Archive for the 'Innovation' Category


Change is good…right?

innovationLeaves change. People change. And yes, businesses change.

But what about associations?

Most of us realize innovation is key to driving a business forward. New ideas, new inventions, new strategies, new operating plans. The options are limitless – even for associations.

Associations aren’t often regarded as agents of change, but recently, Marketing General Inc., in conjunction with the National Business Aviation Association, polled association professionals to learn how they set innovation goals, how they support innovation, what rewards and recognition they offer and how they set metrics for innovation.

Nearly 350 associations participated in the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report, which found most associations are at least moderately innovative. That’s a recent development, however, as most didn’t start focusing on innovation until the past five years.

According to the survey, association innovation tends to focus around a few main areas: website and social media; conventions, conferences and seminars; education programs; and membership, technology and marketing (56 percent each).

the-secret-of-innovative-companiesIn addition, associations reported that innovation flows from the top down, with CEOs and other leaders serving as the primary drivers of new thoughts and ideas. In addition, collaboration and communication and encouragement are the most common ways associations support innovation.

And it seems there’s not much middle ground. Associations either fully support innovation or not at all. At the same time, there are challenges – lack of resources being No. 1. Also, most associations don’t set goals to achieve innovation and often, there aren’t reward programs for striving toward and achieving innovation – perhaps because it’s an expectation, and, in some cases, a culture.

Other key findings:

  • Changes in the industry or profession and technological developments are the biggest motivators for adopting innovation.
  • Among organizations that have rallied around innovation, communication has been key to getting everyone on board. Permission to take risk also plays a major role in getting personnel on board with innovation.
  • Those organizations with a specific system tend to handle new ideas in a variety of ways: 50 percent rely on staff initiative; 48 percent have a special committee or group; and 41 percent develop new ideas with the CEO.
  • Increased member engagement is the most common way to measure innovation efforts.
  • In those organizations where innovation is not supported, respondents cite departments and people being very siloed as a principal cause for the lack of support.

Creating Conscious Meetings


Holly Duckworth

This month’s guest blog post is by Holly Duckworth, a keynote speaker and consultant. She’s the author of the award-winning book, “Ctrl+Alt+Believe: Reboot Your Association for Success.” Follow her on Twitter: @hduckworth.

As you look around it doesn’t take long to recognize the world of business is evolving. What used to be “woo woo” spiritual practices like meditation, essential oil and choosing holistic foods, is becoming more main stream.

As such, “same old” meetings will no longer work. Now, participants demand a deeper connection to self and to the experts in their field. And CEOs must create companies that reflect what they believe in order to keep the highest levels of talent.

At the same time, hotels and venue partners are struggling to create open spaces that support connection in this new way.

I have been active in the meetings industry since 1999 so I’ve had a front row seat to watch this happen. The most successful meetings now reflect the societal evolvement toward mindful business, and that’s where I step in. I use spiritual tools (meditation, visioning, affirmations, intentions, essential oils) to shift the consciousness in meetings/business from fear to faith.

Time for a New “Woo & Wow” Conversation

By spirituality, I don’t mean religion. Instead, I approach spirituality as a broad concept with room for many perspectives — a sense of connection to the wholeness of life. Meetings are a universal human experience —something that touches us all. How can we get conscious about co-creating more mindful, meaningful and powerful soul-connecting meetings? First we must give permission to connect to our own soul.

Try this “woo woo” on for size:

Accept the authenticity of your feelings in the moment. Feel your feelings fully and allow yourself to recognize this is how you feel in this moment, without self-judgment. Ask for help. Don’t assume people around you are too busy or unwilling to help. A two-minute closed-eye meditation at your desk can help you get more clear about who you are, what you need and what your meeting attendees desire.

Breathe in and out. Focus on feeling the air come in your nose and out your mouth. Repeat this several times. This can center your energy on what is truly important. Have you tried essential oils? Simply putting a little lemon essential oil on your wrists can elevate your mood; a little lavender can calm you.

Choose compassion toward yourself. When you take a moment to realize just how wonderful, capable and amazing you really are, you inspire others to show compassion toward themselves and it becomes reciprocal. Use an affirmation to focus in a positive direction. My favorite saying is, “Success is all I see; success is all I feel; success is all I know in my business and life.”

