The Values We Wear to Work

When you think about the work that you do – the companies you join, the teams you’re a part of, even the projects you take on – how often is your approach to that work determined by values?
Sure, a lot of us have chosen to go into work that feels like it aligns with our personal values – but that’s not what I mean. Rather, I’m talking about overarching values that either you, your employer or your team have set as guiding principles. If you had to describe the North Star of what you do at work and how you make decisions, what would that star look like and where would it take you?
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the very nice community of Bozeman, Montana and speak on the campus of Montana State. The title of my talk was “Creativity, Design Thinking and the Crowd” and my intention was to talk about how OpenIDEO approaches the intersection of design thinking and crowdsourcing in its own way.
As I prepared my slides and delivered my talk, however, I realized that my talk – more than anything – was an exploration of the values that we hold dear as part of the OpeniDEO team and, by extension, as members of the OpenIDEO community.
In the end, I circled around 10 core values that I believe both steer and ground the work we do:
We’re about people
We design for inclusion
We focus on collaboration, not competition
We speak to different motivations
We invest in framing the question
We use a process
We’re transparent
We design with, not for
We believe in-person matters, too
We leave room for emergence.
Interestingly, having had some time to reflect on the experience of delivering this talk, I’m actually not sure that this list couldn’t benefit from some refinement, a couple of additions, and maybe even some edits. Perhaps that’s true with all workplace values – they are subject to change with time and perspective. Regardless of what stage of development they’re in, many of the values I’ve outlined in my talk have been true to me for some time and remain that way to me right now, like a badge of honor that I wear proudly everyday at work.
What values do you ‘wear to work’ each day? Are they codified somewhere in writing, or are they more reflective of an informal, collective mindset that you and your team shares? I’d love to hear what you think.

MontanaState

When you think about the work that you do – the companies you join, the teams you’re a part of, even the projects you take on – how often is your approach to that work determined by values?

Sure, a lot of us have chosen to go into work that feels like it aligns with our personal values – but that’s not what I mean. Rather, I’m talking about overarching values that either you, your employer or your team have set as guiding principles. If you had to describe the North Star of what you do at work and how you make decisions, what would that star look like and where would it take you?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the very nice community of Bozeman, Montana and speak on the campus of Montana State. The title of my talk was “Creativity, Design Thinking and the Crowd” and my intention was to talk about how OpenIDEO approaches the intersection of design thinking and crowdsourcing in its own way.

As I prepared my slides and delivered my talk, however, I realized that my presentation – more than anything – was an exploration of the values that we hold dear as part of the OpenIDEO team and, by extension, as members of the OpenIDEO community.

In the end, I circled around 10 core values that I believe currently steer and ground the work we do:

  1. We’re about people
  2. We design for inclusion
  3. We focus on collaboration, not competition
  4. We speak to different motivations
  5. We invest in framing the question
  6. We use a process
  7. We’re transparent
  8. We design with, not for
  9. We believe in-person matters, too
  10. We leave room for emergence.

Interestingly, having had some time to reflect on the experience of delivering this talk, I’m actually not sure that this list couldn’t benefit from some refinement, a couple of additions, and maybe even some edits. Perhaps that’s true with all workplace values – they are subject to change with time and perspective. Regardless of what stage of development they’re in, many of the values I’ve outlined in my talk have been true to me for some time and remain that way to me right now, like a badge of honor that I wear proudly everyday at work.

What values do you ‘wear to work’ each day? Are they codified somewhere in writing, or are they more reflective of an informal, collective mindset that you and your team share? I’d love to hear what you think.

