Category Archives: apathy

What Jay Bilas and the NCAA Have to Do with 40 Answers

By Nathaniel Clarkson (James Madison)

The NCAA announced last week that it would stop selling jerseys and other team memorabilia on its website after acknowledging it could be seen as hypocritical, according to ESPN.

As the governing body for college sports the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving financial benefits in an effort to preserve the players’ amateur status. The NCAA’s decision to shutter its online merchandise shop follows a series of tweets by ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas in which he drew attention to the NCAA’s inconsistency in profiting from student-athletes who are barred from doing the same.

If not for Jay Bilas’ tweets it’s unlikely the story would have been picked up by major news outlets whose coverage eventually pressured the NCAA to change direction. The NCAA’s reversal on selling team merchandise illustrates the potential for one person on Twitter to achieve change through mere words.

This week marks the beginning of the 4th annual 40 Answers in 40 Days, the Twitter campaign that invites participants to crowdsource answers to the 40 most common excuses for hazing in the 40 days leading up to National Hazing Prevention Week.

From the very start 40 Answers is always filled with enthusiasm and passion – Twitter users from fraternities, sororities, teams and other organizations eager to stand up and share their rebuttals to the most ubiquitous ways their peers rationalize hazing.

Equally predictable is the occasional Twitter troll who turns up each year to tell us why tweeting “isn’t actually doing anything” and “we need to actually do something.

But as we’ve seen in so many cases – most recently by Jay Bilas tweeting the NCAA into submission – Twitter and 40 Answers have the potential to achieve real change. Equipping student leaders with the intellectual firepower to change their organization is doing something. After all, you can’t change a person’s actions until you change their mind.

Never Settle for Second Best

When the same team wins every year it can be discouraging for the groups that fall a hair short time and time again. Why aim for the top if you’re just going to end up on the silver medal platform again?

It’s great for the groups (or chapters) that always win; the momentum from an impressive streak is tough to stop. This is, after all, excellence on display. But for the groups trying to get there, it can be a motivation killer. For those middle-of-the-road groups, no matter how hard they work, it seems that one team/chapter/company is always just out of reach.

But every so often one of those teams breaks through after years of being relegated to runner-up status.

Last week Nielsen announced that “Good Morning America” had attracted more viewers than “Today” for the first time in 16 years. It was the longest winning streak in TV history, according to the NYT’s Media Decoder blog.

The triumph of “Good Morning America” over “Today” should be uplifting news for any group that’s been striving for excellence but always in the shadow of the perennial winner. If ABC can break through after holding second place for 852 weeks, then any chapter can earn the top spot for scholarship/manpower/intramurals/campus leadership/etc. no matter how long they’ve been stuck in second place.

The battle for morning show supremacy is also a cautionary tale for chapters that have dominated their campus for years – and there are plenty of them. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. NBC was smart enough to know it couldn’t rest on its laurels, yes despite some major strategic moves in recent weeks it couldn’t keep from being supplanted by ABC as owner of the top morning show. At least for the time being, that is.

Give your chapter meetings (and chapter culture) a makeover

Here’s a small excerpt from a must-read piece by Martin Lindstrom:

The first thing I do during the course of my change-agent work for Fortune 100 companies is to establish the 4:30 rule. The maximum number of people in any meeting should be four, and meetings should never last any longer than 30 minutes. No phones allowed. You may think this a little radical but, if you want to act entrepreneurial, then these are the most important steps to take.

If you’re able to get the right people into one room over two days, the stage is set. Make sure the room is far from the office and prep everyone on the notion that it’s essential to not only come up with ideas for change, but actually lock them in by the end of the second day. If the incentive is great enough, and everyone’s prepared to roll up their sleeves, in my experience, it will happen.

Do yourself a favor and set aside 5 minutes to read the full story.

How could you apply Lindstrom’s other ideas to your chapter?

