Nearly 70% of association leaders worry they are not leading innovation well at their associations (this comes from a recent survey of 1,000 association executives in Australia, and the results are likely to be very similar in the US).
Member needs continue to evolve but once an association has found the set of offerings that work it is hard to continue to evolve too. In fact, many forces keep decades old organizations stuck.
One tactic that attacks nearly all of these forces is shrinking the change. Dan and Chip Heath talk about this in their book Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. Shrinking the change means making the initial innovation goal small which makes the change easy. Make it accessible. Making the change something anyone can do and succeed in doing.
Many successful association executives have stumbled on this tactic, and it became a predominant theme in our recent Association Innovation Benchmarking Study. When association professionals talk about shrinking the change, they immediately refer to the continuum of innovation.
We can place innovation projects on a continuum. On one side there are evolutionary-type innovation projects. These projects usually are smaller in size, so they take fewer resources, are completed faster and have less risk associated with them. Evolutionary projects improve existing offerings, services, and benefits. At the other end of the continuum, there are revolutionary-type innovation projects. These projects are entirely new to the association. Because they are new they tend to be bigger in size, more resource intense, and typically expose the association to more risk.
The association innovation continuum is super important for association staff teams to understand and recognize if they are new to innovating. When most of us hear the word innovation, we tend to start worrying. It is a buzz word that has negative connotations like risk, big, fail, and highly-technological. Eliminate these worries by shrinking the change. Focus on a small evolutionary-type innovation project first. Then try one that is slightly bigger. Pick projects where the team is assured success. Once we have had a few successes and celebrations under our belts, try moving on to a slightly larger project. Keep working through successively bigger projects until the team is ready to start on a small revolutionary-type innovation project.
Understanding the continuum of innovation is just one of the useful tactics that associations have used on their path to becoming highly innovative.
Learn more strategies and tactics straight from the research discussed in this free recorded webinar that highlights some of our best stuff. I joined Jo Damato from the National Business Aviation Association, sponsors of the research, and Sig VanDamme from NimbleUser. Download the recording here.