Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.
– Chinese proverb
Volume 75 | Issue 5
September 2007

From the Executive Director: My public thoughts

Marsha Herman-Betzen

Many times, after I’ve shared an anecdote or story, people have told me that I have never had a private thought. My family would concur, for they have not been shy in expressing their apprehension that their personal stories will somehow make it into one of my Bulletin columns. In all fairness, their fears are not totally unfounded. I have written numerous articles over the years about my family and our life events. Our daughter’s high school graduation, the subsequent college selection process, her involvement in student activities, the process of planning a wedding, and my son-in-law’s white coat ceremony upon entering medical school, have all been shared in a way that some would contend vaguely relates to the business of ACUI, higher education, or college unions and student activities. When one of these momentous occasions would take place, my husband, daughter, or son-in-law usually said, "Please promise me that what just happened won’t wind up in The Bulletin."

However, I was unable to make such a promise following the birth of our grandchild, Zoë. No event has been more personal or significant in scope, and I instantly became so taken with her that I proudly announced that I could not ever remember loving a child so intensely. My daughter’s reaction to my ill-advised statement was "nice mom, real nice!" which gave way to a substantial amount of clumsy backtracking on my part.

Playing that scenario over and over again in my head sheds some light on my unintentional exaggeration. I do not believe I love my granddaughter any more completely than I love my daughter. Maybe what my statement reflected was a relatively new yet profound appreciation for the sanctity of life that perhaps can only occur in the dawn of one’s existence. When I was a new mother, I was so overly concerned about performing each duty as the famous pediatrician Dr. Spock had prescribed in his well-known child-rearing book, that I sometimes missed the simple joys of the moment.

Watching Zoë discover the world around her made me enjoy experiences in a fresh way. All of a sudden, the rustling of leaves in the summer breeze seemed far more noticeable and almost symphonic on our walks around the neighborhood together. I soon craved new ways to be sensitized to Zoë’s world so I too could see my surroundings in an unblemished manner. Her fascination with the sparkling light from the overhead fixture made me take notice of the beautifully colored reflections that the crystal prisms cast onto the wall. Even observing my grandchild discover her hands was like watching a graceful rhythmic ballet. What I came to blissfully realize was that the newness of Zoë’s world made me crave her gift of curiosity and a newfound appreciation of experiences that I had long taken for granted.

Just like Zoë’s fascination with her 8-week-old existence, a similar feeling of novelty was collectively experienced by ACUI’s management team when we attended DigitalNow. DigitalNow is an annual conference, which brings together CEOs and volunteer leaders from a variety of professional and trade associations. The conference addresses many of the critical issues facing association leaders in the digital age, including how to build a brand, personalize programs and services for changing demographics, develop online communities, create lifetime loyalties, manage member relationships, construct content management systems, and increase online education.

Innovators such as Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia; Chris Trimble, the author of "10 Rules for Strategic Innovators"; Susan Scott, "Fierce Conversations"; and Stephen M.R. Covey, "The Speed of Trust," exceeded our wildest expectations as the major keynotes. Maybe it was my age and lack of comfort with cutting-edge technology, but I found the information so new to my current way of thinking, that I couldn’t sleep at night as ideas bounced aimlessly around in my head. The depth and potential application of content particular to ACUI was truly extraordinary. While I consider myself well read, after Day 1 of the conference, I commented to my colleagues in attendance, "When did I get stupid?"

What DigitalNow taught me is that you cannot become complacent and stand on yesterday’s laurels. I now know that completing ACUI’s massive reinvention was not enough. I now know that it was shortsighted to think I could ride the coattails of that recent success to retirement. What I have since learned is that the world is changing at such a frenetic pace, that those who guide organizations have no choice but to continually lead processes that will redefine, review, and clarify their value proposition. I regained my enthusiasm when I discovered my moment of truth; I finally realized my job as executive director was to focus on creating effective strategies and new structures so that ACUI can execute its business in a social environment that continues to change dramatically. And to a great extent, the concentration of those future efforts will converge on digital issues.

So whether I like it or not, the time has come to familiarize myself with high-tech concepts such as twitters, social bookmarking, avatars, and RSS feeds. Forget something as yesterday as instant messaging, I’d better understand MySpace, YouTube, blogging, podcasts, wikis, tagging, and folksonomies. If we refuse to become competent in this new world around us, ACUI will lose so many opportunities to reposition ourselves as the leading-edge provider of programs and services. New technological vehicles for the distribution of information cannot help but ensure that ACUI will remain increasingly relevant to future generations of members.

That same freshness and uniqueness that is demanded of associations is playing itself out on college campuses worldwide. Tens of thousands of students are partaking in experiences that are new and exciting to them as they enter college for the first time. Homecoming, football Saturdays, sorority and fraternity recruitment, donning college regalia, and hearing the marching band play the fight song—these events, while almost routine to us, are incredible community-building opportunities for a new generation of students.

At the same time, college union and student activities staffs are scurrying to find new ways to relate the role of the college union and its accompanying stories to a new generation of freshmen. Like ACUI, you too have an obligation to ensure your programs, services, and facilities are irrefutably pertinent in meeting the needs of today’s students.

This gifted generation of students will step onto your campuses and teach us much. Because they grew up with all of the advantages technology has to offer, they know how to stay connected to their communities. They are not worried about saying goodbye to their best high school friend as they head to different colleges. They are so well versed in Web 2.0 technology they know they will keep in touch through innumerable communication vehicles shortening the distance between them and those they care about.

This is exactly the kind of connection I hope to make with many of you with my new blog, "No Private Thoughts." How many times have I wished that we could visit more often in a value-added personal way? How many times have I read something that I thought you might be interested in hearing? How many times have I wanted to enter into a dialogue so I could learn from you? This new blog will have no rules. It will contain thoughts, suggestions, ideas, stories, and opinions. My hope is that I will receive the same gifts from you in return. Watch for the "No Private Thoughts" blog link on ACUI’s Web site, http://www.acui.org. Together we can share a small piece of ourselves by having a new-fangled experience in an up-to-the-minute way. How great is that?