. What goes on in the problem space is an effort to define, evaluate and organize information that will determine the causes of the problem. Defining the problem and understanding its causes provides the best information to help find alternatives.
    So, the mechanism for doing all of this is the proposal, which can be either simple or structured. A simple one is just verbal. A structured one is "prepared ahead of time by several individuals or a group."

    Here is a good checklist to presenting a simple proposal (directly quoted)
    1. State the suggestion verbally to the group, and explain the need.
    2. Clarify by answering questions for understanding.
    3. Check for disagreement (objections); if none, then check for agreement. (Stop at this point if everyone agrees to the proposal.)
    4. If there are objections, clarify issues as necessary and ask for statements of both pros and cons.
    5. Ask for modifications or another proposal.
    6. Check for disagreement; if none, then check for substantial agreement. If necessary, vote [ed. not having to resort to voting is kind of her thing: she treats it as a last option]
    Here is when you should do a structured, written proposal, according to the system.
    1. Do it for any issue that is complex, controversial, or confusing.
    2. Include information about the current situation (the problem or opportunity) and the proposed future situation (the recommended solutions).
    3. Write and circulate the proposal in advance if possible.
    4. Have more than one person present the proposal--the more the better.
    5. Give everyone a chance to ask questions for clarification, speak for or against it (within a specified time limit), and suggest modifications.
    6. Use the group's predetermined decision-making method to approve or not approve the proposed solution.
    So, more to come on this book--it's a multi-entry one, and it covers an area I need to work on which is the actual tactics of board management. In one way, I feel kind of odd reading this before I feel I know Robert's all that well, however, I think that working through this will actually help me when I go back to Robert's. Also, I want to join the parliamentarians at some point and do their trainings, which look like lots of fun.

    By Alice Collier Cochran
    ISBN# 0787964239

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Men in associations

    I was seriously sick last night and I was doing the insomniac-in-front-of-the-monitor thing when I read this article in the Washington Post. Dr. Helen (the InstaWife of great renown) has a write-up of the article on her blog. This is a point she brings up fairly regularly, including this horrifying policy she brought up. So, does this have an application in the association world? Now, I'm no wannabe victim, but I sometimes think that I'm very much in a female-dominated profession; and I have had some negative experiences that had me scratching my head figuring out whether the issue was really about gender. Of course, I only experience what I experience, but would be open to convo about it.

    Association obsolescence

    Did I spell that right? Kevin Holland has a discussion of that topic over at his blog today. Very interesting. My quick reaction is to say that a lot of associations probably *are* in danger of being overthrown. More market forces are in competition with them than ever and people have high standards. The younger folks like me make quick connections on the internet, and have access to more information than ever. The gap between the information-rich and information-poor just grows and grows, yet so many (you know who they are) says things like, "I don't do the computer." I'm like, okay, it used to be that if people were illiterate they at least weren't proud of it. I hope that's not too harsh, but I am seriously scared for people (many of whom are charged with making important organizational decisions) who have that attitude.

    Still, my thought is that associations in general have lots to offer people: a sense of belonging, a community, advocacy and having a voice in policy and the media (a big one, I think), so it's a matter of marketing and creating a need. If people are not able to do that, the organizations will fail I think. One of Kevin's things is the need for lean, mean organizations:
    Starting out small and flexible means very short governing documents that leave a lot of room for play, picking one or two services that they can implement immediately with a maximum impact, and then hitting the ground running.
    I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. I really think this is the point when an organization needs to say, "let's do x," or "let's do y" and then makes it happen. So often you see the energy just sapped by loads and loads of wannabe bureaucracy. Which is perhaps code for "I don't feel like doing anything." Or is it just a lack of realism?

    I think I see what is happening as a realignment of the association's modality, and a new definition evolving of what it means to associate. Not so long ago associations jumped for joy with all the savings that happened as a result of technological advances. However, they may need to realize that these same advances are really moving their cheese big-time and that the future will involve more than just delivering memos via email instead of in the mail. In the meantime, we'll have the slow "graying" of the traditional model and it will atrophy.

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    I'm famous!

    I got published in WaPo! Does this mean I get to find out who deep throat is??? Oh, wait...

    How to write an article outline

    I need to come up with an article outline for a piece I suggested for Associations Now magazine. I did a little research, and found these tips from RC Cyber Flyer.
    Have a clear central theme or message
    Have a narrow, focused topic
    Provide details the readers has an interest in
    Use experience and knowledge to the readers’ advantage
    Provide insights

    Key Question: Does it have those “you had to be there” details that force the readers to continue?

    Have an inviting introduction
    Use logical, effective sequencing
    Use good pacing — slows down here, speeds up there
    Strong transitions link ideas
    Have conclusions that leave the reader thinking

    Key Question: Do the beginning and ending work in harmony—like bookends?

    Word Choice
    Use words that create vivid images
    Choose words that are not just correct, but precise
    Be natural – don’t have a Thesaurus “overload”
    Use lively verbs
    Moments you notice and like
    Have sparing, careful use of slang, jargon, clichés

    Key Question: How many words or phrases linger in your mind?

    You connect with this writer
    There’s a person “at home here”
    It speaks to you – makes you want to read more
    The writer is writing TO someone
    Narrative that is honest and from the heart
    Writing that is expository: lively, engaging, and full of conviction

    Key Question: Would you read it to someone?

    Sentence Fluency
    Text that moves with an easy rhythm and flow
    Sentences that vary in length and structure
    Sentences that begin in purposeful ways
    Writer shows “sentence sense”
    Fragments, if used, add style and flair

    Key Question: Does this piece invite expressive oral reading?

    Look beyond spelling
    Generally correct – touchups may be needed
    Easy to read – appears proofread, edited

    Key Question: How much editing does it need to get this ready to publish?
    However, it's not exactly what I was looking for, which was more of a model. I'll keep looking...

    UPDATE: This is more like it, from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (scary!! I'm hosting their document as a PDF, since it was an RTF document to begin with). Keeps it tidy in my mind.

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

    I again got this book from Garr Reynolds's suggested readings. He does have a lot of great titles there, and they're all fairly new, which is good for me since I spend a lot of time reading oldies. Anyhow, I think if you read a book like this you're going to judge your performance and continually ask yourself if you're an idiot. The three authors go pretty rough on people, calling them "business idiots" all through the book. And, chances anyone who does a lot of communicating in a professional environment will be partially idiotic, so be forewarned.

    But that's okay because one of the authors admits to being a former idiot, infatuated with business jargon and using such terms as "thought leadership," "value-added," and "monetize." So I did do a little bit of a self-inventory and found that I have let some jargon creep into my speech and writing. I have to admit, it is a combination of factors: a) I have two degrees in French literature, the goal of which was to go on at length about fairly simple topics; and b) I read a lot of academic business writing. But no excuses here, I shall endeavor to communicate with greater clarity of thought in the future.

    However, the other theme of the book is authenticity, which I think I do pretty good at. They observe that it's basically easy to "score points," if you are authentic because so few people do it. I have observed this same phenomenon and it's really quite fascinating. It does tend to scare people off a little bit, so you have to be very self-confident. That's what they wrote and I have independently verified it.

    Seriously, though I thought the book was a great read and is quite entertaining if you're willing to go along for a little introspection.

    There was a great approach to convincing people of things that I think I'll try to put into practice. More to come...

    By Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky
    ISBN# 0743269098