Get Inspired by Peter Sheahan at the 2012 Springtime Expo

By: Kristin Clarke

This year's keynote speaker talks reinvention and building an "idea culture."

Mark your calendar for this year's Springtime Expo on May 3 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. The Springtime Expo is the premier one-day show for the meetings industry and offers attendees the opportunity to explore hundreds of destinations, venues, technology solutions, and industry partners in one afternoon and attend education sessions on meeting-planning trends and best practices throughout the day.

Plus, Peter Sheahan, the popular Closing General Session speaker at the 2011 Annual Meeting & Exposition in St. Louis, is back as Springtime Expo's keynote speaker.

Last year, Sheahan, author of Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results and Fl!p: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings, spoke to Associations Now about the five "idea competencies" he identifies in the research for Making It Happen. Here, he gives advice on creating an idea culture and how to decide if it's time to reinvent your organization.

You write that many organizations make the mistake of dismissing ideas that come from outside of their four walls. How can associations create an idea culture that embraces and builds on external ideas?

This may sound simplistic as an answer, but the first thing is to ask. … If you're looking for ideas from the outside, then you need to ask people from the outside to make a contribution and create a forum where they can give an answer. You then need to do something with it. Quite honestly, I think there's a failure to ask for those ideas from external stakeholders, people outside of your four walls and people who aren't engaging in the invisible walls of association membership.

Talk about "guerilla projects" and how they can help seed an idea culture. Also, can associations help pioneer some of these projects?

If you look at association culture, fear of failure is massive. No one wants to be the executive that put all the association's money behind one initiative that failed spectacularly.

The beauty of a guerilla project is that it's small, it's targeted, and it has a time limit on it, so you can allocate a percentage of your resources that's not going to break the bank if it goes belly up, which it often does. And you can seed and trial quickly.

If something gathers momentum, then you can scale it, and if it doesn't, then you can write it off and go to the next one, so it's a low-risk [method] of quickly moving into action in a way that tests innovative new ideas in a real market environment.

How does an organization know when to reinvent?

No one ever actually knows. If your membership numbers are stagnant or going backwards, if getting members to pay their dues every year appears to be getting harder, if the quantity or percentage of members who are engaged outside of the basic events and professional development is declining—these are all leading indicators, actually lagging indicators, that you're losing your relevance with your marketplace.

In [Making It Happen], we talk about reinvention from both an evolution and revolution perspective. There are very few associations or causes that need a revolution, but plenty of them need evolution, and from an executive perspective, this is a conversation about the balance between stewardship and innovation.

Your job is not to steward alone; it is to steward while also innovating and laying the foundation for the future. The reason that's getting harder and harder is that market needs are moving faster and faster, so we should all be in a reinvention phase all the time.

If we're good at [reinvention] and it becomes part of who we are, then it's generally evolutionary, not revolutionary, and things like guerilla techniques, the propensity toward action, the narrowing of the value of your offers … are part of the reinvention process.

—Interview by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.