I came across an interesting discussion about innovation on the Acronym weblog (serving the association management community). It seems that most of the commenters were in favor of innovation, but were struggling to arrive at a consistent innovation process, let alone a useful definition of innovation.
The good news for associations is that you are not alone - publicly-traded companies often find innovation to be equally challenging.
Any great organization, to stay great, must periodically evaluate whether it is serving its purpose and its customers. When it discovers it is no longer serving its mission, it must make the necessary corrections and follow through.
First, let's get clear what we mean about innovation. Here are a couple of definitions discussed in the posting:
- intersection between invention and insight (Mike Rhodin of IBM)
- the way a product is executed to enable differentiation (Mike Steen)
Value Innovation, as developed in Blue Ocean Strategy, refers to creating leaps in value for the customer, and thereby, opening up uncontested market space.
"Value Innovation occurs only when companies align innovation with utility, price and cost positions."
Often, we can reduce or eliminate some of the things we do that used to be required by members, but now are no longer needed. Many associations and non-profits would find this to be true if they engaged with their members, and more importantly, former members and the people who refuse to join.
Associations' historical strength is their ability to bring people and ideas together. That value proposition is challenged as people are increasingly starved for both time and significance, and as ideas multiply and circulate more freely. The value to members is not less because the association is executing poorly, but because pure execution on an outdated model no longer delivers the connection and the significance that is now needed by the members. This is a screaming call for innovation!
Any exceptional organization must wrestle with maintaining its relevance to customers, whether nonprofit, association or public corporation.
The issue is not whether an association should or should not innovate, re-engineer, right-size or implement any other hot concept. The focus is not, as Jim Collins suggests, on drawing in ideas from the business sector, as there are plenty of mediocre businesses. The real issue is this how to focus on disciplined thought and disciplined action to create a truly great organization.
Organizations can revitalize themselves by taking a fresh look across various paths to innovation. To reduce risk and conserve resources, innovation must take place using a systematic discipline. Part of the discipline is to revisit the value curves on your strategy canvas to see when your value curve converges with that of your competition. And for membership-based organizations, two of the biggest competitors are time and significance.
Why should anyone want to join your organization anyway? Do they come to meetings and conferences because they would be conspicuous by not being there? Or do they engage with boundless energy because they cannot believe the incredible juice they get from being involved?
What do you think?
- Can you think of any associations or non profits that are suffering because they refused to revisit their business strategy and the value they offer to customers? What's happening?
- One of the challenges to implementing change is dealing with risk. What approaches have you observed that helped an organization manage the risk aspects of its innovation efforts?