Idea Factories: An Amazing Method to Create More and Better Ideas for Professional Development Programs and Events
What are idea factories? Idea factories are individuals, firms, or organizations that generate good ideas for programs and events. It is this simple: Find an idea factory, get a good idea from them, then create an event that people want to attend. Or better yet, have the idea factory create the program for you or partner with them for an engaging experience.
How do you get started? If you are in charge of professional development programs or events, first look to your board, close associates, or those active in your organization. Ask everyone you can a few questions. Start with the obvious question, “Do you have any good ideas for a program or event that will attract interest and create some buzz, a program people will gladly pay to attend?” Ask for ideas, but always follow by asking them if they know someone with whom you can speak. Ask them for someone they know who always seems to have good ideas and might be willing to share their wisdom. Remember, you aren’t only shopping for your next program or event idea, you are also shopping for idea factories.
Good idea factories will probably come back to you with a question like, “What exactly are you looking for in a program or event?” You should be ready with a list of attributes you seek in a program. These will include things like whether the program is designed to attract new members or retain existing ones, attract experienced professionals or those new to the industry, or primarily train or promote networking. Watch for an upcoming blog, where I give you an amazing method called “the program machine” for identifying all of these attributes and using them to create an annual slate of successful programs and events.
“Idea factories” can be all of the following:
• Members who are naturally innovative, creative, and love to share ideas
• Industry or Association contacts (often associate or affiliate members)
Locate those close to you in your business or industry with a vested interest in helping you or your association or both. Of course many times these members have something to sell, but they may have good ideas too.
• Other chapters in your same association: Don’t ignore these “low hanging fruit” Other chapters are in exactly the position you are in, probably have a very similar audience, and may have a number of tested and successful ideas to share
• Other associations: If you are not a member of the American Society of Association Executives or one of its state affiliates, you should be. In California the affiliate is the California Society of Association Executives (CalSAE). This “association of associations” offers an opportunity to see new, different, and cutting edge programs and events from around the association industry.
But are there even more idea factories out there? Yes. Look for professionals who create and implement programs for a living.
• Professional trainers, designers of training, and developers of training are a natural source of innovative ideas for programs and events: You may find an idea factory amongst the many private vendors of education and training. You will find their information about programs on the web or in catalogs and they will be more than happy to talk to you. Of course they will be trying to sell, but you don’t have to buy, you can simply repeat the mantra to yourself, “I’m shopping for ideas and idea factories.” Take a look at their offerings online and see what you can learn about time tested subjects, trending topics, and how the programs are scheduled and priced. This is only one source. Don’t worry if you don’t find exact or perfect ideas; you may only find the seed of a program idea. Keep an idea log or note book. You want to know when the same idea comes up again and again. This will enable you to build on the idea, flesh it out, and craft it in a way that works best for your organization or association.
• Experts of many stripes who have an interest in “programs” to showcase their expertise (authors of books or articles, speakers, bloggers, etc, who have something to say and know their area of expertise)
• Universities and Colleges (especially their continuing education divisions) Full disclosure: I direct a continuing education division for a community college, but I’m not directing you to my college. I’m recommending every college or university’s continuing education division as a great source of new ideas.
Have you tried shopping for ideas at your local colleges or universities? They can be a rich, and in many cases untapped, source of ideas for your organization. They are full of experts in any number of areas that make them ideal sources of ideas and idea factories.
If you have not explored the continuing education divisions of you local university, college, or community college, then you must do it. This division of the college is often called simply “the continuing education center”, or a name that includes lifelong learning, or training, or similar names or variations. The names all speak to their mission of outreach to business, the community, and economic development. Their goal is always to reach out to the community in ways that go beyond the primary degree granting or teaching mission of the college. These groups specialize in creating and implementing training and events from those of general interest to specialized programs to very targeted industry groups. They create courses, workshops, events, and conferences alone and in partnership with others. These groups are almost always self-supporting, which means they don’t access university or college funding, but must survive on their own revenue and ingenuity. Because they are self-supporting, they are usually full of entrepreneurial idea factories with a desire to connect to associations as well as business, industry, and the not-for-profit community.
Remember the program director and group that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? They have been successful. They have reached out to idea factories to create programs and events that have had a transformative effect in the association chapter.
I’ll be sharing a number of examples of specific programs and events that have been created at this association in an upcoming blog. Hope you come back for that.
Programs Get Results