Three Lessons from Three Years at OpenIDEO

This February marked my three year anniversary as a member of the OpenIDEO team at IDEO – amazing how the time has flown!
Maybe it’s because I’m marking this anniversary, or because our team is growing and I find myself training and coaching new colleagues, but I’ve started reflecting on how OpenIDEO has evolved over the last few years – and by extension, how I’ve evolved with it. When I joined OpenIDEO way back when, our platform and our community was less than six months old. We were an exciting new initiative in IDEO’s eyes, and yet most of our colleagues weren’t quite sure what to make of us. We were small, scrappy and said yes to (almost) everything for the sake of continued learning and growth. We knew enough to be dangerous and had some hunches about where we were headed. But beyond that, the rest was open, white space.
Joining OpenIDEO marked a true departure and a leap of faith for me: prior to IDEO I’d never worked in technology, I’d never been part of a startup, and I’d certainly never imagined I’d join a design company. Even with all of these unknowns, it was a no brainer to jump in with both feet.
One of the cool things about joining OpenIDEO when I did is that I’ve had the chance to be around long enough to see our efforts grow and blossom. Ironically, in a world of fast-moving, short attention-span startups (and the employees behind them), having some staying-power has enabled me to get mired in the details AND see the forest for the trees, so to speak. As I round out Year 3 and move into Year 4, here are a few highlights of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown so far:
Finding Comfort in Chaos
When I first joined OpenIDEO, I was looking for structure. Ten months into what felt like a topsy-turvy, post-MBA job search that I had no control over, I viewed my IDEO offer letter as the guarantee of stability I was craving. How wrong I was! Instead, what I found was a brand new business with a largely unwritten future. Admittedly, in my first year at IDEO this mismatch was really challenging for me. I often found myself feeling inwardly resistant to conversations or projects that seemed too chaotic, or simply wishing we could have figured out all this messiness already. Everyone talked about things like ‘experiments’ and ‘iteration’ – and in truth, at the beginning of my OpenIDEO tenure, I often wanted to run screaming in the other direction.
Being a natural project manager, though, my inner organizer eventually took over and I started creating the structure I needed. In the beginning, this meant nailing things down, making quick decisions and clamping down on anything that felt ambiguous or undecided. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t so successful in those early days – not only was that way of working not in line with our cultural and team values, but it wasn’t any fun either. Later, I learned to move forward in my work by creating a skeleton outline – just enough structure to give myself a North Star to follow, while also still leaving a bit of room for spontaneity and unexpectedness.
At the time I thought I was just trying to wrap my arms around something to force it to make sense. Now, however, I can now look back and say that the experience of creating something out of nothing, of finding comfort in the chaos, was hugely valuable because it pushed me to do the very thing I was resisting – namely being flexible, not having all the answers from the outset, and learning to be comfortable with iterating along the way.
The beauty of working in a startup – as chaotic as it can be – is that in the chaos, there is possibility. There is growth and movement and fluidity in ways that you don’t experience when you’re working in a more traditional, ‘pre-built’ organization. Yes at times it can feel frenetic or unstructured…but strangely enough, this way of working has rubbed off on me. In fact, I can now say that I proudly use words like ‘prototype’ and ‘test’ in a sentence! Only this time around, it’s not just jargon – I believe it.
Speak Now…or Don’t
Prior to joining OpenIDEO, I’d worked in pretty traditional, hierarchical organizations where rank mattered. Where I sat in the food chain not only influenced the work I could do, but it affected the opportunities I had to participate in conversations. Because of this, I got trained (for better or for worse) to often times keep my opinions to myself. When I did speak, I agonized in my head: when was I going to chime in? what would I say? what questions will other people ask and how will I answer? It was exhausting.
One major shift that caught me off guard at IDEO was that suddenly, people wanted to know what I thought about things. Unlike other organizations, OpenIDEO (and IDEO more broadly) has a fairly flat structure and culturally, we value healthy, constructive dialogue and inquiry. This meant that, at any number of times during a day, my teammates, my manager, other folks at IDEO would ask, ‘Ashley, what do you think?’. Other times, they wouldn’t even bother asking – the expectation was that I would just dive right in.
While this may sound like a breath of fresh air, it was actually very challenging for me. Outside of some impassioned conversations in MBA team rooms, I actually didn’t have much practice using my voice. So, when pushed for a point of view on something, I instead turned inward and became speechless. While I’d always thought of myself as an extrovert, every day I sat in a roomful of extroverts who were well-practiced in speaking up – and suddenly the introvert in me switched on.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have an opinion; in fact I had opinions about everything! I just didn’t know how to share them.
Over time, and with the support and coaching of my manager and others, I slowly started practicing speaking up. And believe me, it takes practice. But incredibly, through this practice I don’t just feel more comfortable going through the motions of speaking my mind. Instead, I’ve come to trust even more in the content I have to share. Maybe it’s that I’ve been doing this long enough to have that are rooted in real work and a real understanding of what we do, maybe it’s just something I’ve been practicing long enough that it feels less rehearsed and more spontaneous. Whatever the reason, it’s a liberating feeling to have a point of view and feel confident enough to share it.
There’s No Substitute for the Real Deal
At OpenIDEO, we’re quick to celebrate the online partnerships and virtual teams that form on our platform. After all, we’re an online tool – which means 99.9% of what our community does is online too.
For our team at IDEO, the same is true: our 10-person group is actually made up of a collection of people across multiple locations: the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, even Eastern Europe. Amazingly, there isn’t actually one time during the day when we can all get on a phone call together. At first this was incredibly frustrating and felt agonizingly slow (even now, when the phone or video connection is poor, it’s easy to want to pull your hair out). But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention – and working as part of a virtual team means getting creative. Whether it’s finding new tools to support our online brainstorming sessions or establishing new rituals that support our team to form bonds across time zones, we’re definitely seeing some advantages to working this way.
My sense is the trend these days is to further shift the balance toward virtual teams – and I’ll admit that it’s a skill I’ve worked hard to acquire. Nonetheless, one final learning from the last three years is that there really is no substitute for the ‘real deal’; that is, in-person, face-to-face connections and collaborations. On the OpenIDEO community side, we’re starting to see incredible traction when community members take their efforts ‘offline’ and continue their collaborations locally as a team. You can check out some great examples here. And for our team, we’re all starting to coalesce around the idea that certain projects ‘live’ in certain locations. It helps us focus, it means that projects can move forward more quickly, and it gives each local team the chance to form an identity and a bond.
It’s funny to look back on the last three years and wonder whether these lessons have been ones unique to working at a place like IDEO, or whether I’d have caught up to them at some point somewhere else. I’m not much of a risk taker, but I can say now that I jumped into IDEO with both feet – even though I had no idea what I was getting into.
One more note: even though these are lessons I’ve learned, I’ll admit I still have to practice them everyday. At times I still struggle in chaos, lose my voice or miss feeling an in-person connection. Some days are easier than others. Three years in, though, I’m thankful for the journey and learning so far – and I’m excited to see what the lessons are in Year 4!

A desk with a view

This February marked my three year anniversary as a member of the OpenIDEO team at IDEO – amazing how the time has flown!

Maybe it’s because I’m marking this anniversary, or because our team is growing and I find myself training and coaching new colleagues, but I’ve started reflecting on how OpenIDEO has evolved over the last few years – and by extension, how I’ve evolved with it. When I joined OpenIDEO way back when, our platform and our community was less than six months old. We were an exciting new initiative in IDEO’s eyes, and yet most of our colleagues weren’t quite sure what to make of us. We were small, scrappy and said yes to (almost) everything for the sake of continued learning and growth. We knew enough to be dangerous and had some hunches about where we were headed. But beyond that, the rest was open, white space.

Joining OpenIDEO marked a true departure and a leap of faith for me: prior to IDEO I’d never worked in technology, I’d never been part of a startup, and I’d certainly never imagined I’d join a design company. Even with all of these unknowns, it was a no brainer to jump in with both feet.

One of the cool things about joining OpenIDEO when I did is that I’ve had the chance to be around long enough to see our efforts grow and blossom. Ironically, in a world of fast-moving, short attention-span startups (and the employees behind them), having some staying-power has enabled me to get mired in the details AND see the forest for the trees, so to speak. As I round out Year 3 and move into Year 4, here are a few highlights of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown so far:

Finding Comfort in Chaos

When I first joined OpenIDEO, I was looking for structure. Ten months into what felt like a topsy-turvy, post-MBA job search that I had no control over, I viewed my IDEO offer letter as the guarantee of stability I was craving. How wrong I was! Instead, what I found was a brand new business with a largely unwritten future. Admittedly, in my first year at IDEO this mismatch was really challenging for me. I often found myself feeling inwardly resistant to conversations or projects that seemed too chaotic, or simply wishing we could have figured out all this messiness already. Everyone talked about things like ‘experiments’ and ‘iteration’ – and in truth, at the beginning of my OpenIDEO tenure, I often wanted to run screaming in the other direction.

Being a natural project manager, though, my inner organizer eventually took over and I started creating the structure I needed. In the beginning, this meant nailing things down, making quick decisions and clamping down on anything that felt ambiguous or undecided. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t so successful in those early days – not only was that way of working not in line with our cultural and team values, but it wasn’t any fun either. Later, I learned to move forward in my work by creating a skeleton outline – just enough structure to give myself a North Star to follow, while also still leaving a bit of room for spontaneity and unexpectedness.

At the time I thought I was just trying to wrap my arms around something to force it to make sense. Now, however, I can now look back and say that the experience of creating something out of nothing, of finding comfort in the chaos, was hugely valuable because it pushed me to do the very thing I was resisting – namely being flexible, not having all the answers from the outset, and learning to be comfortable with iterating along the way.

