Members of the .orgSource team recently attended the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives Innovation Summit. Pam Henderson, Ph.D., author of “You Can Kill an Idea, But You Can’t Kill an Opportunity!” was the keynote speaker. Her presentation got me thinking: How could I (and the associations that I work with) become “opportunity thinkers”?
According to Henderson, opportunity thinking empowers us to see potential in new places — across markets, technologies, business models, brands and design. Her definition of opportunity is a convergence of needs, the ability to create the right value and the right conditions that allow it to come together. So, how can an association steer into this perfect storm?
Here are a few ways I think we can harness the concept of opportunity thinking:
1. Be inclusive. A big take away from the Innovation Summit was to understand others’ perspectives and how they solve problems. Don’t assume that the best ideas will come from your board or senior team. Include as many people as possible when you’re brainstorming so that you get different points of view and a new combination of ideas. Collaborate at all levels, from your junior staff to your CEO. Mixing up those in the weeds and those at 35,000 feet might surprise you.
2. Let people fail. If people are afraid to experiment with outside-the-box thinking, you’ll never break free from the mundane checklists of to-dos that so many associations follow. Swap out “because we always do it that way” with “if it isn’t broke, break it.” Create a culture where it’s OK to try something as long as you learn from the success or failure.
3. Think about tomorrow’s opportunities rather than today’s capabilities. Don’t go to the dark place of budgetary or staffing restrictions when an idea is presented. Think about your members’ future needs. Better yet, come straight out and ask them. If you can add value (a new benefit, product, service, event, etc.) before your competitors do, you’ve just created your own opportunity.
Innovation takes practice. Experts say that it can take thousands of bad ideas before coming up with a “good” one. Your association can have a 10-person staff or 200 — size doesn’t matter when it comes to thinking outside the box or capitalizing on opportunity. Just look for potential in new places, let your teams share their ideas and don’t get bogged down with what you’re capable of today.