The National Apartment Association Will Pay You A Million Bucks To Get People To Its Conference

Bold, highly visible innovation has been in short supply in the association world–until now.

The National Apartment Association Will Pay You A Million Bucks To Get People To Its Conference

Bold, highly visible innovation is in short supply in the association world. I have worked with over 25 association execs on significant change initiatives and over 100 other member organizations on various activities such as targeted growth, introducing new products and services, and other efforts dependent on innovation. I can count on one hand the number of association leaders making dramatic market moves.


There is good reason for this. Flying under the radar is politically expedient when you are directed by volunteer leaders. It’s not that innovation is absent among associations. In fact, I would have to say that incremental innovation is prevalent. But, generally you don’t see association leaders trying out radical new ideas in public, going for transformational innovation.

But Doug Culkin, CEO of the National Apartment Association, is not your everyday association CEO. He is entrepreneurial, driven, and prepared to take daring, conspicuous action to grow his organization.

The rental housing industry is surging. In 2011 rentals and residents contributed in excess of $1 trillion to the economy. Circumstances are ripe for an intrepid move.

Culkin says, “We are open to non-traditional means. That’s why we’re throwing it wide open.” The NAA is making its open offer to anyone who wants to give it a try. Just take the 2013 attendance number and double it for the 2015 event, and you will win a million bucks.

This is not quite the X-Prize, though the offer was inspired by it. When Culkin saw the impact of the original 2004 prize for sub-orbital space flight, he knew there was an idea kernel he could build an innovation on. He liked that the the initial $10 million purse stimulated $2.5 million in seed money, $100 million spent in pursuit, and launched a $1 billion industry.

“I can see how a grand challenge spurs real movement in the market,” Culkin says. “By leading innovation we increase the amount of money poured in by a multiple. I want to spark that kind of creativity. There is no reason we can’t harness the best marketers out there and reward them with $1 million for real growth in our show.”


Visit NAA’s Grow the Show website to learn more and participate.

(Disclosure: I provide business strategy consulting to NAA.)

–Seth Kahan ( helps leaders identify, influence, and leverage emerging trends for business growth. He has consulted with CEOs and executives organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, American Geophyscial Union, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His new book is, [i]Getting Innovation Right: How Leaders Leverage Inflection Points to Drive Success. His previous book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, was a business bestseller. Learn more about Seth’s work at[/i]

[Image: Flickr user Andrew Brannan]

About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller.