15 March 2013

New Home

If you're a regular reader, you probably know by now that I started my own business, Spark Consulting, this past summer.

My new website has been live in a dev environment since November, but it recently moved to its permanent home.

With that, it's time to retire Thanks for Playing, at least in its current incarnation.

I still blog just about every week day, only now I'm doing it over at the Spark Blog. So please come join me in my new environment to keep the association awesomesauce flowing. (Oh - and hook me up with your RSS feed here.)

06 March 2013

What I'm Reading

05 March 2013

You! Stop That!

Buzz words. What a disaster. You think they make you sound cool and in-the-know. They actually make you sound like a doofus who doesn't care that she's murdering the English language. So stop it already! (Also, excellent graphics.)

Also? Stop slapping "-ize" on to the end of everything. Really. RIGHT NOW.

And finally, thesaurus.com really is your friend.

04 March 2013

Always the Last to Know: Facebook Insights

Not getting the most out of your Facebook ads? John Haydon breaks down how to use Facebook Insights to better target your outreach.

27 February 2013

What I'm Reading

  • What you can - and can't - learn from A/B testing.
  • Another fantastic, challenging post from Joe Gerstandt on actor-observer bias and the myth of reverse discrimination.
  • Fear = lunch. No really, stick with Jeff Haden here.
  • The insights that define innovators. Hearing "we already tried that and it didn't work" DRIVES ME CRAZY.
  • Eric Lanke asks: why are we so afraid to talk to our members?
  • Jamie Notter reminds us that every revolution has a dark side.
  • Hiring? Does your new staff person REALLY have to have a college degree, or are there better signals you could be using?
  • Break your addiction to meetings. Seven months in to working for myself, I still cannot get over how much more I get done when I'm not spending 50% of each day in meetings.

26 February 2013

Strategic Planning v. Strategic Thinking

Lots of chatter about strategy and strategic planning on the ASAE Collaborate groups recently, with lots of people throwing around lots of VERY IMPORTANT sounding terms.

Me, I like simplicity. To quote the Eaglet from Alice in Wonderland: "I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and, what's more, I don't believe you do either!"

What do we mean when we talk about strategy?

Strategy is a plan of action designed to help you achieve a set of goals. The best strategies answer a few deceptively simple questions:
  • Where are we now?
  • Where would we like to be?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • How will we know we arrived?
The way that tends to manifest in associations is that every 3 to 5 years, we hire an outside facilitator to sit down with the board and - maybe - the senior leadership team and do "strategic planning." The inevitable result? A lovely report that spends the next 35 to 59 months sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Meanwhile, the world is changing EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Henry Mintzberg wrote a famous article for the Harvard Business Review in 1994 (that's almost 20 years ago, people) titled “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning.” Short version: he's not a fan. As Mintzberg points out, strategic planning is about analysis of data, while strategic thinking is about synthesis of data. Strategic planning is a process (see above, RE: report that sits on a shelf), while strategic thinking is about vision, intuition, and creativity. In other words, about where you would like to be as an organization and how you get there,

Dissecting strategic thinking versus strategic planning:
  • Dynamic rather than static
  • Flexible rather than rigid
  • Continuous rather than episodic
  • Focused on emergent trends rather than historic standards
  • Rapid rather than staid
  • Fluid rather than fixed
  • Invention rather than reifying what already exists
  • Journey rather than destination
  • Accommodates disruption rather than being thrown into chaos by it
Again, quoting Mintzberg:
“Strategic planning often spoils strategic thinking, causing managers to confuse real vision with manipulation of numbers. And this confusion lies at the heart of the issue: the most successful strategies are visions, not plans.”

What are you doing to generate a vision of the future in your organization?

25 February 2013

Always the Last to Know: Apps for Creativity

Another roundup-style post on cool technology, this time of apps to help you be more creative (courtesy of Innovation Excellence, which you really should check out). The only one I've used personally is Evernote, and I live and die by it, so if the others are of that same quality, you really can't miss.

