Speaking Engagements

Membership Innovation in a Time of Turbulence

A time of crisis requires every organization to innovate to survive and thrive. But a common question is, how do you go about innovating? Matt Ridley’s book, How Innovation Works and Why it Flourishes in Freedom, shares valuable principles that answer that question.   

Five of his recommendations have an application to associations.

1.     Innovation occurs incrementally. Often, we expect new solutions to come with a flash of inspiration. “But the deeper you look,” Ridley maintains, “the less likely you are to find a moment of sudden breakthrough, rather than a series of small incremental steps.”[1] For membership, this might mean regularly tweaking and updating your renewal system with improvements instead of starting over from scratch.

2.     Innovation comes from trial and error.  It is a foundation of good marketing to have an ongoing testing strategy. Some of the tests will prove very successful, and others will be a flop. Innovation requires a tolerance for error. As an example, before finding the proper filament for the lightbulb, Thomas Edison conducted 6,000 tests.

3.     Innovation often emerges through the combination of existing components. Mixing and matching can be one of the best ways to come up with new solutions. An example would be associations that create a tiered membership structure. Typically, this involves adding existing products or services that already exist in the association to enhance the current membership category.

4.     Innovation depends on a team effort. Changing any system in an association can be complicated. By collaborating and getting input from others with specialized knowledge solutions come faster and are more effective. Ridley notes that “Innovation is a collective phenomenon that happens between, not within, brains.”[2]

5.     Innovation thrives with collaboration. Why are so many technology companies formed in Silicon Valley? Specialized communities drive innovation.  So, interacting with other people outside your organization is essential. Associations should promote that they create this collaborative environment and community as a value proposition to recruit and retain members. Likewise, an association's staff needs to go beyond their own organization to interact with other membership professionals, consultants, and suppliers to gain new ideas and insights.

Ridley adds one additional thought that we all should remember as we feel the need to improve and change. He says, “An element of playfulness probably helps, too. Innovators who just like playing around are more likely to find something unexpected.”[3]  So despite the serious need to make changes, keep in mind that enjoying the process can lead to better outcomes.


[2] RIDLEY. P. 233

[3] RIDLEY. P. 253

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