Code : Conundrum

From Fort Mason. Photo by author.

I do not believe that we can tell, order, direct or legislate how others should or must live their lives. As human beings, self-aware and sentient, I do believe we have the inherent responsibility to live our best lives, to question and challenge ourselves and through that to evolve and share our best selves as example of that which we believe. 

Living by example, exemplifying moral codes, doing the Right Thing, making, acknowledging and learning from mistakes without shame for having made them in good faith: these are all in our power to embrace and share without imposing on others our own beliefs. 

In our personal and professional, business or otherwise public-facing lives; I believe that same responsibility manifests and is paramount in creating and maintaining functional and civilized societies and associations. 

When myriad individuals come together in support of common goals, though, solid and common ground must be found. Associative collaboration calls for creation of a  context that offers security and safety for all, for the productive coexistence of disparate and committed points of view, different frames of reference, experiences and perspectives that support the work, the shared vision, of the whole.

Hence: Codes of Conduct … Codes of Ethics.


[Note: Plan to join our “town hall” full participation webinar on this topic on June 5 @ 10:00am Pacific. Details at end of post.]


Thus, the Conundrum referenced in the title of this post is that faced by membership organizations in the creation and presenting of guidelines for a (paid) membership that is entirely volunteer.

How can an organization offer a Code of Conduct for its members and support the embracing and adherence to such a code when any actual, codified or otherwise proscribed “enforcing” of said code is not an option?

For example; the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) has taken the unique, courageous and possibly foresightful step of dual codes, both currently available on the public areas of the association’s website. 

One code is event-specific and applies to conduct of individuals at TEA events and gatherings while the other is a larger umbrella that covers a far broader field of business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships worldwide, relevant to the doing of business in international, cross- and multicultural contexts. 

The simple, salient difference between the two is that the breaking of the TEA Event – Appropriate Conduct Guidelines is immediately enforceable at any given TEA Event. This code is logistically positioned as being an acknowledgeable step and integral part of the registration process for each and all events; the idea being that all ticket purchasers will have seen and agreed to respect this Code prior to purchasing a ticket. Should an individual fail to respect the tenets of this code during said event, s/he will be asked to leave the event as well as risk being barred from future social events of the organization. 

Simple to understand, appreciate and respect.

The greater, TEA Code of Conduct, however, is not so cut-and-dried … black and white. While some of the Articles of this Code may articulate specific requirements in specific instances; just as many are contextual and even ambiguous, open to interpretation depending on circumstances of culture or other variables surrounding each or any instance. 

Therefore, while this TEA Code of Conduct is a part of the application and approval process for membership; subsequent failure, reticence or refusal to embrace and exhibit these Industry Best Practices as defined and outlined by the TEA carries no proscribed ramifications. Adherence is entirely voluntary which, fundamentally, seems the best, most positive course.

…And it would seem said Code would be easy to unhesitatingly embrace by individuals and businesses, alike. After all; such a Code is about clarity, fairness, honor, integrity and transparency. 

What’s not to embrace? 

So, let’s explore these two codes just a bit further…


Appropriate Conduct Guidelines

An impressive (to me) amount of correspondence and communication came in response to the April 2 post on the creation by the TEA of the Event-Specific Code, “A Bold and Timely Move.” 

Men and Women (mostly women, natch!) from across the globe had enthusiastic comments, many offered their pleasant surprise at the creation of such a policy and virtually all welcomed this bold embodiment and codification of consciousness to the world of business and associations. The fact of this “Appropriate Conduct Guidelines”  policy’s encompassing it’s own enforcement procedures gave it powerful resonance among those who responded to it.

The breadth of nationalities who read this blog and embrace this post, in particular, are most heartening to me… 

Some comments:

“I’m impressed. I read through the entire 2 pages. It’s a new consciousness, and people will stumble now and again as we move forward. To that end, I think the wording embraces a way to deal with social situations that are uncomfortable, but not criminal. Thank you for sharing. The policy provides a compassionate, but no-nonsense outline to moving forward.”

…and another…

“Thanks for sharing…, we are heading in the right direction…”

…there are scores more individuals who have communicated, offline and privately, sharing these same sentiments. This is a valuable and powerful step forward in example-setting by a world-class organization.

At the same time, a subtext of concern was shared in casual conversation at the Annual Summit. There seems a school of thought who believe that the very creation and public sharing of such a code somehow reflects negatively on the organization; implying there “must be something to hide.” Some believe that creating this code implies to the public that there is – or has been – a problem that called for addressing; that such conduct had materialized at our association-sponsored events and that the creation of this Code was in response to that.

That point of view completely blindsided me. My question:

How is the acknowledgement of this problem a Bad Thing? Inappropriate conduct is rampant throughout not only Western Business Culture, but is present in virtually all cultures, worldwide. Addressing the fact of this now very public problem in our own yard and laying out expectations and parameters for acceptable conduct seems (to me) a progressive move on all fronts. 