22 February 2013

Friday Top 5

I was honored to be selected to judge ASAE's Gold Circle awards this year in the website category. After having reviewed all 21 entries twice, I'm entering my actual scores today. And I've learned (or remembered) a few things from the process:
  1. Associations are making progress. Every single site has some sort of social technologies connection, and every association was at least on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  2. But not enough progress. The majority of entries are not mobile-friendly. It's 2013, people!
  3. We don't all have to use rotating banners. Really. I promise. And after you've seen it on 20 of 21 sites, it gets a little old.
  4. Design is important (all my designer friends are thinking, "No shit, Sherlock."). Color, font, white space, imagery, layout...all can help you know where to look, or hinder you from accomplishing your tasks. Invest in good design.
  5. I know we often have to use site templates, but it's worth investing some resources to make sure they don't look so template-y. Trust.

21 February 2013

In Praise of Small Ideas

Yet another outstanding find on Slideshare, this one on little "i" innovation, from the mind of Guthrie Dolan of Odopod.

My favorites?
  • Place little bets and double down on what's working
  • Justin Timberlake as prototypical small "i" innovator (really)
  • Embrace changing (small but critical difference from the usual exhortation to "embrace change")
  • Ask yourself some simple questions EVERY day

13 February 2013

What I'm Reading

  • Content marketing: how often? As usual, ask your audience.
  • Top 10 innovations of all time. Agree? Disagree? Subtext, have we become too dependent on technology?
  • The 2013 Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report is out and John Haydon breaks down the key insights.
  • Associations Now recaps a Pew study that indicates that Facebook may be beginning its inevitable decline.
  • Shelly Alcorn reminds us that membership IS the value of membership, and the stories we tell about that matter.
  • "You" v. "we," also known as "language matters."
  • Email killing you? Associations Now posits that it may because you're using it wrong.
  • Creatively blocked? Try a change of scenery.
  • What NOT to do in the general sessions, courtesy of Jeff Hurt.
  • When will the web become the worldstream? (h/t to Maddie Grant)
  • Forget the sales funnel - think about the purchase loop.

12 February 2013


Have you checked out the Association 101 webinars yet? We've now held two: one on volunteer management (with Peggy Hoffman of Mariner Management) and one on branding (with Erin Fuller of the Alliance for Women in Media.

Just as a refresher, the monthly FREE webinars provide 10 tips in 20 minutes on a variety of topics in association management.

They always take place on the second Friday of the month at 1:30 pm ET, and are brought to you be Dave Will (Peach New Media), Scott Oser (Scott Oser Associates), and me!

Upcoming topics and speakers include:
  • Government relations, with Stefanie Reeves (American Psychological Association)
  • Board relations, with Bruce Wardle (AMG)
  • Publishing, with Amy Lestition (Coulter Companies)
  • Membership sales, with Miriam Miller Wolk (United Fresh Produce Association)
  • Diversity and inclusion, with Greg Fine (Turnaround Management Association)
  • Web usability, with Ray van Hilst (Vanguard)
  • Exhibiting, sponsorship and advertising sales, with Scott Oser (Scott Oser Associates)
  • Non-dues revenue, with Sandra Giarde (California Association for the Education of Young Children)
 And you can register for ALL of them right now.

You know what else is FREE? The online archives, where you can listen to any of the webinars that have already taken place and get all the handouts. 

11 February 2013

Always the Last to Know: Social Collaboration

These days, if you're looking for technology to support collaborative work, you have a lot of options. Actually, probably too many.

Dropbox. Trello. Yammer. Sharepoint. Central Desktop. Google Apps.

Which one should you use?

Small Business Computing to the rescue!

They've identified the top tools for people-centric collaboration, task-centric collaboration, and file-centric collaboration.

Don't get me wrong - it's not some sort of "this is the tool for you!" magic - but it should help clear up confusion and help you narrow your options, based on what you're trying to accomplish.

