Six serious ideas for 2013

2013 is the year when association leaders will need to get serious about transformation. So as the year begins in earnest, I want to share six ideas on which I will focus my attention over the next 12 months. These are high impact ideas for association leaders who are serious about taking their organizations to the next level. I look forward to your questions, as well as your thoughts on how these ideas may reshape your association’s work in the year ahead.

+Emergent orthodoxies–Since the August 2012 release of my e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future, I have been reflecting on the negative influence of orthodox beliefs on association success. In 2013, association leaders will need to push back on both the entrenched assumptions of years gone by, and the equally questionable beliefs of more recent times–such as free membership as the cure to what ails associations–that have taken rapid hold of our community’s thinking. Emergent orthodoxies can be just as insidious as the deep-seated variety, and must be challenged just as vigorously.

+Value conversations–In November, I began to roll out my new business model design framework for associations called the BMNEXT Design Canvas. At the heart of this fresh way of thinking about business model innovation is the value conversation. In 2013, instead of asserting value propositions, association leaders will need to initiate meaningful value conversations, designed around more powerful and challenging questions, to inspire collaboration and identify hidden assets across the stakeholder networks to which they want to be connected.

+Associative intent–As the technology-driven transformation of the human experience of associating deepens, the stakeholders of the future are trying to evaluate which relationships are worth the investment of their limited, fragmented yet highly valuable bandwidth. In 2013, association leaders will need to dig deeper to understand the associative intent of stretched stakeholders who are working hard to enrich their personal and professional lives, while navigating the severe challenges of a highly competitive and complex world.

+SED (Serendipity, Empathy and Discovery)–Over the first decade plus of the 21st century, we have become all too familiar with the troubling role FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) plays in our society. To be honest, I’m pretty tired of it, so I have coined the term SED to reorient our community’s conversation about the future in a more positive direction. In 2013, I want to challenge association leaders to prepare for the vast serendipity that lives all around them, experience genuine empathy and embrace new possibilities of discovery. To fully capitalize on the power of SED, however, leaders must find the courage to be open, vulnerable and filled with the humility that comes from understanding what they know isn’t as important as what they can learn.

+Strategic legitimacy–One of the six shifts presented in Associations Unorthodox is the need to build strategically legitimate boards. Strategic legitimacy is about demanding association boards rise to the occasion and demonstrate a higher level of performance and effectiveness. In 2013, association leaders will need to make strategic legitimacy a priority by helping their boards develop 1) a clear-eyed recognition of relentless societal transformation, 2) an empathic understanding of the implications of transformation for future stakeholders and 3) a commitment to accelerate the internal pace of progress to integrate purposeful action and profitable growth.

+Progress challenges–In 2013, association leaders need to bring greater intensity to their strategic thinking by concentrating on what I call “progress challenges.” Progress challenges exist at the nexus of the most intractable or “wicked” strategic issues facing an industry or profession, the association’s business model limitations and the most important outcomes the association’s stakeholders are seeking to achieve. Meaningful progress must be made to overcome these challenges if associations are going reach to the next level, and clearly articulated progress challenges provide a platform from which to launch compelling value conversations with stakeholder networks.

I’ll be writing more about these and other serious ideas on the P.I. Blog in the coming months, and I hope you’ll join the conversation. If you’re not already an email or RSS subscriber, I invite you (and your network of association colleagues) to start off 2013 on the right foot and sign up today!

Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.


  1. Jeff,

    Another great and inspiring post. Agree 1000% about need for Associations to fundamentally rethink their business models. Also love SED – Serendipity, Empathy, Discovery as antidote to FUD. I am fan of most of your resources listed and your work on Business Model Innovation. Hope you have a terrific 2013!

  2. Loving SED! FUD doesn’t exactly make you want to get up every morning and keep trying to make the world a better place.

  3. Very interesting; we have the value discussion every day in the office.

    • Hi Dave! Thanks for your comment. It’s great that you’re talking about value in your office, but you need to do more. Value conversations are designed around powerful questions that challenge you to connect more deeply and more empathically with your stakeholders of the future. Value conversations need to be inclusive and generative, leading you, your team and your stakeholders to do some of the deepest thinking you’ve ever done about these relationships and the value they can create.

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