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How Associations Can Overcome Innovation Killers


This week, I was inspired by a recent Salesforce blog post called “The Top 10 Innovation-Killers—And How to Neutralize Them.” When Fonteva for Associations was conceptualized, we set out to build “the coolest, hardest apps in the cloud,” as Jerry, Fonteva’s co-founder, likes to say. But it was more than that. We set out to truly innovate—to create association software that was unlike anything on the market. A solution that would anticipate the needs of our customers and grow with them.
I have personally encountered each innovation killer listed on the blog. But in the interest of brevity, here are five that stood out most to me:

1. Famine
A lack of resources can stifle any progress, let alone innovation. This is an issue we encounter time and time again with our association clients. There simply aren’t enough staff members to implement new systems that will help the organization to grow. There isn’t enough money to get the best system, so organizations opt out of upgrading their legacy software or moving to a newer cloud solution.

I completely understand. It’s difficult to plan for the future when you don’t have the time or tools right now. But this is the type of situation where a plan is absolutely necessary. Chart out the changes that are necessary for your organization’s success, and schedule them with the resources you have. Progress can be slow, and patience is a must, but it is necessary for your association to remain relevant.

2. Feast
Too many resources? I know what you’re thinking—that sounds like a great problem to have. But I am not talking about people or money. I am talking about tools. There are so many free software tools out there that can help make your day easier, that it’s tempting to use them all. Your marketing team is using Google Drive to store documents, but HR is using Dropbox. Finance is saving all documentation to their desktop. Your Fundraising department is using a free survey tool, while your communications team is looking for a paid service.

Too many tools can lead to too many initiatives at once and duplicate efforts. Communication can greatly cut down on resource overload, and make sure that your staff is as efficient as possible.

3. Too Much Data
Last year Rick Smolan was one of the keynote speakers at ASAE Tech. I am not sure if he coined the phrase “digital exhaust” but he certainly has researched it. In his speech, he talked about the ways all of this information can help society, but he also warned us about the draw-backs.

Big data has been preached as the solution for everything. “The Internet of Things” they say, “Predictive Analytics!” The truth is, too much information can stall progress. How do you sort through the answers, if you don’t know which questions are important? It sounds overly simplified, but my advice is to ask the questions before making sense of the data you have. Once you’re inundated with the possibilities, it can be difficult to sort out what’s important.

4. Institutional Knowledge
Institutional knowledge can be a blessing, but it is important to note that it is biased. It can hinder association decision making and stifle necessary change.
Jeff De Cagna calls this orthodoxy. He publishes a bi-monthly newsletter with an entire section dedicated to ways associations can question orthodoxy. The Association Contrarian Report is a resource for challenging the status quo in your organization.

Too many good ideas are overlooked because they “didn’t work in the past” or “it’s not the way we’ve always done it”. It is important to take steps to understand WHY things didn’t work in the past, rather than simply dismissing the idea.

5. Uncertainty
Competition, past experiences, and fear of failure can all lead to uncertainty when creating something truly innovative. Fear of failure is good—necessary, in fact. It lights a fire and motivates you to do everything possible to make a great idea successful. But this uncertainty can kill new ideas before they even start.

In 2008, ASAE published an article entitled “Leading With Just Enough Anxiety.” The author, Robert Rosen, wrote something that still holds true:
“As an association executive, you must grapple with a double dose of change and anxiety as you seek to achieve maximum effectiveness for your members and your staff. You must compete for the mindshare of members, while making sure your association keeps pace with the changing demands of a board, entitled employees, and economic volatility. You must find ways to help the professions and industries you serve navigate their seas of change and uncertainty while you try not to toss about on your own. Your ability to ride the waves of change, and arrive safely at your destination, depends on your ability to manage the anxiety inherent in the journey.”

To be honest with you, I don’t have a good plan for avoiding uncertainty. Because uncertainty, and the anxiety that comes with it, is essential to innovation. Embrace it.

In Summary
If innovation were easy, it wouldn’t be innovative. It takes courage and passion to overcome innovation killers. But don’t let too few, or too many resources, too much data, orthodoxy or uncertainty stand in your way.

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