08 February 2013

Friday Top 5

I've always been a big proponent of corporate social responsibility, organizing the teams for the Greater DC Cares big annual days of service or the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup or the annual Capital Area Food Bank food drive, and I recently had a realization. Just because I'm a company of one doesn't let me off the hook. So I've committed to a regular monthly volunteer gig that is NOT ASAE committee work. Why is CSR so important?
  1. It reminds your company that you're about more than making a buck.
  2. It opens your eyes to the needs of people in your local community.
  3. It demonstrates that you can do something to address those local needs aside from just writing a check. Don't get me wrong - writing checks is important, too. But volunteering provides a tangible and deeply immediate way to contribute  to your local community.
  4. Regular volunteering allows you to form a relationship with an organization so that you can progress to providing more skilled types of volunteer assistance. Not that there's anything wrong with packing food for hungry people or painting lockers in a school, but as you get to know the organization and they get to know you, you have opportunities to contribute skilled AND unskilled labor.
  5. It feels great!
What are you doing to connect with the needs in your local community on a regular basis?

07 February 2013

SEO and Content: Happy Together!

OUTSTANDING presentation based on REI's experiences on why SEO matters, how you should be tying it to your content strategy, and, along the way, debunking some SEO myths.

Oh - and here's a direct link to the SEOMOZ Beginner's Guide to SEO that pops up late in the deck.

06 February 2013

What I'm Reading

  • Jamie Notter asks: will you be ready when the revolution comes? Not if you've lost touch with those on the outside.
  • GWU and ORI take a fascinating look at social media and the 2012 presidential election.
  • I'm loving the December issue of NTEN: Change. The issue's theme is collaboration, which they examine from all kinds of angles.
  • Be worried: 74% of smartphone users use them while driving. But don't be TOO worried: the top two activities by a WIDE margin are making calls and using navigation/GPS.
  • Is your staff "not creative"? It may be your fault.
  • The data is in, and, according to Associations Now, it turns out women leaders outperform men in empathy, which you probably would have guessed, and problem solving, which you might not have.
  • What's worse than failure? Mediocrity.
  • Jeff Hurt urges us to aspire to be conference outlaws.
  • Looking for stats about the Internet and social in 2012? Look no further than the Marketing Profs recent report.
  • Do's and don'ts for your online presence. My favorite? Don't leave me guessing about how to contact you. And I'd amend it to add: providing info@company.com is NOT sufficient.
  • How many of your thousands of FB "likes" have turned into leads? John Haydon provides some tips to help with conversion.
  • Is your association producing video? Here are some easy tips to make it look more professional without actually, you know, having to hire a professional.

05 February 2013

Dump Your Committees

Volunteerism is changing.

I know I'm not the first person to think - or write - about this. Hell, Peggy Hoffman and Cynthia D'Amour have built their businesses on working with new volunteer models. But recent events have conspired to bring it top of mind for me.

The thing about standing committees is that they're standing.

Think about that for a moment.

Not "walking." Not "running." Not "flying." Not "innovating."

Standing. As in "still."

OK, that may be excessively harsh.

One of the problems with standing committees is that they can easily become zombies, continuing on with calls and meetings and reports to the board whether or not there's actually anything for them to DO.

Now maybe, at some point in the past, nobody really cared all that much. It was part of your community responsibility to be on the call or in the meeting or to write the report, and if nothing was happening, you were OK with that. Common good and whatnot. At least that's the theory about Boomers, although I tend to think it's way less true than everyone pretends it is, but whatever.

One thing we know about following generations is that we're at least more comfortable expressing our irritation with wasted time and effort. We want to come together, GSD (Get Shit Done), and move on.

What does that remind you of? A task force, right? Bring together a group of people who are genuinely interested and skilled in the task at hand, work on it until it's done (whether that's an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year...), have a nice happy hour to celebrate your success, disband.

I know what you're about to say: "Our standing committees are set in our bylaws. Do you know what a pain in the ass it is to try to change our bylaws?"

