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"Your future members will work in industries, businesses and organizations that evolve faster in terms of their focus, products, services and mandates" -- Jim Carroll

Over the last 25 years, Jim Carroll has keynoted the annual meetings and conferences for hundreds of associations, with audiences of up to 4,000 people. He has written dozens of articles for association, meeting and event industry publications related to the future of associations. Some of his clients include • National Recreation and Parks Association • Sporting and Fitness Association of America • Texas Cattlefeeders Association • American Association of Preferred Provider Associations • American Marketing Association • Association of Land Surveyors • Utah League of Cities and Towns • Association of Petroleum Landmen • Association of Professional Executives • Confectionery Manufacturers Association • Crop Protection Association • Equipment Leasing Association • International Newspaper Marketing Association • Mechanical Contractors Association • National Association of Fleet Administrators • National Rural Electrical Cooperative • National Rural Telecom Association • Professional Marketing Research Society • Propane Gas Association • Purchasing Management Association • Western Retail Lumbermen's Association • World Congress of Association Executives • Young Presidents Organization .

Recent Posts in the Associations category

Microsoft runs one of the largest training and certification communities in the world, related to its Microsoft Developer program. And they certainly “get knowledge” ; indeed, I often use a quote from the organization that outlines their belief that in the future, half of GDP will be generated from knowledge acquisition and education.

One of the observations from Jim Carroll during his keynote: "How do we test and certify people for jobs and skills that don’t exist yet?"

One of the observations from Jim Carroll during his keynote: “How do we test and certify people for jobs and skills that don’t exist yet?”

That’s why I was thrilled to see that they had some representatives in attendance for my opening keynote in March for the Association of Test Publishers ; folks who manage such things as SAT and LSAT tests, and scores of technical and professional testing programs. I had about 1,000 folks in the room.

Microsoft just ran a blog post over their at their “Born to Learn Training and Certification Community” blog with their thoughts on the conference ; near the end, you’ll find their observations on my talk, which I think offer up a pretty good summary of what I spoke about on stage.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a lot of links on how I view the future of knowledge. Click on the running dude on the right for my thoughts on ‘The Future of Knowledge!”

The Changing Face of Certification, by Liberty Munson – Microsoft

The key note speaker was Jim Carroll, a futurist and author, who spoke at length about the need for our industry to look at the accelerating rate of change around us and embrace it so that our businesses are well positioned for the future.

He repeatedly said “The future belongs to those who move fast.”

Here are some of the challenges we face in the testing industry given that knowledge is being refreshed at an increasing pace and is quickly outdated:

  • How might the acquisition of knowledge be measured in a way that’s both timely and relevant?
  • How do we stay ahead of change? How can we be proactive rather than reactive? How do we keep our assessment content in line with those frequent changes?
  • How do we test and certify people for jobs and skills that don’t exist yet?
  • Today, learners want real-time knowledge ingestion based on video offerings, such as YouTube, Khan Academy, etc. because they have a desire for continuous knowledge replenishment; how do we continually update our offerings to meet this demand?

This session underscored our industry’s (training and certification) need to adapt to the lightning speed at which technology changes and how those changes are affecting our students’ and test takers’ expectations about training and exam content. As I mentioned, this theme/conversation/concern re-asserted itself through many of the sessions as testing organizations struggle with how to manage

  1. the rapid speed with which knowledge and skills become obsolete, and;
  1. the impact that instant availability of information has on candidate expectations (known as “finger tip” knowledge–we don’t have to know the answer…we just need to know where to find it online; in fact, research shows that if someone knows they can find the answer later, they have more difficulty remembering it but have a good memory for how to find it!).

Along these lines, more organizations are looking to gamification (game-based exams) as the next big thing in testing because it can be very engaging and new entrants (in most cases, these are those young whippersnappers just starting out in a field) are largely engrained in the gaming universe in one form or another. I find this concept intriguing and am trying to figure out how Microsoft might apply it to our certification exams. Clearly, there are many hurdles in the implementation of something like this, but the notion of gamification in terms of certification may be one way to start thinking differently about what certification means and what exams might look like.