I believe it’s time to have a new conversation in the meetings business. Meetings are a key contributor to conversations and social change and we are living in an era when social change is rampant. The illusion of a division between church and state is that — an illusion. Equal rights, marriage equality, globalism and technology are all working to evolve the consciousness of the planet. Younger employees require bringing their heart and spirit to the work they do — and the meetings they attend.

My work as a CMP, meeting professional, CAE, association executive and licensed religious science practitioner trained in using spiritual tools and traditions positions me to be a clearinghouse for this new conversation.


One slice is enough

info-overload-21-300x300Most moms are multitaskers. For example, we can cook dinner, help our kids with their homework and check our email….until dinner burns or the kids cry because while trying to reply to an email you forgot how to perform the “new” way of division.

Sound familiar? Yeah…maybe mom multitasking is a farce. Or least overrated.

And the kids? Why can they only do one thing at a time? Isn’t it possible to pick up their shoes while on their way to the shower?

Maybe not. Maybe it’s a case of brain overload.

There is a ton of research on how the brain works and how we learn. Some educational and training professionals tout the benefits of “chunking” information into small segments while others, like learning company Rapid Learning Institute, believe focusing on one concept may be the most effective learning strategy.

In a video that was recently pitched to me, Stephen Meyer, CEO of RLI, discusses single-concept learning.

Single-Concept Learning Online Training Technique_Page_1“We start small by isolating a single, compelling concept – we call it a thin slice – and we build a short module around that concept,” Meyer said.

“Thin slicing” is a psychological concept. It refers to the brain’s ability to digest thin slices of information in narrow windows of learning. By doing so, learners draw conclusions from this limited information and come away with a powerful learning experience.


Since learners have a specific learning objective, they’re less overwhelmed and therefore more enthusiastic about diving in.

Secondly, thin slicing avoids brain overload. So, remember that chaos in the kitchen I referenced above…yeah, that doesn’t happen. Meyer calls it “cognitive noise,” which sounds about right.

And finally, thin slicing only requires learners to remember just one idea – an idea that is well fleshed out, focused and specific.

“With thin slicing, learners are less likely to disengage because everything they encounter on their learning journey is directly related to one concept,” Meyer said. “So knowledge retention, which is the Holy Grail in training, is much more likely to be high as well.”

slice-of-pieThe thin-slice approach to learning can be a game-changer for managers, Meyer said. Like their pupils, managers are less likely to become overwhelmed and can focus solely on training.

So, the next time you’re planning a learning program, think about offering just a thin slice of the pie, rather than the whole pie.

Remember the Nov. 24 blog post about trimming the fat? Sounds like that theory aligns well with thin-slice learning.




Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – December edition

Aaron new photo

Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president, Event Garde

Q & A with Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president of Event Garde

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Event Garde’s four-year anniversary, this month’s Event Garde-ian of the Month is Aaron Wolowiec.

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us. As we go into 2016, we’d like to know what you think… how are we doing? Are we providing you with helpful resources? What would you like to learn? Please complete the brief survey by Dec. 8 and you could win some Event Garde schwag!

Q: As the year winds down, and you reflect on the successes of Event Garde, of what are you most proud?
A: As I look ahead to our fourth anniversary (Dec. 8), I’m most proud of the brand we’ve built (and continue to build). Just four short years ago Event Garde was nothing more than a seedling. It didn’t even seem real. With time, hard work and dedication, we’ve watched it grow and bloom. Today, its sturdy roots within the association community represent an established place where people naturally congregate for professional development advice and support. I am grateful every day for the opportunity I’ve been given to do the work I love with people I respect.

Q: What one piece of advice would you share with your colleagues?
A: Struggle. But not necessarily to sign the next client or to cash the next paycheck. Struggle to find balance between work and everything else. Remember to routinely put time and energy into the things that mean the most to you: family, friends, health and hobbies. You’ll come to regret it if you don’t.

Q: What do you think is Event Garde’s biggest strength?
A: Our commitment. Our commitment to people and relationships. We plan events and programs with an emphasis on providing networking environments and opportunities for program attendees and participants. And individually, we belong to networks and organizations that enhance our personal and professional goals. Our commitment to learning and professional development.  We are educators and we are educated. As responsible contributors to our industry, we participate in professional development while also planning it. And finally our commitment to learning transfer. We realize the needs and wants of an industry that experiences ups and downs and use our collective and individual experiences and knowledge to foster performance improvement.

Q: What’s in store for Event Garde for 2016?
A: A major theme for the Event Garde team in 2016 will be collaboration. We are partnering with a number of leading industry experts both to create new content and to deliver exceptional client deliverables and experiences.