Actually, yes, I do, having been through it in prior associations. And you do probably have to maintain a standing finance committee. But just because something is hard to do doesn't mean it's not a good idea.


What about an experiment?

The next time one of your board members comes up with a great idea that doesn't have a natural home in one of your existing committees, try putting together a task force to work it, and see what happens. If it goes well, try disbanding one of your standing non-bylaws-mandated committees (you know you have at least one) and spreading their work to some task forces. If that goes well, maybe it's time to open the conversation about which standing committees you really have to have, and which you don't.

04 February 2013

Always the Last to Know: Flow

A couple of Babson students got really tired of the rat's nest of wires involved in DJing and invented Eartop Flow to unplug heir headsets and untether themselves.

Which leads me to wonder: what other applications of this type of technology might there be for associations who often conduct meetings with complex A/V set ups?

31 January 2013

How To Make Sure Your Marketing Sucks

Hubspot recently posted a hilarious and very helpful SlideShare on what NOT to do with your marketing.

My favorites?
  • Cold calls and unsolicited emails are, of course, THE BOMB.
  • The "Pro Tips."
  • "Greetings Earthling"
  • Yay, jargon!
What would you add to their list?

30 January 2013

What I'm Reading

Big list this week. Hey, lots of people have been writing interesting stuff!
  • Marketing Profs picked up Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter's survey on new leadership skills for the social media age (and wrote a really nice article about it).
  • Speaking of Jamie, he just released a new white paper, in which he applies the Humanize principles to the real-world problem of performance reviews (spoiler alert: it's the first in a series that's going to do this).
  • Still on Jamie, he clued in me in to a fantastic article that examines the concept of white privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. I highly recommend it.
  • Speaking of diversity, Joe Gerstandt takes on - and punctures - some of the dumb things people STILL say about diversity initiatives.
  • Speaking of Joe, because this is another one of his big themes, HBR asks: what if you could truly be yourself at work?
  • Self-awareness may be more critical to success than even talent and luck.
  • Jumping on the Big Data bandwagon? Get schooled in how the Boss of Big Data (aka the 2012 Obama campaign) did it.
  • Is college worth it? More and more people are saying "no."
  • Advice from Peter Drucker on the importance of humility, being human, and asking good questions.
  • Life is about experience, not performance.
  • Wes Trochlil reminds us: vendor relationships should be like a marriage.
  • John Haydon offers great tips for prepping your organization's Facebook Page to take advantage of Graph Search.
  • Does your association need social media training? There are signs.
  • ALL decisions to buy - including membership in your association - are emotional, and there's a scientific reason for it.
  • Want to make real progress in 2013? Jeff Cobb urges us to reflect, listen, curate, and give stuff away.
  • Given what we now know about the benefits and how to make it work for everyone, there is NO REASON to forbid telecommuting. Seriously. If you are, just stop.
  • How do you respond when staff members announce they're leaving? You should be happy for them.
  • Content marketing is all the rage, which makes it even more important to do it WELL
  • Want to innovate in 2013? Make more and bigger mistakes.

29 January 2013

IGNITE: Hack to Innovate

Invest five minutes in this outstanding IGNITE presentation from Jason Lauritsen on how hacking leads to innovation, and why, as a result, we shouldn't fear the concept.

I particularly love his "is it hackable?" matrix, which comes down to the simple question: "Is it awesome?" If the answer is yes, you're done. If the answer is no, you have work to do.

28 January 2013

Always the Last to Know: Ayasdi

"Big data" is not just about the software that manages it and runs queries against it, it's also about your methodology for analyzing that data.

Enter Ayasdi, a data analysis firm built on "topological data analysis," which physically maps complex data, allowing various types of patterns to emerge.

The goal is to quickly reach insights from the data without the intermediary step of complex queries.


