This past Tuesday, I presented a free session on Google and innovation for the association community. The session was hosted by the Special Libraries Association and I want to thank Janice Lachance, SLA's executive director, my friend and colleague John Crosby, and all of the staff at SLA for their great help and support!
I've led many sessions over the course of my career and I've grown accustomed to having my photograph taken from the back of the room. But I've always wanted to take a picture of an audience from my vantage point, so we can see the learning experience from a new perspective. It just so happens that we had a great group of association professionals and learners assembled for this session who were more than willing to participate in this small experiment. Thanks to all of you for your participation and engagement, not only in this photo but in the session as a whole.
I'm looking forward to writing and talking about Google and innovation going forward, as well as to delivering more free learning sessions for our association community. If your association would like to organize this kind of "thought leader" session for its staff or the community at large, please send me an e-mail. I'd be happy to chat with you about it.
I'm pleased to announce that on the morning of March 15, 2005, I'll be facilitating a free session for association leaders on Google and innovation that will take place at the headquarters of the Special Libraries Association in Alexandria, Virginia. If you're going to be in the DC area that day, I hope you'll consider attending. You do need to register online, and when you visit that page you'll find more information on the session, as well as a link to detailed directions to SLA.
If you have any questions, send me an e-mail. I look forward to seeing you there!
I was flipping channels on the TV last week when I came across an airing on HBO of its 2003 Oliver Stone documentary, "Persona Non Grata," about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the documentary, Stone does an interview with former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who offers the following admonition about leadership:
You know how leaders are tested at the end of the day? They are tested by their willingness to lose the leadership for the right thing. That is the ultimate and only true test of leadership. Whether you're willing to stand up for your values, the things you believe, and to risk failing. That's the test of leadership.
I find Netanyahu's insight powerfully precise. The distinguishing characteristic of the real leader is an essential integrity that is fully realized in the moment of choice to act on fundamental values and beliefs, and informed by the awareness and acceptance of failure as a distinct possibility. There are many approaches, methods and techniques for leadership, but none of them can truly work unless there is first an unswerving belief in a core ideal, reinforced by a sustained and unshakable commitment to advancing that belief even if it means losing everything.
Does your leadership rise to this level? Does the leadership of your volunteers rise to this level? As Israel's prime minister, Netanyahu had to make choices with life and death implications everyday. We are fortunate not to be in that position in the association world, but even though what we do might not be brain surgery, it is very important that we succeed and increasingly difficult to do so. Associations need leaders, therefore, who are willing to embrace the true test of leadership everyday, for the good of their organizations and the community as a whole. Are you one of them?
Joyce Wycoff of the Innovation Network is conducting an online survey in search of a replacement for the hackneyed old cliche, "think outside the box." (Long overdue in my opinion. It isn't a phrase you ever hear me say!) You can complete the survey at http://surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=17959827411. It will only take you a few minutes to scan and select your preferred alternatives, and you also will have the opportunity to propose your own ideas. I suggested a few including:
If you offer any of your own ideas on the survey, please also post them here in the comments section. While you're at it, and if you're so inclined, please post other innovation-related phrases that you think should be jettisoned in favor of new options. Thanks!
Just a quick post tonight with my new expanded definition of innovation:
Innovation lives in the careful balance of systemic freedom and systemic discipline necesssary for discovering and developing ideas to create new value.
Some may say that the choice of the verb, "lives" makes this less a definition than a description of innovation. I will respectfully choose to disagree with that interpretation. Rather, through this statement, I am choosing to understand innovation not as an object, i.e., it is this or that, but rather as a holistic
experience phenomenon that encompasses individuals, groups, organizations and networks.
Happy New Year from The Association Innovation Blog! I want to wish everyone who reads this blog, everyone in the association community and everyone, everywhere for that matter a very happy 2005. I hope those of us who really care about the future of associations and who share a concern about the way things are going can find a way to work together to make 2005 a remarkable year for this extraordinarily important community of ours! I look forward to using TAIB as a vehicle for advancing those efforts.
Before I get to the actual post, let me just add a quick plug for my 100th post to TAIB. Tomorrow, I will have been blogging for exactly 16 months (my first post was September 2, 2003) and I am going to keep on blogging in 2005. In fact, I hope I will spend more time writing (and recording...sorry text lovers!) this blog, because it is something that I genuinely enjoy. Thank you all for reading and listening. I greatly appreciate your continued support.
