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Deconstructing the relevance fallacy: part III

Posted By Todd Von Deak, Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Editors Note:  This is the final installment from Jeff De Cagna (Principled Innovation, LLC) as our initial guest blogger.  Many thanks to Jeff for leading us off with such thought provoking content.


In Part II, I explored the relevance fallacy from the stakeholder perspective. In this final post in the series, I will extend this discussion to consider why relevance thinking is a losing argument for persuading stakeholderto develop relationships with associations. 


Why should your current and future stakeholders want a relationship with your association over the next decade and beyond? 


As a result of 25 years of technological transformation, stakeholders are not only experiencing new challenges and opportunities in their lives and jobs. Today’s stakeholders also have abundant access to many of the tangible and intangible resources they need through their network relationships. Knowledge and expertise, trusted connections and even financial resources can be secured with relative ease through crowdsourcing sites, social networks and peer-to-peer sharing platforms. 


This unprecedented shift in influence toward individuals and networks, and away from legacy organizations such as associations, cannot be addressed with a traditional strategic plan developed using a relevance mindset. Instead, associations need to think and act beyond the orthodoxy of their membership-centric business models to co-create value with stakeholders in the three overlapping timeframes mentioned in the previous post: 


Solving short-term problems - Stakeholders have problems that must be solved in near real time, an opportunity ideally suited for applying mobile, social and cloud technologiesAssociations, however, tend to be more comfortable operating on “association time,” which means value creation and delivery occurs on schedules organized around internal processes and requirements. This is a business challenge that will not be resolved by making association or its membership offer “more relevant.”  


Meeting intermediate-term needs - Stakeholders have a full range of needs they must meet to prepare for the future and advance and grow in their careers. They will consider products, services and experiences from a number of sources to meet them. The most significant differentiator among the many available offers will not be relevance, however, but the richness of the meaning and impact those forms of value can bring to stakeholders, as well as to their peers across personal and professional networks with similar needs 


Achieving long-term outcomes Throughout their lives, stakeholders will pursue ambitions and aspirations that they will need help to reach. Diverse and intimate network relationships will be a critical wellspring of both practical and emotional support, and associations also may be able to play a unique role in this context because of the sense of purpose (not relevance) that animates their work. To act on this opportunity, however, associations must be willing to listen to and learn from stakeholders and their networks in order to collaborate with them to create distinctive value. 


After many decades of trying to figure out what’s next, associations have arrived at crucial moment, and the choice for senior decision-makers is clear: embrace the transformation that is happening all around them and begin building organizations capable of thriving in the 21st century or continue to operate within the fallacy of relevanceIn my view, it is not a difficult decision. 


Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation.  

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