The beauty of working in a startup – as chaotic as it can be – is that in the chaos, there is possibility. There is growth and movement and fluidity in ways that you don’t experience when you’re working in a more traditional, ‘pre-built’ organization. Yes at times it can feel frenetic or unstructured…but strangely enough, this way of working has rubbed off on me. In fact, I can now say that I proudly use words like ‘prototype’ and ‘test’ in a sentence! Only this time around, it’s not just jargon – I believe it.

Speak Now…or Don’t

Prior to joining OpenIDEO, I’d worked in pretty traditional, hierarchical organizations where rank mattered. Where I sat in the food chain not only influenced the work I could do, but it affected the opportunities I had to participate in conversations. Because of this, I got trained (for better or for worse) to often times keep my opinions to myself. When I did speak, I agonized in my head: when was I going to chime in? what would I say? what questions will other people ask and how will I answer? It was exhausting.

One major shift that caught me off guard at IDEO was that suddenly, people wanted to know what I thought about things. Unlike other organizations, OpenIDEO (and IDEO more broadly) has a fairly flat structure and culturally, we value healthy, constructive dialogue and inquiry. This meant that, at any number of times during a day, my teammates, my manager, other folks at IDEO would ask, ‘Ashley, what do you think?’. Other times, they wouldn’t even bother asking – the expectation was that I would just dive right in.

While this may sound like a breath of fresh air, it was actually very challenging for me. Outside of some impassioned conversations in MBA team rooms, I actually didn’t have much practice using my voice. So, when pushed for a point of view on something, I instead turned inward and became speechless. While I’d always thought of myself as an extrovert, every day I sat in a roomful of extroverts who were well-practiced in speaking up – and suddenly the introvert in me switched on.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have an opinion; in fact I had opinions about everything! I just didn’t know how to share them.

Over time, and with the support and coaching of my manager and others, I slowly started practicing speaking up. And believe me, it takes practice. But incredibly, through this practice I don’t just feel more comfortable going through the motions of speaking my mind. Instead, I’ve come to trust even more in the content I have to share. Maybe it’s that I’ve been doing this long enough to have opinions that are rooted in real work and a real understanding of what we do, maybe it’s just something I’ve been practicing long enough that it feels less rehearsed and more spontaneous. Whatever the reason, it’s a liberating feeling to have a point of view and feel confident enough to share it.

There’s No Substitute for the Real Deal

At OpenIDEO, we’re quick to celebrate the online partnerships and virtual teams that form on our platform. After all, we’re an online tool – which means 99.9% of what our community does is online too.

For our team at IDEO, the same is true: our 10-person group is actually made up of a collection of people across multiple locations: the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, even Eastern Europe. Amazingly, there isn’t actually one time during the day when we can all get on a phone call together. At first this was incredibly frustrating and felt agonizingly slow (even now, when the phone or video connection is poor, it’s easy to want to pull your hair out). But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention – and working as part of a virtual team means getting creative. Whether it’s finding new tools to support our online brainstorming sessions or establishing new rituals that support our team to form bonds across time zones, we’re definitely seeing some advantages to working this way.

My sense is the trend these days is to further shift the balance toward virtual teams – and I’ll admit that it’s a skill I’ve worked hard to acquire. Nonetheless, one final learning from the last three years is that there really is no substitute for the ‘real deal’; that is, in-person, face-to-face connections and collaborations. On the OpenIDEO community side, we’re starting to see incredible traction when community members take their efforts ‘offline’ and continue their collaborations locally as a team. You can check out some great examples here. And for our team, we’re all starting to coalesce around the idea that certain projects ‘live’ in certain locations. It helps us focus, it means that projects can move forward more quickly, and it gives each local team the chance to form an identity and a bond.

It’s funny to look back on the last three years and wonder whether these lessons have been ones unique to working at a place like IDEO, or whether I’d have caught up to them at some point somewhere else. However they came to me, and even though I call these my lessons learned, I’ll admit I still have to practice them everyday. At times I still struggle in chaos, lose my voice or miss feeling an in-person connection. Some days are easier than others. Three years in, though, I’m thankful for the journey and learning so far – and I’m excited to see what the lessons are in Year 4!

Change Starts at Home

The Jablows

Change starts at home
I realized recently that it’s been a year since I last wrote on The Changebase. While I don’t like to make excuses, I think I’ve got a pretty good one: motherhood. In January 2013, my husband and I welcomed our wonderful little boy. Little did we know what a journey we were about to embark on.
Over the course of my first nine months as a parent, I’ve reflected often on the topic of community. When I started this blog, I set my focus and intentions around communities of change – high impact, innovative people and organizations doing great work out in the world. When I went on maternity leave last December, my own personal community of change was redefined, becoming infinitely smaller, tighter and ultimately much more meaningful than I could have imagined.
I’ve always believed in the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mentality, and I’ve learned firsthand that my child is truly a village baby. We’re incredibly lucky that our inner circle of family and friends have stepped up and supported our little baby and our little family during this daunting, scary and amazing time of transition and change. There’s no way we could have grown into the happy trio we now are without the love and support of our greater community.
This past weekend I went to the Net Impact conference in San Jose and spent much of my time there continuing to reflect. Last year at the conference I was 7 months pregnant; now I am mother to an almost one-year old! And yet, like always I felt wrapped up in the warm arms of that incredible community.
The theme of the conference was Change Starts Here. Each of the keynotes focused on various elements required to create lasting change: leadership, a network, dialogue, an idea. As I sat in the keynotes and many of the sessions, I thought about the kind of change I want to create in the world, and what I need in order to get there. Like any new mom, I face the internal (and sometimes very visible, external) struggle of balancing my career aspirations and dreams with an almost-primal urge to soak up every moment I can with my son. Let’s just say that while the conversation about work-life balance for working moms has been carrying on for decades, all of a sudden it feels very relevant to me.
What I’m learning is there’s no resolution, no end-point to this conversation. Rather than a period, it’s a comma – or maybe a run-on sentence that twists and turns and never lets you know where it’s going. Some days work feels like my #1, my purpose and my focus. But then I come home, racing in the front door in time for playtime and bath time, and I think to myself: how could I possibly miss this? What could ever be more important than this moment, right here and now?
In the end, I’m starting to see that there’s a ebb and flow to this new way of living. A give and take between any number of identities that I hold true and core to me, to Ashley. I’m a mom – and I love being a mom. I’m a professional – and I find fulfillment through working. And I’m lots of things in between. Sometimes one part of me shines through more than the others, but these parts of me are always there. Working in tandem to make up the whole.
No where was this more evident than at Net Impact’s three-day conference. For two of those days, I poured myself into the schedule, the networking and the learning. I was inspired and energized, and eagerly awaiting day 3. Yet as I pulled into my driveway at the end of a long second day, I turned inward and asked myself, “if I could do anything tomorrow, what would it be”? The answer rang loud and clear: family. So, on day 3 of Net Impact – while my twitter feed hummed with conference insights and learning from just down the road – I stayed home with my son and husband for some time together. And it was a great day.
When I think about where change starts and how it happens, I agree: it starts with leadership and networks and a big idea. But in my definition of change, it also starts with my family. I’m not yet sure exactly what my mark on the world will be, or how I’ll create my own community of change, but I do know that investing in my son, helping him grow into the person he’s meant to be and building a community around him is one big way I’ll get there. Change may start in many ways, but sometimes – in my world – it starts at home.