The concern that creating such a Code implies some sort of guilt seems unrealistically paranoid to me. This problem is real and exists everywhere, even at TEA events; that’s what the entire #MeToo movement and conversation is all about…n’est-çe pas?

I see the creation of this Event Code as courageous leadership. These conduct problems do exist; and I believe the Association can be proudly, appropriately vocal in having taken this step.

I’m proud of ‘em for setting such an example and would like to see more.


[An Example that Comes to Mind: Speaking of Leadership. Before the first Alamo Drafthouse opened its doors, the announcement was made that talking, texting or making noise of any kind during the movie is subject to one warning, then immediate removal without refund. I believe it’s common knowledge that many people do talk, text and make noise in movie theatres. I doubt that Drafthouse experienced or even considered shame or embarrassment at this fact, or thought by addressing it that Alamo might somehow be perceived as guilty for past transgressions of other audiences. The problem is acknowledged, addressed and is circumvented; alleviated with this solid code…and results in consistently-full houses. This seems an apt parallel to me.]


Besides: Making a mistake, evolving an opinion or POV, changing one’s point of view upon relevant enlightenment; these things do not imply the absence of integrity; rather, quite the opposite. On the other hand, hiding a mistake or obfuscating a change of position more or less does imply something untoward.

I’m happy and even proud to acknowledge a mistake when I (ever so rarely) make one…or, upon learning new information, I change my position on something. When I teach or build teams; I make a strong point with my teams of the freedom and honor inherent in the copping to error and willingness to correct actions or refine POV with new knowledge. Go forth with confidence, be willing to learn and evolve, take responsibility for every decision and – when new knowledge is uncovered or an error is made – take appropriate action to rectify, evolve or clean it up with alacrity. 

There is no shame in error, there is no shame in evolution. 

My sense is that the same Rules of Honor apply to organizations, institutions and associations as well.


Another perspective has also arisen in the wake of this move; that being an expressed concern that the values reflected in this Event Code may be seen as Western-centric. What of events in China, the Middle East, anywhere outside the US? Must the world adhere to these Western values? Is that right or fair for an international organization?

I wonder if, similar to the relationship between Embassies and Host Nations; all such events might be considered as taking place under the de facto Home Office umbrella, irrespective of geographic location. 

On the other hand, might it be better – more fair or equitable – for each regional Board to create separate parameters of acceptable conduct (I don’t actually believe this is the solution – but, hey, I’m here to learn); or is it best to adopt an overall Code that applies throughout the organization? 

Personally, I lean strongly toward one International Code for Event Conduct to which all members and guests are held.

How to address this? 

  • What do y’all think? 
  • What do you see? 
  • [Feel free to respond in the comments, contact me directly at, or join the upcoming Webinar on this conversation.)


The Code of Conduct

This is a bigger kettle of IP.

At this juncture, I must share that I am strongly supportive and proud of the fact that the Association has created a Code of Conduct; even and especially one for which there may seem no obvious support structure beyond collegial proselytization or advocacy. 

As the world leader in these industries, the TEA being the largest global association of theme park and experience design institutions and professionals, I personally believe the organization is duty bound to set and maintain a standard in which its members can believe; one that members can support, on which they can depend and within which they can find common ground for the addressing and resolution of some of the frustrating obstacles and issues that arise between or among members in the process of doing business…sometimes cultural, sometimes not so much.

How, though, in the context of an essentially “unenforceable” Code (below) can adherence to and the embracing of said Code actually be supported by membership? This is an inherent ambiguity that presents an excellent opportunity for exploration and guidance.

After all, isn’t Living One’s Word the most effective way to set example? If we as individuals, businesses or associations can inspire others to embrace transparency, honor, fairness and justice in our business environments; what a comfortable victory for all that might be.

Idealistic, maybe a little…but who knows how much we might accomplish with some Audacious Leadership By Example?

In the words of Robert Browning:

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…?”

There are many ways to change the world, short of the levying of rules and the making of laws. 

So, let’s take a look at the first two Articles of this Code, for a moment.


The Code (can be found in full, below):

Article 1: To conduct business in a professional and safe manner.”

  • At first reading, this seems fairly straightforward; though even the term “professional and safe manner” might could be interpreted differently in different parts of the world. 

Article 2: To make a good faith effort to address and resolve all complaints made against them.” This Article (IMHO) immediately makes the leap into a chasm of ambiguity. 

  • What is a “good faith effort” and how is it defined? 
  • What constitutes “complaints” and who is “them”? 
  • Are we talking about complaints of customers against member vendors; or are we speaking of complaints between members doing business with one another?
  • If a complaint is made; to whom is it made?
  • Where are these complaints addressed and resolved?

I’m confident that this organization isn’t interested in becoming a board of arbitration; nor should they be. That is not the business of the TEA. 

At the same time; since founding, the association has been built on a culture and with the vision of nurturing the health and business of all members…in fact, the origins of the company were born in no small part in the interest of protecting our small business owners from the giants. Over 25 years later, many of said giants are now seated side-by-side on boards and committees with aforementioned small businesses…creating some strong and healthy lines of communication and supporting positive business relationships in thriving.

