Change and the disruption it often creates is inevitable in the association world. But, how can associations harness the potential change brings and not get lost in the chaos it creates? The answer, according to Daniel Burrus, is by becoming an anticipatory organization (AO). A leading futurist on global trends and innovation, Burrus is the author of The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage, which offers strategies for how organizations can transition from a reactionary to an anticipatory mindset so change creates opportunity and advancement, not chaos.
How can an organization—heath care, trade, or technology in either the for-profit or not-for-profit sector—identify and plan for trends that have the potential to disrupt their business?
We often think about agility in planning and being responsive to what’s coming, but what if the future were a bit more predictable than that?
Burrus describes three types of change—cyclical, linear, and exponential—that all organizations experience and can actively plan for. Cyclical change describes things that are reoccurring, such as annual membership dues. Linear change is different and applies to forward progression. Once this type of change happens, organizations typically don’t revert back to the old way of doing things, such as the shift in recent years from providing conference attendees with printed program guides to mobile apps. Exponential change, however, describes rapid advancement and development. An example of this can be seen in how many associations have changed the format of their educational offerings from in-person conferences only to on-demand sessions that can be streamed online 24/7 by anyone. Burrus describes the three significant technology disruptors—computing power, bandwidth, and digital storage—as the drivers impacting the speed of digital change, resulting in significant disruptions.
For many organizations, change predictably falls in three areas—demographic, regulatory, or technological—and it’s that predictability that can be turned into an advantage. For example, the increase of CEOs who are retiring can be traced to their generational demographic, baby boomers, having reached retirement age. But, it’s how their organizations plan in advance for that eventual change that turns it into an opportunity (i.e., begin nurturing the development of future CEOs years in advance of the current CEO reaching retirement age). Similarly, board leaders, often representing the same demographic as CEOs, can create opportunities to develop or expand the pipeline for emerging volunteer leaders of their organizations in advance of their departure.
How does this relate to strategic planning?
Strategic planning is the optimal time for boards and organizations to think about and plan for inevitable disruptions. As boards focus on strategic planning, they should re-imagine their organization’s reason for being and consider the following questions: What is the organization’s unique and differentiating value proposition? What are its opportunities for growth? Its mission and vision?
Understanding demographic, technological, and regulatory influences—and how these could create a window of opportunity or risk an organization’s very existence—is vital to creating and sustaining a high-functioning, healthy board.
For member-based organizations, leaders and decision makers must assess what they currently understand about their members, customers, or constituents. All too often, the focus is on a finite number of members based on historical data. Leaders instead need to think about the future of membership and answer these questions:
- What trends can be identified from the past 3 years of data?
- Is membership growing in new categories or regions?
- Are product sales increasing among various audiences?
- How can these trends impact the focus on the future growth of the organization?
How technology has influenced and created new opportunities for growth also needs to be examined. One example is having a responsive website so that members and customers can access content from any smart device. Sure, this ubiquitous access potentially can expand an organization’s audience, but it also can create new levels of competition. How will an organization plan for these changes in order to grow? What risks does an organization accept if they are unprepared for these changes?
What is the key takeaway in all of this?
Change and disruption are inevitable but often predictable. Associations that adopt a forward-looking approach to assessing trends and anticipating disruptions become less reactive and more likely to be the disruptor rather than the disrupted.