“In the association world, we’re blessed with an opportunity to lead. I’ve noticed that everyone in the association community really has two choices. You can become a passive vessel for getting along and keeping members happy. Or you can try to be a leader.”
Innovation is creating something different that someone else is willing to buy. It doesn’t only have to be in products or tech- nology.Agreat innovation was the Internet. That clearly is a gift to the world. But innovation is also Starbucks. They created an atmosphere and a way of distributing coffee that people like. People are willing to pay for it. To me, that’s innovation.
What’s interesting is that your book isn’t so much pessimistic as realistic. At least, it has an optimistic subtitle. The editor insisted on an optimistic title. I have to be perfectly candid with you. [Laughs.] And the editor was right. Americans are an optimistic people, and they want optimism. But, yeah, it is optimistic in the sense that I do believe in American excep- tionalism and that Americans have unique ability and creativ- ity and innovation, and will stand up when tested. I think our failure of leadership—President Bush, PresidentObama—has really been a failure tochallenge Americans in any meaningful way. I don’t think our politicians are willing to step up on that. They don’t do what we pay them for, which is to make tough decisions despite whether or not they get reelected.
Is part ofthe problem that some ofthese issues— the deficit, public education, infrastructure—have been with some ofus our whole lives, and seem intractable?
Maybe. I certainly never was a deficit hawk until a few years ago. I think they’re fixable. I wasn’t alive [then], but I picture what it was like to be an American when Hawaii was bombed by the Japanese.We had nowar infrastructure, and we created one within a matter of months. The trick is always to look at the long term and get over the
crisis of the moment. You’re right, these problems have been around for a while.Onthe other hand, in the last fewyears we’ve increased our debt more than in all the prior years put together. It does reach a point where it’s out of control. Part of me feels that both political parties have defined themselves in a way where they’re not capable of dealing with the issues. And I don’t know what the answer is there. But that’s democracy, in a sense. You have extremes that take over each party, and the middle people have kind of gone away.
What will you be talking to your PCMA audience about? I will be talking about the role of associations and meetings in terms of a duty to focus on the big picture and to guide your membership to the big picture.You have to respect the fact that sometimes you have to lead, and in the association world, we’re blessed with an opportunity to lead. I’ve noticed that everyone in the association community really has two choices. You can become a passive vessel for getting along and keeping mem- bers happy. Or you can try to be a leader.
What role can meetings and conventions play when it comes to fostering innovation? Innovation, again, is not just about a product or a technology. It’s about change—even how you think about and do things. The mostpowerful group inAmerica are those[meeting planners]who get people together and share ideas. If you’re controlling what people are seeing and being exposed to, that’s a very powerful thing. In the association community, that’s what we’re doing. I would urge the association world not to be passive; to be
active. Have a viewpoint. What’s the worst that’s going to hap- pen? You’re going to lose your job? When I started out in my career, I couldn’t understand the association world. I couldn’t understand my job. I was put in charge of an organization, and there was a guy who had been the boss. And I said, “I don’t understand this job.” And he said, “It’s a great job. You can do anything you want, until you’re fired.” And he was right. That’s the truth about these jobs.You can do anything you want, until you’re fired.
Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene. 60 pcmaconvene June 2011 www.pcma.org