To me, the conversations around the future of certification are the most intriguing as we explore how to meet the demands of the future and embrace the speed at which technology changes things. After all, “the future belongs to those who move fast.” What do you think the future holds for certification? Where do we go from here? What do you think changes? What stays the same?

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the Membership Management Report about some of the trends and issues that association executives should be thinking about. This came about after their online search discovered the Associations category of my blog. I’ve written a tremendous number of articles about the trends and issues that associations should be addressing as the professions, industries or people they represent under very fast paced changes in terms of skills, knowledge requirements and change. Here’s the article….


How Associations Can Keep Up with Change, Change … And More Change By Dawn Wolfe While even the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus knew the only thing that is ever constant is change, the fact is, in today’s world, the changes are coming faster and more radically than ever before. What can membership associations do to stay alive and thrive in the midst of these challenges? “If I’m in a career that’s being impacted by huge rates of change, whether through technology or learning how to work with the new generation, I want to know how my association can help me deal with that,” says futurist, author and consultant Jim Carroll. According to Carroll, there are three main things associations need to think about to help their memberships professionally — and thus, stay alive:

  1. “Associations frequently do annual meetings and focus major efforts on them, but what about helping members cope with the changes that occur between meetings? To borrow from the Pink Floyd song, we need ‘short, sharp, shock(s)’ of knowledge,” Carroll advises. He adds it’s a good idea to create smaller, issue- focused events throughout the year. “We still need to do the annual events — for a lot of associations, that’s their bread and butter — but you also have to fill a smaller, more strategic role.”
  2. “The second thing,” Carroll continues, “is the speed at which the knowledge in different industries is changing. If you’re in health care — or think of banking: people’s cell phones are becoming their credit cards. I should be able to look to my professional association or chamber of commerce to help me deal with this new technology. Increasingly, your job should be supporting the generation of knowledge.”
  3. Finally, Carroll says associations should be actively looking at their relevance. “I’ve spoken to conference attendees and asked if their profession will even exist 10 years from now. This is really important — are you evolving to meet what’s coming?”

To stay relevant, Carroll advises his clients to, “Challenge yourself to do something different. I go to a lot of association events, and they’re just doing the usual. Are you really thinking through the strategic purpose of your events?” It’s also necessary for associations to rethink everything from the length and frequency of blog posts to how to structure their newsletters. “Everyone is blogging, so associations are blogging. They generally are blogging weekly, but changes are coming on a daily basis. Everything is happening faster, so you have to do things faster,” he says. In addition, Carroll cites the example of his 20-year-old son who “gets his news from Twitter. If you’re thinking the next generation is going to have the attention span to read a 500 to 1,000 word New York Times piece, or even your two-page association newsletter, that just isn’t going to happen.”

The Canadian Society of Association Executives “Association Magazine” has just released their latest edition, which included my article with the title above.

"We will see massive business model disruption as new, faster, more nimble competitors who understand technology based disruption cast aside their slower, ingrained counterparts who are stuck with old, ingrained ideas."

You can grab the PDF of the article at the right on the image. Note that it is English and French.

The article is based on the blog post I wrote back in November last year, shortly after my keynote for the 2011 T. Rowe Price Investment Symposium, where I played into the theme in a big way.

You can read that post here, although the PDF of the article expands on the concepts in a bit more detail.

I’m finding a huge degree of interest in this theme as a speaking topic; actually, quite a few recent keynotes are being entirely built around the theme, since it is such a significant transformative trend.

Essentially, industries used to control their destiny. They could drive the pace of innovation.

That’s not true anymore, and as I have described on stage in the last few weeks to companies in the insurance, banking, credit union, agricultural and other industries — “What happens to you when the pace of innovation begins to occur at the same speed that Apple innovates. Because that is pretty well what is beginning to happen now.”

Read the article. Think about what is happening here.

The future belongs to those who are fast!


Anyone who follows this blog knows that for quite some time, I’ve been putting out a message through a variety of meeting, event, and association publications, that many asssociations really need to pick up the pace in ensuring that they stay relevant to their membership base.

NPR just ran an article, “Time for Associations to Trade in Their Past?“, which covers the issue and quoted some of my observations from a recent article on this issue.

