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Asking different questions: MMCC 2013 edition and more...

Asking different questions: MMCC 2013 edition

“Is the association model broken?”

“What does ‘member’ mean to you?”

“Do we need a new membership model?”

“Is membership dead?”

These are all interesting questions, and I understand why some people are asking them. Unfortunately, they are not the right questions. Instead of trying to figure out how to extend the life of the existing paradigm, association leaders need to focus their attention on shaping the next one, specifically by building adaptive and resilient, i.e., thrivable, business models that do not depend on membership.

To move the conversation in a more generative direction, then, I want to challenge boards, CEOs, C-Suite executives and other contributors to grapple with three core strategic questions that will require them to undertake an honest appraisal of personal, organizational and industry orthodoxies, as well as pursue a deeper exploration of what is possible for their associations in the years ahead:

+What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

Every association will need to come up with its own specific answer to this question, but one thing is abundantly clear: associations need to develop new capabilities for co-creating radical new value with their stakeholders. Over many decades, associations have invested considerable time and energy, as well as financial resources, in optimizing the work of selling membership to drive their existing membership-centric business models. As the forces of relentless societal transformation continue to erode the traditional economics of membership, however, associations will need to build stronger platforms for tangible and intangible new value creation that can become a source of “collaborative advantage” with distributed networks of trusted and talented contributors, irrespective of their desire for membership.

+What will your stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

While it can be hard for association leaders to conceive, the membership offer is almost always a better solution to the association’s “problem” than the stakeholder’s “problem.” After all, the association derives the immediate gain of another sale and another buyer it can begin to monetize through both direct and indirect revenue opportunities. Meanwhile, the stakeholder often must wait for access to most of what the association regards as the really compelling benefits of membership, only to discover later that those benefits aren’t really that compelling. To develop a clearer point of view on what their stakeholders will need to thrive in the years ahead, association leaders must nurture an empathic understanding of their stakeholders’ short-term challenges, intermediate-term needs and long-term outcomes to create distinctive value beyond the limitations of the benefits package.

+Why should your current and future stakeholders want to have a relationship with your association?

Membership isn’t a real relationship for the vast majority of association stakeholders, but a one-size-fits-all offer that involves little more than a magazine subscription and a once-a-year credit card transaction. For stakeholders with abundant access to a wide variety of information resources, network connections and learning opportunities that can help them succeed, ordinary approaches are not nearly good enough. To be intentional about building meaningful relationships going forward, associations must engage their stakeholders in deeper and richer value conversations that embrace serendipity, and seek to link purposeful action with the responsible pursuit of profitability.

If you’re interested in joining this conversation and you are attending ASAE’s Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, I will be speaking on the topic, “Why Membership is Killing Association Business Models” from 10:15 am-11:30 am in Room 150B of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. You also may follow Twitter posts from the session using the hashtag #MMCCon LC4. One way or the other, I hope you will share your perspectives!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Jeff De Cagna serving as curator for ACE Symposium on July 12

Jeff De Cagna FRSA FASAE, chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, is serving as curator and provocateur for the inaugural Association Chief Executives (ACE) Symposium, to be held on Friday, July 12 at The Gannett Building in McLean, Virginia. The ACE Symposium is open exclusively to association CEOs, and CEO attendees may register their #2 executives to participate with them in the event.

The ACE Symposium will feature nine CEO Thought Leaders presenting 15-minute TED style talks organized into three critical conversation themes: the future of membership, the future of new value creation and the future of leadership. In addition, noted thinker Seth Kahan, author of the new book, Getting Innovation Right, will be the keynote speaker. Symposium attendees will receive a complimentary copy of Getting Innovation Right at the event.

In his role, Jeff is working directly with the CEO Thought Leaders to shape their talks within the framework of the day’s three critical conversations. On July 12, Jeff will serve as the event’s resident “provocateur,” asking challenging questions of the CEO Thought Leaders and engaging Symposium participants in rich dialogue around the day’s themes.

The ACE Symposium is the brainchild of Shira Harrington, founder and president of Purposeful Hire, Inc., an executive search and consulting firm located in Northern Virginia. Ms. Harrington, who also serves as founder and curator of the ACE Symposium, said, “When I decided to host a thought leadership event for association CEOs, I immediately reached out to Jeff because of his commitment to being a catalyst for unorthodox thinking. I’m thrilled to be working with Jeff as we challenge CEOs to think in radically different ways about the future of their organizations.”

