My Take on a Controversial Blog Post

Controversy is a foundation of blogs. So I was not too surprised when a long time association professional and the writer of the Certified Association Executive blog, Ben Martin, made these revolutionary statements about the usefulness of associations.

To put his comments in context, Ben is a big supporter of social networking and the use of these tools to create self forming groups around issues and professions. Ben wrote:

“I am questioning whether or not the citizens of our world are well-served by associations given the radical improvements in the way that people can find like-minded folks and get stuff done. . . Here comes the bald-faced blasphemy: I believe that the trades, causes and professions would, in many cases, be better off without their associations.”

I do not agree with Ben. Here is what I wrote on his blog in response to his comment.

“Let me add one other point that I think supports the association structure, the concept of division of labor. As my son's economics professor noted recently, you can buy a pencil for a couple of cents today. But an individual would be very hard pressed to make a pencil from scratch on his own. The same applies to associations. To quote Wikipedia, ‘Historically the growth of a more and more complex division of labor is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialization processes.’So basically, those of us who have learned, for example, how to do effective membership marketing have a specialized skill that just anyone does not have. Taking advantage of those skills leads to a much more efficient and productive enterprise.”

The importance of specialization is highlighted by a friend of mine, Don Metznik on his blog. In an unrelated post to whether or not associations should continue to exist, Don writes about the marketing profession and the interplay between intuitiveness and counter intuition.

Here is the issue. People see marketing, so they believe that they can do marketing. But much of the success of marketing is opposed to an individual’s personal experience. Through the specialization of labor, some people study and experiment with marketing and get pretty good at it.

When all of these specializations come together in an association in the areas of marketing, advocacy, training, meeting management, finance, etc. you have a very functional and strong entity that can accomplish more together than the parts can do alone.

Well, that is my take on the topic. What do you think?


Lindy Dreyer said...

I always enjoy your viewpoint on controversial subjects;-)

My questions with your thinking are groups really need the specialization to come from an association and doesn't that infrastructure come at the cost of quick action and innovation?

It's interesting that you quoted from Wikipedia, since Wikipedia is the ultimate example of mass collaboration. There is an incredible amount of structure and specialization to Wikipedia, yet most of that oversight and expertise comes from outside the organization.

I commented on Ben's post rather simplistically because I believe you're both right and you're both wrong. We need to free ourselves from some assumptions that are increasingly invalid. But we also need to build on our strengths and find a solution that works for our members.

Tony Rossell said...

Lindy -- As always you make very helpful and thoughtful comments. You are correct. I think that Wikipedia is an excellent example of a volunteer network building a great solution. But at the same time, I can provide literally thousands of examples of professionally run associations that provide great solutions. One way to look at the question would be if you were going to launch an enterprise, would you want to bring on board a top group of professionals or have it run by a volunteer network? I continue to believe that a strong professional base is critical to success. Tony