Failure is a integral part of the learning process for every person and organization. To learn and grow we must fail and then try again. The term “fail fast” has been coined in startup circles as a mantra for those who find what works by testing many tactics (and failing at most of them). At one point none of us was afraid of failure. Think of a toddler learning to walk. If failure is a part of growth then why are so many associations stuck?
Organizations, cultures or leaders who don’t allow failure get to this place for a reason. At some point on some project or idea the perceived cost of failure becomes too high. If we fail, the thinking goes, the blow to the organization would be financially crippling, members would leave us, it would be embarrassing or jobs would be lost. When the cost of failure is so great the next best choice is to hunker down and do nothing. Since doing nothing will probably also lead to failure here are some ideas for getting unstuck:
1. Start small – Identify a series of smaller, quicker, low resource projects that will matter to members if only slightly. Use these projects as a testing ground to see what works both with members and operationally. Devise a process. Get comfortable with the process before moving on to something bigger.
2. Have many answers – Sometimes we get fixated on one big solution. A solution that costs an unimaginable amount of time, money and effort. Since that solution is unachievable instead ideate other solutions. The trick is to put the one idea you’ve been obsessing about aside and open up to find many more ways of solving the problem. There may not be a one to one ratio; you may have to implement 2-3 solutions to fix one problem.
3. Focus on the things that matter – It’s easy to confuse “busy” with “effective”. Focus all your efforts on the things that matter to members. Administrative projects can wait until you are on surer financial footing. Right now figure out what would most make a positive impact on your members and do that.
4. Start the practice of change before you need to – Every organization is heading for tough times someday. Ideally you would have a constant process of innovation going while things are good to lessen the pain when things are bad.
If you are stuck. If you know you need to innovate but can’t get started – start small and work your way up.