News Items - Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
Jeannette Stawski shares her top takeaways from the Great Ideas Conference and applies lessons learned to AORE's work.

I firmly believe in the power of professional development. Participating in this type of learning nourishes creativity, boosts energy levels, and ushers in new awareness and perspectives. This ongoing commitment to education and skills-building makes me a stronger, flexible and aware, growth-oriented leader and as a result I can serve more effectively in my role as AORE’s Executive Director. Throughout my career, I’ve had my professional development budget come and go at different organizations and in the end, I am willing to reach into my own pockets to offset the cost of these opportunities if there is information to glean that will advance both my personal goals and the work of the organization I represent. Of course, there are many ways in which to do this valuable self-work and the endless options often compete for my time, attention, and resources. While I subscribe to the philosophy of mentorship and see the tremendous benefit in attending training courses, reading books, and listening to Ted Talks, the immersive nature of a conference provides space for the learning process to unfold organically, making room for reflection and profound insights that might not happen as easily when I’m caught up in the daily 9 to 5 grind.

A wonderful example of this sort of transformational experience would be the Great Ideas Conference––an event produced by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)––which I attended last month in Colorado. Great Ideas is all about innovation, empowering association executives with the tools and information to dream big and act boldly as they coach their boards, engage with membership, and ensure their organizations remain sustainable. Now that I have returned from the conference, I plan to leverage this learning and apply it in my daily work with AORE to ensure that this wonderful association remains relevant, dynamic, and healthy. I’d also like to share what I’ve heard with all of you in the hopes that it may elevate and enrich your own endeavors.

In no particular order, here are just a few of the “great ideas” that I was exposed to during my time in Colorado last month, as they relate to AORE and its members: 
Six Principles for Building a Future-Ready Association. (Jeff De Cagna, Executive Advisor, Foresight First LLC)
Jeff focused on the disruptive impact of societal transformation (globalization, technology) and examined how associations must prepare for a very different future in order to remain relevant to members and flourish in a dynamic world that is constantly changing.
AORE Application: This message hit home when thinking about AORE’s identified challenges and the intentional plan we’ve put in place to address each one of them. As an association, we must look to the future and acknowledge higher education’s diminishing role in auxiliary programming, for example. We have to think about how we will not only survive, but actually thrive in this uncertain landscape. Then, we have to figure out how to quantify and promote the positive impacts of recreation––from wellness outcomes to economic benefits––to frame what we offer in such a way that it is seen as valuable and necessary to the larger outdoor industry. Of course, stakeholders from all levels within the AORE community are vital contributors to this process of reinvention and growth. For example, throughout my tenure the board and I have focused on building a leadership team with a diverse set of skills and perspectives in order to help accomplish our goals of being future-ready. Each time our group convenes, we focus on two strategic questions that link back to our long-term vision for the association. Together, we analyze key industry and global trends, work to tackle issues before they become obstacles, and explore opportunities that will enhance the membership experience. These targeted conversation starters provide a platform for AORE staff and board members to develop a comprehensive road map that will guide our association for the next three to five years.
From Wicked Problems to Breakthrough Innovations: The Skill of Reframing. (Michal Feinson, Partner, Innovation Partners International)  
Michael delivered a powerful session that looked at how associations handle perceived barriers to their work and mission, suggesting that maybe we are taking the wrong approach in these situations. Instead of trying to solve the issue at hand, he proposed that it might be more productive to simply return to the original question and reframe it in a fresh light for better results. For instance, rather than asking people why they did not come back to a program again or purchase a membership, reach out to the individuals who are loyal and find out what they value about your services. This shift in focus allows us to begin a new conversation around what is possible (not impossible), which in turn, leads to the creative thinking and relationship-building that is necessary for true transformational change.
AORE Application: In order to remain healthy as an association, we must maintain an open dialogue with the people who use our services to know where we excel and where we come up short. Our leadership team and staff are committed to this important effort as we work to envision the future of AORE and develop the right set of strategies to make that dream a reality. Already from these conversations we know that our website used to be difficult to navigate and that members wanted more content, increased engagement, and a more solid understanding of AORE’s existing services overall. This new awareness has played an enormous role in allowing us to adapt and fulfill the needs of members while leveraging our biggest strengths and aligning our goals with available resources. Today, we are delivering more information and support to members than ever before via the online newsroom, increased webinars and learning opportunities, a new video library, improved website navigation, the AORE mobile app, a revamped members’ portal, and much more! AORE’s four core service areas––Advocacy, Career Development, Professional Development, and Networking––are more clearly defined so that our members can take full advantage of the benefits we offer as an association. And the board is actively reaching out to AORE’s four primary audiences––colleges and universities, non-profit organizations, military agencies, and for-profits––to increase AORE’s visibility and engage new members who bring with them fresh perspectives and a wide range of expertise.