25 January 2013

Friday Top 5

Quiet week here in Spark-land (guessing everyone is still recovering from Inaugural Ball hangovers and/or hunkering down because of the cold weather and threat of snow), so I had some downtime. My Top 5 Favorite Uses of Unexpected Space:
  1. Get organized! (This really is my favorite.) I've organized my paper and electronic files and updated my professional development tracking information (gotta keep track of those credits for CAE renewals). Sorting through stuff to dump what you don't need and organize what you do creates space for the new.
  2. Start/work on long-term projects. We all always have things we want to write or research or plan or design or whatever, and they always seem to end up on the bottom of the To Do list. For once, they get to move to the top.
  3. Read. Piles of New Yorkers and Technology Reviews and Harvard Business Reviews are now feeding my brain, rather than just collecting dust. Same goes double for all those great ebooks and white papers and reports and whatnot I've downloaded to read "someday."
  4. Think. One of the things we're losing in our always-connected world is uninterrupted time to ponder. It *can* feel a bit like you're not accomplishing anything, but trust me, letting your thoughts be free can have some highly productive results. Pro tip? Keep a list of things you *want* to think about the next time you have some free time.
  5. Connect. You know that colleague/friend/advisor/mentor/padawan you've been thinking about recently? Drop her a line to let her know you've been thinking about her and find out what's going on in her life.
When you get unanticipated downtime, how do you use it?

24 January 2013

Engagement: It's Not About You

There was a lot of talk about measuring and scoring member engagement at December's ASAE Technology Conference.

People talked about scoring systems. People talked about tech platforms to track and report on the scores. People talked about engagement as the key to recruitment, retention, and upselling, whether that means getting members to invest money by buying stuff or invest time by taking volunteer positions. People talked about rewards for engagement. People talked about engagement being the core of the association value proposition.

We're all on the engagement bandwagon, yes, sir, we are!

So what's the problem?

I might have missed something, but nearly all the talk about engagement I hear was about scoring, tracking, and rewarding what the association values. We value committee service, so we give it a high score. We value spending money with the association, so we give it a high score. We value getting articles written for free for our magazine, so we give it a high score.

Spot it yet?

The perspective is totally backwards. Tracking, scoring, and rewarding what the association values tells you precisely zip about what the members and other audiences (do we even consider audiences outside the membership?) value about their interactions with us.

In other words, we're focusing our resources, our attention, and ultimately, our value proposition on what the association values, not what the members value.

And then we wonder why the membership model is in trouble.

What if we changed our engagement model to start with conversations with members and other key audiences about what they value about their interactions with the association and the other members and key audiences, then based our scoring and rewards on what they value? How would that change our value proposition? The way we invest association resources, including money, staff, and time? Our organizational focus? Our members' sense of involvement in and ownership of their association?

23 January 2013

What I'm Reading

22 January 2013

Association Mavens: Content Curation and Membership Assocations

I recently had the opportunity to sit down (well, virtually, anyway) with Bryan Kelly of Association Mavens to talk about content curation and associations.

Our conversation was based on the FREE white paper I released recently, Attention Doesn't Scale.

The video is about 20 minutes long, during which Bryan and I touched on the problem of information overload and how associations are making it worse for our members, content curation as a concept and possible solution, the most common types and methods of curation, and why this is all so important for the 21st century association.

I hope you enjoy it!

18 January 2013

Friday Top 5

For the self-employed, the end of January means time to pay quarterly and annual estimated business taxes. It's a lot of somewhat confusing forms (thank goodness I followed the advice to hire an accountant, because trying to do this myself would, no doubt, have driven me around the bend). And it's easy to be grouchy about writing the checks and scheduling the electronic payments.

I've decided to take another tack. Top Five Things that are GREAT about paying my taxes:
  1. Americans are too often thought of and described as "consumers." This is part of being a citizen, which I think is much more important descriptor. 
  2. My taxes fund universal public education. Of course the education system is not perfect, but education is the number one potential equalizer in our society. I did write "potential" intentionally, because we have a long way to go before all kids get the excellent educations they deserve, but at least my tax dollars ensure that everyone gets a chance.
  3. My taxes are used for "mundane" good, like ensuring clean water and air and safe roads and bridges.
  4. My taxes are used for "big vision" good, like providing at least a minimal social safety net for people who have been less lucky in life that I have, and supporting a legal system that, for all its flaws, generally bends our moral arc toward justice.
  5. My taxes support myriad things I personally benefit from every day and don't even notice.
So instead of boo-hooing, I'm focusing on the fact that I'm proudly doing my patriotic duty as part of the larger community we call the United States.

