Are you building a creepy treehouse?
Ihave a friend, Sarah Smith Robbins, who is simply amazing. For starters, she is the mother of triplets.
(Pause for parental gasps.)
But wait, there’s more.
Sarah is also the first university professor
to teach college-level English composition in
online virtual world Second Life. This means
that every week, she taught one day of English
comp in the traditional classroom — the one
you and I probably learned in, with bricks,
mortar and chalkboards that produce dust.
She taught the second day of class online, in
a virtual classroom that Sarah set up for her
students in Second Life. On this second day
of class, students didn’t have to leave their
dorm rooms. They would simply log on to
SecondLife.com and steer their avatars to
class, where they’d interact with other ava-tar-enabled peers, learn English comp and
have a great experience.
If you know anyone south of 20, you know
that the wait-list to get into Sarah’s class was
long. She had to design a series of hoops for
students to jump through so she could whittle
the class down to a manageable size.
Of all the things Sarah has taught the
business world through her experience, the
“creepy treehouse” concept is one of my fa-
vorites. That term was coined by educators
Chris Lott and John Krutsch for “a place on-
line that adults build with the intention of
luring kids in.”
For the purpose of this article, I’d like to ex-
pand this definition and suggest that a creepy
treehouse is anything that one group creates
to lure in a different group.
We’ve all seen creepy treehouses. The Jitterbug phone was designed for senior citizens
who might be confused by too many buttons.
When I asked my 84-year-old mother if she’d
like one, she said, “What do I want with a cell
Three questions for
designing a firm that
partners will love
BY REBECCA RYAN
Rebecca Ryan is a consultant who helps
firms develop and keep their top talent.
Reach her at rr@nextgenerationconsulting.
com or (888) 922-9596 ext. 702.
phone?” Good point. She rarely leaves home.
She doesn’t drive. Like many of her octogenarian peers, she has an inherent distrust of
technology. To her, the Jitterbug is a creepy
treehouse — a threatening new technology
that she doesn’t want foisted on her.
Another example is the Honda Element.
Honda went to great lengths to build this
car-SUV for Millennials. Millennials are those
born between 1982-2001 who are turning 9-
29 years old this year. But after its release, Millennials didn’t swarm the Element. To them,
it looked like a large eco-bomb, a too-big box
for their too-few possessions. A creepy treehouse. (Lucky for Honda, Boomers loved the
Element and snapped them up.)
IS YOURS A CREEPY TREEHOUSE?
Now, let’s expand the creepy treehouse metaphor to your firm. In their book, Execution,
the Discipline of Getting Things Done, former
chief executive Larry Bossidy and consultant
Ram Charan suggest that your firm needs to
execute in three core areas: people, operations and strategy.
Sounds simple enough, but for CPA firms
it gets more complicated. Here’s why: Current partners have to lure the next generation
of partners in. Your firm’s current partners
must build something that next-generation
partners want to buy.
This is where you run into the potential of
inadvertently building a creepy treehouse,
something your current partners think is
really cool and attractive to the next generation. But something that — like the Honda
Element — your next-gen partners think is
deformed, misshapen or repellent.
Here are a few questions to ask your partner group, to determine whether you’re
building a creepy treehouse:
1. Your people plans. Do your business-
development and associate-recruitment
plans target non-whites? Between 2000 and
2010, non-whites accounted for over 68 per-
cent of all population growth in the U.S. At the
same time, America’s Caucasian population
Recently, a rather heated discussion
erupted in the comments section of the
Accounting Tomorrow blog — appropriately, over the use of the Internet.
More specifically, the scuffle arose
over the use of this modern tool of
communication to e-file. Blogger Jody
Padar broached the topic of the Internal
Revenue Service mandate, asking firms
that have yet to utilize the decade-old
process, “What’s up with that?”
Plenty, it turns out. “If the IRS had
made it easier and simpler to e-file,”
wrote one commenter, “many CPAs
would have adopted the concept some
time ago ... . And most of my clients are
of the older generation and want nothing
to do with e-filing.”
This level of e-comfort often marks the
clearest line in the sand between Baby
Boomers and Millennials — both ac-
countants and, clearly, their clients. While
younger clients might scoff at overstuffed
file cabinets, those filing on paper for
decades would just as quickly question
the security of online transmissions of
private data. “I am wondering just how
long it will take (not if) until some hacker
figures out a way of penetrating the IRS,”
pondered one commenter.
Another commenter displayed even
— Danielle Lee
greater skepticism: “The reason I haven’t
e-filed until this year is that I did not feel
like being treated like a criminal and fin-
gerprinted. But now it’s mandatory, and
I’ll go to my local police station and give
them my prints.”
Many, however, agreed with Jody’s
push to the future, with one classifying
it as “a simple evolutionary change, not
Now that tax season is almost over,
which side do you fall
on? Are you willing
to battle for your
clients’ rights to
the IRS works
out the kinks?
Or do you sup-
port the evolu-
tion? Let us know