Four Untrue Myths of Association Innovation that Stop Us in Our Tracks

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Myths are stories that are intended to teach us. Don’t fly too high but also don’t fly too low, said Icarus’s dad. But there are also stories that keep us stuck.

Association professionals say their association is not innovating because they are under-resourced, they don’t have the right ideas or don’t know how to prioritize between a bunch of great ideas, or the association’s stakeholders (leadership, staff, board, members) fear risk. These are challenges for sure, these are even the challenges the most innovative associations have had, but these challenges are not insurmountable. They should not be stopping us in our tracks. In fact, dig in and what we find are a handful of myths, myths uncovered in the 2016 Association Innovation Research Study, that are holding us back.

Innovation Myth #1: Size Matters

What does the word innovation conjure up for you? Self-driving cars, gene editing or perhaps artificial intelligence? The word innovation is loaded. Just saying that word to board or staff members sometimes can elicit outright fear. Why? Because through modern media we’ve come to associate the word innovation with something big, something earth shaking, something using advanced technology and something very, very risky.

Association innovation doesn’t work that way. Association professionals from highly innovative associations say that innovation runs on a continuum from small to large. Yes, even small improvements to an existing offering count as innovation. You are already doing it! The next step is to use insights from your innovative bright spots to develop your next slightly bigger innovation.

Innovation Myth #2: We Need an Innovative Culture Before We Can Innovate

The study revealed that when starting a focus on innovation associations tended to fall into two categories, culture-first or process-first, with the bulk of the responding associations being in the culture-first category. Culture-first associations focus on getting everyone’s heads in the game. There are many, many huge benefits to the culture-first orientation but a caution as well.

Some associations were so focused on developing the right culture they didn’t develop their innovation processes. They had a group of highly enthused people trying a bunch of different things but not successfully completing much at all. My bet is that developing an innovative culture while simultaneously developing your innovation processes is the best path to success.

Innovation Myth #3: Only Some Are Lucky with Innovation

During the research the phrase “luck and heroes” was used quite a bit, meaning if the project is a success it is lucky and only a select few of us are blessed to have the innovation knack. There’s a myth that innovation is an art form. It’s creative. The muse is the force at work here. Some of us have it and most of us don’t.

In reality innovation is a process (another plug for developing your innovation process early on) or more accurately a set of processes. These processes include sun-setting underperforming benefits, products and services, the 5-step idea process and, then likely, leveraging your already existing new product development process. Additionally, successful associations learn that innovation is a discipline. We make a promise to prioritize innovative projects even when they are hard, messy and frustrating. It is not luck and heroes rather, it is process and discipline.

Innovation Myth #4: We Can Go It Alone

For an association to embrace innovation the CEO has to be supportive. In most innovative associations the CEO is more than supportive they are a key driver of innovation. They prioritize innovation, they hire staff with the desire to be innovative, they nurture an innovative culture, they support great ideas, and they resource and staff innovative projects. When a CEO does not support innovation or revokes their support of innovation organization-wide innovation falls apart. Instead you may see pockets of innovation around the association. Department heads innovating to improve the products, services, events and processes within their area of responsibility. But for innovation to flourish you need the support of the CEO.

Any one of these myths can stop an association in its tracks or at least slow down the process to becoming a more innovative association. If you are on the path to making your association more innovative check out the results from the 2016 Association Innovation Research Study where you will learn how the most innovative associations paved the way for innovation, why they are successful and, what they learned along the way. This report is open and free for all association professionals thanks to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).

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