I realized recently that it’s been a year since I last wrote on The Changebase. While I don’t like to make excuses, I think I’ve got a pretty good one: motherhood. In January 2013, my husband and I welcomed our wonderful little boy. Little did we know what a journey we were about to embark on.

Over the course of my first nine months as a parent, I’ve reflected often on the topic of community. When I started this blog, I set my focus and intentions around communities of change – high impact, innovative people and organizations doing great work out in the world. When I went on maternity leave last December, my own personal community of change was redefined, becoming stronger, tighter and ultimately much more meaningful than I could have imagined.

I’ve always believed in the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mentality, and I’ve learned firsthand that my child is truly a village baby. We’re incredibly lucky that our inner circle of family and friends have stepped up and supported our little family during this daunting, scary and amazing time of transition and change. There’s no way we could have grown into the happy trio we now are without the love and support of our greater community.

This past weekend I went to the Net Impact conference in San Jose and spent much of my time there continuing to reflect. Last year at the conference I was 7 months pregnant; now I am mother to an almost one year-old! And yet, like always I felt wrapped up in the warm arms of that incredible community.

The theme of the conference was Change Starts Here. Each of the keynotes focused on various elements required to create lasting change: leadership, a network, dialogue, an idea. As I sat in the keynotes and many of the sessions, I thought about the kind of change I want to create in the world, and what I need in order to get there. Like any new mom, I face the internal (and sometimes very visible, external) struggle of balancing my career aspirations and dreams with an almost-primal urge to soak up every moment I can with my son. Let’s just say that while the conversation about work-life balance for working moms has been carrying on for decades, all of a sudden it feels very relevant to me.

What I’m learning is there’s no resolution, no end-point to this conversation. Rather than a period, it’s a comma – or maybe a run-on sentence that twists and turns and never lets you know where it’s going. Some days work feels like my #1, my purpose and my focus. But then I come home, racing in the front door in time for playtime and bath time, and I think to myself: how could I possibly miss this? What could ever be more important than this moment, right here and now?

In the end, I’m starting to see that there’s a ebb and flow to this new way of living. A give and take between any number of identities that I hold true and core to me, to Ashley. I’m a mom – and I love being a mom. I’m a professional – and I find fulfillment through working. And I’m lots of things in between. Sometimes one part of me shines through more than the others, but these parts of me are always there. Working in tandem to make up the whole.

No where was this more evident than at Net Impact’s three-day conference. For two of those days, I poured myself into the schedule, the networking and the learning. I was inspired and energized, and eagerly awaiting day 3. Yet as I pulled into my driveway at the end of a long second day, I turned inward and asked myself, “if I could do anything tomorrow, what would it be”? The answer rang loud and clear: family. So, on day 3 of Net Impact – while my twitter feed hummed with conference insights and learning from just down the road – I stayed home with my son and husband for some time together. And it was a great day.

When I think about where change starts and how it happens, I agree: it starts with leadership and networks and a big idea. But in my definition of change, it also starts with my family. I’m not yet sure exactly what my mark on the world will be, or ultimately how I’ll create my own community of change. But I do know that investing in my son, helping him grow into the person he’s meant to be and building a community around him is one big way I’ll get there. Change may start in many ways, but sometimes – in my world – it starts at home.

Designing for Business Impact

BusinessImpactChallenge

On OpenIDEO, our global community tackles a variety of big challenge topics, from improving maternal health using mobile technology, to providing accessible voting for citizens with mobility or language restrictions. Each challenge topic brings with it the chance to explore, learn about and design for social and environmental impact in a new and different way.

As I gear up to attend the 2012 Net Impact conference, I can’t help but connect the dots between our current OpenIDEO challenge and the 3,000 or so passionate, driven and connected MBAs and professionals who’ll be gathering in Baltimore, MD for this year’s event.

OpenIDEO’s Business Impact Challenge focuses on designing tools, resources, incentives and other solutions to help for-profit companies innovate for world benefit. At its core, this challenge centers around a topic that was (and still remains) very near to my own heart while I was in business school: doing good and doing well.

The sponsor for our challenge, the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western Reserve University, has set its sights on creating a Nobel-like prize to not only recognize current business innovations that have made our society and environment better, but also to spur and catalyze future innovations that drive our world forward. Their intention for this OpenIDEO challenge is to collect inspirations and ideas from around the world that they can incorporate into their own effort toward a vision they call “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.”

Our challenge has opened its Concepting phase, where everyone is invited to collaboratively design ideas to inspire, recognize and enable businesses to innovate with world benefit in mind.

For many of the folks attending Net Impact (or following along at #ni12), this concept – business innovating for world benefit – is already integral to your thinking, approach and outlook at school or at work.

So from your own experience, what do you need to help you do this work better? How could you collaborate with the OpenIDEO community to design concepts that enable your organization to develop these kinds of world changing innovations? To help guide everyone’s efforts in the Concepting, we’ve put together a few tools – Challenge Themes and a Brainstorm in a Box toolkit.

If ever there were a conversation meant specifically for Net Impacters, this is it.

At conferences, it can be so easy to keep the conversation up in the clouds, to speak in what if’s and theories, rather than in the practical and the tangible. This week, why not balance out the theories with some real-world designing? Join our Business Impact Challenge and create concepts to support each of us as we move the needle toward businesses that innovate not just for financial return, but to change the world for the better.

See you on OpenIDEO!

And PS – this Saturday I’m speaking on a panel at the Net Impact conference about breaking into the impact sector and finding a job with purpose. I hope to see you there!

