Category Archives: blogs

What Drives a Culture Change?

After a series of embarrassing events this semester, Duke University president asked students in this letter to join him in starting a culture change.

Here’s my favorite part:

Duke’s best tradition is that it’s not stuck in traditions.

Tradition is great; blind devotion to any and all traditions is not so great.  Arbitrary traditions that result in boorish behavior and damage an institution’s reputation deserve to be questioned.


Where Good Ideas Come From

Two new books seek to explain environments that are most ripe for good ideas.  From  a recent Wired magazine interview:

Steven Johnson: We share a fascination with the long history of simultaneous invention: cases where several people come up with the same idea at almost exactly the same time. Calculus, the electrical battery, the telephone, the steam engine, the radio—all these groundbreaking innovations were hit upon by multiple inventors working in parallel with no knowledge of one another.

Could we add the college fraternity to this list?  Think the Lexington and Miami Triads, the other Virginia fraternities, and the Longwood sororities that were all founded around the same time.

Johnson: At the end of my book, I try to look at that phenomenon systematically. I took roughly 200 crucial innovations from the post-Gutenberg era and figured out how many of them came from individual entrepreneurs or private companies and how many from collaborative networks working outside the market. It turns out that the lone genius entrepreneur has always been a rarity—there’s far more innovation coming out of open, nonmarket networks than we tend to assume.

Good things happen when fraternities collaborate and learn from each other.  Even better things can happen when we study non-Greek organizations and draw our own creative parallels.



Rule #76: No Excuses. Bake Like a Champion

Carol Tice at the BNET blog has a short post comparing and contrasting Panera and Cosi.

Two bakery-cafe chains have been in the news recently — Richmond, Mo.-based Panera Bread (PNRA) announced growing sales despite the downturn, while Cosi (COSI) of Deerfield, Ill., said its sinking sales have led to a delisting warning notice from the Nasdaq. Both chains began around the same time, and Cosi certainly got as much positive initial press and consumer raves. Some of the key differences that made Panera the winner:

The parallel with fraternity life should speak for itself:

Sticking with the concept. For years, Cosi toyed with being a bar by night and a bakery by day, or just selling liquor along with its food, possibly creating customer confusion and disappointment as they evolved. Panera just kept being a great bakery-cafe.

Chapters that “stick with the concept” of a brotherhood based on shared ideals and positive experiences will always outperform the chapters with a faux brotherhood based on unearned respect, personal servitude and partying.

I like this example because it also offers a lesson in not making excuses.  Cosi probably tried to tell their investors, “We’re in a recession, you know, so our plunging stock is just a reflection of the bigger economic climate.”  We often hear chapters rationalize poor performance with similar rhetoric.  “Our recruitment effort may appear like an utter failure but numbers were down for everyone this year.”

So what.  When their competitors’ stock was taking a nosedive, Panera embraced the environment and increased value despite the recession.  Next time campus recruitment numbers are at an all-time low, you be the chapter to defy the trend.

Don’t Table this Idea for the Next Meeting

Nice post from Matt Mattson at the Phired Up blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

While wandering around USC’s campus the other day making friends (which was a blast), I happened upon a very creative student organization recruitment tactic.

There were a number of tables set up along the main drag of campus — there were some political groups, the Greenpeace folks were out there, a guy selling tickets to play paintball, a Relay-for-Life group, and a gospel choir selling delicious $1 cookies.  All were doing good work tabling, but there was one other table that really stood out to me.  They had a sign hanging on their table that read, “What’s Your Beef With Christianity?”

Now, religious content aside, I was first intrigued because their sign was a QUESTION, and not a statement.  So, I walked up and asked them about it.  I assumed they were an atheist/agnostic group that was looking for like-minded people with whom they could commiserate, but I was wrong.  At first they wouldn’t really tell me who they were, they just said…

Merely sitting behind a table to “get your name out there” is not an effective recruitment strategy (especially if you’re just surfing fb statuses on your iPhone).  It’s about as effective as littering the campus with recruitment calendars and expecting prospective members to flock to the chapter home.  It just doesn’t happen.

Recruitment means actively finding people who will fulfill the vision of your organization.  And, as this lesson shows, part of the recruitment process is the willingness to engage your critics in genuine conversation.