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As organizations plan for the next year, understanding the importance of strategy can go a long way. Not only does it help associations see their weak points, but it works to reframe their thinking, rebuild their structure and restart innovation. 

In a recent interview with McKinsey & Company, digitalNow Day 2 Keynote Speaker Safi Bahcall shared what organizations should be doing to bring breakthrough innovations to life. 

1. Be Open to New Ideas

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations is finding new ideas. Bahcall, a former biotechnology CEO, said “over the years, as the company grew and went public, I spent a lot of time with R&D companies of all sizes and kept noticing how promising ideas, including ones that could have helped my father, remained trapped inside these organizations’ basements. That stayed with me.”

Ideas can come from anywhere, and it’s important to note that doesn’t just mean within the C-suite. As associations plan for the new year, removing barriers for staffers at every level and implementing strategies to drive innovation can help cultivate an innovative culture – the broader your pool, the more unique perspectives you can expect to see. 

2. Focus on Changing Structure Over Culture

While organizations are deeply committed to their purpose and vision, politics often get in the way. Per Bahcall, “You can see it when the conversation around the watercooler changes from “my project” to “my career.” “What do I need to do to get promoted?”

This focus on personal gain can hinder the mission of the organization as a whole. People in leadership roles may be inclined to shoot down good ideas to ensure they continue to get recognition and move along that career path. 

Focusing on generational projects instead of small, short-term wins and quantifying ideas based on their connection to an association’s mission is critical. 

3. Reward the Right Thinking

A reward system is essential to encourage staff and recognize and encourage others to take intelligent risks. However, organization leaders need to focus on rewarding the right type of thinking. 

An example Bahcall gives is a staff member pointing out a basic error during a committee meeting. While this attention to detail is good and sounds smart, it is not necessarily moving the needle in terms of innovation.

Encouraging staff to push the limits of their thinking and recognizing and rewarding them when they do is essential for the future of any organization. 

4. Make The Roles of Intermediaries Valuable 

The path to innovation generally relies on intermediaries who help relay information between various departments. However, this role is often not taken seriously because the shelf life for that staffer is short either because there is no long-term career path or a lack of recognition to encourage them to stay. 

According to Bahcall, this is a problem because “the liaison needs to understand the skill sets and horizontal influence and the internal product-market fit.”

They play a significant role in the strategy and innovation of an organization, and empowering them as such is essential. One way to do this is with an independent mediator group that gives these liaisons more power to facilitate change in an organization or a full-fledged career path where they can become “program champions.”

5. Don’t Be Discouraged by False Fails 

The “fail fast” mentality is a popular one and has many organizations moving from thing to thing in hopes of finding what works. However, according to Bahcall, slowing down and learning from these failures is just as important. 

“There are many examples of false fails—jet engines, tanks in the military—because you can have a good product, but it needs to be married to a successful strategy. Personal music players existed long before the iPod, but Apple was good at combining product and strategy innovation.”

Innovation starts by asking the right questions: How did we get to a point to launch this idea? What teams were in place to support it? What was the feedback we got from members?

This data can help you flesh out your strategy and make changes for improved success. Understanding your members, their pain points and how they respond to the things your organization is doing will help drive innovation and success. 

“Loonshots,” Safi Bahcall’s first book, has been translated into 18 languages and has been recommended by Bill Gates, three Nobel laureates and Tim Ferriss. He is a keynote speaker at digitalNow 2021 – which is currently open for registration

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
November 7, 2021
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.