Image credit: Wikipedia author Jnn13

17 January 2013

Association Forecast: Education to Employment

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in the weekly Association Forecast broadcast on the topic of Education to Employment.

What is the Association Forecast?  It's a weekly show, hosted by Shelly Alcorn, where a panel of three guests and Shelly discuss issues of importance and interest to associations, usually based on a report, TEDtalk, current event, etc.

Yesterday's show featured Trish Hudson (of the Melos Institute), Barry Richman (of ePath Learning), and me discussing a recent report released by McKinsey, Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works.

Before viewing the video, I recommend downloading the report and reading at least the introduction and executive summary, as what we're saying will make more sense if you do.

Short short version of the report: the worldwide employment system is in a paradox. On the one hand, we have a large number of positions unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. On the other hand, we have unusually high rates of unemployment for young people. The report identifies disconnects between all three players: students, the educational system, and employers. It details programs that have worked on the small scale to resolve these disconnects, and considers how they might be able to be scaled up.

Shelly, Barry, Trish, and I talk about the report itself and what it means for associations, as a potential solution to fill the gap in professional development and career training.

16 January 2013

What I'm Reading

  • Jeffrey Cufaude urges us to choose to be happy.
  • If you're following his advice, there are some habits that will help you. I particularly like "assume people have good intentions."
  • CEOs think social is important, just not for them.
  • Jamie Notter points out that being clear is better than being right.
  • KiKi L'Italien encourages us to live dangerously in 2013.
  • Justin Kownacki has an amazing post full of lots of probing questions on work and motivation.
  • Jeff De Cagna poses three major design challenges for 21st century associations.
  • Jeff Hurt identifies conference trends to watch for 2013. I particularly like the new approach to sponsorship.
  • Could you intentionally set yourself up for 100 days of rejection? What would you learn from that experience?
  • Is Google+ the first step to the semantic web?
  • Marketing schaudenfreude, or even companies that can afford top-notch help make dumb mistakes (and recover from them), so what are you so worried about?
  • Leadership tips, ostensibly "for millennials," but really for all of us. Two especially good reminders: you probably take yourself too seriously and have faith that things will work out for you.
  • "Bold" marketing predictions for 2013. Vanity metrics are out - ROI is in. Can I get an "amen"?

15 January 2013

"Just Do The Next Right Thing"

January means resolution time, and whether you go the traditional self improvement route or follow my advice and take the "fun resolutions only" path, there's a good chance you've set yourself some big goals for 2013.

Which is awesome. And really daunting.

Where do you start?

At this time of year, I'm always reminded of my good friend Vinay Kumar's advice: "Just do the next right thing."

Your resolution may involve 100 steps. You don't have to know step 99 right now. All you have to know is step 1.

To quote Neo:
I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
What step will you take today to start your journey?

14 January 2013

Always the Last to Know: Curata

So if you've read my recent FREE white paper on content curation, hopefully you're all jazzed to start doing it for your members. But how?

One way is to use Curata, a tool that helps you easily find, organize, and share content on topics of your choice.

(Shout out to Ray VanHilst for the link.)

11 January 2013

Friday Top 5

Just a shout-out to five awesome things that happened this week:
  1. The #10in20 Associations 101 webinar series kicked off with Peggy Hoffman doing an amazing job laying down 10 things you need to know about volunteer management in associations. Next one is Erin Fuller on branding on February 8. Find and more and register for the FREE series at the Peach New Media site.
  2. Bryan Kelly interviewed me about the curation whitepaper for Association Mavens
  3. I enjoyed the benefits of working for myself and got to see the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective before it closed NOT on the weekend. So I actually got to enjoy the paintings.
  4. Speaking of whitepapers, I started researching the next one. Look for it to land in the February/March timeframe. 
  5. Dance classes started again for the spring trimester. 
What amazing things happened to you this week?

