Succeed in association business innovation by seperating it from “the pack” in the developmental phases

September 11, 2008 at 7:48 am Leave a comment

If you’ve read my previous postings, you may be starting to see a pattern in my thinking.  In my mind, one of the biggest threats to innovation, in general, is not a lack of creative thinking or evolutionary ideas… it’s often the wrong composition of people involved in the decision-making process and roles of influence. 

Let’s face it, some people find a greater level of comfort in tradition.  While tradition helps us honor the past and the lessons learned, it often serves as the arch enemy of innovation.  The question is:

Q. How can well-reasoned innovative ideas and new association business models survive the gravitational forces of tradition and marginalization?

I would argue in analagous terms that you wouldn’t plant a new tree within inches or even feet of an existing mature tree because you need adequate spacing in order for the young tree to grow and prosper.  Over time, the young tree grows in size and it’s branches eventually reach toward and join together with the mature trees in concert to create a forest.

In association terms, why not create a special incubator with the right composition of people who embrace the vision and goals behind the well-reasoned innovation to do the foundational and developmental work with adequate spacing from the influence of tradition.  During the incubator process, the innovation endures the rigors of research, pilot testing, stage-gate and all predicted scrutiny.  

Eventually, once ready and the timing right, the innovation can be brought out of the incubator and the political journey toward institutionalization can be taken with the peripheral knowledge and validation gathered during the incubator phase.

I will confess, this is less a theory and more a case study from earlier in my career.  Based on well-reasoned analysis, a small team I was leading developed a truly innovative concept which would transform the structure of relationships and activity within and between our components.  You might be surprised to learn this is not a Board story.  As a matter of fact, our Board approved the initiative in the strategic plan. 

The struggle came with our internal stakeholders as we began building the foundation of the project.  Very early on, during stakeholder meetings, we realized that not everyone was enthusiastically on board and some simply struggled to understand the practical application of the concept. 

We were very understanding of these potentially sabotaging concerns/challenges and consciously avoided judgement realizing that some simply were not ready.  As a result, rather than “drag” the entire stakeholder group through what may have been both a failure-inducing marginalizing process, we chose to break the development process into phases. 

Phase 1 was our incubator which included both my early team who envisioned the concept as well as supporter stakeholders who could see how the concept would benefit their area.  As a result, the right environment was established to cultivate the innovative concept in tact and we were able to achieve some early success providing greater concept clarity which enabled us to win over our previously skeptical stakeholders… and everyone lived happily ever after…. okay, well we know it’s not always “happily ever after” in the association world as new challenges inevitably arise.  However, I believe this approach can help anyone maximize the potential for successful innovation.  Finally, regardless of how brilliant the innovation seems, never forget to do your homework at each step in the process! SM     

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Entry filed under: Innovation, Managing Change, people. Tags: , , , , , , .

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