If It Ain’t Broke….Break It!



NOTE:  Today’s post was supposed to be about the recent District 7620 District Conference. Unfortunately Ready, Fire, Aim editorial deadlines must be met so the Conference blog will be up next week after I get my hands on the best jpegs from the event.  They will be worth the wait.  Stay tuned….

Two weeks ago, after our Rotary meeting, and during our weekly “meeting after the meeting,” we were discussing changing our long-held club Charitable Trust rules for awarding grants to multiple charities.  Honorary  member, Doris Johnson, whose official classification is Club Fairy Godmother, was asked to opine, and the thought she shared was, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  This particular sentiment made me smile because for the past decade I’ve included a slide in our President- Elect Training Seminars that has a slightly different take on the whole “is it broke” thing.  The slide says, “If it Ain’t Broke….Break It!”  As usual, while I thought I was being clever and kind of ripping off former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s thoughts from his book, “Only the Paranoid Survive,” it turns out that lot’s of folks smarter than me use the phrase.  For example, Prof. Robert Kriegel and Lousi Patter have a book named, “If it Ain’t Broke Break It.”  And famous management guru, Tom Peters, is credited with the quote, “If it ain’t broke, break it (or someone will do it for you.)  Here’s a quote from former Intel CEO Andy Grove:

“a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end”
Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

What does this have to do with Rotary?  Everything!  We are a service organization that is facing a classic strategic inflection point.  And club presidents, as the Rotary leaders in the trenches who face changing fundamentals every day, are on the front lines of dealing with change.  Whether they can recognize, as Grove says, “the winds have shifted,” is critical to the success of our clubs and of course, for Rotary as a whole.

Before we take on some of the characteristics of Rotary’s strategic inflection point, I thought it would be highly entertaining (in the spirit of “breaking it) to check out a few great Hollywood scenes of things blowing up.  Movie fans will recognize these scenes as the ultimate in “breaking it.”  For scene number one I nominate Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Night blowing up Gotham General Hospital.

There are many signs and symptoms that Rotary is truly at a strategic inflection point. For RFA readers these are recurring themes, but I present them here again for your consideration:

We are getting old.  Our average member is over the age of 50.  We are kind of like Major League Baseball.  If Baseball can’t get a younger demographic to watch the sport, and to play the sport, they are doomed.  Same with Rotary.  Get younger or perish.

Our clubs increasingly do not represent the true leaders in our community.  If you name the top 20 businesses in town ranked by sales, or by employees, are you likely to find them as members of the local Rotary club?  Unfortunately, increasingly, they are not.

Our Rotary club’s do good work, but our charitable endeavors are increasingly irrelevant in the communities we serve.  Clubs tend to specialize in small service projects suitable for small Rotary clubs.  We are in danger of no longer having the scale to make a difference locally.  The exception is, of course, Polio Eradication on an international scale.  Part of our PR issue is that many of our projects simply aren’t newsworthy in our local community.

Well…that was hard to swallow, wasn’t it?  To ease the pain, it’s time for another example of “breaking it.”  For our second example of completely blowing something up, I give you the famous scene from Star Wars Episode 4 – the end of the Death Star:

Luckily for us, we don’t need to “blow up” most of our Rotary clubs.  So much of what we do is right on point.  But there are several items that we can tackle to help us address the “winds of change” that are out there.  The trick is to have an open mind.  Can we really “break it” when it seems to most of our members that “it isn’t broke?”

We can, but it takes true leaders at the club level to rally the troops, share a different vision for the future, and then execute a plan that is likely to take more than one year to implement.  One of Rotary’s strengths is that changing leaders every year gives everyone a chance to lead and to enjoy the personal and perhaps, professional, growth that comes from being on a club’s leadership team.  But the flip side of that coin is that changing leaders every year makes it difficult to face strategic issues, like clubs reaching a strategic inflection point, that require multi-year solutions to difficult organizational challenges.

Before we get to some of the solutions, I’m sorry but we have to watch just one more scene of things getting blown to kingdom come.  What fun!  For our final explosion I give you Indiana Jones in The Crystal Skull surviving a nuclear test explosion in a refrigerator.  Do you remember this?

That is so cool!  I want Indie in our Rotary club.  Does anyone know this guy?  But I digress. Do you want a quick list of things to break in your Rotary club?  Try these on for size. Warning:  PLEASE don’t shoot the messenger.  I didn’t create the strategic inflection point we need to address.  I’m just reporting the news, folks.

Singing your favorite patriotic song at the beginning of a meeting just might turn off a whole generation of Rotarians who just don’t “get it.”  That doesn’t mean they aren’t patriotic.  It might mean they think it is unbearably corny. (Who knows what word they would use for “corny?”)

Believing that young professionals won’t be interested in your Rotary club because your club is too old entirely misses the selling proposition that Rotary has for young people anxious to network and learn from successful community leaders.

The belief that your Rotary club is a “stand alone” organization that can build a brand in your community without partnering with other local Rotary clubs in the same community is a waste of energy, creativity, and time.

Believing that the public is not interested in international projects when the news is filled with international threats of every stripe.  We have to get Rotarians to believe that our mission of world peace through humanitarian service is relevant to “all concerned.”  If we don’t buy it, who else will?

The notion that Rotary clubs are service clubs and not “networking” clubs entirely misses a changing fundamental in our society.  EVERYONE wants to network today, and one of the best ways to do it is to do community service together.  Sneering at people who want to join Rotary to advance their business interests is just shooting yourself in the foot.

OK. Enough for this particular rant this evening.  Remember…if ain’t broke….break it (or someone will break it for you.)  Rotary needs to become an organization that is all about continuous innovation.  Guess what?  There is absolutely no barrier for your Rotary club to change to meet our strategic inflection point.  The only thing standing in our way is us.

We can do this.









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