Association leaders, the time to experiment is right now

By Garth Jordan

Right now, as we face the global pandemic that is COVID-19, our environment offers both the best reason and the best opportunity we’ve ever had for our industry to rapidly experiment with a purpose of spawning transformation and building resiliency.

Right now, we should start planning and executing simple business experiments, carry forward the successes, and make them our new normal.

Our historical business models and products may or may not survive this seismic episode we’re experiencing. What’s certain, though, is we cannot rely on data from the past to inform what our new normal is going to be. We need to become business scientists right now; we need to design and execute experiments to draw new conclusions about what our business models, value delivery, products, services and member experiences should be in the future.

Here are a just a few example ideas to consider:

  • Instead of trying to replace canceled events with a single virtual conference technology or vendor, use this time as an excuse – better yet, an opportunity – to experiment with multiple vendors and digital learning formats. Find business partners who are willing to experiment with you. Your members will understand and forgive the inevitable hiccups that come with experimentation if you let them know you’re playing in the virtual sandbox.
  • Experiment with your staff and members’ ability to use your online community in different ways to solve complex problems. For example, facilitate a Design Thinking process in your online community centered around a challenge that’s common among your members. Being a much more active facilitator of identifying and solving challenges with your community is a new association skillset that benefits everyone.
  • Create an “experiment sponsorship” with your business community. For those businesses who truly support your association, what better way to be a thought-leader in their industry than to financially support a variety of business experiments being run by your association?

Build your business experimentation muscle right now with a few tips:

  • Simplicity rules: For example, don’t try to duplicate an entire annual conference online right out of the box. Instead, find three technologies and/or virtual conference partners and run several formats across a few weeks. Invite members to the experiments and ask for feedback.
  • Go fast, go immediately: You’re looking to test new ideas right now and gain fast feedback. Designing experiments that run for six months and cost a ton of money defeats the purpose.
  • Go big: Experimentation should be boldly designed for leaps, not baby steps. Right now is when our associations’ creativity must shine; planning to learn from mistakes and mishaps we make right now creates the breakthroughs we all need.
  • Be random: If you segment first, you’re losing insight with major populations of your customers. Your random sample can be sliced later, or your experiment can be grown to a larger population.
  • Don’t stop exercising: As you build the experimentation habit, treat it like working out. You lose muscle if you don’t keep exercising. Use COVID-19 as an excuse to become an expert business scientist right now and forever. Your members and your business model will thank you in the long-run.
  • Build an experiment backlog: Design the experiments you want to run, prioritize those experiments based on their value and your capacity/resources, and keep a running backlog. Never, ever, ever be caught without having an experiment with its trigger ready to be pulled.
  • Everybody buys in – like it or not: Don’t ask. Tell your board, your staff, your customers and anyone who will listen that your plan is to be an expert experimenter right now and for the long-haul. It will lead to better ideas and the evolutionary leaps your organization and our industry truly needs.

Acting right now gives our association industry an opportunity to build expertise in experimentation, resulting in the transformation and resiliency we all seek.

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