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Innovating in compartments

sheahan springtime 1.jpg

Association professionals who missed Peter Sheahan's general session presentation at last year's ASAE Annual Meeting had a chance to catch him today at ASAE's Springtime Expo. After speaking broadly about innovation last August, Sheahan narrowed in on innovation within association meetings Thursday, appropriate for the crowd of meeting planners and meetings industry professionals.

Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, acknowledged that innovation within meetings can be difficult, particularly when, for many associations, conferences and events are cash cows. While industry data shows meetings are recovering following the recession, the time to innovate is when life is good, he said. "Will it be easier to innovate now, or in five years?" he asked.

So, how to innovate within meetings without harming something that already works? Sheahan recommended "compartmentalization" of innovation. That's a big word, but it's about innovation on a small scale: Don't change every element of your meeting; instead, just pick one small part to try something new. By keeping change to one "compartment," you also keep risk confined to that one area. If it bombs, the rest of the meeting is still safe.

This concept sounds a bit like "incremental change," but it differs in an important way. While incremental change involves small changes across the board, compartmentalization focuses change in a specific aspect of a meeting. Within that aspect, though, the change can be as small or big as you want, and it allows you to put enough energy into that change to make it great. When you try to change everything at once instead, you end up with everything being "kind of good, but nothing great," Sheahan said.

Lest you think innovation isn't already happening in association meetings, Sheahan cited three examples from articles Associations Now:

As he concluded and sent meeting professionals off to the Expo, Sheahan reiterated his message on compartmentalization with a simple thought: "If you were to pick one element of your annual meeting to innovate, what would that element be?"


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