Reducing friction

Over the last few days, I’ve been attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which took place this year in Atlanta. The agenda favors a wide range of educational sessions on topics of interest in the association space, including membership, meetings, communications, leadership, social media and legislative developments.

Relatively few of the sessions specifically address publishing topics; that’s the province of events hosted by organizations like Association Media & Publishing. I attend ASAE events to listen to discussions that really aren’t in my wheelhouse: trends in event formats, for example, and the evolving nature of membership models in the next decade.

During the breakout portions of the meeting, there are literally dozens of choices, so it’s inevitable that anyone attending will miss some very good discussions. Fortunately, ASAE encourages its speakers to post their presentation materials on the meeting web site, and many do so. ASAE also offers coverage of many of the more popular sessions, and the tweet stream is pretty active in most sessions.

Ernie Smith provided an example of an effective pair of sessions I missed. Writing for ASAE’s Associations Now web presence, Smith described two sessions whose combined message presaged “The death of friction” in associations’ interactions with their members.

Smith uses a simple and effective example – the growing use of “responsive design” as a way for associations to serve members using mobile platforms – to show how an idea that was new in 2010 has gone mainstream, with many organizations struggling to keep up. Responsive design can greatly help users on mobile platforms, but it has yet to be rolled out by most associations. The result: unaddressed friction.

I think Smith’s organizing principle, “reduce friction”, is a functional restatement of the “lean consumption” model first described in 2005 by James Womack and Daniel Jones. In it, the authors proposed a customer-focused model for evolving products and services:

  1. Solve the customer’s problem completely by insuring that all the goods and services work, and work together.
  2. Don’t waste the customer’s time.
  3. Provide exactly what the customer wants.
  4. Provide what’s wanted exactly where it’s wanted.
  5. Provide what’s wanted where it’s wanted exactly when it’s wanted.
  6. Continually aggregate solutions to reduce the customer’s time and hassle.

As with Womack and Jones, Smith’s perspective is practical. In comparing the two sessions he covered, he notes:

…[F]riction goes both ways. Sure, we want innovative new processes, but we also want something approachable that doesn’t involve a huge learning curve. The latest and greatest isn’t necessarily the easiest to use. (That said, sometimes it’s both.) If Coffman and DeLorenzo were looking toward the goalposts, Giarde and Sogueco were eyeing first downs. It’s a case of what works now versus what works later. Cool, forward-thinking ideas are great to keep in mind, but right now, you just need to email your coworkers.

Although Smith writes in an environment that addresses the needs of associations and not-for-profit organization, the observations he makes apply widely. Think about Amazon's pursuit of a seamless buying experience on any platform, and you'll see the application in publishing. For most of us, there are at least two implications: the bar is always being raised; and we’re already behind.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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