Category Archives: innovation

How Wikipedia reminds employees of the organization’s mission

The April 2011 issue of Fast Company profiles Sue Gardner, the new executive director of Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The full story is worth reading as an example of “officer” transition and setting ambitious goals for growth.

One paragraph in particular stood out to me as an innovative and symbolic way to remind Wikipedia employees and volunteers of the organization’s mission:

Recently, Gardner spoofed Wales’s evangelical zeal by putting a picture of the founder in the employee bathroom above the aspirin and dental-floss basket and typing up a mock plea from Wikipedia’s benevolent founder. “This basket exists for one reason: the free and open sharing of personal-grooming items. For many of us, most of us, this basket has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Help protect it now. Please make a donation.”

The crowdsourced Wikipedia is, of course, produced entirely by volunteer editors who donate their knowledge and talents for the greater good (aside from a small staff to run the organization). This sharing box in the bathroom constantly reminds Wikipedia employees of the organization’s mission to share free information.

This small example got me thinking – what are some similar ways your chapter can constantly remind members of Sigma Nu’s mission to produce ethical leaders inspired by Love, Honor and Truth? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

(By the way, Sigma Nu’s Wikipedia page could use a few good volunteer editors.)

Replace Dull LEAD Facilitators with Rock Stars

So you finally organized that LEAD committee.  Maybe you even created a LEAD calendar to plan sessions for the semester.  Yet after all of this careful planning, members lose interest after the first meeting?  Maybe it’s time to take a look at your facilitators.

Remember: The LEAD chairman and members of his committee should not be expected to actually facilitate the sessions.  Members of the committee are merely organizers who choose sessions based on the chapter’s preferences/needs, pick the time, reserve the room, and…identify and recruit the guest facilitator.

Guest lecturers are common among college courses and even top graduate programs.  The UGA student newspaper Red and Black reports:

It’s getting crowded in Terry College’s Music Business Program office. Yet another internationally renowned, nationally proven and locally beloved music figure has joined the staff this semester, and he’s no slouch next to the other big names already there.

David Lowery, lead singer of bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, mathematician, and long-time music businessman is teaching Fundamental Concepts in Music Business this semester, in which he will share information he’s collected throughout 26 years in the biz.


Organize that LEAD committee, choose sessions, pick a date and get creative with the guest facilitators.  Chapter members will take more interest in a LEAD program that keeps it fresh, relevant and innovative.

Here are a few examples of guest facilitators to consider for particular LEAD sessions:

Phase I, Session 5: Risk Reduction -> University attorney or insurance rep

Phase I, Session 6: Values and Ethics -> Philosophy professor

Phase I, Session 7: Alcohol Misuse Prevention -> Health and wellness professor or health center staff

Phase IV, Sessions 1, 2, 4 or 6 -> Student career center rep or local recruiter/head hunter

All Chapter, Module A, Session 2: Etiquette -> Find a local etiquette coach and host dinner with a sorority

All Chapter, Module B, Session 4: Strategic Planning -> Business professor

The Minimalist’s Guide to Chapter Meetings

College is busy.  Your chapter members have enough to worry about between study groups, professors’ office hours and remembering to eat breakfast or call home.  Don’t waste their time with another meeting of announcements that could have been sent by email.  Follow these guidelines to improve the efficiency of your meetings (if you have one at all).

1.  The litmus test for a meeting

Is there anything the entire group needs to discuss?  If not then don’t hold a meeting in the first place.

Begin each meeting with this (after opening with Ritual, of course): “The purpose of this meeting is to discuss _____.”  If you can’t complete this sentence then you shouldn’t be holding a meeting.

2.  Set an agenda

Ask members to submit agenda items several days before a potential meeting.  Separate the proposals into groups of discussion items (e.g. chapter goal setting) and announcements (e.g. winter formal dates).

Compile the announcements and include them with the meeting minutes; don’t recite the announcements out loud at any time during the meeting.

Resolve to stick to the agenda items.  If it’s not on the predetermined agenda then it doesn’t get discussed until the next meeting.  End the practice of running down a chapter roster asking for monotonous officer reports (i.e. announcements).

