An Industry Divided Cannot Stand

Have you heard Aesop’s fable about a farmer’s quarrelsome family? In it, the farmer lays out a bundle of sticks before his sons and challenges them to break it. After the sons fail, he unties the bundle and gives them the sticks to break one by one, which they do with the greatest of ease. “Thus, my sons, as long as you remain united, you are a match for anything, but differ and separate, and you are undone,” says the father.

During World War II, Americans of all nationalities, political beliefs and economic backgrounds put aside their individual prejudices and concerns to unite for the good of the country. Women and children banded together to work in steel mills and tire factories, while men went overseas to fight for freedom. Patriotism and people’s spirit of cooperation was at an all-time high.

Shift forward to Sept. 11, 2001. New York firefighters, policemen, paramedics and others ran toward the World Trade Center as its occupants and bystanders fled in terror. I’m sure those civil servants had their personal differences with each other, yet they realized that most daily squabbles are trivial, especially when faced with such monumental adversity. They united for a common cause.

More recently, most people following the incident where nine Pennsylvania coal miners were trapped for three days in a flooded mine 280 feet underground feared there was little hope for their survival. But fellow miners and geologists worked around the clock frantically drilling and digging to reach them. They were on a unified mission to get those guys out. Meanwhile, the nine made a pact to “live or die as a group.”

This month’s cover story (see “Strength Through Association”) probes our industry associations. Like the preceding examples, trade associations require people to unite as one, in this case for the good of an industry. However, unlike those examples, it sometimes ends up being more theory than practice.

People within an industry fall into one of three categories: 1) those who join an association and actively participate; 2) those who join and never actively participate; 3) those who, for whatever reason, have no desire to join.

If you are currently not involved in a trade association—take heed! The electronic security industry is changing rapidly, more now than in the 20 years I’ve been involved in it. Your active participation is vital to the health and future direction of your own destiny.

Some of you may say, “I was a member in the past, but it’s a good ol’ boys club and I felt left out;” “All they do is sit around and complain about the competition;” “I voice my ideas and concerns and get nothing but grief from other members.” These are legitimate gripes and I can understand why you might decide to abstain.

So then, if an association does not adequately represent its industry, do we blame those who refrain from joining, deeming them as apathetic and not caring about the industry, or do we blame association leadership? Actually, we shouldn’t be pointing fingers or blaming anyone because it takes a truly collaborative effort between existing and potential association members.

To thrive, an organization must include four types of team players: contributors, collaborators, communicators and challengers. An association cannot accurately represent its industry when only a minority of its population is members and when only a minority of those members actively participates.

Thus, achieving synergistic solutions requires a broad range of personalities and ideas. The most effective environment is one in which everyone feels at liberty to communicate and disagree without fear of being ostracized.

Creating such an environment means embracing a set of principles that encourages active listening and constructive responses to all points of view, without prejudice. Only then will that group truly realize the power of unity.

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