Asked about his role in the ACE Symposium, Jeff said, “It is tremendously exciting to design and create this kind of unique gathering for association CEOs, and a genuine honor to collaborate with a consummate entrepreneur and visionary like Shira Harrington. The ACE Symposium is going to be an amazing learning experience.”

Registration for the ACE Symposium is now open, and early decision registration pricing closes on Friday, May 17. More details on the event, including the agenda for the day, can be found online at An electronic flyer for the Symposium is also available for download here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Empathy, new value creation and the stakeholders of the future

In early January, I wrote a post on six serious ideas for 2013 that included the concept of SED, which is short for serendipity, empathy and discovery. SED is a term I coined to inspire association leaders to shift their conversations about the future in a more generative direction. Here is what I wrote about SED in that post:

In 2013, I want to challenge association leaders to prepare for the vast serendipity that lives all around them, experience genuine empathy and embrace new possibilities of discovery. To fully capitalize on the power of SED, however, leaders must find the courage to be open, vulnerable and filled with the humility that comes from understanding what they know isn’t as important as what they can learn.

Serendipity, empathy and discovery are essential ingredients of new value creation that can be combined in appropriate measure through the work of innovation. Among these three elements, I have always believed that empathy is what opens our hearts and minds more fully to the other two. It is our empathic understanding of others’ lives that expands the natural human desire to discover the world beyond pure self interest, and creates a lens through which to see the serendipitous connections among seemingly disparate experiences more clearly.

But there are different views on what constitutes empathy and how it is achieved. On the one hand, blogger Sara Wachter-Boettcher describes empathy in sharp emotional terms:

We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open—truly open—to feeling emotions we may not want to feel. It means allowing another’s experiences to gut us. It means ceding control.

Empathy begins with vulnerability. And being vulnerable, especially in our work, is…terrifying.

On the other hand, Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, argues for an emotionless form of “sterilized empathy” such as that practiced by the famous fictional detective:

Usually, when we think of empathy, it evokes feelings of warmth and comfort, of being intrinsically an emotional phenomenon. But perhaps our very idea of empathy is flawed. The worth of empathy might lie as much in the ‘value of imagination’ that Holmes employs as it does in the mere feeling of vicarious emotion. Perhaps that cold rationalist Sherlock Holmes can help us reconsider our preconceptions about what empathy is and what it does.

Whether empathy itself is more about emotion or imagination, the decision to adopt an empathic approach to new value creation will challenge many association leaders to work through deeply-held feelings and beliefs. Even as the stakeholders of the future envision and create remarkable new possibilities for their lives and careers, there are more than a few association leaders who still hold the conviction that those stakeholders don’t really know what they want or need. I hear this view frequently, and while leaders often argue that it is based on past experience, it is actually rooted in the fear of losing control over who will define the terms of future relationships between associations and their potential stakeholders. This fear is misplaced, of course, since the stakeholders of the future are well on their way to asserting such control, if they haven’t already.

For association leaders committed to building their organizations to thrive in the years ahead, empathy is anything but a threat. Empathy imbues the work of innovation with greater meaning, and surfaces richer insights into the best opportunities to co-create radical new value with passionate stakeholders. Along with serendipity and discovery, empathy is a critical driving force of association success in the years ahead, and now is the time for association leaders to capitalize on its extraordinary power.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Overcoming the association value gap: part II

This post originally appeared on the Associations Now Leadership Blog on March 28, 2013. You can read Part I here.

In Part I of this series earlier this month, I identified the association value gap as an underlying structural problem within membership-centric business models. Put simply, associations are unable to drive profitability solely by delivering on the membership value proposition and must find alternative ways to monetize membership to maintain their existing business models. Unfortunately, since membership-centric business models wrap all value into membership, associations typically have few options for filling the gap that do not depend on membership.

Even so-called non-dues revenue streams are not the answer, as they too rely almost entirely on buyers from within “the member market.” The problem for associations is that the member market does not really exist. It is an invention designed to create artificial predictability and a sense of security for risk-averse organizations. Overcoming the value gap, then, will challenge associations to play outside their existing comfort zones to identify emerging opportunities for radical new value creation. To make this happen, boards, CEOs, C-suite executives, and other contributors need to think beyond orthodoxy and embrace a 21st-century sensibility in their pursuit of business model innovation.

