Monday, December 19, 2011

Challenges of Narrow-Minded Board Members: OMG, I am One!

I was sitting in a board meeting last week (as one of the volunteers) and realized that most of us represented what  association management professionals tell me they worry about: “old board members unwilling or unable to look to the 
Then it hit me.

OMG! I’ve become what I complain about: a closed-brain, narrow-minded volunteer!
During our board discussion about member value, we board members expressed what we want or value ... not what members and potentials want.  And, with no millenials or Xers on our board, we really don't have a clue about their wants and needs!

So, how do we (as volunteers and as professional staff) get our boards to switch the conversation ... to talk not about "we" but about those who are not on the board or who are not members.

As this came to me toward the end of the meeting, I mentioned learning about the “curse of knowledge” and Bill Taylor’s piece in the Harvard Business Review.

The “Curse of Knowledge” concept surfaces in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die a great book by Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

I’ve used that phrase in some of my prior association management consulting work but I saw “the curse of knowledge” in a bit different light during the board meeting as well as when I read Bill Taylor’s piece in the Harvard Business Review called Don’t Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine.

These two articles are important components for you and other association and nonprofit executives as your organization deals with the rapidly changing environment in which it operates.

What is the curse of knowledge?

Here’s a summary from the Heaths that appeared in the Harvard Business Review. 

“The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it,” write the Heaths. “Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”

Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it.

The more you know an application, the better poised you are to write a good help file. But the more you know an application, the more familiar you are with it, and so you are less likely to write a good help file.

What about Zero Gravity Thinkers? D
éjà vu vs vuja dé

Meanwhile Bill Taylor wrote this awesome piece on innovation in the Harvard Business Review.

“One of the most perplexing features of these troubled times is that so many capable people in so many fields look so lost and ineffective. Whether it's the stubborn inefficiencies of the health-care system, the ever-rising costs of the higher-education system, even the slow-motion collapse of the US postal system, leaders with unrivaled expertise and decades of experience can't seem to develop creative solutions to dire problems. Why are so many smart executives so ineffective?”

Taylor quotes Cynthia Barton Rabe who populated “organizations with ‘zero-gravity thinkers:’ innovators "who are not weighed down by the expertise of a team, its politics, or 'the way things have always been done.’”

Taylor notes that most of us have “experienced déjà vu — looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you've seen it before. Vuja dé is the flip side of that — looking at a familiar situation (a field you've worked in for decades, products you've worked on for years) as if you've never seen it before, and, with that fresh line of sight, developing a distinctive point of view on the future.”

What do these two theories mean to you and other association management and nonprofit management professionals?

  • Do our board members remember what it was like to be “a regular member?” Can we think back when we were a perspective member? 
  • As staff, do we rely on our volunteers for our knowledge about our industry and membership? Or, do we seek feedback and ideas beyond our “inner circle?”
  • And, as one association leader asked, “How do I get our older board members to listen to the changes needed to reach the Millenials?”
Taylor shares an example of TD Bank which found innovative ideas not from other banks but from “power retailers” such as Starbucks, Target and Best Buy.

What about the association community? Are we so focused on benchmarking with other associations that we forget to look at other models? Or, as I’ve written earlier, do we realize that our members and potential members are being influenced by their experiences with retail organizations?

Bill Taylor and Chip & Dan Heath are showing us the way. Are we bold enough to look beyond the comfort of our world to see what others have to offer and to see how we can modify it to benefit our members/mission/donors?

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