Thursday, May 28, 2009

Flash Mobs, Membership Fatigue, and the Good Idea Fairy -- an LDNA Wrap-Up

On Monday night, the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association held its monthly meeting in the Victorian Garden (the area between the Trolley Museum and Lowell Tae Kwon Do on Shattuck, now with freshly cut grass as described on the LDNA blog).

Jane Ward from the American Textile History Museum (and also of the 'Around the Neighborhoods' Sun Column, but not here in that capacity) spoke about the big re-opening set to take place on June 21 ( The major event is slated for that day, but the museum has already had a "soft" re-opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at its 491 Dutton St. site.

One of the promotional pieces that Ms. Ward handed out at the meeting mentioned that prospective new members would receive a 20% discount on an annual membership. A quick look at the website tells me that for $50, that would get me: one membership card, free admission to the museum for 1 adult, 3 free visits to the Osborne Library (by appointment), the Overshot newsletter, invitations to special events, and two guest admission passes.

We didn't get into the specifics of the costs and benefits of membership, but one downtowner present mentioned the idea of membership fatigue. In light of other fatigues -- social network website fatigue (I signed up for Twitter but I swear that's it and this time I mean it!), blog fatigue (though I just added Rob Mills' blog because I think he's doing something totally unique among the blogetariat), and even czar fatigue (I think I heard we've got more 'czars' in the Obama Administration than there were actual czars in Russia...seriously), the idea of membership fatigue is just that within a stone's throw of Mack Plaza there are enough things to join -- and to pay for, of course -- than a reasonable chap or lass can keep up with.

I definitely feel that pain, and it's understandable.

Having taken the reins as LDNA Treasurer a few meetings ago, I've been hitting up all the new faces at the end of meetings for $5, and gotten a wee bit of pushback (okay, I get it, people don't like being shaken down when they've just come to check something out). Even some older hands have insisted that 'I'm already a member' despite the key word being 'annual' and the LDNA elections marking the new 'fiscal year.'

And five bucks is what some people spend for an iced coffee and a pastry.

Fifty bucks is definitely something else entirely. As much as I support the idea of preserving cultural heritage through museums, as well as investing in your own backyard, a price like that seems a little steep for what I'd be getting back. Maybe someday when my financial picture looks a lot different, I'll be able to support things like that without having to even put any thought behind it, but for now I think I'll take a pass...for a once-through to check it out.

But speaking of fundraising, and what some membership dues (like LDNA) contribute towards, one good news story from the Downtown is the success of the Tent City Coalition's rock concert at Revolving and subsequent campout. The event raised over $3,000. In the words of leader Allegra Williams, "For the first time ever, hundreds of people in Lowell who live on the streets will have a place to go to take a warm shower and to wash their clothes."

Another topic that came up was the idea of having downtown residents get together to meet in bars as a fun, light-hearted way to build social capital (take a look at Rob Mills' latest blog entry -- apparently downtowners are known for high levels of community already) and have fun. Whether that would come in the form of something like an organized pub crawl or something more closely resembling a flash mob (where everybody suddenly congregated in one spot thanks to the power of Twitter and text) remains to be seen, but it definitely seemed like a case where the folks present seemed to love the idea.

As with any soft shoulder landing from the Good Idea Fairy, however, that's just the problem -- good ideas are as famously easy to conceive as they are notoriously difficult to implement. While it takes seconds to start a sentence with "Y'know, someone should..." being that someone is the hard -- and admirable -- part. Leaders of organizations or departments are especially susceptible to visits from others who are laden with good ideas but don't want to take the time or effort to see them through. That's why any leader can best keep from going batty by responding, "That's a great idea, work on it, get back to me and let me know how it goes" rather than "That's a great idea, I'll work on it, get back to you and let you know how it goes."

Following the latter course is a good recipe for caffeine-induced sleeplessness on the part of the leader, the idea not ultimately being implemented, and the inevitable lament from the idea-haver that "No one listens to me."

When I think back on what I've learned in five years as a Navy Officer, that definitely stands out, and I think it's what Edison was getting at with his famous "one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration" gem of a quip.


C R Krieger said...

Agree on "Membership Fatigue."  There are too many good causes out there, even if you have a big income—which not all of us have.  Reminds me of the phrase "Good Idea Cutoff Time."  With any organized process there have to be reasonable limits.

Regards  —  Cliff

Jon and Kate said...

I love "Good Idea Fairy." I can't tell you how many times people come up to me telling me they have a good idea for a movie. That's all well and good, but do you have the education, skill, and talent to EXECUTE the idea?

I'm not exempt -- I personally have very good ideas about how to improve the health care system, what should be done in Afghanistan, and how to successfully have a fair college football playoff.

But you know what? I actually have zero idea how any of those things are executed.

I'm not saying you shouldn't debate/discuss ideas outside your purview, but you're 100% right -- the older I've gotten the more I realize it's way harder to execute a mediocre idea than to have a good one.

-- matt

The New Englander said...


Glad to know some things are universal -- from the military to a neighborhood group to moviemaking, the Good Idea Fairy can reach far and wide.

Your point at the beginning of your last paragraph is key, though, because you never want to discourage debate and idea-having. I showed this post and Cliff's response to a guy I work with who is my same rank but with 20 more years of experience (he made his way all the up the enlisted ranks before becoming an officer).

He liked Cliff's mention of a "Good Idea Cutoff Time" more than my idea of "If you say it, you own it" because you don't want to create an environment where you're discouraging people from having and voicing ideas.

Every good policy idea from the Berlin Airlift to the Marshall Plan to AmeriCorps probably started with one person's good idea and someone else's effort. If we're doling out credit, though, I'll tend to side with the calloused hands above the scratched chins..

All THAT having been said, the initial point is still true...anyone can sit around all day having good ideas but the devil is in the details..and the implementation..

..and the "no one listens to me" lament is always pretty weak if it's coming from someone unwilling to help implement..


C R Krieger said...

Timing is one of the keys.  Someone, or everyone, has said that a good idea now is worth a lot more than a great idea later.  General George S Patton is credited with "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."

Regards  —  Cliff