Here are three suggested approaches association leaders can adopt immediately:

Pursue value conversations–In designing 21st-century business models, association leaders need to pay much closer attention to the kind of people their current and future stakeholders wish to become and what they want to achieve in their lives. Instead of formulating value propositions based on what insiders believe about the value their organization should create for stakeholders, associations need to pursue ongoing “value conversations” by asking more powerful and generative questions about the kinds of value they can co-create with their stakeholders and their extended networks. As part of these conversations, associations must consider three overlapping time horizons: they must seek to solve short-term problems, provide for intermediate-term needs, and, most of all, support stakeholders as they strive to realize their most important long-term outcomes.

Negotiate value relationships–Despite decades of evidence demonstrating that membership simply isn’t a good fit for many potential stakeholders, associations continue to make essentially the same pitch to everyone. This enduring commitment to the membership paradigm reflects the triumph of hope over hard-earned experience. We want everyone (or at least everyone who is eligible) to want membership in our organizations, even when membership benefits us more than them, which is almost always. What stakeholders really need is not more one-size-fits-all offers but an expansive view of the power of associating as an open and inclusive experience, without mandatory financial transactions or tests of fidelity. By lowering barriers to participation and developing trusted stakeholder relationships that are mutually beneficial, associations can co-create meaningful and purposeful value that helps stakeholders answer a critical question: why do I need this relationship?

Identify value flows–Membership-centric business models typically produce a predetermined bundle of mostly standardized products and services that are pushed out to all stakeholders according to work practices and schedules that best serve the association’s interests. This quasi-industrial method of value creation and delivery is no longer a good fit with the real-time demands facing the stakeholders of the future. By working through value conversations with stakeholders involved in more meaningful relationships, associations can co-create new tangible and intangible value flows and receive flows of value in return from their collaborators. This approach affords associations the opportunity to discover and surface hidden assets from within stakeholder networks, including previously untapped knowledge, expertise, connections, or even financial resources that would not be otherwise accessible.

These are not conventional times, and association leaders must stop thinking about the future of their organizations in conventional terms. Accelerating and intensifying societal transformation will continue to expose and exacerbate the structural limitations of membership-centric business models. To overcome the value gap, we must question our most deep-seated assumptions and embrace our responsibility to imagine, design, and develop the adaptive and resilient business models that will give our organizations the best chance to thrive over the next decade and beyond.

This is most important conversation your association will have. Are you ready to get started?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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Jeff De Cagna to deliver keynote at CESSE 2013 Annual Meeting

Jeff De Cagna, chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation, has been selected as the opening keynote speaker for the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) 2013 Annual Meeting. Jeff’s keynote talk, which will take place on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at the Omni Providence Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, will focus on themes and ideas shared in his provocative free e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future.

“For the CESSE 2103 opening keynote, we wanted a speaker who would confront the deep-seated assumptions of association management head on. As a well-known association provocateur, Jeff is the perfect person for the job. We’re looking forward to Jeff challenging CESSE 2013 participants to think beyond orthodoxy,” said Tony Keane, president and CEO of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) in Houston, Texas, and CESSE vice president. Mr. Keane is the overall volunteer organizer for CESSE 2013.

CESSE, which was incorporated in 1977, is an informal, not-for-profit international organization of chief executive officers and mid-to-senior level staff members of scientific and engineering societies. The organization’s mission is to “share and examine successful approaches to managing engineering, scientific and technical societies while providing opportunities for networking and education of executives and senior staff of member societies.”

In addition to his keynote talk, Jeff will present a one-hour workshop called, “Serendipity, Empathy and Discovery: Building Your Association’s Collaborative Advantage.” The workshop will invite participants to prepare for the vast serendipity that lives all around them, experience genuine empathy and embrace new possibilities of discovery, all in the spirit of collaboration.

Jeff De Cagna said, “It is a great honor to be chosen as the opening keynote speaker for CESSE 2013. The participants in this meeting lead some of the most important and successful organizations in the association community. I anticipate a spirited exchange of ideas during both the keynote talk and the workshop. I’m really looking forward to it!”

To learn more about the CESSE 2013 Annual Meeting, please visit If your association would like to book Jeff as a keynote speaker, please contact him through the Principled Innovation website with details of your inquiry.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013, making this an opportune moment to subscribe to the Principled Innovation Blog via email. You can use the “Receive Blog Posts Via Email” box found on the right sidebar to initiate your subscription. Thank you!

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