Money & Business

Is Fear of Risk Killing Association Innovation?

By / May 15, 2013

New research has found that many companies are seeing fewer rewards and less satisfaction stemming from innovation. Two association professionals weigh in on the importance of risk taking and strategic processes to foster new ways to provide value to members.

While more companies are investing in innovation, not all are seeing a satisfactory return on that  investment, according to research by the consulting firm Accenture.

One reason some associations are so risk averse is because they actually know very little about their members and the world that they live in.

In the newly released study “Why ‘Low Risk’ Innovation Is Costly,” researchers found that 51 percent of roughly 500 surveyed companies are investing more in innovation, but only 18 percent believe their innovation efforts are delivering a competitive advantage. Forty-six percent of respondents also said they are becoming more risk averse.

Avoiding risk is also common within the association community, but becoming more comfortable with the potential for failure is a necessity, said Eric Lanke, CAE, CEO of the National Fluid Power Association.

“One reason some associations are so risk averse is because they actually know very little about their members and the world that they live in,” Lanke said. “When you don’t understand how the engine works, you’re a lot more adverse to the idea of tinkering around under the hood.”

Lanke advised that associations become more knowledgeable about the realities of their respective industries and professions.  “This will put them in a position to make confident decisions balanced with the right measures of risk and benefit,” he added.

Another significant finding of the Accenture study was that companies with a “formal, end-to-end management system to nurture, scale, and launch innovations” were more satisfied with the outcomes of innovative projects.

Having a systematic innovation process is important for associations as well, said Jennifer Blenkle, vice president of innovation and research at the International Research Institute.

First, a process for innovation is the result of a strategy, which works as a guide ensuring that “everybody knows where you’re trying to go and what’s OK to innovate around,” Blenkle said.

A systematic approach also helps keep innovation from getting lost in the everyday work of running an association, Blenkle added. “In associations, we work in a cycle—meetings come up, deadlines come up, members come in—and the thinking about how can we do things better to provide better value gets pushed aside,” she said.

How can an organization create such an approach to innovation? For Blenkle, culture is key.

“It’s really easy to put a process in place and never get a new idea if you don’t have a culture that supports people exploring, collaborating, or bringing forward new ideas,” she said. “It’s got to be OK to try new things to take new risks. Everybody hates to say the word failure, but it’s got to be OK for things not to work.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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