Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa


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Let's Kill All of the Old White Guys

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Shakespeare didn't have such a bad idea over 400 years ago when he said, "Lets kill all of the lawyers." That quote from King Henry VI probably did cost the Bard the American Bar Association's humanitarian of the year award.

I recently came across one of the greatest quotes ever by Joan Eisenstodt, the grande damme of the meetings profession. A quote so powerful that it should be chiseled in stone and place in the lobby of ASAE: "Part of the problem with associations is they're still run by old white guys. Who don't get it." She further elaborates, "They're afraid of the Internet. They're not using computers effectively. They don't understand it, and they're the ones holding associations back from change."

An old white guy (OWG) can be any age, color, or gender. It's an attitude: how you think and behave. An OWG couches his lack of action in the form of an excuse. A challenge or opportunity is perceived as more work to do. OWGs feel a sense of security working for the government rather than for a company that didn't exist five years ago. While we're ordering that monument, maybe we should order one for every government building as well.

Hey, on the surface, I'm an OWG. I'm middle age and my hair is gray, but the attitude is positive, optimistic, and upbeat. Some years ago I had a client whose medical specialty was cosmetic plastic surgery. One of the surgeons asked me if I wanted a facelift. I declined his offer but take another course of action to looking younger - no, not Grecian Formula. I conscientiously try to think and behave like a visionary: create training programs and keynotes based on cutting edge topics rather than getting in a rut or suffering from a bad case of the blahs.

So what's an OWG? You know you're an OWG when:

  • People roll their eyes rather than raise their eyebrows when you say you have a new idea.
  • You often say, "We've never done that before" or "We don't do that here."
  • No one ever says to you, "What! Are you crazy?"

Before we kill all of the OWGs, let's look at what can be done to shift the paradigm and rescue the OWG.

Think Young. You can have gray hair, but successful organizations want high energy modern thinkers with a "can-do" attitude on their payroll. Thinking like an OWG is one of the top turnoffs in today's business world. Where are all of the new ideas coming from? The internet companies. Just recently CBS, the old fogies network, bought iwon.com, the internet company that gives away $10,000 a day and $10 million on tax day.

Take Risks. So what if you fail. No one ever bats 1.000. Consider two of our country's greatest failures, Walt Disney and Michael Jordan. Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of ideas and went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Learn the Yiddish word "chutzpa" which means guts, nerve, gall, moxie. Remember that all good things come to those who ask!

Change is Mandatory. If change is a bad word in your organization, consider that just five years ago you probably didn't know the difference between a website and a cobweb, e-commerce from an emu, the Internet from Dragnet, or a Palm Pilot from a palm reader. If looking good to your membership is important to you, then what worked well in the 90s will be an antique five years from now if not sooner.

New Technology is the Norm. OWGs don't want to understand it. Hire Generation Xers who not only can put it in place for your association but also who can explain it to you. The OWG went bonkers when they took away his carbon paper and IBM Selectric and replaced them with a Xerox machine and a computer. But who was the last person in the association to learn how to fix a paper jam or learn how to use a word program? The OWG, of course.

Delegate. Today's Generation Xers are smarter than you. You may wear a suit while they sport a tattoo, but acknowledge the fact they can make your association run smoother and make you look good to your board and constituency.

Flexibility not Rigidity. Let me share with you at no charge how to become an instant millionaire: Figure out a way to remove that invisible broomstick stuck up the rear end of OWGs. I've tried to glean some insight from proctologists and colon rectal surgeons to no avail. Your mantra needs to be, "Strike while the iron is hot" rather than, "Let's study (and restudy) it." You need to be proactive both in dealing with problems and opportunities.

Customer Focus. What have you done lately to make your customers and members not just satisfied but enthusiastic about what you do for them? OWGs have as much trouble with that question as do teenagers when asked to write that September composition entitled, "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." OWGs want customer and member loyalty but fail at the Four Rs: Relationships, Responsibility, Responsiveness, and Recovery, the basis of Client Contact Management, one of the latest watchwords of today's mega companies.

Quality. Close enough doesn't cut it anymore. The OWG hibernates in his office. Get out and wander around. Talk with customers, employees, and anyone who might provide new insight into how to improve and make things better.

Entrepreneurship. Your spaceship into the 21st century. When someone asks an OWG, "What's new?" he replies, "Same old, same old." Ask Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon.com that question and watch his eyes light up with animation. You'd also better be prepared to listen for an hour while he answers that question. Whose stock would you rather own today, General Motors, the country's largest automaker, or Amazon.com, a company that has yet to turn a profit? If you had bought only $1,000 of each company's stock five years ago, which one would have made you a multi millionaire today? OWGs are content to survive when they should be thinking marketing and become more action-oriented to excel.

Is there hope for the OWG? I don't know. It's an individual thing. Some OWGs can address the nine issues above and change while others still don't get it.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa
(703) 931-0040