Create Your Own Competition

My favorite "great idea" that emerged from last week’s Great Ideas Conference, of course, did not come from one of the scheduled sessions. It was an informatil conversation during breakfast. One of the people at my table said that her association had been struggling with the fact that they were not nimble enough. This is a big issue for associations, of course.

What was different was the response. She said that the association leadership took a long, hard look at the organization and concluded that there was, in fact, no way they could become more nimble. That in itself is probably worthy of discussion, but listen to what comes next. Since they couldn’t become more nimble (at least not easily), they decided to spend time creating a separate organization–an actual competitor to their own association–and make it more nimble from the start. It didn’t sound like they had a real endgame in mind–they were just starting the process. It was like they were aboard the Titanic, but they converted the back end of the ship into a mini-shipyard and were building another ship. Once they realize they are not going to clear that iceberg, they hop on the new ship, I guess.

Talk about thinking outside the box! I am not recommending this idea as a generic best practice. I still have lots of questions about why they couldn’t become more nimble within their current context. But as a follow on to my last post, would you be willing to destroy your own organization if it allowed you to pursue your mission more effectively?


  1. 14.12.2007 at 1:33 pm

    Sounds a lot like what Clayton Christensen recommends in Innovators Solution.
    Organization: disrupt thyself before someone else does it to you.

  2. 15.12.2007 at 11:35 am

    I’m not surprised at such a logical response. With some organizations the costs of trying to change are just too great. That’s why it may make sense in some cases for an internal IT department, instead of requiring all technology-dependent projects to go through it, to encourage use of outside vendors by some business units, and skip the integration. Sounds like heresy, but sometimes getting the benefits sooner can outweigh everything else.

  3. 15.12.2007 at 9:24 pm

    I give these folks serious props for realizing that they’re in potential danger and looking it straight in the eye. Most organizations just don’t have the guts to face their own inherent shortcomings, let alone create potential solutions. For this particular association, both may options may fail but it’s the kind of failing we should all aspire to.

  4. 16.12.2007 at 11:26 am

    Jamie, I have a current client, the CEO of a medical society, who is tackling this very issue — how to be more nimble — by imagining his field as if his organization did not presently exist. We are in the midst of helping him with a large scale “from the ground up” study that will describe the the “field” and how it “works,” independent of how the society, or anyone else for that matter, conceives of it. The CEO then can ask himself if the society’s current mission and services are in sync with the actual realities of the field, however the boundaries of that “field” should ultimately be defined. The client may very well re-structure staff functions, program content, leadership committee outreach, and the guiding mission of the organization based on the results of this new portrait of the society’s environment.
    He does not know what the resutls will show. I applaud his courage in stepping outside a very real comfort zone to attempt someting he perceives as imperative to the future of his organization and constituents. Internal obstacles aside (those you know very well), deciding that an independent reality exists perpetually beyond the grasp of any one individual or group, staff and volunteer leadership included, can help an organization begin to think and act more nimbly.

  5. 17.12.2007 at 8:08 am

    This discussion–and your original post–remind me of the folks I spoke to for an article on “red teaming,” earlier this year. The term “red team” is used in a couple of different ways, but I was primarily interested in organizations that develop a “red team” whose job it is to figure out how a competitor could steal their lunch. How could you design an annual meeting/product/service that would steal our customers? How would you exploit our organizational weaknesses? Of course, the ideal is then to take the red team’s ideas and use them in the “real” organization.
    I think that part of the attraction of red teaming–just like what you describe above–is that it frees people to think in terms of a new organization, not in terms of what could actually be done here in our organization. The hard part is then taking those ideas and making them happen …
    Not to toot the Associations Now horn, but the article is online at if you’d like to learn more about the red teaming concept.

  6. 17.12.2007 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone! Lisa, you can always toot Associations Now’s horn on this blog, don’t worry. I remember that article. And Craig, I’d like to hear more about your last line (one of the most intriguing I’ve heard in a while): “deciding that an independent reality exists perpetually beyond the grasp of any one individual or group…can help an organization begin to think and act more nimbly.”