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Pick up the pencil.

Pick Up the Pencil

Whatever else is right or wrong with the way we educate our children in this country, one definite plus is the practice of exposing them to an ever-widening and more diverse circle of contacts. From the nest of the family they plunge into elementary school and find a world of strangers, then graduate to high school and meet a wider and more disparate group of strangers, and finally enter college or the army or the factory and interact with a still more varied circle of people. By design, we challenge our children to experience many different ways to look at our world.

I have never met an association executive who has time on his or her hands. We are blessed as a profession with unending opportunities to keep abreast of expanding knowledge in our profession of association management and in the industry, profession, or interest of our members. But the truth, for many of us, is that once we make the leap into our chosen careers, we get so caught up in our professional communities that we don't make the time to keep pressing out to expand our circles.

I was reminded of how rewarding this "press" can be when I attended the recent Media Executives Conference, an annual event sponsored by IBM Corporation. I spent three remarkable days immersed in state-of-the-art technology and surrounded by strangers, most of whom did not have associations as I know them on their radar screens. And I came away with a refreshing perspective and 1 million (okay, I'm exaggerating a little) new ideas.

It occurred to me that for most associations, the first steps toward automation came in computerizing our membership and prospect lists and our financial records, and in word processing. Because the work on these systems is typically performed below the executive level, insight into potential efficiencies of automation has come most often from the bottom up in associations--neatly synchronizing with the increasing trend toward a general flattening of organizational hierarchy and a tendency toward organizationwide collaboration on identifying and implementing productive solutions.

I believe this bottom-up technological initiative has had three consequences in our community:

1. It has put enormous pressure on top management to make relatively huge fiscal decisions to acquire hardware and software with insufficient management information and understanding to be comfortable making those decisions. 2. The resulting top-management discomfort and the bottom-up-driven automation has caused associations to focus their "technology energy" on administrative efficiency, rather than on harnessing power and using technology to more effectively govern and make decisions. 3. The bottom-up "machine," by definition, tends to look at pieces of the problem and potential, rather than at the organization systemically, and as a result many association systems are fragmented instead of fully integrated.

Associations have made a quantum leap forward in recent years to boldly experiment with and put to use the innovations of technology, but the bigger challenges lie ahead--and cannot be addressed until top management bites the bullet and makes friends with the power of the computer.

An average child can take a pencil and paper and make a picture. With some training and craft, a person can use that same paper and pencil to create a technically accurate rendering. A master, with talent, experience, wisdom, and a message to convey, can elevate the use of those same materials to an art form.

You can look at computers (our pencil and paper) that way, too. Used for its most basic purposes, the computer is a processor of words, numbers, and lists. But used at its highest level, it's so much more: You can hire a computer consultant to help you select your equipment and provide training, various specialists to actually operate it. But it takes your inspired leadership, your mastery of the computer's capabilities, to figure out what to use it for. The first step in creating your masterpiece is picking up the pencil.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Footnotes; mastery of using computers
Author:Myers, Elissa Matulis
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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