This 12 Questions post is the second in a three-part series I will publish during the month of January. You can read Part I here. In each post, I will present four questions, and you are invited to join the conversation about Part II on Foresight First Live on Facebook this Wednesday, January 24 at 10 am EST.
Part II: Critical Learning Priorities
In Part I, I argued that the pursuit of intentional learning is the foundational imperative for the work of governing in the 21st century. Without a commitment to intentional learning, association boards will find themselves unable to keep pace with the accelerating societal transformation happening all around them.
The 12 questions in this series are offered to help boards think differently, spark fresh conversations and inspire a sustained commitment to capacity building. The four questions below present some critical learning priorities on which boards should consider focusing their attention in 2018 and beyond.
Question #1: Who are your association's future stakeholders?
As part of learning with the future, association boards must strive to make meaning around the human implications of the issues they are exploring. Building this kind of empathic understanding demands that boards also learn as much as they can about who their future stakeholders are and how they see themselves. It is particularly important for boards to pursue this deeper learning effort with under 40 stakeholder cohorts, who are the future (in a literal sense) and who are far more diverse, complicated and interesting than the sweeping assumptions of generational categorization and stereotyping would suggest.
Proposed Board Action: Conduct monthly listening sessions with your association's under 40 stakeholder cohorts to develop a richer understanding of their short-term problems, intermediate-term needs and long-term outcomes.
Question #2: What is the future of work in your industry, profession or field?
Every field of human endeavor will be reshaped by the continued evolution and adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). While routine and repetitive forms of human work are at risk for automation, there is reason to believe that work involving creativity, empathy and imagination will require human participation for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, if there is one critical area in which association boards must diligently exercise the duty of foresight, it is in building their understanding of the future of work in the fields their organizations serve so they can provide maximum support to both current and future stakeholders.
Proposed Board Action: Develop plausible yet unfavorable (or unthinkable) scenarios of the future that challenge board thinking about how work in your field will shift over the next 84-120 months.
Question #3: How should your association organize for innovation?
Association boards are finally beginning to recognize the necessity of innovation to renew their organizations' value creation efforts, especially through the design of more adaptive and resilient business models. Innovation is a powerful form of learning for associations to pursue, and through the work of foresight and stewardship, boards can strengthen their organizations' innovation efforts by being champions for external collaboration, consistently investing in building robust innovation capabilities and sustaining the focus on meaningful stakeholder value creation.
Proposed Board Action: Develop an innovation agenda that explains your board's top priority areas for innovation capacity-building and investment on an always-shifting 36-month basis.
Question #4: What impact will the transformation of the internet have on your association and your stakeholders?
In 2019, we will reach two major technology milestones: 50 years of the internet and 30 years of the Web. As we reflect on the disruptive impact these platforms have had (and will continue to have) on our society, our organizations and our lives, we also must recognize that they are entering a new and more delicate phase of their existence. Growing concerns about issues of identity, neutrality, privacy, security and the veracity of online information will shape the future of the internet and the Web and, by extension, the future of our world. Boards of directors must take steps to prepare their organizations and their stakeholders for whatever comes next.
Proposed Board Action: Conduct a politics-free deep dive into how the issues listed above are already influencing your association and stakeholders and consider how those concerns could plausibly unfold over the next 36 months and beyond.
Key Points to Remember
- To fully embrace intentional learning, association boards must go beyond what they think they know to thoroughly explore what they don't know and what they "don't know they don't know."
- Board learning is just as much about caring what happens to stakeholders as it is about strengthening board and organizational performance.
- Each director must bring curiosity, humility and vulnerability to the board's learning work.
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