Futurist Jim Carroll, author of Ready, Set, Done: How to Innovate When Faster is the New Fast, says, “Many associations came together to represent a particular profession, area of interest or sport, or for some other reason. Yet that very reason is changing at a furious pace.”

In 2010 Carroll wrote that many of the trade groups “remain stuck in a rut of complacency. They deliver the same old program. They focus on the same old issues, generate the same old knowledge, plan the same old conference, and have their agenda managed by the same old membership has-beens.

“Meanwhile, they bemoan the fact that membership is declining; that the Millennials seem to have little time or inclination to join them; and that the world is just becoming, well, too complex to deal with.

“So they form a committee, hire a consultant, study the issue, and lull themselves into a false sense of future-security.

“By doing so, they are almost guaranteeing themselves a march into oblivion.” If an association “doesn’t evolve at the same pace,” Carroll says today, “or doesn’t keep up, or doesn’t define the future, it risks becoming obsolete.”

One solution: An association must be in the business of providing “just-in-time knowledge” to its members, Carroll says. He defines it as “the right knowledge at the right time for the right purpose for the right strategy, all revolving around the fact that the knowledge is instant, fast and transitory.”

I certainly spend time with a lot of associations; probably half of the keynotes I do are to open or close major association events. I certainly see many who are making great progress in ensuring that they evolve with the times; however, I also see many that aren’t, and I worry about their future.

It’s a theme I’ve covered liberally here, and you can go through my Association Trends page

As an association executive, are you thinking BIG enough?

That’s the challenge I raise in a forthcoming article for the April / May CSAE Association publication, due out in print any minute.

You can get a sneak preview right now!

How small is your world? Are you thinking BIG enough?

Here’s how I close the article.

There is a lot of transformative change that is underway. This is no time to think “small.” This is the time in which you need to be thinking “big.” How “small” is your world? Do you have a narrow view of opportunity? The reality is that right now, thinking BIG in terms of opportunity and the future will be crucial to your future success.

What does that does it mean for your future? In the old days, companies had “industries” that they worked within, “markets” that they sold into, and “business models” that they pursued. Assumptions that drove their decisions. And associations that represented them in a world that moved relatively slowly.

Every single assumption that you might have about your future could be wrong. Challenge those assumptions, think about the rapidity of future trends, innovate — and you’ll find the growth opportunities that seem to elude so many others.

Think about this NOW!


Last year, I was the opening keynote speaker for the 2010 International Association of Conference Centersl my focus was on the future of the meetings and events industry (in which, as a keynote speaker, I play a frequent role.)

Jim Carroll's thoughts on the future of the global meetings industry

I just found that they ran a report on my talk, and it’s a good summary of what I believe to be the key trends driving this industry forward. It was a fairly accurate overview, in that signs for 2011 are that by and large, many aspects of the global meetings and events industry, though still challenged, are bouncing back from their lows of 2009 and 2010.


From IACC’s CenterLines Publication

Futurist Jim Carroll confidently assured his audience of IACC conferees that their bread & butter – face-to-face meetings – is not leaving the business landscape.

The words of his Thursday morning keynote were music to the ears of an audience that is battling business downturns. Carroll said he’d lived through five recessions and the thing they have in common is that they all are temporary.

What happens with an economic correction, even a significant one?” Carroll asked. “We always get to the point where we see articles about economic growth. The collective sense in this room is that we’ll see this happen in six months to two years. … We know how this movie ends.”

While acknowledging the wonders of evolving technology and the specter of developments not yet imagined, Carroll said the need to meet face- to-face is fundamental and will not be replaced.

New products are developed and updated with amazing speed, and how do you have a sales force that can deal with that continual flood without providing proper education?” he pondered. “Effective sales teams are built through sheer enthusiasm for a goal that comes from face- to-face meetings.”

Carroll pointed to an Australian study that predicted that 65 percent of preschoolers would eventually work in jobs and careers that do not currently exist. And, in any degree program based on science, because knowledge is evolving so fast, it is estimated that half of what somebody learns in the first half of the degree program will be obsolete or revised by the time they graduate.

The reality of the future of meetings is that learning is what most people will do for a living in the 21st century,” he said. “There will be a requirement to constantly replenish that knowledge, and a huge focus on knowledge delivery.

