The Power of “A”

By Peter Houstle

This probably sounds a bit weird, but please bear with me. You see, I read an interesting article about behavior modeling and change management that suggests a more active role for association members and staff in today’s less than civil society, and now is certainly the right time for us to step up.

Indeed, things are a bit tense these days, though when I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s we had rock n’ roll, race riots and the Vietnam War … tough times to say the least. Of course, I’m referring to the 1950s and ‘60s, not the 1850s and ‘60s when we had a slight disagreement we refer to as the “civil war” – now there’s an oxymoron for you – and we certainly don’t want to go there again!

So, what does this all have to do with the Power of “A” and the role of “Association Person”?

Well, one of the absolutely coolest things about associations is their presence in almost every dimension of our lives … every industry, every profession, every cause, every everything. And there’s something different and special about those who belong to and lead associations … i.e., most, if not all of us share a critical belief increasingly absent in our society: we believe in the power of association and view compromise and accommodation as strength, not weakness. These are the essential social norms we desperately need to live together in a civil society.

For over four decades, Peggy Hoffman and I have been working with associations often standing shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals who hold vastly different worldviews than we do. But despite the absence of shared ideologies, we’ve been able to leverage our shared principles of collaboration, compromise and civility – the bedrock of “association” – to find solutions to shared challenges. We’ve been able to focus on the things that bind us, rather than those that separate us. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can challenge each other without attacking each other. We can celebrate and learn from our differences. We can look at the world through each other’s eyes without fearing the loss of our own identity.

OK Pollyanna Peter, what does that have to do with “Association Person”?

Well, the article I referenced above, Neighbors Can Influence Your Decision To Buy Solar Panels, described a study that “…found that the probability of an individual installing solar panels is 89% higher if that person knows someone who has already done so. This peer effect, also called social proximity, is already known to have an influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions. But the study found that another factor also plays a major role: the neighborhood effect, also known as spatial proximity.” As associations are ripe with social and spatial proximity, herein lies our opportunity to leverage our shared principles to help restore civil society. (And no, I’m not asking you to install solar panels, but it might be a good idea!)

We will not survive in a zero-sum world where everyone believes “If you win, I lose.” In that world, the disenfranchised “losers” become a rust that eventually leads to the collapse of our society.

So, the next time you’re looking for a solution to today’s dysfunction, just take a look in the mirror, “Association Person.” Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to model and evangelize the principles of association whenever and wherever possible.

Happy New Year!!

p.s. Check out Peggy’s personal reflection on unlocking a wave of potential.