On OpenIDEO, our global community tackles a variety of big challenge topics, from improving maternal health using mobile technology, to providing accessible voting for citizens with mobility or language restrictions. Each challenge topic brings with it the chance to explore, learn about and design for social and environmental impact in a new and different way.
As I gear up to attend the 2012 Net Impact conference, I can’t help but connect the dots between our current OpenIDEO challenge and the 3,000 or so passionate, driven and connected MBAs and professionals who’ll be gathering in Baltimore, MD for this year’s event.
OpenIDEO’s Business Impact Challenge focuses on designing tools, resources, incentives and other solutions to help for-profit companies innovate for world benefit. At its core, this challenge centers around a topic that was (and still remains) very near to my own heart while I was in business school: doing good and doing well.
The sponsor for our challenge, the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western Reserve University, has set its sights on creating a Nobel-like prize to not only recognize current business innovations that have made our society and environment better, but also to spur and catalyze future innovations that drive our world forward. Their intention for this OpenIDEO challenge is to collect inspirations and ideas from around the world that they can incorporate into their own effort toward a vision they call “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.”
Our challenge has opened its Concepting phase, where everyone is invited to collaboratively design ideas to inspire, recognize and enable businesses to innovate with world benefit in mind.
For many of the folks attending Net Impact (or following along at #ni12), this concept – business innovating for world benefit – is already integral to your thinking, approach and outlook at school or at work. So from your own experience, what do you need to help you do this work better? How could you collaborate with the OpenIDEO community to design concepts that enable your organization to develop these kinds of world changing innovations?
To help guide everyone’s efforts in the Concepting, we’ve put together a few tools – challenge Themes and a Brainstorm in a Box toolkit. Check them out, and join our challenge.
If ever there were a conversation meant specifically for Net Impacters, this is it. At conferences, it can be so easy to keep the conversation up in the clouds, to speak in what if’s and theories, rather than in the practical and the tangible. This week, why not balance out the theories with some real-world designing? Join our Business Impact Challenge and create concepts to support each of us as we move the needle toward businesses that innovate not just for financial return, but to change the world for the better.

Exploring Community

Exploring Community

These days, ‘community’ might as well be my middle name. And, I’m happy to report, it’s a topic that just doesn’t seem to get old. Here’s one aspect of community I’ve been thinking about lately:

It goes without saying that what a community looks like, how it’s defined, as well as what it feels like to belong to that community, is unique to each person and each community. This could be said for in-person as well as online communities; in fact last week I had an interesting conversation with some folks building an online community for Edible Schoolyard, Alice Waters’ food education program, and I was struck by how their online community looks, feels, behaves and interacts so differently from the one I manage on OpenIDEO.

The topic of community also came up at IDEO recently, most notably on a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard in a bathroom in the SF office (funny enough, I’ve written about this bathroom before!). What I love about this image is that it very humorously reminds us that being a part of a community feels different for everyone. From informal recognition to bonding through adversity (with or without the bear hugs), this exercise proves that there’s no shortage of answers when we’re asking about community!

Although every community may be unique, when I look at this quick snapshot a few key tenets do bubble up to the surface:

  • inclusiveness and a sense of belonging;
  • common experiences or understanding;
  • respect and appreciation;
  • humor; and,
  • swag (of course!)

While each community may serve its own population, focus on a specific cause or mission, or adhere to different norms or standards, I actually believe that one set of guiding principles can hold true for all communities: make me feel welcome, invite me to join in, validate my contributions, help me have fun, and give me the chance to share my community pride.

It’s possible that I’m oversimplifying, but I don’t actually think by much. I can attest that these are principles that I try to bring to my interactions with the OpenIDEO community everyday, not to mention the “real life” communities I belong to (family, friends, school etc).

What do you think? Do these principles ring true for you and the communities you belong to? What’s missing? I’m curious to hear what you think.

And of course, as my friend Athena recently shared, when all else fails…

communityguidelines

These days, ‘community’ might as well be my middle name. And amazingly, it’s a topic that doesn’t get old to me.
It goes without saying that what a community looks like, as well as what it feels like to belong to a community, is unique for each person. This week I had an interesting conversation with someone building an online community for Edible Schoolyard, Alice Waters’ food education program, and I was struck by how their online community looks, feels, behaves and interacts so differently from the one I manage on OpenIDEO.
These days I’m particularly interested in the distinction between online and in-person communities, and the potential for intersection between the two. Even in my online community work, I often try to remind myself to think about how I might connect our virtual community members together in-person. Easier said than done, but something I’m currently churning through in my head.
The topic of community came up at IDEO this week, most notably on a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard in the SF office (funny enough, I’ve written about this bathroom before!). What I love about this image is that it very honestly and humorously reminds us that building a strong community is not one-size-fits-all. After all, as this exercise proves, you can pose this question and we’re literally running out of room on the chalkboard!
But then again, when I look at this quick snapshot, a few key tenets bubble up to the surface:
- inclusiveness
- a sense of belonging
- common experiences or understanding
- respect
- appreciation
So are communities really that unique? Is it possible that one set of guiding principles could hold true for communities across the board? I think it’s a bit more complex than that. But it could be fair to say that all people, regardless of their interests, backgrounds, geographies or experiences would like to be part of a community that operates according to these tenets. So while it’s not perfect, I’d say it’s a great place to start.
As my friend Athena recently shared on Instagram

Lessons from the Trenches: My Year in Review

It’s been a busy year of learning, stretching, growing and testing for me at IDEO. Knowing that I’m someone who likes to take stock of my progress and plan for the year ahead (see my posts here and here for examples), I thought I’d take some time to review my efforts and share some big lessons I’ve had along the way.
For those of you out in the working world, my hope is that these might resonate with you. And for the MBAs, design students and other job seekers out there, consider these some helpful tips for what’s to come!
So, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
The Road to Impact is Long…and Bumpy…and Unpaved
If you’re like me, when you start a new job you want to hit the ground running. Eager to make an impact and prove my value to my team, I dove in head first to every big and bold strategic question I could get my hands on – basically with the intention to solve every question, pursue every lead, and wring every ounce of opportunity I could from each day.
Not surprisingly, after a few months of this craziness I realized the dangers of this approach. First and foremost, I burnt out almost immediately. Secondly, this ‘raising my hand to tackle everything’ strategy actually meant that I wasn’t really able to complete anything I started…a brutal a-ha moment when I went back over my to-do lists and saw how many things I started but never crossed off.
At OpenIDEO we talk about achieving impact from our challenges, and yes – the road to OpenIDEO impact is definitely long (but we’re working on it). But from where I sit, my own road to impact at work – not just learning my job but actually doing it well – has been bumpy, unpaved and very windy.  After 12 months on the job, though, I not only know how to do my job, but I know how much of my job I can do. At least at one time.
Opportunities Disguised as Obstacles
Although it might sound cliché, this lesson for me is all about attitude. Buried in post-its, empty cups of coffee and a growing list of things to do, it’s been easy for me to throw my hands up in the air at times and wallow: “This is too difficult/chaotic/busy/challenging/insert negative thought here.”
But the truth is: it’s all about attitude. Take, for instance, the work that I do with my teammates who literally live half a world away. Rather than bemoan our regular Skype calls and long email chains, I’ve chosen to respect and appreciate the fact that our team brings a global voice and perspective to the work we do. Working across three time zones has also forced me to practice communicating in new ways, favoring short and to-the-point over long and wordy (definitely easier said than done – I’m still working on this one!).
Stopping to Smell the Roses…at least once a day
Let’s face it: working in a startup can be a bit nutty, to say the least. Over the course of the last year, I’ve had my fair share of skipped lunches, early morning starts and weekend work-a-thons. But somewhere along the way, the Golden Rule of Business School (you may know it as the 80/20 rule) flashed into my mind.
What I realized is that there is always going to be work. There’s always going to be an opportunity to do better, to try something out, to report back on the last experiment, or just really to do more. But as the law of diminishing returns teaches us, at a certain point this extra effort just stops paying off. Productivity drops, mood drops, everything drops.
I started taking walks at lunch. I started having coffee with new coworkers to welcome them in much the same way I was welcomed when I joined. I started attending lunches and know-hows and speaker sessions. In essence, I started showing up for activities and opportunities that existed beyond my desk.
I learned this lesson late in my first year at IDEO, so I’m truthfully only starting to reap the rewards. But trust me: I’m learning more, I’m making friends, and I’m doing even better at my job. A win win win!
Creating, Promoting and Leveraging Communities of Change
This last lesson has been an especially sweet one for me. When I started this blog almost three years ago, I was attracted to the idea of communities of change – who they are, what they do, and what we can learn from them. So you can imagine my nice surprise when, just a couple of weeks ago, I realized: this is what I do for work.
My job is all about creating, promoting and leveraging one very specific community of change: the OpenIDEO community. My role is to help our global community find their voice, learn about issues that affect them, and translate their enthusiasm and energies into ideas for local and global impact. Amazing how early interests and intentions can end up aligning with real life.
All in all, this last year has been an incredible time for me, one that’s pushed me to reevaluate how I work, collaborate, learn and lead. Are you taking time to review your own lessons at work, or in life? What have you learned?