Carroll observed that Microsoft has suggested that in the coming years, 50 percent of U.S. gross domestic product will be taken up by training and knowledge delivery. Progressive organizations will continue to bring people together to meet. Carroll ignores the purveyors of doom who say the meeting business is in a death spiral.

We’ve been there before. Remember the post- 911 buzz? Everybody was going to stop flying, stop going to hotels – it was the end of the event industry,” Carroll said. “People said it was the end of face-to-face. It didn’t happen then, and it isn’t going to happen now.”

Carroll suggested that constant re-evaluation and the quest for new ideas is key to staying ahead of the curve. Observing key habits and attitude, Carroll said that world class innovators …

  • possess a relentless focus on growth
  • move beyond the short term
  • constantly replenish revenue streams.
  • obsess over the concept of corporate agility
  • don’t fear the future; they just do the future
  • invest heavily in experiential capital
  • banish the innovation killers.

Well, the headline caught your attention, didn’t it?

So what gives? How could “golf” possibly be the most important word in a year which promises ongoing economic volatility, potential signs of a recovery, restless consumers, potential challenges with the housing market, extremely fast paced business model change driven by technology — and countless other opportunities and worries?

Because the game of golf is probably one of the best barometers for the pace of the economic recovery. And in and of itself, the fact that the game is examining its future is probably the best sign that innovation and change has risen to the top of the leadership agenda.

Consider the first issue: golf and the economy. When the economy is hot, and companies are secure in their belief in economic growth, there are a lot of leadership events in which strategies are discussed, customers are engaged, and new business ideas are launched.

Corporate off-sites. Leadership meetings. Customer events. CEO-led strategy sessions. All the things that organizations do to ensure that they can focus on opportunity and growth. When the economy is in a good way, we see a lot of these events, and inevitably, they’re held at a resort, conference center or hotel that includes some great opportunities for golf, because that’s where a lot of the real business gets done.

Two years ago, many of these events disappeared or were scaled back in a significant way, as many organizations were focused on survival rather than growth. In the darkest days of the economic downturn and the subsequent era of gloom, customer and leadership events were small, low key, local, and didn’t have an element of golf.

But these events are back in a big way, and they’re being done in such a way that “golf” is most definitely back on the agenda. Only it’s not labelled “golf” on the agenda anymore – instead, you’ll see something like : “1:00PM – Private meetings”. In the last while, I’ve been doing or having been booked for a significant number of leadership, CEO and customer-oriented events at golf-oriented conference centers and locations all over North America.

Smart Meetings Magazine, a US publication, covered my thoughts in the January 2011 issue this way:

“Jim Carroll, a futurist, trend and innovation expert who has written and spoken about the economic horizon, often quotes the American Chamber of Commerce when discussing what lies ahead: “We’re going from a really bad economy to a new economy.” Here’s a rundown of what that will look like. … While Carroll says he’s seen a dip in association bookings, “corporate leadership events are way up.” In this sector of the industry, 2011 bodes well for the amount of meetings held and the funds devoted to them. …. With the economy in ascent, planners should see more hefty budgets allocated for meetings (or, as Carroll puts it, “There will be more golf this year.”)

Here’s the second reason why the world “golf” is so important — because the game itself know that innovation and change has become absolutely critical to provide opportunities for growth.

Read about the PGA of America’s reaction to Jim Carroll’s keynote

Last November, I was invited to be the opening speaker for the 94th Annual General Meeting of the PGA of America.

It’s the first time they have EVER had an external speaker open their event.

When I first got the call, I was a little bit stunned. This was THE PGA.

But then I began to think about my conversation with their senior management. Everyone knows that growth of the game is challenged by a variety of issues, including demographics, the collapse of attention spans, time availability, and a host of other issues. The PGA knows this, and they know that focusing on innovation and change — and confronting these trends — has become one of the most important things they needed to do.

And so they found me — and invited me in to challenge their members to begin just such a dialogue.

I’m seeing many such events. Heck, just over a month ago, NASA — yes, that NASA — had me down to Texas to speak to a senior leadership team on the issue of “Transformational Leadership”. I had in the room with me a very fascinating audience — astronauts, program directors, launch controllers. What was the real issue on the table? NASA’s world is changing fast, and the need for innovative thinking has become critical.

