The Strauss Blog

The Need for Innovation within Associations

We live in a fast-paced world where things change at a rate that our brains struggle to keep up with. Technology is the big driver behind the speed at which society is changing. How does your association deal with the rate of change and how do you incorporate innovative thinking into your association’s planning?

I’ve noticed a trend in the sessions I’ve recently attended and in the books that I’ve been choosing to read; one word sums up that trend: innovation. Innovation is defined as a new method, idea or product. Innovation and advancement is necessary to keep up with the times and stay relevant within your industry. In our technological society, where the pace of change is happening exponentially, innovation in the way we will continue to add value to our members and is a concept that needs to be incorporated into your everyday succession planning. Association customers, members and stakeholders are all affected by the rate of change, so the status quo will not be enough in the future. Association boards and members must figure out ways to grab the attention of younger generations if they want the association to live on past the years of the aging generations.

Below, I will analyze both Bill Bishop’s The New Factory Thinker and a session I recently attended to compare how both avenues view innovation and I will discuss ways in which innovation affects the association industry.

The New Factory Thinker

In Bill Bishop’s The New Factory Thinker, he talks about society and how people make decisions. Bishop analyzes  how technology is changing the way we look at the world and how it is therefore changing our behavior and how we make decisions every day. People talk about the good old days and one thing that Bill Bishop’s book indicates that the good old days aren’t coming back as technology is constantly moving us forward.

Bishop’s book outlines three factors that are changing the marketplace in which we all work and function that we need to consider when looking at how our associations conduct themselves. These factors are:

  • Exponential change
  • Convergent competition
  • Empowered prospects/customers

Factor #1: Exponential Change

The pace of change is speeding up exponentially. Today, market conditions change much more quickly than they have in the past, making looking into the future more challenging.

Factor #2: Convergent Competition

Companies and organizations have more competition on them from other companies or industries. The convergent competition drives prices and profit margins down on traditional products and services.

One of our association management client experiences this with customers now shopping for products on Amazon that could only have been ordered from a dealer in the past. Another client in the healthcare field is seeing other health care providers expanding their scope to treat patients in their specified treatment field. These examples highlight that convergent competition affects many sectors of the economy.

Factor #3: Empowered Prospects/ Customers

Communications technology empowers consumers to shop around for lowest price for products or services that they consider a commodity. They also use technology to create a barriers between themselves and providers of service.

This is an interesting factor that crosses over into many associations. People have access to more information than they have had in the past to help them make decisions about products or services. This challenges the value proposition that many associations offer since members can now gain insight from many other sources.  Associations need to look at the way they do things and the value they are giving to members.

I have only touched on a few factors that Bishop discussed in the book. I  highly recommend reading it to get a full understanding of how the economy is changing and how associations need to think in innovative ways to remain relevant.

The expression that “change is constant” screamed at me when I read the book but was also a prominent theme of a professional development session I recently attended. The speaker spoke about innovation and laid out five principles to consider  for the association world.

  1. Every barrier your association faces can be penetrated.

The message here is there is always a solution to a small or large problem, but you need to get creative when solving problems that associations face.

  1. Associations need to defy tradition to keep innovating.

The speaker referred to doing the opposite of what is expected – He called it the Judo Flip; always look for how to do things differently.

  1. Associations should seek the unexpected.

Sometimes you need to get creative with your solutions to problems and not look at traditional methods to work through problems. You might need to look at a very nontraditional method to communicate to members and stakeholders.

  1. Break the rules to get the jewels.

Sometimes associations need to think outside the box to make things happen.

  1. Fall seven times, stand eight

You learn from your failures so don’t be scared to not always succeed.

Innovation can be challenging, especially when it means proposing radical change to members and board members. It is true that associations have structure and bylaws that dictate how they operate but attracting members and providing value to members is key to growing and maintain membership. Don’t be afraid to question or challenge the way that “things have always been done”. Change is necessary and innovation will spark change to move your association in a more modern and attractive direction. I’ve learned through Bill Bishop’s The New Factory Thinker and through a recent professional development session that innovation in the association world will encourage growth, provoke thought and promote development.

References: Bill Bishop, The New Factory Thinker, https://www.newfactorythinker.com/