What your chapter can learn from a resurgent magazine

By Nathaniel Clarkson

Print is dying, we’re always told, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Magazines and newspapers are losing readers–and revenue–to blogs and other forms of new media. There’s just no way print can compete when everything is stacked against them. Or can they?

The unfolding story of The Atlantic offers a refreshing counterexample to the idea that print is helplessly disappearing.

More generally, the magazine’s resurgence during a particularly hostile climate demonstrates for our chapters that achieving success against the odds is quite possible (and the perceived odds are often illusory).

The following story also provides a number of other lessons for student leadership organizations looking to reach the next level.

Reports Ad Week:

For eight years, [Bradley] been trying to staunch the flow of red ink at what was then called the The Atlantic Monthly, only to see the losses increase (one year, to more than $10 million).

On recruiting the right people (values-based recruitment):

When the story of The Atlantic’s turnaround is told, the credit tends to go to the 58-year-old Bradley. But Bradley himself believes his greatest talent is finding talent, and he gives the majority of the credit to Smith, who he calls “unmatchedly gifted.”

On the importance of innovation (i.e. not getting caught up in what “everyone else is doing”):

By rethinking everything about the company, however, Smith found a way to make that pay. Think Silicon Valley, but without the free food and massages. (Smith did away with perks like free bagels in the mornings.) “We don’t have foosball machines, but we filter for entrepreneurial talent,” Smith says.

On admitting mistakes:

Bradley, looking back, is candid about his own failings.

The Atlantic’s losses mounted quickly under Bradley’s hands-off ownership style, growing from $4.5 million to more than $10 million. […] Realizing he had to be more involved, he then tried every fix he could think of: He upgraded the paper stock, moved subscription prices up, then down, took advertisers on exotic retreats, to no avail.

==> People make mistakes and chapters err. Acknowledge the mistake, fix it and move on.

Again on the importance of innovation and reinvention:

“One of the great flaws in traditional media companies is they pay lip service to innovation,” Smith says. “They can’t restructure because they’re supertankers. They don’t reinvent themselves to their core.”

There will always be some reason to explain away poor chapter performance. “Numbers were down for everyone this year.” “Every other student organization hazes too.” “Our university president is anti-Greek.” (Have you ever asked her why?) “We’re waiting for the seniors to graduate to fix problem X.”

So what. The odds were against The Atlantic and they made it happen anyways. How will your chapter rise above the everything-is-against-us narrative and defy the trend to achieve excellence?

Leverage the power of feedback loops

Wired is currently running a story about how one California city got speeders to slow down in school zones, all without the consequence of earning a speeding ticket:

In five Garden Grove school zones, they put up what are known as dynamic speed displays, or driver feedback signs: a speed limit posting coupled with a radar sensor attached to a huge digital readout announcing “Your Speed.”

The results fascinated and delighted the city officials. In the vicinity of the schools where the dynamic displays were installed, drivers slowed an average of 14 percent. Not only that, at three schools the average speed dipped below the posted speed limit.

The signs leverage what’s called a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behavior. The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors.

They are in fact powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior patterns, even those that seem intractable. Just as important, they can be used to encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward. In other words, feedback loops change human behavior.

This story got us wondering – how can our chapters apply the idea behind feedback loops to improve their chapter’s performance? Here are a few possibilities we came up with:

1. Post the grade for every exam on the wall above your desk.

2. Track the number of hours you spend studying vs. playing video games (or whatever variation suits your work vs. leisure habits). Post the numbers in a place where you’ll see them throughout the day.

3. Tally the number of minutes your chapter spends discussing social events vs. philanthropy planning or LEAD programming and post in a central location in the chapter home. Ask the chapter – what do these numbers say about our chapter’s priorities?

4. For the wellness-inclined, track the progress of your workouts and post them in your kitchen.

Use the comments section below to share some other ways your chapter could employ the idea of a feedback loop.

As the article notes, the more effective feedback loops rely on automated data collection (such as Your Speed signs or other automated sensors). Still, feedback loops present an innovative opportunity to help chapters change negative behaviors and encourage good ones.

