Home > Uncategorized > 3 Lessons of Unintended Consequences

3 Lessons of Unintended Consequences


I read two different articles this week that are completely unrelated to each other or to organizations or events or technology or any other topics that I normally address, but they got me to thinking.

The first article had to do with the premise that as athletes use better, safer equipment they tend to play more recklessly thus to some extent negating the intent of the safer equipment. Similarly, the second article stated that people who use coupons tend to consume more thus offsetting some of their savings.

I believe there are lessons on unintended consequences here for those of us who are involved with organizations or are responsible for or actively participate in conferences or events.

Are there policies that are stifling creativity and innovation in your department, agency, association, or company? There’s a good chance that the policies originated from a valid concern or worthwhile goal. Have they outlived their purposes or usefulness? I can’t help but think of a blog I read this week.  Here’s an excerpt:

There was a new chapter leader at my association who was full of energy and ideas. Periodically, he would call and ask permission to do something. It always violated the chapter bylaws, and I always told him “ne day, after I shot down yet another idea, he asked me, “Do you ever say ‘yes’?” I was so distracted with defending the rules (bylaws) that I lost sight of a leader willing to look at the big picture from a different angle. Rather than be flexible to his ideas, I stifled his creativity.

You get what you reward. What are you rewarding?

Is your organization heavy-handed in the way it develops programs? Is it dictating from the top down what content you will want at a seminar or conference instead of simply asking you or seeing what kind of expertise is within the group?  I like that this week ASAE asked me to rate 20 or so proposed sessions for their MMC Conference in the spring of 2012. That did two things for me (and for others who have an interest in this conference). One, it made me an active participant, months in advance. I now have something at stake in how this conference is developed. Two, it gave me a sneak preview of what may be offered. The descriptions of some sessions created a sense of excitement and the hope that others had rated those prospective sessions as highly as I did.

Similarly, I was struck by Jenise Fryatt’s recollection of Event Camp East Coast 2010 in “How an Unconference Changed My Life”. You see, I was there. I recognize the people in the photo. I benefited from this unconference. I was in Jenise’s session, learned greatly from it, and later went on to teach some of the improv exercises to kids I work with at church. I also led a session on “Social Media 101” with Jenise so I was right there with her with the feelings of “I was nervous and excited and compelled to say yes, even though it was a very scary proposition.  I mean, could I do a good job with no preparation?” The answer was, “Yes!” It also opened my eyes to realize that there are experts all around us. We just haven’t asked the right questions; we haven’t tapped into the resources who are our co-workers, peers, or valued business partners. We’ve been blinded by PowerPoint presentations and slick videos rather than just having conversations and exchanging ideas.

Where have policies and programs left your organization and its employees, members, or customers wanting?
What can you do to help reshape the approach and vision?

I welcome your comments, insights, and ideas below and on Twitter.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Very interesting commentary – and I totally agree that we sometimes read something totally unrelated to associations that clearly describe an association behavior!

    To answer your questions, associations often have policies established by the “good old boys” in the “good old days” that are no longer valid in the current environment. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to change these policies or programs because of the “rules” that were established to safeguard the organization. Too often I have seen procedures in the Bylaws where they should not be located (generally).

    I have also seen association staff – who need to “police” the rules/policies – want to change the rules or policies, but the volunteers do not like to be “told” by the staff what to do — after all it is their association! My solution was to have a task force of members and staff do a periodic review so that input could be obtained from both segments.

  2. Deb Rexon
    October 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Great thoughts! As president of a 501c3 (volunteer ems) I have vowed that as we rewrite our bylaws, we will, hopefully, eliminate roadblocks to change, creativity, flexibility, and leadership styles. Tapping our human capital is always a challenge, because sometimes, in the back of our minds is the little voice that says, “What if they do a really good job, and then they TAKE my job/position/post?” We don’t always look at the big picture of growing our organization for success, survival, and longevity.

  1. January 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm

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