Monday, February 17, 2014

Look (and Understand) Before You Leap

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Not too long ago, someone brought to my attention a study by Accenture that found only 18 percent of executives believe their company’s efforts at innovation are delivering a competitive advantage.

The study also indicated that almost half of companies surveyed are taking a low-risk approach to innovation and that the companies that are instituting formal innovation management systems are about two times as likely to view their idea generation capabilities favorably than companies that are not implementing such programs.

In light of this information, I was asked if I thought associations should be developing systematic approaches to new product development, and how associations could become less risk-averse when doing so.

This is how I responded:

The question is an interesting one. One thing many associations are good at is building processes around things, and some have a tendency to “over-process” things until they are the exact opposite of innovative and nimble. The thought of building one of these processes around the concept of innovation is almost Orwellian in its implications.

But, having said that, I do believe that becoming less risk-averse is a necessity in our environment. One reason some associations are so risk averse is because they actually know very little about their members and the world that they live in. When you don’t understand how the engine works, you’re a lot more adverse to the idea of tinkering around under the hood.

So, rather than focusing on becoming less risk averse, I would suggest that these associations work to become more knowledgeable about the on-the-ground reality of their industry or profession. This will put them in a position to make confident decisions balanced with the right measures of risk and benefit.

Essentially, it's not enough to look before you leap. You must also understand.

It's a common theme with me. Speaking about it--frequently--is important. But what else should an association executive be doing to encourage this kind of behavior in his organization? For anyone who has struggled with this, you know that talking about it isn't enough. What you're actually trying to do is change the culture of your organization. That can--and probably should--begin with speaking, but it never realistically ends there. It's a lot more complicated than that.

So, when Jamie Notter approached me with the idea of writing a few guest posts on his blog about how an association executive can build and sustain the culture of his organization, I realized that this would be the perfect subject to explore under that guise. How does an association CEO build and sustain an organizational culture that actively seeks to understand the world of its members?

Like much of what I do here, those posts will be less about things I can guarantee will work, and more about the on-the-ground realities of what I'm experiencing while I try to answer the question myself.

I hope you decide to check them out.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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