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Change is inevitable, but it’s also uncomfortable. And associations aren’t immune to this reality. 

Embracing change can be challenging, especially for organizations that have been around for a long time and have established ways of doing things.  

But to stay relevant and effectively serve their members, associations need to be adaptable and open to new ideas and approaches. This blog post will explore the Learn/Experiment/Build framework described in “Ascend: Unlocking the Power of AI for Associations” as a tool for associations to navigate change and drive innovation. 

Learn: Emphasizing Continuous Learning 

One of the first steps in preparing for change is cultivating a culture of continuous learning within the association. This involves investing in ongoing education and training for all staff and key volunteer leaders. By encouraging a culture of curiosity and learning, associations can foster an environment where everyone feels encouraged to ask questions, seek new knowledge, and challenge assumptions. 

Associations can facilitate continuous learning by: 

  • Organizing regular training sessions. 
  • Inviting external experts to share insights. 
  • Providing resources for self-guided learning. 

The key is to focus on the act of learning itself, rather than the specific topic being learned. Being a lifelong learner not only allows individuals to acquire new skills and knowledge, but it also makes them more open to accepting new ideas and adapting to change.  

Experiment: Taking Risks and Trying New Approaches 

Experimentation is the next step in the Learn/Experiment/Build framework. Once a culture of learning has been established, associations can encourage their teams to come up with new ideas and test different approaches through experimentation. This involves taking calculated risks and being open to the possibility of failure. 

Associations should create a safe environment where failure is seen as an opportunity for learning and growth, rather than a personal or organizational setback. By encouraging experimentation, associations can explore new ideas and gather valuable insights that can inform future decision-making. It's important to define clear and realistic success criteria for each experiment, allowing for easy measurement and comparison. Celebrate success while also acknowledging and learning from failures. 

Build: Implementing and Scaling Successful Experiments 

The Build phase of the framework involves taking the most promising ideas from the experimentation phase and gradually implementing them within the association. This process should be incremental and measured, ensuring that the impact of each implemented idea is carefully evaluated. 

Associations should track and evaluate the results of their experiments, monitoring their impact on the organization and its members. By focusing on what works best and scaling successful experiments, associations can drive meaningful change and make progress towards their long-term goals. 

Overcoming Obstacles: Governance and Change 

Embracing change is essential for associations, but obstacles may arise along the way. One significant hurdle is the governance model of associations, which can impede meaningful change due to board turnover and lack of continuity. To address this challenge, association leaders can focus on building strong relationships with board members and engaging them in the change process.

  • Understand each board member's individual priorities and concerns and how they align with the association's goals.  
  • Communicate the need for change clearly and effectively, explaining why change is necessary, the benefits it will bring, and how it will be implemented.  
  • Maintain a transparent and honest dialogue with the board regarding challenges and opportunities.

Using the Learn/Experiment/Build model to incrementally show results from small risks and experiments, association leaders can gain the board's trust and support for further investment in new ideas. It is vital to foster a partnership with the board, rooted in clear, measurable, and critical goals. 

As associations embark on their journey of transformation and change, it's essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the potential of AI technologies in driving innovation and growth. To gain insights into how AI can be harnessed for associations, download and read the book, "Ascend: Unlocking the Power of AI for Associations.

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Amith Nagarajan
Post by Amith Nagarajan
July 13, 2023
Amith Nagarajan is an entrepreneur who believes in combining purpose, passion and profit. Amith grew up in Silicon Valley and, in 1993, started Aptify, which is now part of Community Brands. He is the Chairman of Blue Cypress, a family of purpose driven companies which focus on helping associations, non-profits, and other purpose-driven organizations achieve long term sustainability. More at