The full story is a must-read.

The Fraternity Stock Market

Pandora, Groupon, LinkedIn, and coming soon to a portfolio near you: Facebook. If you’re a business major or just generally someone who keeps up with business news then you’re well aware of the recent scramble of tech companies to the IPO cash cow. Just the other day, Facebook was given a valuation estimate of $100 billion. These companies are searching for capital, which will hopefully result in both a better product and higher profits.

However, these companies also have to prove their worth both literally and figuratively. That’s what the stock market is all about, isn’t it? Is Company A worth so-and-so amount or is it not? Product recalls, poor leadership, bad money management, and failing to achieve benchmarks will result in a dropping stock value. On the other hand, the opposite of these negatives will attract confident investors eager to throw some money your way in return for an anticipated increase of value.

All business talk aside, isn’t this a rather nifty metaphor for a fraternity? If I run chapter A and we have strong leadership, a strategic plan, defined goals, rock solid dues collection and budgeting, and of course providing the best fraternity product on our campus then why wouldn’t others want to “invest” and join us? For a nice cherry on top of this sundae we also mention that those who invest with us will see an increase of value. With each bid signed and an additional investor we can use that capital to fund brotherhood retreats, run an effective LEAD program, host safe social events, and the added bonus of developing as a scholar, leader, and gentleman.

Now let’s say I run chapter B and we don’t have a very organized group of leadership, we’re in debt because we don’t collect dues very or bother to follow a budget, we don’t have any goals (which means we’re either in neutral or sliding backwards), and our overall product is mediocre at best.

In fact, to hide our downfalls we like to throw up the smoke-screen of parties and the image that everything is A-Okay (Sounds like Enron might have pulled a page from this playbook, actually). But then we had an incident thanks to our risky social practices. Now we’re wondering why no one wants to sign a bid and invest in us (or why we’re only attracting people who want to party).

Millenials are smarter than your average bear. If anything, to follow the running stock market metaphor, they’re smart bulls looking to invest in something that is going to provide them value for the capital they invest. So as you enjoy your summer vacation and reach that point of excitement to return back to school to see brothers and rehash your summer exploits, think about your answer to two simple questions: If your chapter were to launch as an IPO what would it be worth, and would it ultimately boom or bust?

Masters Weekend

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

This year’s Masters tournament may go down as one of the best if not one of the most interesting. The storylines alone were prime fraternity house gossip topics. The superstar who fell from grace and was trying to reclaim his rightful place at the top; the young-guns storming up the leaderboard before the weekend; the Aussies attempting to make history late Sunday; and of course the former champion from Argentina looking for a second jacket as his playing partner self-destructed. There are tons of lessons we can draw from the tournament but I’ll focus on three in particular here.

The first is that competition is always good. Sunday was fun to watch for several reasons but the biggest one was that there were so many excellent competitors. I hear from chapters now and then that they don’t want another fraternity on campus because they’ll essentially make it harder to be good. That’s a cop out. What makes winning so thrilling and rewarding is not only how much work you’ve done but also the competition you faced.

The second lesson is that when things get tough be prepared for it to only get tougher. Nothing is easy in this world, whether it be achieving career success or winning a Rock Chapter award. We watched as Rory McIlroy quickly self-destructed when just that morning he was holding the lead by four strokes with steady play the previous three days. This isn’t to bash on McIlroy (he lost the Master’s at 21, I’d say he’s a step ahead of many people in his age group) but to show that you can’t let a stumble turn into a nose-diving crash. Suck it up and push forward. To McIlroy’s credit we never saw him quit. He never said “Well I’ve lost this year, I should probably stop now and just hang out with Jim Nantz for the rest of the day.” Is your chapter on a Plan of Action? Is your chapter in debt? Did your chapter not get the grades it expected? Suck it up and push forward. The Masters wasn’t the nail in the coffin of McIlroy’s career; don’t let one mistake completely derail your chapter’s success.