If organizations like the PGA and NASA are putting innovation at the top of their agenda, and innovation is the driver of economic growth — then clearly, golf has to be most important word in indicating where we are going with the economy in 2011.

I was in Baltimore last week, where I was the opening keynote speaker for the 2010 Passkey Corporate Housing Forum.

Passkey is a company that provides software for the corporate and association event management industry; in attendance were meeting planners, executive who manage corporate functions for hotels, and a lot of folks from various convention and visitors bureaus. My goal was to speak about the trends impacting the meetings and events industry, such as found in  my recent article, Does Your Future Suck?

I ran a quick text message poll at the start to find out what these folks see as the big challenges they are faced with.

There are some obvious issues : budget cutbacks, organizations beginning to explore more virtual event technologies, or challenges with delegates bypassing conference facilities and booking on their own (‘booking outside the room block’).

But what is most fascinating is that fully 1/3 of those in the room felt that the biggest challenge / trend that they are seeing is that more organizations — particularly corporations — are organizing more strategic meetings at the last moment, of a smaller scale than before.

That’s certainly what I’ve been seeing: I continue to get bookings for a significant number of small, CEO or senior management level strategic planning meetings. These folks want to bring their team together to discuss innovation, future trends and key strategies for exploring growth opportunities.

I’ve framed many of these talks around the theme of What Do World Class Innovators Do That Other Organizations Don’t Do?, which is a theme that has been quite popular since January of this year.

In my talk for PassKey, I noted two key statistics from Dana Communications, a company that specializes in the events industry:

  • only 17% of meeting planners have “meeting planner” in their job titles
  • less than 20% of meeting planners spend over 50% of their work time planning meetings

This echoes my experience: many of the calls that I get exploring my services are from a senior executive, or the executive assistant to an executive.

Clearly, organizations are of a mindset that is focused on taking them out of a recession, and into a world of exploring future opportunities. The fact that event planners, CVB’s and hotel event managers are seeing the same trend is a significant sign that the economy continues to bounce back.

by Jim Carroll
From: The Boardroom, a publication for Association Executives

Every association executive is regularly inundated with information on the leadership skills they must need to properly guide their association into the future. As someone who spends a lot of time talking, writing and speaking about trends and innovation, and who is constantly taking a look at where we are going in the future, I have my own list that might be rather different from some of the others that you’ve heard.

Here’s what I think you should do to ensure you know the issues that will affect your association.

1. Listen to the grassroots

With the rapid rate of change within every industry, trade and profession, it can be extremely difficult to keep up with what’s important and what’s not, not to mention keeping on top of the trends, challenges and opportunities that should be guiding your activities and strategies. There might be plenty going on within your member organizations, as they wrestle with new business strategies, rapidly evolving business models, heightened market competition, ever growing volumes of research and knowledge, and countless other challenges.

To be effective at what you do, you must keep on top of these trends, and determine how to adjust your activities and strategies accordingly so you are continually meeting your members’ needs. That’s why 21st century association executives should focus on building a strong collaborative culture with their membership base, using both leading edge tools and technology as well as ensuring they have a heightened degree of informal, personal contact.

Take the time to engender and build an informal, “open-door” culture that promotes regular and ongoing contact by your membership base, whether that be by e-mail, telephone or in person. Encourage feedback, complaints and observations, as well as a culture that provides for sharing of leading edge trends, challenges and opportunities.

2. Listen beyond the grassroots

You can’t listen only to your membership to spot the trends that will affect your association — you have to go beyond them and listen to what others are saying as well.

That’s why figuring out the future is no longer restricted to listening to the “usual suspects” within your association membership base — 21st century leaders recognize that everything in their industry or professional association base is being affected by events, trends and developments far beyond the norm.

The problem for any association executive is that it is all too easy to become isolated and focused on the issues of the day – the management issues and all the fine details that come with running a major organization. There’s so much going on within your industry or profession that there can be precious little time to come up for air and simply see or “think” through what is going on elsewhere.”

