The year was 1974. The commercial was Burger King’s. “Have it your way … have it your way…”
Not the cleverest lyrics, but perhaps the most prophetic jingle, foreseeing a time when we would want it all our way, all the time.
And that’s what we expect now.
The idea of six degrees of separation seems almost quaint when we are all just a few clicks apart. We are explorers in a world of unprecedented engagement. Thanks to the Internet, we can get to whoever we want, whatever we want, however we want it. Our access has only fueled our impatience. We want specifically what we want immediately. The power to define what we need to know …what is important …what is a priority …has shifted from the institutional to the individual.
Any group that delivers information has to 86 the Blue Plate Special and offer a smorgasbord. We may be as hungry for information as we have ever been. We’re just finicky, free-range consumers.New possibilities shaping how we seek and exchange information are at the heart of three trends reshaping associations.
Trend 1: Servant-Leader-Members
In “Good to Great”, Jim Collins popularized the idea of servant-leaders. These are the inspirational figures that prioritize connection, well-being and good stewardship over power and control.
Forward-thinking organizations are beginning to recognize their membership as a brain trust that can serve as an asset to the wider world. For example, the Institute of Food Technologists is an organization of food scientists responsible for everything from Twizzlers to astronaut meals. In the last decade, the IFT has broadened its vision to ask: How can our specialized knowledge benefit the world? How can our expertise solve the problem of feeding 9 billion people by 2050?
Former exec Barbara Byrd Keenan did not wait to be consulted. She took ownership of the issues by initiating summits with multinational aid organizations to explore the interlocking demands for food, energy and water. By giving her membership a voice in debating global issues, she enhanced the power and prestige of her organization. By making members servants, she also made them leaders.
Trend 2: Content Harvesting
A key responsibility for membership organizations in the past was to prepackage knowledge in magazines, newsletters and conferences. For decades, this was the most efficient way to capture and share knowledge with large groups. Everyone got the same message at about the same time.
Web-based content has freed us from the production and logistics costs of traditional publishing but it has also allowed people to seek information based on their specific interests and priorities, finding what they want when they want it. Members now harvest knowledge to meet their needs, which could reflect a desire for education, a passionate interest, or problem-solving in a specific situation.
Bookselling giant Amazon is a good example of how we have thrown away the prepackaging we used to take for granted. You don’t thumb through a catalog. You browse the site, directed to media of interest by the search terms you select. You may also choose to see purchases made by others who share your interests, exposing you to material you may want but didn’t previously know existed.
Associations now have to recognize that what is available – and how it is available – can no longer be preordained by what is convenient to the provider. Members are harvesting their own content.
Trend 3: Self-organizing Communities
Most organizations still plan conferences and meetings far in advance. Themes, speakers and venues are locked a year ahead, or even more. The organization controls who meets, when and where – or so they think. It is not a very agile arrangement.
Now people connect with each other through social media. Not only can we find each other, we can also find each other within the larger context, such as a conference.Birds of a feather have “meetings within the meeting” geared to specific needs. Organizations that make it easier for members to identify commonality and connect are providing added value.
In some instances, an organization may also extend value by making it easier for practitioners who are not members, such as professionals in closely related fields, to share knowledge. So for example, the American Geophysical Union may make it easier for those who are not earth and space scientists but share common interests (say, hydrology, global warming and volcanoes) to come together to address immediate issues or engage in ongoing professional exchange.
Burger King has brought the “have it your way” slogan back twice. It’s what advertisers call “sticky” – memorable and compelling. But it’s nice to know that the idea born of the Me Generation has also evolved to something bigger and better. It’s not just about building custom burgers; it’s building just-in-time knowledge for customized value generation.