It’s been a busy year of learning, stretching, growing and testing for me at OpenIDEO. Knowing that I’m someone who likes to take stock of my progress and plan for the year ahead (see my posts here and here for examples), I thought I’d take some time to review my efforts and share some big lessons I’ve had along the way.

IMG_0310

For those of you out in the working world, my hope is that these might resonate with you. And for the MBAs, design students and other job seekers out there, consider these some helpful tips for what’s to come!

So, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The Road to Impact is Long…and Bumpy…and Unpaved

If you’re like me, when you start a new job you want to hit the ground running. Eager to make an impact and prove my value to my team, I dove in head first to every big and bold strategic question I could get my hands on – basically with the intention to solve every question, pursue every lead, and wring every ounce of opportunity I could from each day.

Not surprisingly, after a few months of this craziness I realized the dangers of this approach. First and foremost, I burnt out almost immediately. Secondly, this ‘raising my hand to tackle everything’ strategy actually meant that I wasn’t really able to complete anything I started…a brutal a-ha moment when I went back over my to-do lists and saw how many things I started but never crossed off.

At OpenIDEO we talk about achieving impact from our challenges, and yes – the road to OpenIDEO impact is definitely long (but we’re working on it). But from where I sit, my own road to impact at work – not just learning my job but actually doing it well – has been bumpy, unpaved and not at all direct.  After 12 months, though, I not only know how to do my job, but I know how much of my job I can do. At least at one time.

Opportunities Disguised as Obstacles

Although it might sound cliché, this lesson for me is all about attitude. Buried in post-its, empty cups of coffee and a growing list of things to do, it’s been easy for me to throw my hands up in the air at times and wallow: “This is just too difficult/chaotic/busy/scary.”

But the truth is: it’s all about attitude. Take, for instance, the work that I do with my teammates who literally live half a world away. Rather than bemoan our regular Skype calls and long email chains, I’ve chosen to respect and appreciate the fact that our team brings a global voice and perspective to the work we do. Working across three time zones has also forced me to practice communicating in new ways, favoring short and to-the-point over long and wordy (definitely still working on this one!).

Stopping to Smell the Roses…at least once a day

Let’s face it: working in a startup can be nuts. Over the course of the last year, I’ve had my fair share of skipped lunches, early morning starts and weekend work-a-thons. But somewhere along the way, the Golden Rule of Business School (you may know it as the 80/20 rule) flashed into my mind.

What I realized is that there is always going to be work. There’s always going to be an opportunity to do better, to try something out, to report back on the last experiment, or just really to do more. But as we all know, at a certain point this extra effort just stops paying off. Productivity drops, mood drops, everything drops.

I started taking walks at lunch, having coffee with new coworkers, and attending know-hows and speaker sessions. In essence, I started showing up for activities and opportunities that existed beyond my desk. And so far I’m learning more, I’m making friends, and I’m doing even better at my job. A win win win!

Creating, Promoting and Leveraging Communities of Change

This last lesson has been an especially sweet one for me. When I started this blog almost three years ago, I was attracted to the idea of communities of change – who they are, what they do, and what we can learn from them. So you can imagine my nice surprise when, just a couple of weeks ago, I realized: this is what I do for work.

My job is all about creating, promoting and leveraging one very specific community of change: the OpenIDEO community. My role is to help our global community find their voice, learn about issues that affect them, and translate their enthusiasm and energies into ideas for local and global impact. Amazing how early interests and intentions can end up aligning in real life.

All in all, this last year has been an incredible time for me, one that’s pushed me to reevaluate how I work, collaborate, learn and lead. Are you taking time to review your own lessons at work, or in life? What have you learned?

Learning through Empathy

MoneyI was lucky enough to spend last Friday morning at a café in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Recently I’ve made a habit of spending Fridays there. I don’t live in San Francisco but I tend to have meetings in SF, which means the Ferry Building often becomes a bit of a home base for me. There’s plenty to eat and drink, and it’s light, bright, bustling with energy and just a bit chaotic – all good things in a vibrant city space!

As much as I love the frenzy and noise of the Ferry Building, it can also feel lonely here at times. Just like in any big city, being surrounded by strangers can lead to an awesome and liberating feeling of anonymity. On the other hand, sitting in a room watching everyone else laugh, eat and connect with their friends and family can leave a person feeling alone and cut off.

A few weeks ago, I had an experience that left me feeling particularly isolated and alone, one that I thought I’d share in the hope that it offers some interesting learning and questions.

I was rushing like always to get out of the house and catch my train to San Francisco. I had a lunch meeting scheduled at (surprise, surprise) the Ferry Building, and I didn’t want to be late. To get there, I planned to walk to the train station (10 minutes), ride the train (40 minutes), take another train (10 minutes), and then walk a bit more. I sprinted to the station and hopped on just in time.

As I went to grab my monthly train pass, my heart sank: I had forgotten my wallet. Oh my god, I thought, I got on the train without a ticket! I don’t tend to make mistakes like this often, so I immediately got a bit angry with myself.