And yet, taking the time to listen “outside of the box” can be one of the most important things you can do. That’s why you shouldn’t just “think” outside of the box – but you should on a regular basis “step” outside of it. One way of doing this is by ensuring that you take the time to place yourself in completely different circumstances. Pick 2 or 3 conferences each year – in completely unrelated, different industries or professional that are far beyond your membership base. Go and listen – and see what another industry is saying!

That’s but one example – you can also subscribe to professional publications from other associations. Grab your copy of the national association directory, and pick a few associations at random – and sign up for their magazines, publications or newsletters.

You might be surprised by how invigorating an experience it can be to open up your mind to what is going on elsewhere. You may find that it will help you discover the trends that will affect you in the future, long before your traditional trends radar might have picked them up.

3. Listen to the rebels

Often, the trends that will affect your association and members can be found in the offbeat chatter by those who are busy redeveloping the future right around them.

Those leading edge trendsetters are often at odds with the typical association member. They’re the rebels in the crowd, eager to cast off the past to develop a future that will be very, very different. They’re busy tearing apart the conventional business models that have guided your members for ages; they have different ideas as to the nature of the product or service that is delivered; they are all too eager to change everything around them to create the future as they see fit. They are often marginalized, simply because their aggressive attitude in changing the future can make them rather unlikable by many.

What should you do? Learn to learn from them! Seek out the rebels in your membership base – you might not like what they have to say, but often, they are probably right in what they will tell you. Great leaders recognize that while many people have an attitude, outlook, culture and approach to life and business that is completely at odds with their perspective – they are willing to listen to what they say because change often emanates from such people.

4. Maintain a willingness to do a right turn

There’s no doubt that things change very rapidly in our world today.

Need evidence? A year ago, the guilt trip that you have when eating a Big Mac isn’t quite what it is today. Within the space of but a year, we’ve had a major issue – our obese society – bubble up, come to the forefront and gain front-runner status as a key  trend and issue to be managed.

The result is that many associations within the food, health care, agricultural and other communities are now scrambling to deal with the new focus on “healthy living” and “healthy eating”. The issue has the potential to become a major topic within your events and conferences; and a topic within your publications. That’s but one example – many other such issues can quickly go super-nova (i.e. SARS), so you’ve must have the ability to suddenly refocus yourself, and your association, to deal with new realities as soon as they emerge.

5. Continually reinvent relevance

Most association members – regardless of what type of group you might represent – live in a state of relentless shell-shock.

If they are in the business world, they’re witnessing ongoing market disruption, regular business model change, consumer revolt and empowerment, heightened competition and constant new demands on their time. In the public sector, they are subject to decreasing budgets, increased public expectations, political turmoil, departmental and role transformation, and ever more challenging management issues.

The result is that on a daily basis, they’re in crisis mode, and are having to constantly reassess their plans, careers, goals and activities. With so much change going on, it’s critical that your association continues to provide services, value and activities that match their regular new realities.That’s why you should ensure that you are constantly and regularly assessing and reinventing the relevance of your association to the membership base. Are you delivering what they need, at the right time, in the right way? Are you on top of all the emerging issues affecting your members so you can change what you are doing to ensure you are helping them? Do you continually reassess your roles and your strategies so you are delivering value, not routine?

6. Redefine your membership

Part of the process of reinventing your relevance consists of making the effort to reach out to new members who exist within your association market, but in a completely unconventional way.

Many people in our economy today don’t work within the traditional corporate model that has defined your association base in the past. For example, many young workers continue to reject the traditional career path of long term careers with large organizations. Instead, they establish themselves in small, micro-organizations that provide needed skills to a corporate audience regardless of where they might be. Are you reaching them with your efforts?

Then there are nomadic workers – those white collar workers who were laid off in the last 10 years through a variety of recessions – and who have established small, home-based businesses from which they provide their skills to a global audience. They’re working within your community of interest, but are they a part of your strategic plan?

Step back and consider where all of your members might exist today, and ensure that you change your strategies, activities and capabilities so that you reaching out to all of them.

7. Adjust for hypercompetition

Many associations are responsible for setting educational, professional and membership standards, and spend considerable time ensuring the value of the service or skill provided by their members is properly recognized for the value provided.

