More and more we hear about the entrepreneur’s conundrum which is not just for entrepreneurs it affects all of us in associations. Entrepreneurs and successful startups are nimble in the beginning. They seem to fearlessly feel their way into the market testing, innovating, failing fast, trying again and with dogged purpose finally break into the limelight. Once they become a force in the market the drive to innovate slackens as the drive to optimize profits kicks in. The leaders and the organizations themselves loose that entrepreneurial spirit and innovation slows maybe stops. Decades later they find themselves in a market they can’t adapt quickly enough to which is being reinvented by other hungry startups.
From the biggest companies to the smallest organizations this cycle is not about being blind sided by market preferences; the leaders at Kodak had been talking about the rise of digital photography. It is not about not having ideas, Sony spends more in a year in R&D, in the billions of dollars, than any of our associations make in 10 years. It is not about not having the ability; Yahoo was a pioneer in web search so they knew the way to bring really big services to market.
If it’s not REALLY about market forecasting, ideation or product development then what gets nearly all organizations eventually stuck? It is uncertainty.
So many of our associations were founded 100, 50 or even 20 years ago and we are deep into this cycle. We were formed to solve a problem that might not even exist today. Members are networking online for free. Vendors are conducting industry research. Software companies are well funded enough to host user conferences which look an awful lot like our annual meetings. Associations are being attacked on all sides and why aren’t we taking the lead in the market? It is because of uncertainty.
We can be better than any of our competitors at seeing the new trends in the industry, our profession or in the workplace. Association staff and leadership can ideate solutions just as well as any other organization in our industry. Even the smallest association has the resources to bring new products and services to life.
Even though we can do all the necessary steps to innovate, change, adapt and lead no matter what we do to eliminate risk there will always be the element of uncertainty. Uncertainty goes by many names: the lizard brain, the resistance, and mafia mind (and I’m sure there are dozens more). As business professionals we want to point to something more clinical like we don’t have enough money, we don’t have the right people to execute this, the timing is not right, etc. But if we track back all of these reasons at the root of it all is uncertainty.
If our battle is with uncertainty how to we begin to fight it?
Make Ourselves More Certain
Know our members better. What are they challenged with today? What most worries them about the future? What are their insecurities? What are their opinions about the association, the profession and the industry?
Practice Growing a Collaborative Relationship with Uncertainty
We are biologically programed to experience uncertainty so it’s not a emotion that we can entirely subdue. However with practice we learn:
- when to expect the feelings of uncertainty and that even though they are there we’ll still be alive on the other side.
- reframe the fear; prominent motivational speaker Michael Hyatt says, “When I begin to feel anxious, I tell myself, my body is just preparing itself for peak performance”.
- that the feelings of uncertainty come less and less often the more we have practiced doing the things that make us uncertain.
Find Ways to Experiment More
Do associations every say they are in Beta? Every other company does this all the time but not associations. It seems with us it is either all or nothing. Associations need far many more ways to test ideas. Test ideas cheaply and quickly in an iterative fashion before moving forward with a big, resource intensive launch.
When we even talk about huge launches notice the fear on everyone’s faces? How about if instead we say, “will you join me in a little experiment?” And do just that, a small test, see how it goes. If it goes well move to a bigger test. If it flops test something else.
Celebrate Any Win
Associations are so good at celebrating our member and their wins with receptions, awards, announcements and more. We are not so good at celebrating our own internal wins however. Let’s take the time to ferret out and celebrate actions and wins around creativity, innovation and change that come from anywhere within the association.
Imagine the nearly unbearable pressure to protect many billions of dollars of business by maintaining the status quo for these for-profit, publicly traded companies: IBM, Apple and Google. But instead they have and continue to reinvent themselves placing themselves in front as market leader. If they can do it our associations can too!