Last week, I shared the first 5 of 10 provocative thoughts that stuck with me after this year’s Independent Sector conference. Thoughts #6 – #10 below touch on strategic planning, innovation, networks and failure:
6. “Strategic planning is dead.” That is not to say that “strategy” and/or “planning” are dead. In fact, both are absolutely necessary tools for deftly transforming limited resources (e.g., money, time, bodies) into improved social outcomes. But the good ol’ days of hammering out a trusty 5-Year Strategic Plan are quickly evaporating. Today, the pace of change is maddening. And it’s only accelerating. Day-by-day, our capacity to see into the future is declining. Organizations that plan, step-by-step, how they can best reach their goals in five years and then follow that plan, step-by-step, without looking around for five years, are going to be left in the dust. Nimbleness, foresight, adaptability, opportunism, learning, combined with strategic thinking and action planning are the traits that organizations must develop, not static strategic “planperweights.”
~ thoughtprops to: Ai-jen Poo (The National Domestic Workers Alliance)
7. Is “strategic doing” the future? The social sector emerged as amorphous groups of concerned citizens gathered together to tackle problems in their communities. These groups morphed into professional organizations in order to better coordinate resources and build knowledge in a cost-effective manner. Yet, today’s technology is making it less costly for group conversation and action to take place outside the bounds of “the institution” (see Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations). “Strategic doing” is a powerful approach for moving such groups from redundant and/or sporadic discussion to immediate, tangible action. And it’s simple as heck. The group asks itself a series of questions: (1) What could we do? (2) What should we do? (3) What can we do? (4) What will we do? (5) What will I do? (6) When will we gather again?
~ thoughtprops to: attendees of the “Engage for Impact” session with Arthur Coddington (The Craigslist Foundation)
8. True breakthroughs are old ideas brought together in a new way. As master plenary speaker (and author) Andrew Hargadon articulated: “It is not the Eureka moment in a remote laboratory that leads to trailblazing innovations but the intelligent recombination of existing inventions.” Hargadon picked apart the persisting image of folks like Edison and Ford as brilliant visionaries and repainted them as master recombinators: individuals who frankensteined together old inventions and ideas to create the new, novel and beautiful.
9. Your network shapes how innovative you are. If you want to innovate, don’t bring your friends to parties. Our networks have the potential to confer three core benefits: private information (trust), access to diverse skill sets & knowledge, and informal power. We tend to gravitate towards people we know and/or who are “like” us at gatherings (“the self-similarity principle”) and we tend to build our networks around people we interact with on a regular basis (e.g., our co-workers) (“the proximity principle”). Because of both the self-similarity and proximity principles, most folks’ networks naturally evolve over time to be homogenous and insular. But homogeneous and insular networks do not confer the same level of access to diverse skill sets and knowledge. Per thought #8 above, innovation emerges when divergent ideas are brought together with new eyes – this is much less likely to happen if your network simply passes the same knowledge around in circles and much more likely to happen if your network is a vehicle for gaining exposure to lots of different ideas.
~ thoughtprops to: Maxim Sytch (Ross School of Business)
10. A culture that harnesses failure can breed BIG success. Failure seems to have been one of 2011’s great buzzwords. We’ve seen dozens of guiding mantras tossed around, including “fail fast,” “fail often” and “fail cheap” But are we starting to idolize failure in an unhealthy manner? Bold and daring ideation is healthy. Rapid prototyping works. Learning is critical. But failure does not create experimentation; nor does it create a prototype; nor does it create learning. Rather, organizational culture (defined as values, norms and behaviors) lays the necessary foundation for making failure a productive partner in innovation and learning. We should not be celebrating failure, per se, but rather the culture that harnesses failure productively:
An example from the NGen program: It’s been a long and failful journey for Change.Org’s CEO, Ben Rattray. Over the past few years, the Change.Org team has tried a number of models, products and services, and failed pretty spectacularly on a number of fronts. And Rattray could not be happier. Change.Org is now winning more than one social change campaign every single day, proving that online activism can achieve real-world results. He is proud of making tough decisions, making mistakes and learning, failing, learning. He encourages his staff to question every major decision and to constantly challenge the organizational status quo.
Change.Org strives to fail fast, fail often and fail early, but the organization has not been successful because of its failures, period; rather, it’s been successful because it has a culture that harnesses failure.