Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thought Leaders In Action

I spent the weekend with the Executive Council of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.  I am completed a three year term on the EC in October.  We spent the weekend discussing a variety of topics, but the most important ones revolved around the long term health of the discipline.  If you are not familiar with HFES, it is the professional society for practitioners, researchers, and innovators who are interested in the interaction of people, technology, and organizations.  Experts in transportation, government, retail, manufacturing, aerospace, military, education, health care, and many other domains practice the magical arts of HF/E.  

You might think that any discipline dedicated to improving the heart and soul of such important aspects of our lives would be in a great position.  But our concern is that the disciplines of HF/E doesn’t have official certification requirements like they do in law or medicine.  Even though it requires a significant amount of education and experience to do human factors well, there is no law requiring it.  So there are people with “human factors,” “user interface design,” or other buzzword on their resume who are not qualified to do what they are doing.   It is amazing how different the results are if you do a side by side comparison of a project done by a qualified HF professional compared to a poser. We half-jokingly discuss organizing smack-down competitions in the reality TV style to demonstrate these differences.   But for now, it is a constant struggle.  Personally, it is great because it keeps my consulting practice in business.  But I wouldn’t be on this Board if I was in it just for the money. The health of the discipline is just too important.

To be honest, the best parts of our Board Meetings are the fun evenings at the bar after a tough day of debating issues back and forth.  That is social networking at its best.  While Facebook and Twitter  are halfway decent as digital substitutes, they still can’t mimic sharing a Harpoon Brewery IPA, aged mozzarella on sesame crackers, and oil roasted root veggies. 

One other quick point.  If you are reading this blog, you know that I am starting to highlight the best thought leaders I can find.  So why would I include this Board in that esteemed company?  In part, it is because the challenges that we are dealing with are similar to the ones facing a variety of professional boards.  I can’t go into all of our agenda in a single post, but we have financial, professional, academic, regulatory, marketing, and many other issues to confront.  We have a Board of volunteer professionals who ran for office despite having full time jobs elsewhere and who are forced to give up what little time they have for family and friends to volunteer.  It is a tough combination, but it is the best way to recruit the best and brightest in the field.  

 So we meet a couple of times of year for just a few days at a time and try to solve the challenges of an entire profession. We have a wonderful and dedicated full time staff, but it is a barebones crew who also have to work long and intense hours.   The only way we can be even halfway successful is to have real thought leaders on the Board.  Luckily, we do!