At ASAE’s 2018 Great Ideas Conference, Sunday’s Main Stage Speakers, Fredi Lajvardi and Kelly McDonald, challenged attendees to embrace diversity of thought to better serve their organizations, members, and missions—and to ultimately fuel innovation.
What can association professionals learn from a STEM educator who led a team of disadvantaged high schoolers to win a university-level underwater robotics competition, where they defeated leading schools like top-ranked MIT?
Plenty, said Fredi Lajvardi, who shared the story of his team’s success as one of Sunday’s Main Stage Speakers at ASAE’s 2018 Great Ideas Conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
“If life doesn’t give you a dream, build one,” he said. “That’s what we did.”
For example, when he started teaching these students, he realized how willing they were to give up and to remain mediocre. So Lajvardi decided he needed an extracurricular activity to engage them. What began as an electric car team morphed into a robotics team years later.
You never know where the next great idea is going to come from. It’s totally unpredictable.
This new team was successful, according to Lajvardi, because any student with any interest—be it programming, computer drafting, or marketing—was welcome to join. He urged attendees to do the same in their associations.
“You never know where the next great idea is going to come from,” he said. “It’s totally unpredictable, so with that, you should be embracing the total diversity of your population.”
For instance, Lajvardi said, there were several times when special-education students came up with ideas that turned into solutions for the robotics team.
He added that for learning to be most effective, whether in a classroom setting or the workplace, it must have a three-dimensional component.
“There’s the content, there’s the social relevance and connectivity, and then there’s the physical activity involved with it,” he said. “Put those together and you get that deep learning that then sticks with you.”
The story, which inspired the documentary Underwater Dreams and was adapted into the major motion picture Spare Parts, serves a reminder that people—no matter their background or circumstances—are responsible for their own success.
“The only reason they don’t have success or choose not to is exactly that—they decide that they don’t want to have it,” Lajvardi said. “Because my work with this team made it apparent that you’re the only one who can decide if you’re going to be successful.”
Crafting an Experience for People Not Like You
While Lajvardi focused on embracing diversity of thought within teams, Kelly McDonald, a marketing and consumer trends expert and Sunday’s second Main Stage Speaker, discussed how to embrace the diversity of your members to craft better experiences for them.
“Being inclusive and having everyone at the table is the very bedrock of innovation,” she said. “So if you don’t have it, you could miss something big. The lack of diversity means the lack of innovation.”
McDonald shared a few tips with attendees for developing experiences that embrace the diversity that exists in your customer and member base.
One way to do this is to pay attention to trends, not fads. “Fads come and go—like fashion,” she said. “Trends are shifts, and they rarely shift back.”
One trend she urged associations to embrace is customization. “Customization just isn’t cool; it lifts business,” she said. In addition, people want to see what McDonald calls the “real real.”
“Today’s consumers want representations of real life and not ideas put in an artificial environment,” she said. “Whether in your ads, marketing materials, or whatever you’re putting out there, be sure you’re embracing everyone who’s a part of your community.”
McDonald reminded attendees that helping beats selling—and that today’s customers aren’t asking for more information but rather for advice.
“That’s what I think the business of associations is,” she said. “You are in the advice, continuing-education, learning, and innovation business. And those are things that people want. And when you hit the mark there, you won’t have to sell to them—you’ll have them for life.”