Reflection on #ASAE13: A Tale of Two Meetings

It's been a few days since I left the ASAE meeting in Atlanta. I had a great time, as usual, but there has been one issue that has been bouncing around in my brain since I left. Towards the end of the meeting, I saw this tweet from association exec (and big thinker) Bob Rich:

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 4.58.00 PM

I'll be curious to see exactly what prompted Bob to tweet this, but regardless, I felt exactly the same way. I went to several different sessions during the meeting, and in some of them, I felt energized as we explored new ways of doing things (I particularly liked the session about AGU's transformation on the last day, where the Board Chair was actually one of the presenters--how often does that happen!?). But in others, I felt almost out of place. The conversations were rooted in the traditional assumptions and methods, and the degree of agreement and loyalty to the old ways in the group seemed to be very high. I wasn't sure how to engage, since I came from such a different perspective. And in the sessions where I felt at home, it seemed like none of the people from those traditional sessions were even there, and the old ways weren't discussed much. As Bob said, it was like two co-located meetings.

So what does this mean for the association community? Are we evolving in different directions in a healthy way? Or have we just created two separate bubbles, both of which lack perspective and are headed for some disappointing pops? Is it good to have co-located meetings like this? Should we work harder to integrate them? Or should they just evolve separately? Was this just me and Bob? Obviously I've got more questions than answers on this one. What do you think?

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  1. 12.08.2013 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for the thought provoking observation. I haven’t attended an ASAE annual meeting in several years. I’ll bet other folks had the same sensation as you. I’m also glad that you didn’t judge one collocated meeting as superior to the other (“have we just created two separate bubbles, both of which lack perspective and are headed for some disappointing pops?”).
    In addition, I suspect that there were more than 2 collocated meetings there in Atlanta. Perhaps as many as 10…or even 50. The degree of energy and connection you have to a particular session, it seems to me, will depend on your own evolution in the association management space. What seemed like an edgy and challenging conversation five years ago might seem like a “traditional” conversation today. When I attend an ASAE annual meeting, I usually look for one of three things: #1 a session or conversation that reinforces things I already know to be true (See? I’m not crazy…other people are saying this too); #2 a session or conversation that offers me a radically new perspective or opens my eyes to a new way of addressing a persistent challenge (Whoa! I could really use this with my board, staff, etc.); #3 a beer or glass of wine with old friends (ASAE = always standing, always eating).
    I’m interested in hearing what other people think…to get more of thing #2!

  2. Frank Fortin
    12.08.2013 at 9:52 am

    Interesting question; I would love to know specifics of those conversations. However, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the “new” ways are all good and will work, or that the “old” ways are all bad and will never work.

    Which brings me to my other point: If these two conversations are not co-located, what hope is there of moving the entire community forward, discarding old methods that won’t work, and experimenting with new ideas that could be awesome?

  3. 12.08.2013 at 11:05 am

    I, too, would lie to the prompt, but I’m not sure we every will all be in the same conversation completely. Outdated for one industry or association may still be OK and acceptable in another.

    Even if we take something as simplistic as the bell curve to map change and innovation conversations, it shows that the conversation distribution you experienced is likely to occur and endure.

  4. Robert Rich
    14.08.2013 at 10:02 am

    Thanks, Jamie, for picking up on the tweet. While the conference was overall quite excellent and most sessions I attended in Patrick’s category # 2, I’d observe that some of the conversations (just a few) could have just as easily taken place 5-10 years ago. Is it really a surprise that we are facing a more globally connected landscape, or that the Millennial Generation is entering the workforce? Do we really need to keep talking about whether social media should be a part of our marketing and engagement efforts?

    I would support Jeff’s theory that maybe some of those to whom this is breaking news are just further back on the bell curve of change, and totally agree with Frank’s desire to keep these conversations co-located (so as to help those on the cutting edge bring along those further behind). In fact, such knowledge transfer from early adopters and innovators is a big part about what any successful association conference should be about.

    Pushing the envelope a bit, would it make sense to attach a scale of innovation entailed in future ASAE sessions, from 1 (This is your grandparents’ association) to 10 (Totally new paradigm)? Probably would be best to have a neutral third party evaluate this, because we may otherwise see the Lake Wobegone effect.

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