The magnitude of an innovation project doesn’t determine whether the project is innovative or not.
Innovation is synonymous with big. So innovation also might be just as well be synonymous with risky, scary and the domain of only a privileged few. This is dangerous thinking for association executives, boards and staff alike. The myth around the very word innovation can keep us from moving forward.
I too used to think that innovation had to be big to be innovation but after conducting an association industry research project on innovation I am amending my understanding of what innovation is. The study participants, who are from highly innovative associations, told me that innovation is on a continuum from small to big.
Innovation Type 1: Evolutionary
The smaller, less risky type of association innovation is evolutionary. Evolutionary innovation seeks to improve what is already there. It is making article headlines more sticky, improving the conference and working on website navigation so members can get the information they want with less clicks. Some call this evolutionary innovation, some call it iteration, some incremental and some plussing up. Even though we are optimizing or improving a current benefit, product or service it is still innovation. Associations are far more likely to have more evolutionary innovation projects going.
Innovation Type 2: Revolutionary
The bigger, more resource intense, and the riskier type of innovation is called revolutionary. This type of association innovation has never before been attempted by the association. This is a big leap forward, a big innovation, or a disruptive innovation. Perhaps is it a new website for the public. Or maybe ways to serve the whole industry or profession regardless of member status. Or maybe a whole new event with a different focus than your conference and other events. Associations are far less likely to have revolutionary innovation projects going but highly innovative associations want to increase the ratio of revolutionary type innovation projects compared evolutionary type innovation projects and plan to add more revolutionary projects in the future.
You may see innovation at your association on the continuum and you can label your innovation like this: small innovations are everyday iterative, medium innovation projects are big changes to existing projects, large innovation projects are big, new to the association initiatives. Yes, you are innovating! Now you can amplify the bright spots with the staff and figure out how to take on bigger innovation projects.
In addition to the myth that association innovation has to be big the research uncovered a couple other myths of association innovation:
- Myth #2: Association innovation is product, benefit or service focused. Actually, associations can count process improvements as innovation as well. Many process improvements directly impact members either in their own time saved or in increased value as staff has more time to pursue new projects.
- Myth #3: When we hear that 90% of all startups fail or when we hear names like Richard Branson we may think that innovation is all luck and heroes. In fact, successful innovation is a defined process. It’s a discipline not an art.
Understanding the association innovation continuum helps make innovation much more accessible for all of us. Innovation isn’t just for big, well funded associations. Innovation is within reach for each and every one of us from the smallest associations to the medium-sized associations to the very, very large.