I Want ASAE to Fail. And You Should Too.


I want ASAE to fail. 

To try a new program or service and have it flame out spectacularly. 

Or incorporate a completely new element into an existing initiative and have a large percentage of the membership go, "huh?"

Not everyone who reads this blog is a member of ASAE or a professional organization, so to make the most of this post, think of an organization you care about, perhaps one you contribute to financially or as a volunteer.  Whenever I say ASAE, you think of the organization of your choice.

I haven’t done any formal polling, but I believe the freedom to swing for a home run and strike out is something that began to disappear shortly after ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership joined as one organization.  Don’t get me wrong.  Many, many positive benefits have accrued to the association community as a result of that union.  But we lost something important. Surprise, Delight, and Wow was a driving mantra for the Center and a rallying point for its staff, members, and volunteers .... just as it was for the Center in its earlier incarnation as GWSAE, the Great Washington Society of Association Executives.  Where that mantra is left in our merged entity, it seems to come only in lower case letters, unbolded text, and a much more confined range of risk.

And that's either a serious problem or a huge of pool of unrealized potential.  Either way, it needs to be addressed because we no longer have ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership.  We only have ASAE-The Center for Association Leadership.  And there simply is no way to be the center without more room in the Price is Right rangefinder for trying new things.

I’m sure the expectations and scrutiny we place on the ASAE staff and volunteer leadership contributes to too much of a "we can't screw this up"  mental straightjacket.  So that’s why I wanted to come out, fly my freak flag as Joe Gerstandt would say, and openly declare that this is one member who wants more failures, more thoughtful attempts to achieve great things that fall short, but produce meaningful insight that members of the association community can use in their own organizations.

In 2010 and 2011,  a diverse cross-section of ASAE staff, volunteers, and members convened regularly as members of the Innovation Task Force.  One of the outcomes (approved by the ASAE Board) was that ASAE serve as a convener, catalyst, and role model for innovation in the association community.
  • We need more conversations to be convened;
  • We need more catalysts for commitments to be unleashed; and
  • We need more role modeling of capital letter Experimentation.
Calculated risks are fine, but let’s not allow IGNITE sessions to be seen as the major conference innovation year after year.  Cool as they are, they were a proven format in many other environments that were simply imported into our community, something many would say was a pretty low risk initiative.
  • Maybe we as a community need to all come out in favor of failure. 
  • Maybe we need to express the experiments we’d most like to see happen.
  • Maybe we need to say “here’s something we’d love to try in our own organization, but are afraid to do so.  Would you try it for us?”
Maybe we need to do all this and much more.

The real irony is that 1575 I Street is not ASAE.  We are.  And if we the member community don't invite, cajole, or demand bigger and bolder experimentation from the staff and volunteers who help lead us, we are the ones who ultimately will fail.

And the reality is that even if you strike out when you swing for the bleachers, you truly haven’t failed.  You’ve simply learned what doesn’t work.  That’s what progress requires.