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May 22, 2007

The imagination deficit has many causes

Originally uploaded by peggy..
Jeff De Cagna risks offending association professionals and volunteers by stating that the association community may be experiencing an imagination deficit. As an association professional, I don't feel attacked. Jeff believes that the cause of this deficit may be due to an over-reliance on data-driven strategies to guide association decision-making.

I have some other thoughts on sources of the imagination deficit.

In addition to the new orthodoxy on data-driven strategies, which I agree is an obstacle to true creative thinking, I believe the imagination deficit is exacerbated by the defensive nature of many associations. Many act as if they exist simply to defend ground taken long ago. I believe that thinking in a defensive mode trains the brain to conclude that "This is as good as it can possibly get. We have to protect what we've got, because things aren't going to get better."

At my association, we naturally tend to describe our activities as defending against one thing or another. I consistently ask my team mates to change this language to "advancing" or "advocating" our cause or mission. I personally find that this subtle language and mindset shift -- going from defense to offense -- has a powerful effect on our creative potential. On offense, we imagine more possibilities and fewer consequences.

I also cast blame for the imagination deficit on fear. Fear is a result (or maybe the cause) of defensive thinking. Despite the lip service paid to innovation in associations, in these same conversations I hear many association executives implicitly express fear of failure. This fear seems to paralyze them and some are therefore hesitant to try new things. Sure, they incrementally improve processes and call it innovation, but this falls far short of the kind of revolutionary innovation that will will be needed take associations into a more successful future.

I'm sure there are other causes, too, but these came to mind.



Matt said...

I am going to chalk it up to fear of change. It reminds of the old Wayne's World movie where Rob Lowe tells Garth they want to change a few things with the show and his reply is "We fear change." Some of that is a fear of failure, but some is a fear of success. If this works, members will expect us to do more, and do it everywhere and we don't have the capacity.

I get made fun of for my "ideas of the week" by my wife. Some are utter genius while others ridiculous. I probably have 10 a day, but only about 1 a week makes the cut to get acted on. Why not just start your own staff message board for nutty ideas and see what sticks?

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Ben Martin, CAE said...

Party on, Wayne! I have an "idea folder" on my desk. I put all my ludicrous ideas in there for later action.

CAEKris said...

How about some tried and true favorite attitudes that stifle innovation and immagination - here are my top four - I know there are more:

"Because we've always done it this way" - need I say more? This is a well known excuse that stifles any sort or creativity. Just because you've done it this way, doesn't mean that it is the best way, or that it is time to adapt or modify.

"Our members are slow to change and won't get it" - my response - but what about your newer/younger members who are already changing and leaving you behind? You are making yourself irrelevant to the future members of your industry/profession. Guaranteed irrelevance - remember the buggy whip?

"How can we guarantee that it works" - my response - there are no guarantees in life, but if you don't take a chance, you will never grow and adapt. Innovation and immagination is a risk, but at some point you need to take the leap and try something new.

"But we can't afford to do it" - my response - Can you afford not to?

I'm sure there are more, but these are my top four that I fight everyday. The association profession needs to wake up and realize that the business world is travelling faster than ever before and unless we adapt accordingly, the for-profit world can and will find ways to replace us. Lack of immagination leads to leack of innovation, leads to irrelevance.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Kris, awesome comment. Jeff De Cagna often says that even if your association has been around 100 or more years, you have no guarantee of future success. Part of me wonders if an association's likelihood of future success is INVERSELY proportional to the number of years it has been in business...