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I have a fascination with the topic of innovation. Specifically innovation in the association environment, and especially what the association community can learn about innovation from the for-profit sector.

As the President/CEO of a national trade association, I operate daily on the sometimes nebulous border between the non-profit objectives of my association and the for-profit objectives of the member companies we serve. And it was their interest and expertise in for-profit innovation that first prompted my interest in association innovation.

In part as a result, I volunteered to chair the Innovation Task Force of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE), a group of association professionals that attempted to define an evidence-based model of innovation for the association community. In this capacity, I was the lead author on a White Paper on Association Innovation that identified principles of innovation from the for-profit community, barriers in the association world to adopting those principles, and the unique advantages that associations have that, if better leveraged, could allow them to adopt more innovative practices.

I continue to blog about innovation in associations. Here's an index of the innovation posts appearing on this blog:

12/05/16 - Stop Calling It Failing
10/03/16 - Education Is Not Enough
05/23/16 - The Truly Honest Attrition Clause
02/08/16 - Why the Wild West Isn't All Bad
12/07/15 - Innovating the Lean Startup Way
04/13/15 - Listen to the Outsider
01/26/15 - Is Your Association a Skunk Works for Your Industry?
10/20/14 - What Makes for an Innovative Idea?
10/13/14 - The Importance of Sharing Survey Results
07/07/14 - Does Your Board Act as Your Innovation Committee?
03/31/14 - Being Data Driven Is Harder Than It Sounds
03/24/14 - Who's Your "Lead User" Community?
03/10/14 - Scavenger Hunts and Industry Knowledge, Part 2
03/03/14 - Scavenger Hunts and Industry Knowledge
02/17/14 - Look (and Understand) Before You Leap
01/27/14 - Putting Something Unfinished Out There
01/13/14 - Engaging Members in Your Development Process
12/16/13 - Capturing Useful Intelligence
12/02/13 - You Are Not Innovative
11/04/13 - What If I Make a Mistake?
10/07/13 - Burn Your Own Box
07/01/13 - When Red Lights Mean Go
04/22/13 - We Can Only See the Destination By Moving Towards It
03/11/13 - A Faster Horse
12/17/12 - Too Many Surveys
09/24/12 - Things We Must Do
08/28/12 - Association Superfans
08/13/12 - Are You One of the 83%?
07/30/12 - Why We Don't Take Risks
07/09/12 - Too Many Choices

Innovation in Association Education

01/16/12 - The Right Way to Use Expert Speakers
Bring in an outside speaker. Make sure she has real expertise in an area relevant to your industry. Ask her to prepare three or four pieces of content--each no more than 10 minutes in length. And then, get a group of smart, out-going members, spread them liberally through the audience, and ask them to challenge the content, speculating out loud about how it translates to your environment and what value they find in it.

Innovation in Small Steps

11/28/11 - Film Directing Lessons in Innovation and Leadership
The smaller the budget, the bigger the ideas CAN BE. The bigger the budget, the smaller the ideas ARE.

10/17/11 - The Chief Detail Officer
The Chief Detail Officer isn't the person responsible for coordinating all the details. It is the person responsible for finding small things that cost little that have tremendous impact and making sure they are done right and consistently.

Innovation Networks

11/07/11 - Secrets of Innovation
This really is one of the secrets of innovation, isn't it? Bring outside perspectives into your organization and allow them to identify new opportunities hidden by your internal culture and demographics.

Knowing Your Customer

01/30/12 - The Mind of the Community
If you want your staff to better anticipate the needs of your members, to understand how your members' community will react in predictable and unpredictable situations, you need to make them part of it.

12/26/11 - It's Not Innovation If It Only Serves You
If we're not clear about the value we already deliver to our members, we'll have an exceptionally hard time creating more innovative value in the future.

10/10/11 - Help the Customer Succeed
I've had personal experiences, walking as a guest through a manufacturing facility, and stopping a person in the middle of some assembly function to hear them describe exactly what they are doing on how it benefits the customer. Now, think about the world of associations. How many association staffers really know who their customers are and what they need to succeed in their environments?

Making Innovation Happen

10/24/11 - Why Innovation Is Hard
It requires us to do something different. Something, initially, that has no support and no one has time for and which will never have any evidence that it will work. We have to step away from what we do at the day-to-day level, and we have to look and respond to the unrealized future we can't define but which we know is coming.

Online Tools

12/19/11 - Innovation Does Not Happen Online
There are those in our community who would have you believe that online communities are a prerequisite for innovation. But, of course, they're not. In fact, I think that sometimes the online community piece actually gets in the way.

Principles of Innovation

02/06/12 - No One Knows How to Make a Computer Mouse
As an association leader, you should clearly want to foster and facilitate a style of idea exchange that helps your organization innovate and develop on-going generations of breakthrough products and ideas. But, like making computer mouses, it is important to understand that there is no single individual in your community who currently knows or will ever know what that next innovative product will be, how to bring the idea behind it about, and how to build and deliver it once it is.

09/12/11 - There Is No Recipe for Innovation
I have increasing skepticism for the idea that there is a single innovation model that will work for everyone in the association community. We want innovation to be an established, predictable process, because established, predictable processes are easy for us to manage and master. But your innovation solution is going to be messy, and different from mine.

09/05/11 - Recipes for Innovation
Close collaboration of people with different perspectives, executives supportive of experimentation, obsessive attention to detail coupled with an iterative prototyping process, and small, stable teams who know their jobs and who they're innovating for--these seem to be principles of innovation that are consistent across many platforms.

Taking Risks

06/04/12 - Association Concept Cars
Associations should absolutely produce concept cars, if by that we mean proposals for radical new programs or services that have the potential to excite their membership bases and wildly exceed their expectations. Even if the association has no ability or intention to deliver these programs, just by proposing them it demonstrates a commitment to innovation and a willingness to swing for the fences.

04/16/12 - Taking Risks to Avoid Loss
Organizations and the people in them are unwilling to take risks because they are trying to avoid a perceived loss of prestige or reputation. But what if we redefined loss so that it was associated with doing nothing instead of doing something?

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