Embracing and Enabling Innovation

Lori Halley 14 November 2011 0 comments

© Beboy - Fotolia.comA few weeks back I aknowledged that innovation and Change Can Be Scary for membership organizations. Then a Fast Company article, What Can Steve Jobs Still Teach Us? offered some fresh insight into the innovation debate.

While Steve Jobs was a technology pioneer and possibly “the most influential innovator of our time,” the article’s author, Cliff Kuang, suggests that “Jobs may not  [have been] the greatest technologist or engineer of his generation. But he [was] perhaps the greatest user of technology to ever live.” Jobs understood what users were looking for and it is sugggested that once he stopped micromanaging, he became a sort of “user-experience savant.” He seemed to know intuitively what the user wanted. And while Kuang relates that "What would Steve do?" has long been a mantra at Apple (albeit often unspoken),” I think Jobs was probably asking himself, “what would the user do” or what would the user want?

Applying Jobs' perspective to membership innovation

So you ask, what does this have to do with innovation at membership organizations? With all of the talk about the need to offer member value, it seems to me that many organizations need to step back and – like Jobs would have done – try to empathize with the needs and wants of the average member.

Anna Caraveli (The Demand Perspective) suggests that  Associations need to take this one step further and enable member-led innovation. In her post, Welcome to the Era of the Consumer-Innovator: How to Harness Member Innovation to Improve Results, she notes:

The new path to effective innovation today evolves from the outside in rather than inside out. Instead of viewing member innovations as threats or unworthy of attention, associations must identify those that can serve as potential prototypes for new products and learn how to leverage them to achieve their growth objectives.

Caraveli cites an article in the Sloan Review, The Age of the Consumer-Innovator, that suggests the consumers-as-innovators pattern has led to the framing of a new innovation paradigm,” and explains how “some of the recommendations in the article can be adapted by associations and used as guidelines for leveraging member-based innovation to develop profitable products and services.” Here are a few of her suggestions for enabling member innovation:

  • Re-think how your association develops new products, business lines or delivery mechanisms: Instead of merely relying on staff and volunteers for new product ideas, restructure all your R&D processes to identify and take advantage of member innovations as central engines for growth.
  • Support user innovation: The article advises to “create documented, open interfaces to support modifications to your products; create “developers’ toolkits” to assist further; and create websites so that users with common interests can more easily share information and innovate together.”

To see all of Caraveli’s suggestions, check out her blog post – here.

Listening to members - or in our case, clients

So how exactly can you support user or member innovation? At Wild Apricot, we rely on our users or clients to help lead the way in terms of product change and innovation. As I noted in a post back in September on Forums,  we actively seek input and collaborate with customers in the development process through our User Community Forums – including our WishList and General Discussion forums. As we plan enhancements to the Wild Apricot Membership Management software, we look to the Wishlist forum threads and survey comments to identify and/or prioritize product innovation.

There are a number of ways that your organization could elicit your members’ ideas regarding innovation of products, services, events or other activities. You could consider starting a forum discussion, or create an online survey or even a blog post with specific questions that could be answered through comments.

How does your organization promote or enable member innovation? We’d love to hear your ideas so leave us a note in the comments below.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 14 November 2011 at 9:30 AM

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