ISA CEO in truck

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Are you Prepared to Innovate?

January 18, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

We observe two New Year’s celebrations at the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). The first is Oct. 1, when we start a new fiscal year. The second comes on Jan. 1.

I like them both. They’re a reminder that time marches on, challenges and opportunities are constantly in flux, and you must continually innovate to be relevant.

Innovation comes in two forms: tangible and intangible. New seed, software, equipment, traits and technology are tangible examples of innovation. Backed by well-placed marketing and public relations campaigns, these tangible manifestations of innovation often make the boldest headlines.

But there’s another kind of innovation, and it’s driven by the intangibles. Examples include a positive attitude, forward-thinking perspective and a leadership mindset that’s never satisfied with the status quo. Leaders who assess and anticipate change, position their association, organization, product or business to make the most of it.

Innovation is the heartbeat of ISA. In partnership with our colleagues in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri, ISA farmer leaders and staff have engaged with Aimpoint Research. The task: to think critically about ways the industry must evolve to be relevant to farmers in 2040.

Four strategic imperatives have emerged. We must:

1) Lead disruption from within

The soybean industry must operate from a position of strength and make our future, not be bystanders impacted by it.

2 ) Explore new business models and partnerships

Past adversaries may become partners critical to developing new markets.

3) Embrace new research and technologies that challenge us

ISA has long championed the importance of “going where the data leads.” Following through on this pledge as an industry united is critical.

4) Define our value proposition with farmers in the driver’s seat

One of the clear takeaways from our work with Aimpoint is how many initiatives poised to influence the industry don’t directly involve farmers. This must change! Farmers should never underestimate their influence. They must be active participants in all facets of the soybean value chain. ISA offers numerous ways to engage strategically, from being an Experience Class participant to conducting production and conservation trials on your farm with the help of our Research Center for Farming Innovation.

No one knows what this year will hold. But it’s a good bet issues impacting the industry will continue evolving at warp speed. For soybean farmers and the industry to prosper, we must outflank the pace of change and, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky famously said, “Skate to where the puck is going.” Doing so will require the intangibles of innovation.

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