I don't think anyone will be shocked by my choice of innovation as the top issue for the association community in 2005. Perhaps the first four issues--the (impending) death of best practices, competition, new science and technology and intangibles--were actually clues designed to guide you toward this final choice. (Hmm...am I that clever? ;>) And I suppose it might seem like a bit of self-serving choice, since innovation is "my thing." I might even willingly plead guilty to that charge. But I know deep inside that this is the work we must do and that we're meant to do. I know that in the 21st Century, associations are destined to transform the landscape of society for the better, and our only hope for seizing the initiative and setting that agenda is devoting ourselves to the whats, whys and hows of innovation today.
I'm very excited because I was just able to secure a Gmail account. For those who aren't familiar with it, Gmail is Google's e-mail product (it was launched in April of this year) which is currently in beta test. You can only get an account if someone who has invitations to share sends you one. (Incidentally, I was able to secure an invitation by going to a Web site called Gmailswap. It was pretty easy. If you're interested, I suggest you check it out.)
Gmail is very cool because it organizes your messages into "conversations" rather than folders. You can see the whole conversation you have with someone very easily. I suppose the main benefit of Gmail, however, is that the account provides 1 GB (1000 MB) of storage for free. By comparison, my current personal e-mail account made available through my broadband access provider--to whom I pay money every month--only offers me 250 MB.
Anyway, now that I have my Gmail account, I am in search of an invitation to Orkut, which is Google's social network/community building site. If you have an invitation to share or know of someone who does, please send me an e-mail. Thanks!
By now, I hope you've read my "mini-manifesto" on innovation democracy. I am now asking for your assistance in identifying examples of innovation democracy from across our association community that I can include in my forthcoming book, "Innovation Democracy: Relevance, Renewal and Resilience for the 21st Century Association."
You can post your examples here as comments or you can send them to me directly by e-mail. Please explain why you think your example illustrates the ideas of innovation democracy I outline in my mini-manifesto. If there is a way I can follow-up with you to find out more, please include that as well. Thanks!
I've spent the last few months thinking about some ideas about innovation that I think are very important for the association community, and I wanted to share them for you in the initial form of a "mini-manifesto." Basically, I want to try to re-frame the challenge of association innovation as an even greater political and ideological problem than it is a business or strategic problem. This mini-manifesto is attempt to call our attention to what is possible if we live up to the values our organizations represent even as we seek to to create meaningful economic value for our stakeholders.
Whether you agree or disagree with my views, I very much want your feedback on the thinking. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail. Thank you!
Associations today face a potent and relentless adversary: profound change. Yes, it’s true, we’ve always faced change in our organizations, but not like this. The very nature of change itself is changing. Change today is more constant than episodic, more complex than clear, more non-linear than cyclical and it is occurring at a greatly accelerated pace. We find that in this environment many of the tried-and-true heuristics of association management are remarkably ineffectual and, sometimes, counterproductive. Unfortunately, far too many association leaders continue to struggle with the politics of incrementalism, cost-cutting and risk avoidance as they try to come up with fresh answers about what to do next.
In face of such harsh and unforgiving realities, staff and volunteer association leaders must respond in a way that is just as forceful and unyielding. But that response cannot come in the form of tips, tools or techniques for “managing change” or “doing more with less.” That is just so much tinkering around the margins. Instead, what we need is a new ideology, a different system of beliefs that challenges us to rediscover the “plausible promise” of our organizations and to act confidently and decisively to make them relevant, renewable and resilient for the 21st Century.
For me, that ideology is what I call “innovation democracy.” It is grounded in the fundamental conviction that, at their core, both innovation and associations are about freedom. Associations are about the freedom to collaborate, to serve and to act collectively on behalf of a worthwhile vision of what the world can be. And that is where innovation comes in. Innovation is about the freedom to imagine what is possible, to create it and, in so doing, make an enduring contribution to the world in which you live. In my view, one that is largely contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy of the association world, innovation and associations are intimately, if opaquely, connected.
