Recently I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Leading Learning faculty member Seth Kahan entitled “Surviving and Thriving in the Age of Business Disruption,” and while there was a lot to think about in what Seth said, I found his three stages of the evolution of associations particularly interesting—particularly because it made me think of the Value Ramp that is so central to our work at Tagoras.
Seth Kahan’s Three Stages of the Evolution of Associations
The three stages build, meaning the third stage includes the elements of the first and second.
- At the transactional stage, associations focus on delivering good deals for their members. They provide goods and services that their members consume. This is fine and good and necessary to a point, but it’s not enough in today’s world, where it’s easy for association members to go outside the association for good deals.
- Generative associations have discovered knowledge is a differentiator, and they work with their members to create new knowledge, the kind of value that is the result of combining association resources with the expertise of the members, the kind of value that results in something greater than an of the individual players involved could produce on her own.
- Scalable associations take the knowledge generated with their members and parlay that into a seat at other tables, extending their stakeholder base more broadly, finding meaningful connections beyond the field, profession, or cause the association officially serves.
The closer your association is to scalable, the more resilient it is, the more likely to make meaningful contributions and survive competitive threats.
(To hear about the three stages of association evolution in Seth’s own words, check out his four-minute video on the topic.)
The Value Ramp Connection
Hearing Seth talk about the three stages of association evolution brought to mind our Value Ramp. (Click the image to enlarge it.) While we tend to use the Value Ramp to talk about an organization’s portfolio of education offerings or even a particular product line, it applies to the organization as a whole too.
The transactional associations are locked in down at the bottom left of the Value Ramp, where the offerings are more generic and transactional in nature—some value, little or no cost, not much engagement or interaction between the provider and the consumer.
Higher up on the Value Ramp is where value has risen, which tends to mean some level of meaningful engagement or interaction, and the associated prices have risen too. Generative associations are able to operate here as well as in the lower left.
Scalable associations have managed to hit the top right of the Value Ramp—they’re providing great and unique value, as well as the lower-level value that helps create momentum and pull members and others up the curve.
Now Seth wasn’t talking about products and pricing per se, but it seems clear to me that what scalable associations are able to create will be unique, which will serve to insulate them from competition and allow them to charge commensurately for the high value the deliver.