We are all averse to the term the “new normal.” It is natural to resist forced change, and when thrust upon us, we get stubborn about it.

While some will try to stop change, others will see opportunity.

Consider some of the best things innovators have created that we now enjoy and look forward to. Walt Disney envisioned, revolutionized and brought a touch of magic to the theme park experience. With the design of the Apple iPhone, Steve Jobs reimagined what a communications device was capable of. Elon Musk is boldly driving automotive technology swiftly into the future with his vision of energy-efficient and autonomous vehicles.

While all these people are visionaries, being a visionary for an association has inherent challenges because no one wants to change. With the advent of COVID-19 and the accompanying recession, the status quo will no longer suffice. Change has been thrust upon us and we must respond accordingly.

While we all want and need the PPAI Expo, there is a looming reality that it may not happen. We have already been forced to cancel all live events for the Association since early March and, given the daily fluctuations of the current environment, any future events are tentative at best. The situation is deeply concerning, considering how intrinsically important the Expo is to the viability of the Association.

This brings me to a book I recently read, The Three Box Solution by Vijay Govindarajan. The author, known to most as VG, is acknowledged globally as one of the top 50 business minds. VG distills business innovation into three boxes: Box One is what we are good at and need to maximize for as long as we can—think of the Expo. Box Two is what we can eliminate and what the new world order has foisted on us. Box Three is to leverage the resources of Box One with the realities of Box Two to create a new result—PPAI reimagined.

There is no doubt in my mind that Walt, Steve and Elon all saw Box One, realized what was Box Two and crafted a future as Box Three. As an association, we must be careful not to get caught in Box One. Like the mime that cannot escape the imaginary box, we must realize it is imaginary, and that it is our fear of the unknown that traps us.

This was to be the year of the new strategic plan. Your Association has quickly made changes and adjustments to its organization to prepare for both keeping the Expo strong while realizing the world may be a very different place once we emerge from the pandemic. The road to recovery suggests everything is linear, however the pandemic, the greater recession and social reformation have created a world that is anything but straightforward. With all the uncertainty, we can no longer plan. We can, at best, predict.

I recommend taking time to read The Three Box Solution. My own style was to read four to six pages at a time, digest it, take notes and even highlight. I promise it will help you reevaluate your own business. It may also serve as a thought process for a reimagined Association with more emphasis on the core values of advocacy, product safety, legislative and buyer outreach and education (state-of-the-art training, professionalism in marketing and branding, industry research, etc.). By keeping supplier/distributor relationships enhanced, we can continue to see growth opportunities for our businesses. Promotional products will not go away, and neither should we. 


Ira Neaman, MAS, is chair of the PPAI Board of Directors.