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The Counselor - July, 2001

In the flesh… and online

You shouldn't have missed it.

Odds are, you did. About 15% of Counselors attend a given meeting. Those who do are accustomed to seeing the same faces, which means that, you probably missed the Chicago mid-year.

So what did you miss? If you've skipped a few meetings, you might be surprised. The baby boom (and a tiny bit of Generation X) is changing the Counselors. Our median age is below 60, well below the 70+ of fifteen years ago. Meetings are faster, more diverse, and go onsite more than before. Committees are smaller and livelier.

But why meet at all? You can order transcripts for your cassette, CD, or MP3 player. So why get on a plane?

1 - Expect the unexpected. An international view on the meaning of capital? A tour of the bowels of a telecom hotel? Sam Zell and Tony Downs needling each other? These are moments we'll remember. The spring meetings had some of the usual - familiar format, topics, and faces. But the surprises are what endure.

2- Personal challenge - For many, CRE is the only professional organization that still scares them. Other groups have designations and certificates, and hierarchies that intimidate, but the sheer quality of the Counselors' membership is its only clear unifying principle. No matter what you know, you can be assured that there's someone at the meeting who knows it better.

3 - Access - Yes, some members are intimidating. Sure, there's that moment of standing in the lunchroom at a new school, holding your tray, scanning for a safe, interesting table. But here, you're looking for the best of many good choices, and you won't go wrong at any table. Some of the best sessions in any meeting are around the coffee pot in the corridor, or over dinner with strangers.

* * *

My window shows a summer lightning storm as I fly over western Pennsylvania. Like my screen full of e-mail, it's full of electronic connections, fast and only somewhat predictable. What does all this connectivity do to us? We change, and also become more of what we already were. Counselors are, by nature, "connectors" and this process is accelerating.

When we're in control, we find what we expect. Our electronic selves are purposeful, hurried, and not always good typists. So online, we arrive with a preconception, and (if we're lucky) leave with an answer. Rents in Cincinatti, aerial photos, market perspective. We don't overhear much from the next table, and we're cautious about joining in chats or even using our real names.

But e-mail is so much easier than paper or telephone. We do it when we want to, deliver costs nothing, and the effort is no greater than the time it takes to type. Cynics say we increase connections with folk who may not warrant the effort of full-blown conversation. But a quick e-mail, a shared joke, a book recommendation can be a way to let someone know you're thinking of them. When we drop the barriers to a 10-second communication, we connect more.

Do we lose something by eliminating the banter and mechanics of whole conversations? Probably, but we have more conversations overall. And successes snowball - like the 30 counselors listening to the blues at Chicago's Kingston Mines, which started from an e-mail.

Good ideas grow, but bad ideas die fast. Just when does an e-mail from an opportunistic acquaintance descend to Spam? It happens the first time we delete an e-mail without reading. So etiquette emerges, as we watch our own habits. We filter, sort, decide faster, and pick from more. We write better copy, better taglines, to get our electronic selves noticed. Rules emerge - don't send anything long or large, and take time making sure it's relevant and desired.

Seeing an online friend, or a voice on the phone, can be a shock. Our unconscious selections, by voice, or clothes, or pheremones, weren't there at the first contact. So Chris turns out to be Christine, or Don from Maine turns out to have a Cleveland accent. Yet we have more in common than we do with old friends. Sometimes it's worth it.

So come to that next meeting, and meet that Counselor you've written to, or spoken with. It might surprise you. And if it doesn't something else will.

Copyright 2001 - Noah Shlaes