3. Use the committee system

The entire chapter doesn’t need to discuss the recruitment t-shirt design or the LEAD calendar (have you ever tried to choose a movie with more than two people?).  The committees or individual officers should be making these decisions–that’s why we entrusted them with these responsibilities.

Save precious chapter meeting time for important discussions like long-term goal setting, bid extensions and officer elections.  Again, if there’s nothing to discuss then give chapter members the night off so they can study for an exam, work on their resume or maybe just relax.

4. How to use the extra time

So your chapter discovered it can operate just fine without 2-hour meetings every week.  How do you spend all of that extra time?

Instead of listening to the same announcements you’ve been hearing for the past three weeks, host a guest speaker to discuss personal finance with the chapter.  Or ask a business professor to help the chapter develop a strategic plan.  Or invite a representative from the campus career center to facilitate a resume workshop.

Hold your resume workshop at a sorority house.  Invite your friends from class to the LEAD session on mastering job interviews.  Don’t even mention it’s a fraternity thing, because it just became a recruitment event too.  Get creative, mix it up.

With boring, redundant and unnecessary meetings out of the way, the possibilities abound for personal development and chapter growth.




Failure is Not an Option

Alright newly elected officers, here’s some homework to start you off for Christmas Break. Watch the video above. Watch it a second time even. It gives you chills doesn’t it? Now there should be four things that jump out at you that you’re going to take away and use as a leader for your term. Didn’t catch them? Here they are in case you missed ’em:

1)      We sent a human being to a place where humanity cannot survive. Allow me to clarify that statement. College educated men and women sent a human being to the Moon, an inhospitable location, and brought him back alive EVERY time. NASA of this time frame was very different from the NASA of today. In fact it was very similar to your chapter. These guys were young, eager, and ambitious. No goal was too far off to reach. That’s how your chapter needs to think. Now of course they didn’t just throw something together to achieve this but they did think of new and ambitious ideas that had never been thought of before.

2)      Look two steps ahead. In the clip the two prevailing issues are oxygen supply and battery life. The first doesn’t matter unless the second is solved. Same thing goes for many things in chapter operations. Academics won’t be improved until we start by improving the quality of men we recruit.

3)      A leader listens. Notice how Ed Harris’ character didn’t start talking over everyone’s ideas in the clip. He also listens to his experts and empowers them by providing them with the power of decision making. In other words, avoid micromanagement. Don’t try and run your chapter’s LEAD program but empower your LEAD Chairman to do his job and make his own decision.

4)      Failure is never an option. This could be a reiteration of number 1 but we need to focus more attention on the potential doubters in your chapter. Those people exist but as a chapter we need to continuously agree that in any aspect failure is not an option. Eliminating hazing may be hard in a chapter that is 95% for it but failure is not an option. This applies especially to chapters currently struggling with finances, member accountability, or risk reduction issues. Failure is not an option. Success is the only option.

How’s Your Away Team?

Home field advantage is highly touted in the sports world for obvious reasons. The home team gets the larger crowd with far greater support. The home team is more familiar with the nuances of the field because they practice there every day, which means they know what the wind does, how the sun’s glare works, and most importantly how cold and/or hot it gets.

What does all of this provide for the home team?  Comfort. They don’t take a plane or a bus to the stadium; they arrive from their homes refreshed and ready to play. Not to mention they are treated like gods when they arrive with eager fans fawning for autographs and pictures. It’s the ultimate self-esteem booster.

But what about away games? It’s new, it’s not yours, the fans despise you or find you irrelevant, you’re a drop in the pond, and you have to exit your comfort zone. Key phrase being “comfort zone.”

This same concept applies to recruitment. Sure, it’s nice and safe to recruit inside your chapter house because it’s comfortable. You know where everything is, you know everyone there, you’re surrounded by friends and brothers, and if you have a trophy case you have a silent testament to your successes.

Now imagine those recruits you invited to come down to the house for a BBQ (a cliché recruitment event if there ever was one) as the away team. Do you think they feel comfortable? Do you think you get to see the actual them or do you get a nervous version?

Flip this concept on its head. Challenge your chapter to be the away team. Go out into the recruit’s comfort zone (hometown, dorm, campus dining hall, hangout spots). Interact with them in their environment where they feel comfortable. You just might find out your away team is better than you thought.

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.