Then, a few moments later the bigger reality hit: I don’t have any money. At first I didn’t think this was a huge deal – I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t get booted from the train for not having a ticket, and amazingly luck was on my side and I managed to make it all the way to SF.

But here’s where it got complicated. To get to the Ferry Building in time for my meeting, I had planned to board a city train. But without money, I couldn’t buy a ticket and I knew I wouldn’t make it on a second time for free. So I started walking, and walking, and walking. Finally, a mile and a half later I made it to the Ferry Building – out of breath and 30 minutes late! I apologized profusely as I met my lunch date and we headed toward the entrance.

But of course, then I remembered: we were supposed to have lunch, and I had no money. My companion was very understanding and even offered to pay for my meal, but after all that walking and the stress and embarrassment of the morning, I wasn’t hungry so I passed on his offer. So we chatted while he ate, and about an hour later, we parted ways.

As we said goodbye, though, I had an instant moment of clarity and realized what was happening. It was late afternoon, and I was hot, exhausted and all of a sudden excruciatingly hungry. And I had no money. I was supposed to meet my husband a few hours later, and on the surface, waiting a bit before we met up didn’t seem unbearable.

But then I got to thinking – which was unfortunately becoming increasingly hard to do on an empty stomach:

Where do I go? Where can I wait?

Where’s the nearest bathroom?

Where’s the nearest water fountain?

All of a sudden, I felt alone and hopeless. I was hungry, thirsty, tired and completely by myself. As I wandered around and looked for a place to rest, I couldn’t help but think to myself: this must be what it feels like to be homeless.

Now ok, in hindsight I will admit that was a sweeping generalization. In the grand scheme of things, I barely brushed the surface of understanding the challenges of being homeless. And rest assured that I did end up reuniting with my husband, over a delicious meal no less. Still, my afternoon without cash left a real imprint on me.

The truth is I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy these days. At IDEO, empathy is an integral component of what we call human-centered design. By putting ourselves in the shoes of others, we learn about people’s concerns, hopes, fears and perhaps most importantly, needs. And their needs are what we design for.

Take the current OpenIDEO challenge in partnership with Amnesty International as an example. Human rights, and unlawful detention specifically, is something that not everyone can relate to – so we’re using empathy to delve deeper into the experience a detainee or his/her family might go through. Empathy, in many ways, is the golden ticket that helps us design solutions successfully and with compassion and authenticity.

Last week David Brooks wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the limits of empathy. His central argument is that while empathy can be a tool for understanding, it can also lead to misguided efforts. Empathy, for example, can make us feel more compassion for cuter, more approachable causes – like puppies, sick babies, or polar bears.  And empathy, he argues, doesn’t actually translate to action. Just because you empathize with a homeless person on the street doesn’t mean you’ll actually act to improve his circumstance.

I agree with Mr. Brooks that empathy doesn’t guarantee action. Since reading his article, I’ll admit that my brush with empathy hasn’t exactly changed my behavior or inspired me to act differently.

I do however believe that empathy guarantees awareness.Without sounding overly dramatic, in the span of just a few hours that day, I was transformed. As I walked around, staying close to the restrooms and considering where I might find free snacks, I realized that I no longer felt like Ashley. Instead, I felt invisible, embarrassed, and to be honest even a little emotional.

Now, thanks to that experience a few weeks ago, I have at the ready some very tangible touch points for how it feels to be someone else. To be in a different place, in a different body and live under very different but very real constraints. Has my heightened empathy motivated me to reach into my pocket and give money to someone on the street? No, not yet. But have I approached my interactions, my work, and my personal life differently thanks to this renewed awareness? Absolutely. And I think that’s a great place to start.

Turning Ideas into Impact

I recently came across this great TED talk by Steven Johnson, a technology, science and innovation author who focuses on the question of where good ideas come from.


Steven Johnson on TED

Over the course of 20 minutes, Johnson discusses open innovation as a vehicle for identifying, nurturing and developing great ideas. Innovation doesn’t happen in a bubble, nor in a flash – instead the best ideas are those that have come from connected individuals who make use of “liquid networks.”  “Chance,” he says, “favors the connected mind.”

This topic has been very top-of-mind for me lately, as I dive into the world of open innovation and online collaboration over at OpenIDEO.

As you’ve heard me talk before, OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform where people from all walks of life come together to collaboratively tackle some of our world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. From improving maternal health using mobile technology to increasing access to sanitation solutions in low-income communities, OpenIDEATORS (as our global community of 17,000+ calls itself) have generated thousands of ideas to improve our world.

It turns out that August marks OpenIDEO’s first anniversary, and while we’re taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, we’re also eagerly looking forward toward what we hope to accomplish in the year ahead.

In some ways you could argue that Steven Johnson’s talk about the genesis of great ideas represents the story of OpenIDEO during Year 1. Through our platform we’ve provided an opportunity for people to connect and for ideas to be shared and built upon. In Year 2, however, we’re hoping to go beyond just being a community of thinkers, and instead figure out ways to become a community of doers.

One common critique of open innovation platforms like OpenIDEO is that impact is slow and difficult to achieve, and it’s something we’ve definitely witnessed over the course of the last 10 challenges we’ve run. The sponsors we work with make a commitment to realizing ideas from each challenge, but achieving and documenting implementation and impact can be slow going due to a number of constraints on resources, time, partnerships and more. Given this, one of our goals for Year 2 is to focus on the kind of impact that isn’t always slow; that is, impact via individuals like you and me.

Take our Bone Marrow Donation Challenge, for instance. Ideally, impact in this challenge means actual lives saved through increased bone marrow donation. While this would certainly be an incredible example of impact, it’s going to a long time before OpenIDEO and our sponsor have helped connect a bone marrow donor with a cancer patient in need of a transplant. In the meantime, then, we also want to recognize that there are alternative impacts we can strive for in the short term – swabbing a cheek and registering to donate, raising awareness among friends and family, even hosting a bone marrow registration drive, to name a few. The point is: there are many ways to contribute to achieving impact, and many ways to become a doer.

To gear up for a year focused on increasing our impact, OpenIDEO has just launched a new challenge that asks the question: How might we increase social impact with OpenIDEO over the next year?

ImpactChallengeHeror

It’s a question that’s relevant not just for the OpenIDEO community but for the social innovation sector as a whole. What does impact mean on a local and global scale? How can we catalyze people from all over the world to recognize and act on moments of impact? And how might we empower people to open themselves up to the possibility that they can become agents of change? We’re hoping to tackle these questions in this challenge, and I’d love it if you joined the conversation.

Here’s to the start of a brand new year – one filled with new ideas and new impact.

I Am a Social Intrapreneur

Here I am, literally pushing a rock!

Here I am, literally pushing a rock!

