ISES 2.0: A New Approach


As some of you may know, I serve on the board of the ISES New York Metro Chapter. ISES is short for the International Special Events Society, a membership association that is dedicated to advancing and promoting the events industry.  The organization is comprised of over 7,200 professionals in 38 countries, and beginning July 1st I will take over as President of the New York Metro Chapter. [*Team SEQ Editors Note:  We're so excited and proud of you Adam!!!]  I’m currently in my second full year on the board, and throughout the experience there is one question I rightfully get asked more than any other:

Why should I join?

The initial part of my response is always the same, which is that joining is the easy part.  Plenty of people join, sit back and wait to reap the benefits.   The problem is that they usually end up waiting for a long time.  In order to actually get something out of your membership, I tell people, you need to do two things: you need to attend the monthly events, and you need to interact with fellow members.  Simply put, you need to be active.

Membership + Activity = Value
A basic equation that I’ve promoted frequently over the past two years.

But last Sunday morning I sat down with my coffee to read the New York Times, and when I was through I realized my ISES 1.0 philosophy needed a major upgrade.

The article that opened my eyes was the cover story of the New York Times’ Magazine section: Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? In the piece Susan Dominus profiles Adam Grant, a brilliant organizational psychologist as well as the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School.  Grant believes that people are organized into three categories: Givers, Matchers and Takers.

  • Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously.
  • Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them.
  • Takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf.

Grant’s overarching belief is that by making yourself more available and helpful to givers and matchers, you will succeed and thrive in unexpected ways.   In other words, he believes that there is a direct relationship between altruism and success.

Reading Grant’s article I realized how much sense the approach made from a general business standpoint, and in particular to a membership-based organization like ISES.  All of a sudden it was so incredibly clear that attending events and meeting with other members wasn't nearly enough.  In order to truly succeed, you needed to be a Giver.  You had to share contacts, share resources and share ideas.  You had to share without the expectation of something in return.  You had to share because you wanted your fellow professionals to succeed.

To be clear, Grant is not advocating selflessness.  You should share who you know and what you know.  But don’t dismiss the idea of getting ahead.  “Self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations: You can have both at the same time.”

After finishing the article a second time, I couldn't help nodding my head.  I thought about my interactions with fellow members, and how Grant would have classified my participation in ISES (admittedly I found some proud moments, as well as some instances where he would have been none too pleased).  But I then turned my attention to members who fit the true description of a Giver; those who were always happy to share, mentor, let their guard down and not always expect a favor in return.  It was no coincidence that these were the same people who seemed to get the most out of the organization.

If you are a member of ISES (or a similar type of group) I highly recommend checking out Susan Dominus’ article.  If you are a Giver, chances are you’re already ahead of the game.  If you’re a Matcher or a Taker – especially one that’s looking to get more out of your organization - try a change of approach.  You can always go back to your old ways, but I think you’ll find the concept of enlightened self-interest to be a powerful tool.

I’ll be right there with you.

For more information on joining ISES click here or email the New York Metro Chapter