Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Association Leadership: Lessons from Twinkie, Kodacrome & Blackberry

Well, it’s happened again! Another iconic brand has bit the dust. Over the weekend, Hostess Brands – maker of iconic treats such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread – closed up shop.

Lots of people are speculating the cause of the Twinkie failure: high labor costs, incompetent management, failure to keep up with trends (toward healthier snacks).

I wish Hostess was an exception. In reality, it joins a long list of iconic American brands in the ash-heap of creative destruction.
• Kodak
• Oldsmobile
• Newsweek (print edition)
Others (like Blackberry and the U.S. Postal Service) are floundering and struggling to adapt in time to avoid going out of business.

Disruptive change surrounds us.
Look at the global cell phone business: According to Fast Company, “Just five years ago, three companies controlled 64% of the smartphone market: Nokia, Research in Motion (Blackberry) and Motorola. Today, two different companies are at the top of the industry: Samsung and Apple. This sudden complete swap in the pecking order of a global multibillion-dollar industry is unprecedented.”

Do we think associations are immune to these cataclysmic changes?

It appears 2012 is ending as it began: major changes, creative destruction, failure to adapt. I’ve written on this topic throughout 2012:
After reading my 4/4/12 post, Jeff De Cagna(@pinnovation) commented:

"The critical lesson of the Kodak and RIM situations is the same: organizations cannot afford an on-going systemic failure to identify and push back against disruption in their ecosystems, or they will be disrupted. If associations are going to avoid this same fate, they must start asking different questions:
  • What is it going to take for our association to thrive over the next decade and beyond? (You cannot begin to answer this question unless you develop both deep insight on the business and meaningful foresight around shifts in the environment.)
  • As disruption occurs in our strategic context, who are our future stakeholders and what outcomes will they want to achieve? (We need to invest a great deal more in building future market share, and less in protecting legacy market share that is already beginning to disappear.)
  • What organizational capabilities do we need to create and deliver new value in this context? (Associations must build more flexible business models that can adapt to new conditions.)
  • When we get it wrong, how will we use what we learn from failure to make better decisions going forward? (We must get really good at translating our inevitable mistakes into actionable learning.)
  • It's 2012 and time for association leaders to stop wondering whether the "tidal wave" is headed toward their organizations. It is already here. The challenge now is to stop thinking about how to tweak for relevance (see Kodak and RIM) and start thinking about how to disrupt the status quo before forces beyond our control completely disrupt our organizations.
What steps should you be taking?

  1. Take time to look (with eyes of an outsider) at current and future changes within your industry or profession that could affect it as well as your organization:
  • Competing organizations (for profit as well as not-for-profit).
  • Changing techniques, technology or demographics within your industry or profession.
  • Generational shift in your membership including those working within your industry or profession.
     2. Examine what is going on in society that impacts your industry or

  • Mobile technology.
  • Generational shift in terms of networking and connectivity tools they use/prefer.
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that could change expectations for your association’s education, meetings, etc.
     3. Adapt, adopt and take risks:

  • Many association leaders seem paralyzed by the rapid changes. 
  • Some seem to be held back by slow-moving bureaucracies and/or stifling board systems that make it difficult to change.
Remember the advice of Will Rogers ...
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

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