XDP Challenges Association Professionals to Think Differently

During day two of ASAE’s Xperience Design Project event, expert faculty shared how a change in perspective can lead to innovative ideas, stronger messaging, and better performance.

You probably don’t usually think of failure as a gift, but you might want to give that perspective a try.

That was the message for association professionals attending day two of ASAE’s Xperience Design Project (XDP) event in National Harbor, Maryland, on Friday. Host Lisa Kay Solomon, chair of transformational practices at Singularity University, and her colleague Dan Klein, a Stanford University professor, challenged their audience by making the case that mistakes are gifts and that failure can be bonding.

“When you fail together cheerfully and without blame, you bond faster,” Klein said. “In fact, we learn so much faster from our mistakes. And failure and mistakes give you feedback that’s much deeper than anything you receive from your biggest successes.”

Solomon and Klein also urged attendees (or “co-creators,” in XDP parlance) not to beat themselves up when they fail. Instead, “laugh and start over,” Klein said. “There are moments when you need to experiment, when you need to try things—and not everything’s going to work. What matters most is you let it go and move on and try the next idea, because that could be the one that’s transformational.”

That theme of experimentation carried through many of the Idea Accelerator sessions that took place later in the day.

In “Surround Sound Communication,” Dorothy Jones, CEO of J Star Marketing and former CMO of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, urged association professionals to reinvent their events by taking a guest-centric approach.

“Innovate the experience by putting your attendees—your guests—at the center of everything you do,” she said. “You need to know who you’re talking to and how you’re talking to them.”

Jones said one of the biggest challenges that meeting designers face is that there are currently four different generations in the workforce. “This will require you talk to these four groups of guests in four very different ways based on their preferences,” she said.

For example, direct mail may work best for baby boomers, while Gen X will want an email or phone call, and millennials will prefer a text message.

“Manage your message in each of these mediums to deliver a guest experience that is customizable and unique for each audience you’re trying to connect with,” she said. “I promise that if you take this approach, people will engage with you every time.”

Erica Qualls-Battey, general manager of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, also spoke about making connections during her “Performance Leadership” Idea Accelerator. She focused on making connections and building relationships with your staff as a way to drive better business results.

Qualls-Battey, who is about to celebrate her 25th anniversary with Marriott, said that as a long-time leader, she’s learned firsthand the benefits that come from being committed to giving your people opportunities to grow.

“Put people first in all that you do,” she said. “If you take care of your people, people will take care of your guests, guests will come back, and the business will take care of itself.”

Empathy and authenticity are also a big part of it. “When you are able to walk in the shoes of the people who work for you and empathize with them, they will do a great job and look to drive great results,” she said.

Qualls-Battey noted that leaders have to exemplify the behavior that they want their employees to demonstrate. Her advice tied back to Solomon’s and Klein’s message about experimentation.

“You want your teams to try something new and innovate?” she said. “Then you need to not only tell them, but show them, that experimentation is encouraged, and mistakes are OK. If they see you do it, they’re more likely to follow.”

J Star Marketing CEO Dorothy Jones speaks at XDP on Friday. (Chris Williams/Zoeica Images)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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