10 January 2013

100 Things to Watch in 2013

You're going to need to set aside some time to go through this slide deck, because it is truly 100 things. But it is definitely worth the investment.

My favorites?
  • Alternative currencies/revival of the barter economy
  • Detoxing (in the sense of cutting down on the chemicals in the products we use every day)
  • Flexible screens (think of the possibilities!)
  • JOMO
  • NFC
  • Responsive web design
  • Trade schools/apprenticeships (yes, I wrote Tuesday's post BEFORE I saw this)
What in the list fired your imagination?

09 January 2013

What I'm Reading

It's focus on the new year week!
  • Jeff De Cagna's six ideas for 2013. My favorite? SED: Serendipity, Empathy, Discovery.
  • Shelly Alcorn's five terms for 2013. My favorite? Workforce development.
  • Social media predictions for 2013 from the pros. My favorite? Marketers use fewer social sites.
  • Digital trends for 2013 that are not the same old same old. My favorite? Near Field Communications (NFC).

08 January 2013

Mastering Your Craft

This past fall, I had the opportunity to participate in a multi-day retreat with a bunch of smart people where we focused on the future of work. Talking about the future of work led us naturally into  talking about the future of getting ready to work, aka our education system.

One of the concepts that came up, tying both work and education together, was apprenticeship. 

On the education side, we are facing a crisis in higher education. It is increasingly difficult to get into college. Once there, students are having increasing trouble finishing on time, or even finishing at all. However they exit, young people and their families are incurring substantial debt burdens. And a college degree, even in a fairly "job training" focused field like business, marketing, or computer programming, is no longer a guarantee of a good job, or any job.

Meanwhile, employers complain that recent graduates lack the type of critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills the employers truly need in their workforce. And, in fact, the skills we need to be successful at work are changing dramatically.

Now some people - myself included - would argue that what is commonly referred to as a "traditional liberal arts education" (aka, studying impractical stuff like philosophy and literature) can, in the right circumstances, get you quite a long way towards acquiring skills like critical thinking and sense making and analysis and transdisciplinarity. But with the neighbors' kid not finding work with her shiny new engineering degree, how many parents (how many students?) are really going to be willing to take that particular risk?

Even very technical degrees, like computer programming or engineering, don't, in most cases, mean that the degree holder is ready to be a professional in that field. The degrees indicate an aptitude for the subject matter and a willingness to learn more about it, but people still need a period of mentored training to learn their craft.

"Mentored training"? Sounds a lot like apprenticeship.

For large chunks of human history, apprenticeship was the ONLY way to learn one's work. You had a family business. You joined a guild. You clerked for a lawyer on the way to becoming a lawyer. You "watched one, did one, taught one" on the way to becoming a doctor.

You can still become a lawyer through clerking and taking the bar - in some places - rather than going to law school. Many licensed trades - plumber, electrician, welder - still work through apprenticeships.

Why not office/information worker jobs?

In the current model, a young woman completes high school and, with rare exceptions (i.e., the "gap year" model), proceeds directly to college. She studies something "practical," like business, and graduates in four or five years, with an average school debt of more than $26,000. She may or may not have any real idea of what she actually wants to do, and even if she does, she may or may not be able to get a job in her chosen field.

Picture this as an alternative: a young woman completes high school. She takes a gap year to do a little looking around at the world, thinking about what she might want to do, and having adventures. At the end of that year, she gets an entry level job, but not flipping burgers or pulling espresso shots or answering phones. She gets assigned to a senior professional in a field that's of interest to her - medicine, law, carpentry, association management, whatever - and starts learning her trade on the job and while drawing a paycheck.