Keynote on Misdirection (Vinh Giang, CEO, Luminary Productions and Cofounder, 52Cards)
Giang’s presentation was one of the best that I have heard in a long time. His message, conveyed through magic, is this: Nothing is impossible, you just don’t have the right perspective. When we are stumped by a problem that plagues our association, the solution is to step back and search for a different lens through which to see the situation. In this way, we can identify aspects of the issue that may have eluded us earlier, or perhaps we can simply become more aware of our patterns of action. Essentially, imagination can lead to progress and innovation. Vinh’s second message was one I have heard before: You are the direct reflection of the top five people you spend your time with. He challenged the audience to reflect on what might happen to the health of their organization if the right five people aren’t in place.
AORE Application: Our top priority is to strengthen AORE as an association so that we can do more for members. A major part of this involves building our board, committees, and action teams in such a way that a wide range of perspectives, backgrounds, expertise, resources, and abilities are represented. Through a board “skills assessment” we have identified where there is room for growth and now, we are actively recruiting individuals who have the right mix of skills for the position and bring with them a different point of view that can help us to innovate and better serve AORE members. Similarly, committees and action teams are ideally composed of members from every level of our AORE membership to ensure that our programs, tools, resources, and communications are designed to support all of the people we serve.

Folding Time: How Association Executives Can Achieve Twice as Much in Half the Time. (Neen James, CEO, Attention Expert)
In a world full of competing priorities and too little time to address them, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. However, the “I’m too busy” narrative that we tell ourselves is a restricting and self-defeating one. James suggested that this phrase is completely meaningless and actually sends a message to the rest of the world that something is not a priority. Essentially, chasing time is wasting time. If we want more control over our lives, James strongly feels that we must take different approach to the problem and stop relying on empty excuses. Her main premise? That we can’t manage our time, but we can manage our attention. As CEOs, James challenged all of us to remember that we must lead by example if we want to inspire others to think and act differently. One of my favorite moments was when James said that "NO" is a complete sentence. While only 4’10”, Neen James’ presence was powerful, her message of urgency and calls to action resonating with everyone in the room.
AORE Application: Competing interests abound within every non-profit and at AORE it is no different. Members each have their own interests and passions, but sometimes this can inhibit the ability to be objective. As a representative of AORE, I want everyone to see their goals realized. However, this isn’t necessarily the right formula for our collective success as an association. Sacred projects and programs need to be revisited regularly to ensure that they still support the long-term vision for the organization. It is not always an easy task to decide whether an initiative has run its course, especially when emotion is involved. It requires discipline, impartial reflection, and a willingness to invest in a big picture that is driven by data. At times, it can seem like the association might be torn apart during the whole process. But we can’t falter in these moments. Instead, we must be clear––and say no––to things that once served a function, but now no longer advance AORE’s mission or positively impact most members. To this end, AORE has been going through a systematic assessment of its programs and services to determine whether or not the things that members “feel” are important are actually supported by metrics. This necessary effort will ensure that we keep moving forward as an association and are not left behind in the past.

IN SUMMARY: I hope that my personal insights from the Great Ideas Conference have been useful in some small way and that you are able to apply them in your own projects and programs. This rewarding experience also got me even more excited about our own AORE-AEE conference* that will take place this November in Spokane, WA. ‚Äč‚ÄčLike Great Ideas, this annual learning and networking event is designed to spark innovation, encourage collaboration, and provide the resources and tools that members need to not only do their work, but take it to the next level. However, between registration costs, travel, lodging, and taking time off from work, it is no secret that this sort of investment does not come cheap. It requires significant money and time. While some people are lucky enough to have the whole conference covered by their employers, others may not receive any support. They must decide whether or not to take the leap of faith and use their own resources to attend. Personally, I cannot think of a better investment, having seen firsthand how individuals are able to leverage the learning and relationships that take root at the annual conference into a full-time salaried position or even funding for graduate school. 

AORE provides us all with a nurturing community where we can connect and share what inspires us, troubleshoot challenges, and test out new strategies and ideas. I am excited to continue learning alongside all of you this year as AORE evolves to meet the demands of an ever-changing industry. Together, we can truly accomplish anything!

Yours in Adventure,

Jeannette Stawski

*Curious to learn more about what the AORE-AEE annual conference offers attendees in terms of value? Ready to register for the event and need a little guidance in order to take the next step? Check out our online conference hub, which provides all the details that you're seeking!

Categories: Executive Director Update, Membership, Professional Development
Published: 04/02/19