When you’re looking for CSR work, there’s a very clear mantra that everyone repeats, day in and day out. It goes something like this:

“Real CSR jobs are few and far between. If you want to do CSR, go get a functional job within a big company and innovate from the inside out.”

In social change circles, this mantra could also be called social intrapreneurship. Unlike social entrepreneurship, where you’re starting something completely new and distinct, social intrapreneurship is all about finding ways to innovate within the constraints of your current organization.

For instance, if you’re an operations social intrapreneur, you might be on the lookout for ways to streamline your supply chain so as to reduce environmental inefficiencies, but that doesn’t mean that your job title has the word ’sustainability’ in it. Similarly, if you’re a marketing social intrapreneur, you might find an opportunity to promote the green benefits of your product, even if it’s not an explicitly eco-friendly item. This, at its core, is what social intrapreneurship is all about.

I learned this “innovate from the inside out” mantra early in grad school, which means that while I was a student, social intrapreneurship was often on my mind and in my blog (check out some stories I wrote about Best Buy and eBay as well as a short video interview I gave about it!).

And because I modeled my opinion of social intrapreneurship on the stories I’d learned and written about, I also came to associate the topic with a few specific images and messages in my head: corporate boardrooms in big, boxy skyscrapers; bureaucrats in suits who prioritize profits over everything else; and yes, even pushing rocks up mountains with my bare hands! It might not sound like your idea of fun, but hey – let’s just say that if you want to do CSR work, you quickly get used to the idea that your job one day might involve persuading some boulders to start rolling.

Because of these definitive ideas that I had about when and where social intrapreneurship could happen, when I started my job with OpenIDEO I essentially cast off my social intrapreneurship intentions. I mean, folks at IDEO don’t exactly wear suits, and they certainly don’t sit around in corporate boardrooms!

As I’ve settled in to my work and my team, though, what I’ve learned is that social intrapreneurship is actually an integral part of my day job. Without even realizing it, I’ve become a social intrapreneur.

Let’s see if I can explain.

OpenIDEO is a social innovation startup within IDEO; that is, we’re a new business incubating within the confines of an established organization (no matter how un-corporate it might be). Because of that, we face many of the same challenges our social intrapreneurship colleagues in more corporate settings deal with every day:

  1. Cutting back the number of cooks in the kitchen: As a new initiative, we look for guidance from all corners of the organization, not to mention outside of IDEO too. The good news is that everyone has an opinion, and the bad news is that everyone has an opinion! How do we sift through these differing intentions and use them to make smart choices?
  2. Being bold and realistic: This especially comes into play when we try to balance our potential to grow with our limited capacity and bandwidth as a small team. How do we pursue leads, push ourselves to develop, and be brave and bold – without burning out?
  3. Solidifying “the OpenIDEO Way”: Part of what makes OpenIDEO so fun and unique is that mostly everything we’re doing is new and uncharted (after all, we’ve been live for less than year!). Eventually, though, you start realizing you’re reinventing the wheel every time you get asked to do something slightly different. Is there a way to stay flexible and open to new opportunities while also developing some standard processes that will help us scale and replicate?
  4. Doing well and doing good: It’s the oldest cliché in the book, but it certainly applies to what we’re working on too. While we are out for social impact, we’re no good to anyone if we don’t make money. How might we find ways to prove our business model and impact our world at the same time?

Ultimately, as a new offering within an established company, we operate very similarly to all the other social intrapreneurs out there trying to create change within their own organizations.  Whether you’re a small CSR team, or a single person with a passion for sustainability or philanthropy, the work of a social intrepreneur isn’t easy. With that said, I can also state with 100% confidence that it’s a lot more fun than pushing rocks uphill!

How are you applying social intrapreneurship within your own organization? What tips, tricks or guidance would you want to share with me and others? I’d love to hear from you.

Ready… Set… Fail?

These days, when people talk about innovation, it’s almost inevitable that the word “failure” isn’t far behind.RubberBands

From what I’ve seen, failure and its role as a necessary ingredient for innovation is getting quite a bit of buzz these days, with everyone from design thinkers to social change agents to Warren Buffet saying that failure should be an expected – and even welcomed – outcome when you’re out to create change.

And sure, this isn’t super surprising. Anytime you think and act outside of the proverbial box, you’re bound to make some mistakes, right? Naturally.

But should we really be using the term “failure” to describe this behavior? I’m not so sure. Before I get to that, though, I’ve got a couple of admissions to share:

Admission #1: I am a perfectionist.

I don’t mean perfectionist in a purely competitive way, but more like I really want to get things right. Dotting every I and crossing every T is definitely part of it. But have you ever stopped to think first about which pen might draw the best I or T? I definitely do.

Admission #2: I’m also a planner.

I like knowing what’s coming down the pipeline, what’s on my to-do list, and what I can expect. More than anything, I LOVE when good planning leads to good results (guess it’s a vicious cycle of planning and perfection!).

But here’s the problem:

First of all, perfection is often exhausting. Setting the bar beyond what’s doable can sometimes lead to greatness, but it can just as easily lead to burnout. And planning? As they say, expect the unexpected. I may always want to plan, but life gets chaotic, things get in the way, and new opportunities (and roadblocks) pop up.

When I first started my new job, I often used the word “stretched” to describe how I felt. Not in an overwhelmed kind of way, but instead like a rubber band being pulled in two directions at once. In essence, my new job and my new team stretch me everyday to think, act and approach my work in wholly different ways. While I like to plan my next move before getting started, for instance, my team likes to seize a good idea and run with it. And while I like to make sure we have things right (ok, let’s be honest – perfect) before diving into anything, my team is more than comfortable making a few mistakes along the way.

And so here comes Admission #3: mistakes make me very, very uncomfortable.

What’s funny is that when we talk about innovation, especially in the social sector, I’ll be the first to raise my hand and recognize how important failure is as a part of the learning process. Objectively I can understand that innovation is messy and chaotic, and because of that, it can and should entail making mistakes along the way.

The hardest part, of course, is taking a leap of faith in my own innovation process, knowing full well that I might not get it right the first time.

For a perfectionist who likes to plan, making a mistake is one of the toughest things you could ask me to do! But like a rubber band being stretched, I’m learning to accept the fact that a few mistakes along the way are helpful, and maybe even healthy.

It can be tough to find a balance between waiting to do something until it’s perfect and jumping in with both feet, regardless of the warning bells. I’ve learned that the need for perfection shouldn’t paralyze you, but your willingness to make mistakes also shouldn’t cloud your better judgment.

How do you move forward thoughtfully and also proactively? How do you try to get it right the first time, but also give yourself permission to make a few missteps along the way?

To be honest, I don’t yet know. But I’m working on it, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Which brings me back to my original question: is failure the same thing as making mistakes? I may be a recovering perfectionist, but I’d argue there’s a definite difference!