Get ready for a new challenge – that which comes from “offshoring,” a trend that is picking up a speed that is simply stunning. In the first wave of offshoring, we saw simple manufacturing such as toys and shoes migrate to third world countries. Then, the second phase saw simple clerical and service work move away (such as the processing of credit card receipts). But now, we are seeing actual “knowledge work” move, a trend that will provide every association with significant challenge in the years to come.

The high-paying, highly professional jobs are now moving offshore. A recent Deloitte & Touche study suggested that upwards of $356 billion in American wages – or more than 2 million jobs – will move offshore in the next several years. What impact might this have on your members, as they see less demand for their skills as a result of competition from a highly knowledgeable offshore workforce?

That’s a loaded question – and it’s easy to realize the complexity of the challenge when you consider a one square block area in Bangalore, India, a hotbed of the offshore trend. Consider these 4 companies: GreenPoint Mortgage of Novato, CA has moved their home loans processing to one company located there; the Massachusetts General Hospital has engaged a number of radiologists to examine CT scans; Texas Instruments has a number of engineers working on chip design; the Bank of America has moved some of their software development to this location. Each of these situations would have an impact on the members of associations in a variety of industries and professions.

Those are the people who are going to have a major impact on your association members in the not-too-distant future. We are now seeing the emergence of a global skills marketplace, in which highly talented professional workers can provide services of almost any type. The result is that professionals – lawyers, accountants, consultants, medical technicians, will now find themselves faced with an increasing degree of skills competition.

Begin thinking and planning now as to the reality of this important business trend, and undertake a plan of action that will help your members to survive and thrive into the future as hypercompetition takes hold.

8. Seek offbeat solutions to difficult problems

hen a food manufacturer was trying to find out how to improve the changeover time of one of their assembly lines, they hit upon a novel solution: bring in an Indy race pit crew to show them how. Their thinking was, who has better mastered the talent of “quick- thinking, quick work” than a group of people who can instantly change several tires in a highly coordinated team effort that lasts only a few seconds? It was an offbeat solution, but it certainly did the trick.

That’s why you should keep an eye out for the quirky, innovative, unusual things occurring within your association and other associations.

9. Kill indecision

There is no doubt that every association has suffered from rather aggressive indecision through the last several years, brought on by war, terror, a challenged economy, and much uncertainty.

The impact has been dramatic – many associations just can’t seem to make decisions about many matters of the day. I certainly see this as a speaker – while I used to be regularly booked as far as a year in advance, now some organizations are booking me just a few weeks before their conference or event. Why? Because uncertainty has led to a degree of decision stagnation.

Pummel this trend to the ground before it goes any further. Make sure your association continues to run by timelines, deadlines and clear goals and objective. Carefully ensure that your culture provides for regular decision making, not deferral and discussion. There are quite a few issues you are probably wrestling with, and maybe some of them have been around for far too long.

What should you do? Encouraging risk taking is one method of ending complacency, as is rewarding failure. If your members or association board can’t make decisions, then a bit of a cultural change is probably necessary!

10. Restore your sense of passion and purpose

Last but not least, get excited about the future again!

There have been so many challenges through the last few years with recession, war, terrorism and other problems, that many people in the business community have lost their sense of purpose and their passion for the future.

The key message for you and your membership base is – get over it! We’re in for a bright and wonderful future, and it’s by getting excited about the future again that you can best prepare and plan for it.


Does your future suck?

by Jim Carroll

Written for “Content Matters Newsletter, March 2010”, Content Management Corporation

So the big question, of course, is this: is there a future for the meetings and conference industry?

What a silly question!

Of course there is: the fundamental trends that are shaping our future demand that organizations continually deliver regular, short sharp shocks of updated knowledge, and despite all the new fangled technology that surrounds us, many will demand that we continue to do so in human-to-humanget-togethers.

You know what’s fascinating about a recession? We all know how the movie ends: we return to a period of economic growth. What’s also fascinating about recessions is that it provides an opportunity for all the naysayers to suggest that meetings and conferences are going to go virtual, and that we’ll all meet online. Then, when the recovery comes about, we all start scrambling to pull together our events, because people demand a form of non-silicon based networking. There’s nothing like people getting together at a conference for a cold beer or a glass of wine after a long day of sessions: that’s when the real business gets done!