So. When a conflict might arise between, for instance, a big guy and a little guy; how might the Code of Conduct support fair resolution? 

Can it? Must it?

The most obvious way that I can see that happening is through collegial communication. The point has been made in offline conversation after offline conversation that the association cannot be officially involved in any sort of conflict resolution. It’s a Legal Thing. 

Why, then, even have a Code of Conduct if all we do with it is point to it as something to which many of us are committed and to which we’d like for all to aspire and embrace? Is that enough? Can that be effective?

This hasn’t been officially discussed among membership; though it can certainly be discussed outside of any official forum or imprimatur of the association. 

And that is what I am proposing for us. This is an opportunity for an informal, open conversation on how such a code might take shape and be effective; how it might be supported and embraced.

This, then, is the opportunity I am herein presenting to you. To us. With this, I invite you to join me in exploring Possibility. I’m asking readers from all industries, within or outside my own, who have had experience or have thoughts, philosophies, methodologies or recommendations for creating and supporting such a Code to participate in a free-form “town meeting” Webinar of positive purpose.

Personally, again, I envision an association Code of Conduct of which any association can be proud; able to cite, articulate and represent as setting an honorable, workable, functioning standard to which other associations and businesses, worldwide, might aspire, replicate and follow.

I’m interested in exploring this with disparate, professional community(ies); in hearing from and learning what others might see as possible, what might realistically be wanted and needed in our industries, in all industries.

With that in mind, I’d like for any and all readers of this piece who are interested in the subject and an informal exploration of the potential for effectiveness of this Code to gather online to talk, share points of view and experience, ask open questions and explore this, together in open forum. 



On Wednesday, June 5, at 10am Pacific, I will host and record a one-hour open conversation webinar on the Zoom platform. The conversation is open to anyone who wishes to participate, has a question or an opinion to share. 

We will use as our agenda the example of the Code (even further below) published by the TEA; and explore real-world options for how it might be implemented or applied in our own contexts; offering suggestions for changes or updates to better align such a code with the current geo political climate.

If interested, please email me at I will send out the link and password a few days in advance. 

Once again, I reiterate that this initiative is my own, under the auspices of no organization or association. Just me: inspired, aspirational, curious, compelled. 

I look forward to our conversation.


WEBINAR : International Codes of Business Conduct

& How to Encourage Voluntary Adherence to Them.

  • This webinar is under the auspices and with the approval of no person or entity other than me.
  • The agenda will be a line-by-line exploration of the Themed Entertainment Association Code of Conduct as random example.
  • The request is that all who participate do so in a positive light; knowing that virtually anyone and everyone even peripherally involved in conversations on this topic wants only the best for all concerned.
  • Know, too, that the conversation will be recorded so that it is share-able with any who could not participate and should it yield any Great Ideas, those ideas will be shared with the TEA International Board.
  • Email me for the link to the meeting. 
  • The first 20 respondents will be invited to take part. The link to the recording will be sent to all who are unable to participate due to capacity or simply want to hear what was discussed.
  • Depending on how productive this is, we may do this again.


Themed Entertainment Association Code of Conduct

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) has adopted the Code of Conduct defined in this document to provide standards for the professional and ethical conduct of TEA members, and to foster respect for the integrity, expertise and reliability of all TEA members.

Code Basis

The TEA is dedicated to promoting the principles of honesty, integrity, fair dealing, and professionalism in the industry. The TEA Code of Conduct was developed as a standard for professional conduct among the members of the Association.


This Code of Conduct describes the expectations that we have of ourselves and our fellow professionals. Rather than imposing mandates the Code articulates the ideals to which we aspire. The purpose of this Code is not to establish a disciplinary mechanism, but, rather, to instill confidence in the profession and to help an individual become a better professional.

Articles of the Code of Conduct

The Code Articles further define the expectations of the members of the Association to maintain the highest level of conduct and responsibility in their relationship with other members and throughout the industry as a standard for professional conduct and fair business practice.

Article1: To conduct business in a professional and safe manner.

Article2: To make a good faith effort to address and resolve all complaints made against them.

Article3: To conduct business based on the highest levels of integrity and honesty so that that the work brings credit to the profession and to the TEA.

Article4: To present past credits, projects, products and services honestly without misrepresentation.

Article5: To foster and maintain a spirit of cooperation and fair dealing with clients and vendors, maintaining the principles of confidentiality, intellectual property protection, and agreed contractual terms.

Article6: To participate in the sharing of experience, expertise and skills with our industry while respecting the proprietary knowledge and skills, confidentiality of customers and professional associates.

Article7: To support and honor the Association by taking a proactive role in Association activities and promoting the Association to the industry.

Article8: To establish and maintain cordial and respectful relations with fellow members worldwide.

TEA Code of Conduct 2018 – Approved by TEA International Board – 6/7/18


[The points of view and interpretations expressed in this post,

beyond anything quoted or attributed to others,

is entirely my own and not meant

to represent those of the authors of any cited documents.]


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