As we start the new year, we all are inundated by predictions for the future. At .orgSource, we all have been thinking a lot about the future. Later this year we will be publishing a book on “Association 4.0.” Many of you may have heard Kevin and I speak about disruptors looming on the horizon and how associations will need to undertake some fundamental changes. For 2018, we think there are two words that should define the focus of associations: strategy and innovation.
We are not suggesting dusting off your strategic plan or engaging in the same old periodic planning retreat processes so common among associations. Instead, we are suggesting ongoing, mindful strategic thinking throughout the organization. Organizations need to be asking questions such as: why do we exist; who do we serve; what’s important; how can we best deliver what’s important; what should we be investing in; with whom do we partner; what are the risks we face; how do we ameliorate those risks—and are we really adding value?
For each of those questions, there is a response for today—the current situation—and for tomorrow—an unknowable future. And since the future is unknowable, the best we can do is anticipate a variety of scenarios and invest in the building blocks—the people, structures, processes, and systems—to increase our flexibility and odds of success across a range of future possibilities.
This leads to our second watchword for 2018: innovation. We have all heard of organizations that pride themselves on never being first, instead focusing on efficiently copying the leader. But how far behind can you avoid lagging? Given the speed of change and the rapid disseminating of new ideas and technologies, those who wait too long will never catch up. As a result, there needs to be a greater focus on innovations—and an associated willingness to take risks.
A core focus of many associations is the delivery of educational content. Many are still relying on tried and true models such as the annual meeting or the PowerPoint-driven webinar (usually with zero or very limited interactivity). In the face of an exploding number of options and delivery modalities, how long can we expect to succeed without embracing radical innovation?
For example, I was recently reading about Michigan State University’s use of robots in online instruction. To engage the robot from home, learners download free software onto their computer. The robots are stationed around a class setting. Each robot has a mounted video screen controlled by the remote user that lets the student pan around the room to see and talk with the instructor and fellow students participating in-person. According to Christine Greenhow, associate professor at Michigan State University, “Students participating with the robots felt much more engaged and interactive with the instructor and their classmates.” This is just one example of how technology will be changing learning environments.
We may not be investing in robot systems soon, but the MSU example serves as one reminder that we can never lose sight of the need to innovate.
So, as we enter 2018, we wish all our association friends a successful year based on strategy and innovation. We are committed to our own efforts at strategy and innovation, as well as to helping our clients position themselves for a challenging and exciting future.