Q: And, finally, how will you be celebrating the holidays?
A: I’ll be celebrating the holidays in and around my new home in Kalamazoo with family and friends — and painters. Not only is every weekend already booked up with holiday parties and gatherings, but the entire inside of my home will be painted later this month, as well.


Time to cut the fat

cutting-fat-thumb18752006Like most businesses, associations have a lot of bulk. Maybe that’s because it’s hard to trim the fat.

That said, eliminating wasted efforts and minimizing defects can lead to new products and innovations, according to a new whitepaper by Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, and Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, director of information systems for National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

From the whitepaper: “Is there a process that can help associations achieve our missions, stay in business, find problems worth solving and make a real and meaningful difference for our members, achieving the sustainable, dynamic impact we seek? Your authors would argue that there is: lean startup methodology, as most fully developed and articulated by Eric Ries in his 2011 book ‘The Lean Startup.’”

Elizabeth Engel

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

I asked Engel to break it down for us, and following is our Q & A. Thanks to Engel for her contribution!

Q: How would you simply explain lean startup methodology?
A: Lean startup is an innovation system developed by Eric Ries that came out of his experiences with lean process improvement, which is all about reducing waste and defects and working more efficiently and effectively. Ries had an insight: It doesn’t matter how quickly you’re moving if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Lean startup methodology is designed to help make sure you’re going the right way and going there quickly and efficiently.

Q: Why is it important?
A: To quote Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, my co-author, “There’s no bigger waste than investing resources working on the wrong thing.”

Lean startup methodology has been being used not just in startups, but also in more conventional for-profit business, for several years. And that makes it easy for associations to dismiss: “We aren’t a startup – or even a for-profit. This isn’t for us.”

Guillermo and I would argue that associations share a key characteristic with startups: tight resources (and by that, we mean human as well as financial resources). Those perpetually tight resources are precisely why this methodology is so useful for our community.

Q: How do you think associations, specifically, could benefit from practicing this methodology?
A: In associations, decision-making is often driven by anecdotes, untested assumptions and the HIPO (highest income/influence person’s opinion). “One of our board members talked to a member who said she wants X so therefore everyone must want X and therefore we have to go build X immediately.”

But are you sure you’re solving a real problem that’s important to at least one of your key audiences, in a way that’s useful and makes sense to them – and that they’re willing to pay?


Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, director of information systems for National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

That very situation was what sparked Guillermo’s interest in lean startup methodology. His association, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, is one of the case studies in the whitepaper, and he relates two stories: one of a project that took place before NCARB starting using lean startup that was NOT the right problem, the right audience or the right solution; the second of a project after NCARB “saw the light” that was far more successful for them.

Q: Walk me through the build-measure-learn cycle…what’s involved?
A: The build-measure-learn cycle is the core of the methodology.

In lean startup, you build first. That means you’re trying to get the Minimum Viable Product (that is, the minimum version of the product you can build with the smallest investment of resources and effort that would still be real enough to let you start testing your assumptions) out to your audience as quickly as possible. No theorizing or speculating, no “stealth mode,” no working for two years on creating the absolute perfect thing (that you then discover no one wants). You build a prototype and get people using it and offering feedback as quickly as you can and with as small an investment of resources as possible.

Next, you measure. You’ve identified a problem you think might be worth solving, and you have a hypothesis about what the right solution might be. Now you have to test whether your hypothesis is correct. You have to identify and track a few key measures that will prove – or disprove – your theory.

That testing leads to learning. Did you identify something that’s a real and important problem? Are you targeting your solution at the right audience? Does your solution work and make sense for them, at a price they’re willing to pay?

The only way to reliably answer those questions is to let people use your product and find out what they think and how they act. That information feeds back to your team so you can get closer to where you should be going in your next MVP iteration.

Q: Change can be scary. So what do you think is the best first step?
A: First of all, the whitepaper is just a primer on lean startup methodology and is designed to introduce the concept to association executives and hopefully pique their interest in learning more. If that’s you, I’d strongly encourage you to read some of the more extensive treatments of lean startup we share in the bibliography, to get some formal training (and we share sources in the conclusion) or to join a local lean startup MeetUp group for peer-to-peer learning.

Beyond that, start small, with something that lies completely in your own area of responsibility and is relatively low profile. Once you have a few examples of how the methodology works, it’s time to start sharing your story.

