Category Archives: innovation

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.

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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?

What if “Sigma Nu” Became a Genericized Trademark?

What do kleenex, frisbee, thermos, zipper, yo-yo, band-aid and xerox have in common? They’re all “genericized” trademarks:

A trademark typically becomes “genericized” when the products or services with which it is associated have acquired substantial market dominance or mind share such that the primary meaning of the genericized trademark becomes the product or service itself rather than an indication of source for the product or service to such an extent that the public thinks the trademark is the generic name of the product or service.

So, when your nose is running you ask for a kleenex, not a paper face napkin.

When you want to toss a flying plastic disc around with your friends you reach for a frisbee.

When you need to duplicate of a sheet of paper you make a xerox, and so on.

What if Sigma Nu became a genericized trademark to describe the ideal men’s college fraternity? What’s holding your chapter back from achieving this sort of dominant market share on your campus?

On a broader level, what’s holding Sigma Nu back from earning genericized trademark status as the fraternity? Is there any reason this might be a bad thing?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

UPDATE: The New Yorker magazine on “xeroxing a xerox.”

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.

Bingo.

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.