Starting a Fire…

Excellence Column


By: Mike Murray
STC Fellow
Florida Chapter, STC

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original audience for this message was the STC Florida Chapter Administrative Council (AdCo). In it, the author, under whose leadership the chapter became one of STC’s most dynamic communities and accomplished so much over the past 2 decades, delivers some wisdom—and hopefully inspiration!—to the young leaders who are taking on a new and daunting challenge. It is republished here in Memo to Members as part of Mike’s column on Excellence.
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Date: January _, 2020
To: STC Florida Administrative Council
From: Mike Murray
Re: A New Year’s Challenge

Colleagues:
If you have spent any time as a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you know how difficult it is to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together or by striking flint with a metal object. Like a fire, the hardest part about anything is just getting started. Once the fire gets started, it becomes easier to build and maintain it. That’s fine for a campfire, but what about things you can’t touch, things like a statewide STC chapter?

Foundation is #1!
In my three years as chapter president, I spent the entire first year solidifying the foundation. In the campfire analogy, that would mean finding some dry tinder and borrowing Joe’s cigarette lighter (I sure do miss Joe). In building a strong chapter, I approached people one at a time who I identified as having leadership skills and positioned them on the organization chart in places where I felt they could do the most good. That and some other things (e.g., finding a meeting place, establishing schedules, etc.) took my entire first year.

New World, Same Basics
Time went by and things changed — a lot, and yet, the basics remain. The first thing is always establishing a strong foundation. The current AdCo has done a wonderful job of establishing a strong foundation after identifying the correct foundation.

Here’s where things change. It’s one thing growing a chapter when all of your potential members are in a nearby metropolitan area, quite another when they are scattered out over an entire state. In the former example, all you need is a president with a big mouth and a place for meeting attendees to sit. I don’t have to tell you that that doesn’t work anymore. Things have become technology-driven and require sharp people who are familiar with the rapidly changing technology.

Thankfully, the Florida chapter has the best of the best, but even that is not enough. The other key ingredient to establish a successful virtual chapter is ”time.”

Time Takes Patience
 We would all love it if technical communicators statewide immediately recognized the value of participating in a virtual chapter, but that is going to take some convincing. Becoming comfortable with virtual technology is something that scares many people. In addition, many of the senior technical communicators are simply tired. They are not interested in learning yet another ”groundbreaking” technology. It will take time to convince them of the value they have been missing.

I can’t think of anybody in history who was more patient than Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. One thousand times he tried to convince restaurants and others of the value of using his chicken recipe. On his one thousand and first attempt, he was successful. Just imagine if he had gotten so disappointed that he quiet on his one-thousandth attempt. You never know if your next attempt will be the successful one.

Twelve publishers rejected J. K Rowling’s book about a boy wizard before a small London house picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.                                                     —Robert F. Kennedy

My final advice to you is that you are doing an outstanding job—one that very few people would be brave enough to undertake. Just persevere and always remember Winston Churchill’s advice.

Never, never, never give up.
Winston Churchill, Battle of Britain, 1942

Churchill’s attitude may literally have saved the world at that time. Granted, saving STC may not be on the same level of gravity. But the fact remains, unless we move the Society into 21st-century technology, it is doomed.

You have created a spark. Let’s see what happens next.

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