Back during the last recession of 2001-2002, “those in the know” said that this would be the end of meetings and events. I wrote an article in Successful Meetings magazine, ‘Get Real,’ that said no, that wasn’t going to happen. And so from 2003 to 2008, we saw some pretty impressive growth in the industry, followed by an inevitable pullback. Such a cycle will continue.

I’m a futurist, and spend my time providing advice and guidance to some of the largest organizations and associations in the world. And as I futurist, I have to be optimistic about the future. After all, there aren’t a lot of folks who want to hear a futurist come out on stage and say, “Guess what? The future sucks!”

So here’s my belief on what is really going to continue to drive the meetings and event business forward, and why the future doesn’t suck.

We live in a period of ongoing, relentless, fast paced change. I’m dealing with associations who are witnessing the disappearance of traditional careers at the same time that new careers emerge. I deal with companies that are seeing product life cycles collapse due to the furious rates of innovation within every industry today. I’m witnessing companies challenged by new competitors intent on disrupting their business models. I see professionals who realize that the knowledge they need to know to do their job is going out of date at a ridiculous pace, and who realize that the way to the future is to concentrate on developing the capability for just-in-time knowledge.

Given all this change, what do people and organizations need to do? Continually adjust and prepare themselves for a future that will be constantly different, changing faster, with a lot more volatility. That’s going to require a lot more innovation, and certainly the ongoing delivery of a lot more knowledge and information.

And it’s the pace of change that is perhaps the biggest factor at work here. Bill Gates once suggested: “People overestimate the change that will occur on a two year basis, and underestimate the pace of change on a ten year basis.” Add to this the observation by Rupert Murdoch: “The future belongs to those who are fast.”

In essence, successful professionals, associations and companies will be those who can adapt to rapidly evolving trends.

How do we do this? I’m convinced that one of the primary tools will continue to be a get-together where people share insight, strategy, knowledge and tips.

Associations are in a world in which they must help their members adapt to massive, fundamental transformation in their role, scope, function and purpose. I’m a big believer that such transformations can only occur if the membership is given an overwhelming sense of purpose, passion and enthusiasm through the focus that an annual conference provides.

That said, I recently spoke to 4,000 professionals at the annual National Recreation and Parks Association annual conference in Salt Lake City. I challenged the audience — most of them responsible for civic or state recreational activities and park infrastructure — to think about the baseball bat of 2015 or 2020. From my vantage point, it’s going to look the same, but it’s likely to have a variety of sensors built into it that will provide a kid with instant feedback as to the strength and accuracy of their swing; the same sensors will trigger their nearby cell phone to automatically capture a video of their time at the plate.

Far fetched? I don’t think. Weird? To us maybe, but perhaps not to the next generation. As I stressed to the crowd at this event, “When we think of the strangeness of the future and our likely negative reaction to some of what might come next, we have to remember this: it’s not bad, it’s just different.”

The world is going to be different; the role and mandate of the recreation professional is going to be different; the concept of recreation will be transformed. You can read about this in a magazine or see it on Twitter, but it won’t have the same impact as having 4,000 people in a room realizing that their lives are going to change — fast!

Consider medical professionals – it is estimated that medical knowledge is now doubling every eight years, with the result that the vast majority of individuals in any field of medical science are unable to keep up to date with the most recent new treatments and protocols. One study suggests that the typical patient is receiving the most current medical treatment only about 50% of the time. The same holds true in almost every single profession and career, and leads to some significant association challenges, all of which revolve around the ongoing need for continuous knowledge delivery.

Sure, we’ll see more knowledge delivery online; new business models around the conference and event industry; and continued rapid change in the sophistication of online conference tools. And most important, the next generation of silicon-enabled 25 year olds might not think about annual meetings in the same way that their forebears do. But I believe they’ll still go — and as we are seeing now, will make it a far more different and interactive experience. Heck, maybe the beer bottles in their hands will Tweet each other. It’s still beer.

So the bottom line is this: you’ve seen this movie before. You know how it ends. So prepare for the future now, rather than waiting for the full economic recovery to be underway. The winners in the meetings, conventions and conference industry of tomorrow will be those who are willing to be an optimist about the future, as I am!

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