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InnovationTalks Day: A Reflection


Yesterday I attended ASAE’s InnovationTalks Day at their headquarters in DC. It proved to be one of the best events I’ve been a part of this year.

What I hope to provide for you below is not simply a recounting of the day but rather a reflection on some of my own tweets and the insights I gleaned from the presenters and resulting discussions. I also intend to provide you with ways to reflect on the direction of and decision-making for your organization whether you were a participant or not. Lastly, if you are a part of the association community, I want to challenge you to be a part of the next InnovationTalks Day. I know that when it is announced it will be a not-to-miss item on my calendar.

Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects began the day with “Innovative Results Require Innovative Beginnings”. Part of the premise of Jeffrey’s presentation was that different starting points lead to different results. We need to reframe the discussion and throw out (at least momentarily) some of the items that we consider givens. 

One of the questions Jeffrey asked was, “What if your general session had the energy of a rock concert and the intimacy of a coffeehouse?”  Doesn’t that give you a different frame of reference and challenge your assumptions? At first glance, you may say it’s impossible. Part of the approach lays in looking at the success other businesses in unrelated industries have had and asking why? Bring a different perspective. You’ll get a different result.

Dave Coriale of DelCor was next with “Innovating Your Approach to Technology”. Dave helped us to realize that concepts from 30-40 years ago that were science fiction have become reality in many regards. Technology shifts with the iPad, social media, etc. weren’t on our radars a decade ago. How do these changes in technology impact our organizations?

One of the questions Dave posed was, “What happened to the National Association of Switchboard Manufacturers?” From our 21st Century vantage point, we read this question and laugh. Of course, technology came along and made NASM obsolete. But the $10 million dollar question is, “What technological breakthroughs will do the same to your organization?” Just because you exist today doesn’t mean that you’ve earned the right to exist 5, 10, or 25 years from now. Are your glory days behind you? Or how are you harnessing technology to prepare for the future and provide value to your members, employees, and/or customers?

Scott Steen of American Forests presented on “Design Thinking for Associations”. He talked about the role of design in so many aspects of our lives, business, and experiences. Scott highlighted companies like Apple, Whole Foods, OXO, and Dyson that incorporate design into everything they do to create fantastic and memorable experiences for their users. Furthermore, he gave us the 5 elements of great design: 1. functional 2. simple 3. elegant 4. natural 5. surprises & delights. Surprise & delight: What’s that little thing that you can do that no one else is doing and no one expects?

Here are excerpts from my tweets from Scott’s talk:

  • Great design starts with great questions.
  • Get rid of preconceptions. Ask naive questions about the problem before you develop solutions.
  • Don’t stop at the first great idea. Push to develop more options.

It’s the last point that I desire to comment on. How often do you sit in meetings where someone puts forward an idea that’s met with, “That’s a great idea! Let’s do it!” But, how often do you suspend decision-making and take an extra 10 minutes to see if the team can come up with a better idea? You may find it’s worth the additional investment as you push your colleagues to think through the issues and opportunities more thoroughly.

While I missed much of Rhea Blanken’s presentation on “Organizations Don’t Innovate; People Do!” due to another commitment, I did see enough of it to glean that “play” (like with blocks, puzzles, and Tinker Toys) can help us to look at problems differently and develop innovative solutions.  In fact I like her statement that “Creativity is stimulated when opportunities to challenge the status quo are created.” What opportunities are you giving to your team members to look at problems differently by taking them out of their everyday work environment? It will spark creativity as they use different parts of their brains, and in the process you’ll get employees who are more engaged and energized. Oh, and, Rhea, I’m proudly displaying my Creativity Certificate on my wall which recognizes me as “a thinking outside the box individual possessing the quality and ability to think creatively and to create solutions in innovative ways”. If that fails, I do have the quotes on creativity and play from famous people close at hand.

Karen Gonzales of Destination Marketing Association International presented on “Innovating Your Membership Expectations”. The biggest takeaway I have here is that “Membership is not just about revenue. It’s about engagement; it’s about awareness.” Don’t get locked into looking at your membership, employees, or customers one way. Don’t just look at what you get from your members in a transactional way. What is it that your members bring that adds value or influences others? How are you engaging them? For me a lot of this is about treating people as individuals, not as an employee or membership number.

Dave Will (@peachdave), chief executive peach, of Peach New Media (seeing a trend?) closed out the day with “The New Rules of Online Learning”. Dave challenged us with the concept that “information transfer and learning are not the same thing”. He helped us to think through how online learning can be more engaging for participants. Dave gave us a vision that online learning doesn’t have to solely be an individual sitting passively in front of a computer screen. Oh, and, Dave, the pink pony video was classic!

InnovationTalks Day had an all-star lineup both in terms of presenters and participants. Many of the speakers also gave opportunities for discussions and activities at tables. I also learned greatly from association colleagues who sat in other parts of the room.

Please add your comments, ideas, and insights below or dialogue with me on Twitter.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I wish I’d been at ASAE in person…I would have loved to have seen you. Jay, thanks for writing this post – you made me feel as if I were there. It helps to read your greatest takeaways and to be able to learn from those presentations without having seen them. I love the fact that ASAE is promoting innovation for all organizations and asking us to make a commitment to support it.

    Barring something unforeseen, I will definitely be there next year!

  2. September 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I can not agree with Kiki more – you really did a great job of giving the feeling of actually attending the sessions. I am excited for the release of the recording to see what I missed. I think this widespread week of innovation holds so many ideas that have the potential to change our association realities – sometimes the hardest part is just where to start. I think a poster with the Top 10 innovation thoughts from this week as I jump into 2012 planning may be in order.

    Thanks for such a great post Jay.

  3. September 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Some great takeaways here, Jay. My takeaway from this blog post is that more and more people are understanding how important it is to innovate. In rapidly changing times, those who adapt may survive but those who innovate are likely to thrive.

  4. September 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Jay, this is a terrific recap of the day. It was a worthwhile day of thought provoking concepts and interesting ideas. I will see you at the next Innovation day event!

  5. September 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Jay, as always mate, i appreciate the blog… great summary, was gutted not to be there, sounded awesome…

  1. December 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm
  2. January 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm
  3. April 11, 2012 at 10:19 am

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