Q: Let’s say associations are ready to start with lean. How do they achieve buy in from the board of directors? members? staff?
A: It’s all about being able to demonstrate that the methodology works, which is different from building the perfect product right out of the gate.

To quote two of the other key thinkers in lean startup, Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer: “It’s liberating to recognize that no human being can guess correctly when you face uncertainty, and that part of the process is making changes to adjust to these inevitable errors.”

That’s what’s so powerful about lean startup: You are not going to get it right all the time. This methodology is built on that fact and structured to help you move as quickly and efficiently as possible from “here’s an interesting idea” to “here’s a program, product or service that we know – because we’ve been testing it all along the way – our audiences want, need, will use and will pay for.”

LeanstartupQ: And finally, what are two or three takeaways from your research that you’d like to share?
A: I’d strongly encourage people to download the whitepaper – it’s free – and read the stories of four associations we interviewed, all of which are using lean startup. It’s eye opening to see how this methodology works in real situations, where your peers are using it to help their organizations provide better service for their members and other audiences and invest their resources more efficiently and effectively.

Second, one of the concerns we’ve heard over and over from associations is: “What about our brand?” Again, quoting Guillermo: “In associations, we tend to worry that releasing a half-baked program will negatively impact the brand. I would argue that doing the same thing year after year without changing also negatively impacts your brand.”

Also, you have to realize that lean startup may not be suitable for every single initiative of your association or for every single audience – it’s hard to create a Minimum Viable Certification. Some of your members will not be O.K. with beta-testing a new product for you. But some will love that and leap at the opportunity to co-create a new service with the association. It’s up to you to find those people, who are your champions and allies in this.


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – September edition

Cora Geujen

Cora Geujen, director of event planning, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa

Q & A with Cora Geujen, director of event planning, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa

Q: If you could live someone else’s life for a day, who would it be, and why?
A: Princess Catharine’s, of course. For the hair and wardrobe.

Q: What’s your spirit animal, and why?
A: The first animal that popped into my mind was a tigress; I’m fierce when needed, protective of my team and always in the background to keep informed of what’s going on with my team. But of course I had to take an Internet quiz and it turns out I identify with the butterfly, with a secondary connection to the tiger. Go figure.

Q: Chocolate, strawberry or vanilla ice cream, and why?
A: Chocolate with a side of mint chips. Because I’m fresh.

Q: Which adjectives best describe you?
A: Snarky…

Q: If you could eat only one food for a week, what would it be, and why?
A: My mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing. It tastes like family and transports me back to my childhood.


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – July edition

Allison McClintick

Allison McClintick, CEO/leader development specialist, FlightLead Consulting

Q & A with Allison McClintick, CEO/leader development specialist, FlightLead Consulting

Q: Would you rather sky dive, bungee jump or climb to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and why?
A: If the goal is to put myself into cardiac arrest, I would say all three! All those choices seem equally terrifying because I am totally not OK with being in the air like that! I would rather check out all the sacred Native American sites in America or camp in Yellowstone or tour all of America’s national parks! When it comes to adventure, I am a “feet on the ground” girl!

Q: It’s almost 4th of July! Which type of firework best represents your life?
A: I am split on this one. A very real part of me would be best represented by an M-80 – you know the ones that just go off and sound like a bomb? I can be very aggressive, loud and startling! The other part of me would love to be represented by a colorful sparkler – long-lasting, non-threatening and fun to hold and run around with!

Q: If you could live your life as an animal, what would you be, and why?
A: I would be very curious to live out my life as a dolphin. These animals are wicked smart and I feel there is a whole world of mystery and magic down there that we don’t know about. Their language is so complex – scientists say they may have even more evolved intuition and emotional intelligence than humans. That would be incredible! And because I feel like two totally different people in my life, I would not hate being on a wild horse in the 1800s Wild West. How amazing would that be?

Q: Again… it’s almost a holiday, so what’s your favorite picnic food?
A: The only reason why I don’t eat certain picnic foods is because they are usually awful for you. But everyone knows that calories don’t count on a holiday, so bring it!

Q: If I were writing a book about your life, what would the title be, and why?
A: Oh, this is easy. “Rebel With a Cause.” I am a serious pain in the neck. I have never done things the way people expect; I have always fought against conformity in its many manifestations; and I feel pretty comfortable with what I was put here to do. I don’t intentionally set out to be a rebel, but it has always worked out that way! Only took me 39 years to figure out how to make it work out for me!

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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