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Should Innovation Be Planned?

by | Sep 19, 2011 | Industry News & Trends

This is an exciting week for associations with ASAE’s Innovation Talks. There’s a certain side of me that finds a little irony in planning on being innovative. But upon further thought, I realize why it’s done. It reminds me of days dedicated to honoring a particular person or interest (think Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and/or Veteran’s Day). All of these individuals should be honored throughout the year, not just one day. But so many of us allow the daily grind and essentials in our job and lives to take thought away from these people or concepts. We need a reminder of what they do for us. Just as appreciation of our loved one goes a long way to strengthen our relationship on Valentine’s Day, dedicating time to innovation, strengthens the association and is an investment in its future. A week of reflection dedicated to innovation and idea exchange is a wonderful start.

I suppose innovation does not have to be a daily thing. It would be exhausting (and time consuming) to always be meeting about how we could be more innovative. Being innovative is hard if you feel like you’re always under water — with a million tasks nipping at your toes for attention and for that reason maybe it should be scheduled.

Innovation is a squirrely concept. It requires creative thinking, a willingness to listen to all ideas (no matter how outlandish) and a left-brained dedication to implementation. The three stages of successful innovation are listed below:

Innovation is a state of mind. It doesn’t have to be broad action that sets the world on its head. It can be a subtle change like encouraging multiple staff members to use your association Twitter account. Embracing innovation is more about embracing innovative thought. Not every idea will be “do-able” or fitting for forward-movement of your association but if you spend time self-editing or editing the ideas of your co-workers, you may miss a gem. Empower your staff by encouraging them to start innovation notebooks or whiteboards (or an Evernote account) where they collect ideas, scraps or favorites. Schedule time to share these.

Innovation is about incubation. Once the idea has been shared, let an idea grow, mature, become more robust. Give it time to stand on its own or see how it may connect to other ideas/existing practices. Assign someone (or multiple someones, outside of the original creator) to think about it. For added fun, assign individuals to be “pro” the idea or “con” the idea. Assign the creator to the “con” side. Share these findings in a casual environment.

Innovation requires follow-through. You and your staff have had some brilliant ideas. You’ve allowed them to grow some legs. The third stage of innovation leaves creative-thinking behind and focuses on the planning stage. Look at your ideas with a critical eye. Separate them into three categories 1. do-able now, 2. do-able in an ideal way some time in the future and 3. not now, not ever. Each item in the first two categories should be assigned a project map as to how you could accomplish it and the projected timeline. Items in the third category should be placed somewhere where they can be revisited in the future– never thrown away. After all, those assignments you just made were based on how things stand today. Just because it does not seem possible today does not mean it will remain in that assigned category forever. Maybe you assigned creating an online community to the “no-way” category because you have a Facebook page; then there’s a mass exodus akin to MySpace and you realize it no longer serves your audience. Your “never” category idea is now a consideration. After the ideas have been sorted and project maps drawn up, make assignments and give them ownership to help them become reality.

Innovation is not about the latest technology (although that could be part of it). It’s not about making change for change’s sake. It’s about building a culture that is not afraid to explore the possibility that your association may not be doing things the most efficient way possible. But it’s also about solutions and knowing they don’t always come from the top. It’s about realizing not all new ideas are good ones but allowing them to be spoken nonetheless. But mainly it’s about communication and creating an environment that allows that, because without such we are not able to share the sparks of creativity that may some day become our own innovative reality.


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