The last lesson to touch upon is of course that it’s not over until it’s over. You don’t get to put on the green jacket until you’ve walked off the 18th hole. Your chapter won’t be awarded a Rock Chapter award until it’s firmly in your hands. Sometimes chapters begin working on their Pursuit of Excellence submission in mid-March. There’s still a month and a half left! That’s plenty of time to still put together an event or hold some more LEAD sessions. Fall rush week ended? Well take another week or a couple of extra days to keep recruiting. This is not to say that you shouldn’t plan ahead of time using the resources offered, but don’t throw in the towel so early.

As I said from the start, this past weekend’s Masters tournament was full of storylines. What will your chapter’s storyline be? The Rock Chapter that redefined Excellence? The under-dog who crept up out of nowhere and stole the spotlight? You’re the author of your Fraternity experience and only you will determine whether it’s an epic tale or a children’s book.

The Three-Year Itch

We’re all familiar with the seven-year itch – the relationship term referring to the time frame when individuals tend to re-evaluate their situation – but what about the three, or, gasp!, two year itch. It is not uncommon to hear of chapters struggling with an apathetic membership of seniors and occasionally even juniors.

It is easy to picture the trajectory of membership in these chapters. Individuals come into the chapter as eager candidates, typically in their first or second semester as students. As they progress through their candidacy they develop a great passion for the organization, reaching an almost fever pitch at their initiation. The next year or two sees these members at the height of their involvement in the chapter – serving on numerous committees, being elected and appointed to positions of leadership, attending every meeting, social, service, and sporting event.

Then, suddenly, it happens. Brothers enter their third or fourth year in the chapter and suddenly forget the time and location for chapter meetings. Their interest in living in the house wanes. They are conspicuously absent from all activities of the chapter save for the most exciting and traditional social events.

But why? In some chapters and for some members it could be that the Fraternity served as a vibrant social outlet where none had previously existed. As members come of age, though, the opportunities for social interaction expand exponentially. Suddenly, the experiences and opportunities offered by the chapter begin to pale in comparison to those found on campus, in other organizations, with other friends, at work, or downtown.

Sound familiar?

Now, what to do about it?

Consider the experience your chapter is offering – social, educational, service, athletic, brotherhood, etc. Now ask yourself, who are we catering to? Is our chapter designed to place the most emphasis on the earliest stages of membership? Sure, candidacy is important and some in the chapter may never be as involved as they were in the time between bid day and initiation. And maybe some leadership positions in the chapter are best suited for sophomores and juniors. But does that mean the chapter doesn’t have anything specific to offer to those about to graduate? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep all members engaged in the chapter through graduation and beyond?

Ideas for eliminating the three-year itch:

  1. Offer seniors-only events – brotherhoods, mixers with sororities, sporting teams.
  2. Use LEAD Phase IV: The End…The Beginning – provide opportunities for those about to graduate to learn about how to be successful in their first year on the job, participate in a networking seminar with alumni during homecoming, learn money management skills, practice negotiating salary offers, and defining what being an engaged alumnus looks like.
  3. Provide perks for continued upperclassmen involvement – preference in room picks or first choice in selecting house jobs.
  4. Have seniors serve as mentors for individual candidates – acting as a secondary big brother who is responsible for passing along his own experience and training the candidate on something specific (e.g. review of the candidate ceremony ritual or the history of the local chapter).
  5. Use the Affirmation of Knighthood ritual ceremony.
  6. Reward engaged and worthy seniors with nominations for campus and General Fraternity awards.
  7. Host a “senior send-off” dinner or chapter meeting where seniors address the chapter and are recognized for their contributions and achievements.
  8. Create a senior programming committee to focus on planning events and opportunities that provide specific value to upperclassmen.

These are just a few ways to ward off the three-year itch. Anything that bridges the gap between the value currently offered by the chapter and the desires of your most tenured members is worth a shot.