The ideology of innovation democracy seeks to shed light on how associations can fully embrace innovation in a manner that is consistent with the underlying values that animate our organizations. Innovation democracy is about getting as many people involved as possible, about capitalizing on diverse experiences and perspectives and about creating associations that, at once, are honoring the past and focusing on the future. The principles that follow address the six critical, dynamic contexts (strategic, technological, cultural, intellectual, financial and leadership) of every association’s existence. And while some may regard these principles as “theoretical,” I believe that they are quite the opposite. Taken together, they form a very pragmatic basis for creating the association of the future, a mechanism for continuous and consistent innovation that also embodies our most cherished human aspirations.
·Strategy is a coherent portfolio of experiments developed across the association--Let’s be clear about something once and for all. Strategy is not a plan. Strategy is an evolving understanding of the world combined with the deep capacity to act intelligently and creatively to achieve growth even as conditions change. The underlying intention of strategy cannot be to control (because real control is unattainable), but rather to create coherence and provide a gravitational field for the strategic experiments of many different stakeholders. A clear, simple and focused strategic direction offers such coherence and is not only the friend of innovation, but is also a compelling basis for broader and more novel engagement in the association.
·Technology supports the social architecture of association innovation--Technology can be quite useful in increasing our efficiency and perhaps even our productivity in the workplace. But in the flesh-and-blood world of organizations, people need to leverage technology toward their ends and not the other way around. Robust human relationships bring plenty of “bandwidth” to the table. When we use technology well, we accelerate connectivity, enhance connectedness and nourish community. And with both skill and serendipity, we also open many doors to powerful insights that may lead us down unexpectedly fruitful pathways of future success.
·Association culture remains vibrant by emphasizing variety, transparency and inclusion--Our associations will never achieve genuine breakthroughs in thinking and action if we don’t regularly challenge conventional wisdom and split-the-difference decision-making by actively involving individuals, groups and organizations with divergent perspectives and experiences in our work. Furthermore, we greatly enhance our ability to identify new threats and act on emerging opportunities when we operate on the basis of openness and transparency. By acting to include our stakeholders to the greatest possible extent in the work of innovation, we live up to the promise of what our associations can become.
·Curiosity, inquiry and discovery shape the association’s intellectual environment--Ideas are the true currency of innovation, particularly in pure knowledge organizations such as associations. In the absence of a basic organizational curiosity around the possibilities of original thinking, most ideas never see the light of day. We must constantly direct our associations toward the kind of robust inquiry that asks the difficult and provocative questions to which we need answers. And while we recognize the absolute importance of ideas to innovation, we also understand that, by themselves, they are insufficient to make innovation happen. We must create, therefore, fair, open yet disciplined processes of discovery that ensure our best ideas come to the surface and are allowed to flourish.
·A high “return on engagement” in the association drives financial investment--Business return on investment (ROI) is a measure of how much a company earns on the money it has invested. ROI can be quickly calculated by dividing the company's net income by its net assets. In associations, however, true success cannot be measured in purely financial terms since most of our so-called “net assets” are intangible, including brand, influence, reputation, knowledge, networks and so forth. From a standpoint of association innovation, then, the “smart money” must be invested in fully leveraging those intangibles to create new value through the active engagement of our stakeholders. Financial investment decisions made by boards and staff must be guided not simply by a desire to earn income, but also by the need to build engagement.
·Association leaders create leaders by distributing responsibility for innovation--The increased complexity of today’s operating environment demands a kind of association leadership that focuses more on coordination than on direction. Association leaders should seek to distribute the majority of the responsibility for advancing innovation away from the organizational “black space,” i.e., the staff, the board and the official volunteer corps, and toward the “white space,” the invisible web of conversations, learning exchanges and relationships involving members, non-members, business partners and other key stakeholders. By focusing their energy and attention on facilitating broader involvement, today’s leaders will help to create new value and make real progress in identifying and developing their eventual successors.
This document is something of a manifesto for the courageous and future-focused association leader. Still, it’s important to remember that there are no panaceas, no silver bullets for moving our organizations forward. There are only better ways of thinking that we can translate into better ways of working together. The ideology of innovation democracy is a better way of thinking about how to create both the organizations we need and the organizations we want. It’s about building a new heritage for our associations in the face of daunting challenges. It’s about taking control of our own destiny. Isn't that what associations are supposed to be about anyway?