If you don’t believe me when I say associations are more advanced than you think, believe management guru Jim Collins, the darling of the association world, quoted here in an interview for the latest issue of Inc. Magazine.
The Internet has been an integral part of doing business for years now. What do you think has changed the most?
I’ll start with an observation about social systems that Peter Drucker made 40 years ago. I think it’s one of the most underappreciated insights of the 20th century. The alternative to tyranny, he said, isn’t democracy. It’s management—because well-managed organizations are what allow a free society to work. They are the only means by which a free society can compete with totalitarian dictatorships, which are very effective.
So what ties that into the changes happening today? It seems to me that this era is marked by something having to do with connectivity and networks and the ability to operate and lead within them. The Internet is all about networks and connectivity across networks. So one possibility is that there’s a shift to a new fundamental building of society, namely, the network. We may be moving to a world of networks well led, as opposed to organizations well managed. You can’t really manage a network, but you can help lead within a network. In any case, networks are very alive and real and are becoming building blocks.
Have you actually encountered this phenomenon in any of the work you have done?
Part of my thinking grows out of some work I participated in with the American Society of Association Executives. Associations are, by their nature, networks. They’re fluid. But an association has to have some sort of unity and cohesion. So how do you create a great association when it’s inherently not self-contained? The association’s researchers analyzed some really high-performing associations, in which you can see this network effect and the importance of being able to lead without direct power. I began thinking that associations may actually be on the leading edge of what more people are going to have to learn how to do. Instead of managing a company, you’re managing an ecosystem that is networked and connected over the world.