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October 06, 2008

Book review: Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders

ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s latest environmental scan was released last month at their annual meeting. This installment of ASAE’s environmental scanning process (new scans are released every three years or so), entitled Designing Your Future (DYF) was conducted by Fast Future, led by Rohit Talwar, a leading futurist.

How does it compare to previous installments? Well, for starters, this new one is much more thorough than the previous, Mapping the Future of Your Association (MFYA). Weighing in at over 200 pages, it’s a bit more than double the length of MFYA, if I recall correctly.
Like MFYA, it neatly categorizes environmental trends into 10 memorable soundbyte-esque “Key Strategic Challenges”:

1. What’s your leadership paradigm—envisioning tomorrow’s association
2. What’s plan B—adapting to a new economic landscape
3. Who’s driving the talent agenda—recruiting and preparing tomorrow’s labor force
4. Who’s the customer—serving an aging, multi-generational and ethnically diverse workforce
5. How do you connect your community—tapping the potential of social networks
6. Where’s the money—responding to shifting patterns of income and wealth
7. How can you exploit new business models—staying responsive and solvent
8. What’s your consumption footprint—facing up to energy and environmental pressures
9. How sustainable are you—managing ethics, transparency accountability and responsibility
10. What’s next on the radar—embedding environmental scanning, scenario planning and what-if thinking

Each of the strategic challenges also offers a few paragraphs worth of narrative describing it in more depth along with a case study from a real-life association situation and key questions to be used in examining the challenge with your association’s staff and board.
Compare this to the eight super trends in MFYA:

Demassifiation The mass market is breaking into smaller pieces, as differences in lifestyles, preferences, and priorities further segment the U.S. population. Customers—members and prospective members alike—in these smaller, more specialized, groups are interested in focused efforts to meet their needs, not in a one size-fits-all package of association products and services.

Unbundling Increased competition is pressuring associations to offer their products and services a la carte rather than as an organized package. Traditional association value propositions—such as fellowship, personal and professional growth, and mutual assistance—must be delivered via specialized, targeted vehicles (the Web, for example).

Scrimping Economically, members—and their employers—are looking for a greater return on their investment in association membership. As unbundling occurs, the risk grows that the association value package will lose its overall appeal.

Wave 3.1 Alvin Toffler’s “Third Wave” concept—the shift from industrial societies to information-based societies—is well underway in Western countries. Information is becoming a profitless commodity. The competitive advantage lies in enriching professional development, learning, connectivity, and life itself through knowledge.

Virtualization A highly mobile society has led to the disintegration of traditional neighborhoods and communities, straining personal relationships, and enhancing the appeal of Web-based “virtual” experiences as a form of fellowship. To maintain their traditional strength as community builders, associations must serve a growing appetite for virtual connections while continuing to offer personal experiences.

Cyber-Mobbing The channels of political influence are broadening to include digital broadcast media that offer specialized forums for political discussion and Web-based communities that practice “swarm advocacy” and “smart mobbing.” To attract support for their positions in this crowded public arena—and to gain the attention of elected officials, regulators, and agencies—associations must develop a creative, multi-pronged, and Web-savvy approach to advocacy.

Scrutiny Both special-interest legislation and litigation are on the rise, and local, state, and federal laws are introducing more aggressive oversight of association activities. As a result, associations must operate transparently, most notably in the areas of governance, advocacy, and political activity.

Counter-Americanism The long-standing dominance of American styles, values, products, and business practices is diminishing with the rise of nationalistic and regionalistic politics (especially in Asia and Europe) and of disagreements with U.S. foreign policy. To operate globally, associations must develop localized models of association culture, governance, politics, and operations.

And that’s all you get about the eight super trends from MFYA. Pretty paltry compared to the latest installment.

DYF also offers tools to help associations make decisions based on the scan’s findings, and in-depth analysis of each of the 50 key trends cited, including a boatload of URLs you can follow to read source materials about the trends. Finally, there are a number of helpful suggestions for how association execs can get started on implementing strategies based on what they learn in DYF.

There's also an interactive web-based trends database that debuted at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, which I cannot locate online right now, but will update this post when I find it.

All in all, this scan stands head and shoulders above MFYA. At $69.95 (and only $54.95 for ASAE members, if I recall correctly) it’s a bargain. This is probably not a document you’ll turn to over and over, but it would definitely come in handy for staff and board planning exercises.

Simply put, if you need an environmental scan focused on the association industry, get this book!

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Peggy Hoffman said...

Good summary - got the book at annual and agree it's a bargain.

Lisa Junker said...

Ben, thank you so much for the detailed review of Designing Your Future! I know the staff who were involved in that project are glad you found it to be a good read.

Just so you know, I checked with them about the trends database you saw at Annual, and they tell me that was a beta test, to gauge interest in that method of delivering information about trends. They're using the results from Annual now to develop a plan for the next stages of their research. I'll be happy to let you know what the plan for the trends database ends up being, once I hear--just let me know if that would be helpful to you.

Tony Rossell said...

It will be interesting to look back at these trends in future years. Interestly, the previous trends that you outlined don't do much for me as I look back now at them now. The current trends sound very much like the headlines of the newspaper the past year. I guess only time will tell. Tony