There’s a lot of satisfaction in neatly wrapping up a project that at first glance was as messy as a teenager’s bedroom. When I started consulting I thought my biggest reward would be helping great organizations grow even better. My clients do incredible work, and I love playing a role in their accomplishments.

Most associations experience some degree of tunnel vision. I am the person who turns a picture you’ve been staring at for years upside down and forces you to see it differently. I enjoy being a guide to these new environments. Over time, I’ve discovered that my clients reshape my vision as much as I change theirs. I’ve learned that the payoff isn’t the impact I make on others, it’s the insights they leave with me.

Association 4.0—Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption, the book I recently completed with my business partner Kevin Ordonez, results from that realization. I’ve absorbed so much from the inspiring people in my network, and I wanted to help others benefit from the 360 degree view of our industry that I experience as a consultant.

Technology, the core of my business, has become a mad architect. No one is sure whether it’s building a future that will be brilliant or unlivable. I was especially interested to hear how executives from diverse sectors are preparing for unpredictability and disruption. What I learned during 18 interviews with leading association change-makers sometimes surprised, often impressed and was always valuable.

Society of Critical Care Medicine
David Martin’s story is an example of how the intersection of innovation, technology and compassion creates a better world. When Martin describes the culture at the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) his enthusiasm is contagious. As CEO, Martin represents a profession that prides itself on striving to improve the comfort and safety of patients with serious medical conditions. Typical of that initiative is a team of member/physicians who developed an app to help patients on life-support or with language barriers communicate. SCCM collaborated with the group and invested in upgrades to the original design. The app displays common questions and concerns in 19 languages. Patients use it to sound the alert when they are in pain or have other pressing needs. Following this successful venture, SCCM launched an App Challenge to continue harnessing the organization’s creative power.

American Planning Association
Jim Drinan is another CEO who leads an association with a big stake in the future. City planners routinely straddle the divide between today and tomorrow. Designing the urban landscape requires an eclectic combination of visionary and practical skills. Planners approach technological disruptions, such as smart cars and drones, from a multidisciplinary point of view. Understanding the engineering is as important as evaluating the social and political implications of change.

Anyone who has struggled with building consensus can take a lesson from these skilled negotiators. Planners use data, research, history and policy to circumvent politics and turn dissenters into advocates. They might cite papers or journal articles about temperature patterns and sea level changes as a compelling argument with global warming naysayers. Big data can also play a role in diffusing emotionally charged disagreements. Planners might look back over ten or fifteen years to identify trends that support their recommendations. No matter what the topic, the common good is fundamental to all debate and a core strength of the APA.

Representing the World
David, Jim and the other executives we interviewed were more than generous with their time and expertise. This spirit of sharing is, for me, what makes the association community special. I’m both humbled and thrilled to pass along their advice to you. Learn more about the book.

Associations represent the world economy as well as the people who run it. My commitment as a member of this great profession is to learn everything I can from my clients and other game-changing leaders and share that knowledge broadly. This idea is heartfelt, but it has a practical rationale. The health of our sector is defined by how much each of us is able to contribute. When we invest in each other’s success, we strengthen our professional future.