Engineering serendipity is the future of associations


Last week I gave a keynote on The Future of Associations at the annual Board of Directors Retreat for one of the world’s largest professional associations, held in the delightful venue of Panama City.

Having been involved in the events, thought leadership initiatives and awards of a wide variety of associations over the years, I have long thought that there is massive untapped potential value in many associations’ member networks.

The disruption of associations

Over the last 5-10 years many associations have been challenged by a confluence of powerful forces undermining their established positions.

Most notably, in a connected world relevant content is far more accessible, individuals and organizations can readily build their own networks, and special interest groups can self-organize.

However in an increasingly networked world many associations have continued to maintain a hub and spoke mentality, gradually eroding the value of their established model.

The role of serendipity

The greatest potential of a group with aligned interests is very often in enabling valuable connections.

In a world driven by innovation the most value is often created by bringing together two or more people, ideas, organizations, or association members that have not previously been connected.

Serendipity has long been a key theme of my work. In 2006 on this blog I described how to create enhanced serendipity and told the delightful origin of the word.

I have always preferred the term ‘enhanced serendipity’, however I have also dug into the role of social networks and engineering serendipity in the workplace, which has drawn increasing attention recently.

Communities and beyond

As the value of proprietary content and resources is eroded, many people and organizations are remaining members of associations for the potential of high-value connections between peers.

The role of government and community representation for industry sectors is important and will remain, but this has lower value as a stand-alone offering, rather than bundled with content, education, research, and events as is the case for most associations.

Where well-established associations can thrive in a rapidly changing world is in pro-actively building value through connections within their communities.

Enabling ‘happy accidents’

Engineering serendipity is about creating the conditions within which the ‘happy accidents’ of useful connections happen.

This is a significantly different frame from where most associations have come from. It certainly represents a significant part of their future.