The “Duh” of Innovation

David Gammel did a nice post (referring to his conference presentation) about innovation last week, so I’m going to jump on that bandwagon. There is a story about learning organizations in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, and it starts like this:

Nearly every organization has rightfully made innovation a priority, and management journals dedicate significant column inches to hwo to manag innovation.

Hmmm. Not in the association community. I know Jeff, our community’s resident expert on innovation, would agree. I think it is significant that innovation (which, as Gammel points out, is not exactly rocket science) has already moved BEYOND the norm in business, but still is kept at arm’s length in associations.

The article goes on to describe research linking innovation to organizations with a high "organizational learning capacity." Specifically, these are organizations that:

  1. experiment
  2. take risks
  3. interact with the external environment
  4. use dialogue and participative decision making

Hmmm again.


  1. 18.12.2007 at 1:27 pm

    Interesting post, Jamie!
    I’d say (in my experience), many associations are good at #3 and #4, but a lot of us are rotten at #2. There seems to be such fear of risk-taking among associations. When I hear people react to a new idea, the first responses are so often “What if X went wrong?” instead of “Wow, what could we accomplish if X went right?”
    Why do you think that is? How can we change it?

  2. 26.12.2007 at 11:57 am

    Jamie and Lisa — Couldn’t agree with you both more. I’ve noticed a general reluctance to take risks, to venture into the unknown among associations in my brief three years in the association world.
    But why is it such a bad thing? I ask this because as a project manager for a company that developed Web courses for corporate clients prior to my current position, I saw the slash and burn effects of willy-nilly risk taking. Just ask a few early adopters of online learning and they’ll tell you the horrors of LMSes that didn’t work, fortunes spent, poor online training and lackluster performance overall.
    We in the association world are actually fortunate to have the benefit of sitting back and cautiously watching the perils of corporate innovation. We can steal what works and avoid what doesn’t. I consider the corporate world my R&D. They make the investments, take the risks, and I can reap the benefits.
    To Lisa’s post, I’d say we’re reluctant because of our visibility, the transparency within associations. Corporate R&D is a private thing (even in publicly traded companies). Association risk-taking is public — our members are watching and hold us accountable. This is a good thing. Being reluctant is a result.
    And as long as we don’t mistake being reluctant to take risks for *refusing* to take risks, we should be able to find the right balance.