Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What's Your Innovation Readiness? Part 1

Regular readers of The Hourglass Blog know that I'm chairing the Innovation Task Force for the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives. Examining case studies of successful innovation in the for-profit community, the task force has drafted a set of principles of innovation--organizational traits the must be present to allow innovation to occur--a list of barriers common to associations that prevent them from adopting those principles, and some advantages unique to associations that could be better leveraged for innovative purposes.

The task force met again on September 10, and one of our tasks this time was to create a tool that would allow association executives to assess the "innovation readiness" of their organizations. Knowing that every association is probably at a different point on a continuum of innovative practice, and that the strategies that will work for an association at one point of that continuum won't necessarily work for an association at another, we want to provide a way for associations to determine where they are and then plug them immediately into a set of strategies best suited to their position.

Remember that our long term goal here is to create an evidence-based model for innovation in the association community, one replete with tested and practical strategies for how to "do" innovation in an association. With our principles, barriers and advantages developed, we want now to reach out to association executives across the country to engage them in an interactive dialogue about the practical strategies for innovation in an association. The "innovation readiness" tool will also provide a framework for this discussion, and will help us organize the strategies we hope to develop.

So, when it comes to assessing the innovation readiness of your association, we believe there are three basic questions you need to ask yourself. Here's the first:

Does your leadership embrace innovation as one of the strategies necessary to achieve your goals?

At one of recent meetings I attended I tweeted this:

Jen is Jennifer Blenkle of ASAE (who's spearheading an innovation initiative of their own) and Jen is 100% right. The first and most important piece of the puzzle is the culture of your organization, and your leadership is the key to your culture. If your leadership--however leadership is defined in your association--isn't on board with innovation, no innovation process you try to implement will succeed.

Does your leadership embody a true culture of innovation? If not, give your association a "readiness score" of "1". You've got the longest journey ahead of you, but we need you as part of our future discussion. We want to hear about the challenges you're facing and work with you to identify the strategies that can help you overcome them.

Please comment if you'd like to get plugged into our process.


Anne Ackerson said...

I'm coming late to this series of posts on association innovation, but I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate the work you and your task force are doing. I'm an association director as well as an independent consultant to smaller cultural organizations and the word "innovation" is used repeatedly throughout my corner of the nonprofit sector. But it's often a concept in name only, with few or no supporting frameworks by which organizations can make it happen (at least with any consistency). So, thank you for the work you're doing.

I've often said that great ideas are free and the best ones are scalable to an organization's resources, IF leadership is open to them and willing to remix them. That's one of the reasons why organizational culture is so important so sort out first.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the feedback, Anne. Your perspective on innovation is one of the core reasons we started to work on the issue at WSAE. We want to produce an evidence-based model of innovation for the association community--one that includes practical strategies for how to accomplish it, not just a list of concepts you are told to embrace. I'm excited to be moving into that practical phase of the project, and hope to have more to report soon.

Another area of confusion we continue to stumble into is the definition of innovation itself. Everyone seems to think it's something slightly different--and it probably is something slightly different for every organization. But universally we need a common definition so that we are all working towards the same goal. We've decided to view innovation as a process--one that generates and successfully applies creative ideas to achieve defined objectves. Watch for more on this point in my next post.

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