"But," you ask, "what happens when she realizes that she does need a class in biology (for medicine) or trigonometry (for carpentry)? And she didn't go to college!"

Enter MOOCs (massive open online courses).

Right now, MOOCs are great - take classes from an Ivy for free! - and problematic - sure, but the best you can do is a completion certificate. In other words, it's not a degree program.

But what if you just need the knowledge, and the degree doesn't matter? What if, in other words, you're an apprentice?

I'm not trying to argue that this is THE solution to all our student debt and unemployment woes. I am saying that it's an interesting potential contributor to a solution.

What do you think? Would you have skipped college to apprentice to your profession? Would you encourage your kids to consider it?

Image credit: Institute for the Future

07 January 2013

Always the Last to Know: Trello

Need to manage a project? Looking for something a little more flexible and visual than MS Project and Gantt charts? Check out Trello, a now and forever completely free (according to them) visual project management platform. 

It's laid out a bit like a card-sorting interface, but it allows you to do all kinds of cool things, like collaborate in real time with your team, share files and images, vote, track tasks and deadlines, assign tasks...

(Shout out to Maddie Grant for the 411.)

04 January 2013

Friday Top 5

My 2013 resolution is to learn to play poker. And I'm off to a good start, as dear friends hosted a poker party for me on New Year's Day. Seven of us played a full round of everyone getting shot at dealer for 7 card stud, and then two full rounds of Texas Hold 'Em. And Tim did an AMAZING job of putting together cheat sheets about the hands, the rules, the types of games, betting...basically everything you need to know to get started.

And I've already learned some things!
  1. I cannot calculate probabilities in my head on the fly. Well, at least not yet.
  2. I *can* bluff. REALLY well.
  3. If you play long enough, good hands will eventually win out over good bluffing.
  4. You do have to play for some sort of stakes, otherwise the betting gets screwy. But the stakes don't have to be cash (buy in for Monday's game was a bottle of wine per player).
  5. I am going to need more poker buddies. Interested? Ping me at ewengel@yahoo.com.
What are you going to do to push your boundaries and learn something, hopefully while also having fun, in 2013?

03 January 2013

A Year in Photos

My resolution in 2012 was to do Photo365, which I documented on a Tumblr.

I started a little before January 1, 2012 and took at least one photo nearly every day for the entire year. I know I did miss a handful of days (likely about 5, without going back to confirm), but many days I took more than one photo, resulting in 688 posts to the blog

Most of the photos were taken in and around DC, although there are also photos from New Orleans, rural Virginia, the Philadelphia area, the Jersey shore, rural Maryland, Indianapolis, Omaha, St. Louis, San Diego, Kansas City, Portland, Fort Lauderdale

I tried not to take pictures of myself (two, neither of my face) or people in general (very few), my meals (although there are food photos), or my cat (less successful there). 

So what did I learn?

I'm not much better as a photographer. But that wasn't really the point. If it had been, I wouldn't have been taking all the photos with the camera on my iPhone.

The point was to be the see-er, not the seen, and to document the world around me.

What I mostly learned was to notice things. A pretty flower. An interesting line. A great shadow. Beautiful light. Scenes from my neighborhood. The passage of time. Outlaw art. Big things. Small things. A fallen leaf. Great architecture. Stunning gardens. A funky tree. A bee. A spider. Holiday decorations. Funny signs. Sunsets. Clouds. House projects in process (everyone takes pictures when they're done). Snow. Hurricanes. Birds. Doors. Interesting things on walls and sidewalks and streets.

Mostly, it made me SLOW DOWN and PAY ATTENTION.

What will you do to remind yourself to SEE in 2013?

02 January 2013

What I'm Reading

Short list this week - lots of writers were off for the holiday.

01 January 2013

"I'm Pouring Happiness"

It's easy to forget this simple truth: enriching other people's lives enriches your own life.

So what's the secret? Stop focusing on being successful, and start focusing on being helpful.

I can scarcely imagine better advice for us as individuals and for membership associations for 2013.

Happy New Year.