Thursday, June 14, 2012

Associations: Those who own the future are the ones who create it

Eric Jackson’s piece in Forbes: Here's Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years stimulated my thinking and should yours too especially if your association is more than five years old! 

“We think of Google and Facebook as Web gorillas,” Jackson wrote. “They’ll be around forever. Yet, with the rate that the tech world is moving these days, there are good reasons to think both might be gone completely in 5 – 8 years. Not bankrupt gone but MySpace gone. More and more in the Internet space, it seems that your long-term viability as a company is dependent on when you were born.”
Jackson suggests it is easier to start a new organization than reinvent an old one. Have you experienced that as you attempt to re-energize struggling association programs?

“Think of the differences between generations and when we talk about how the Baby Boomers behave differently from Gen X’ers and additional differences with the Millennials. Each generation is perceived to see the world in a very unique way that translates into their buying decisions and countless other habits.”

Jackson notes that the Internet world has already had 3 generations:
  • Web 1.0 (companies founded from 1994 – 2001, including Netscape, Yahoo! (YHOO), AOL (AOL), Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY)),
  • Web 2.0 or Social (companies founded from 2002 – 2009, including Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LNKD) and Groupon (GRPN)),
  • Mobile (from 2010 – present, including Instagram).

Tim Cooke, CEO of Apple: “In just 2 years after we shipped the initial iPad, we’ve sold 67 million. And to put that in some context, it took us 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years for that many iPods and over 3 years for that many iPhones.”

Jackson notes that “with each succeeding generation in the Internet, it seems the prior generation can’t quite wrap its head around the subtle changes that the next generation brings.”

What does this say to those of us in the association and nonprofit world?

Our challenge: our associations ask board members from the “typewriter generation” to develop/approve programs and services for the “iPad” generation. If you’ve ever been part of a discussion on the “failures” of texting vs real conversation, you know this is nearly impossible. The gulf it too wide.

Jackson says “Organizational ecologists talked about the “liability of obsolescence” which is a growing mismatch between an organization’s inherent product strategy and its operating environment over time.”

When I served on the Alumni Board at Ohio State, our now retired CEO used to say that “alumni associations are 19th century structures trying to operate in the 21st century.” Jackson’s piece in Forbes reinforces this point.

Tweaking and reinventing probably don’t go far enough. Maybe it is time to creatively destroy our existing association models and create new ones for the 80 million millennials coming of age?

What are you and your association doing to create the future?

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