Category Archives: Innovation

Moderated Innovation in Philanthropy

#LateNightRamblings: So, what does it take to change the world? What does it even take to change your city or your neighborhood? People have been working at it a long time, and look where we are. It just seems like, if we want different results, we need different methodology.

As I delve more into this philanthropic business, this #changemaker world, I see a lot of good ideas, but I also see a lot of inertia, and I definitely see a LOT of bad ideas. I think the thing that upsets me the most is the funding.

I see funding going to so many projects, both new and old, that are so obviously headed for failure. I think the new ones annoy me the most. Sure, they might be some short-lived fun, but in the long run, when the funding runs out, they turn out to be unsustainable. Then, what was the point of all that money?

I see the word “innovation” bandied about quite a bit. I see money going to “innovative” projects for no other reason than they are trendy. Some work out okay, but many, the majority, do not. They are just the theme of the week, they have no substance and no real, long-term merit. But, everyone wants to hop on the hashtag-of-the-week trendwagon. It is like the funders are trying to buy their way into coolness.

On the other side, many of the old style organizations, that have not kept up with the new ideas that do work, still keep plodding along, sucking up dollars that could go to leaner, more efficient organizations. The opportunities presented my new technologies and new management styles are really amazing, but so many people just stick to the “this is the way we have always done it.”

Question everything. Do the old styles of Boards work? I know, it is blasphemy to even ask. Do the old styles of executive management work? Does the old habit of working your volunteers until they crash still work? Do the old funding models still work? If the answer is yes, definitely keep it, if the answer is no, stop holding onto it just out of fear of change.

It is a balancing act that requires moderation on both ends; too bleeding edge, and you end up wasting money on things nobody ever wanted; too tried-and-true and you lose out on the potential presented by new learning. The real magic happens in that middle-area, by taking the old methods that do work, and carefully applying new methodology to them, pushing the envelope, without ripping it.

You know, but nobody wants to talk about the middle. The bleeding edge stuff appeals to the adrenaline junkies and trend-hoppers. The tried-and-true stuff appeals to the complacent and lazy. The moderated innovation that takes place in the middle appeals to no one, but it is where the actual progress happens.

I always say we are inventing the future. We are creating things things that have not been done (e.g. PhilanthroFest), but we base them on the parts of the past that work (it’s a big family festival). If you just do new stuff that has no sustainability, then it does not become the future because it eventually dies off. If you just keep doing the same old thing, then you are not inventing anything. Inventing the future means creating things from the past that are new AND sustainable.

You do have to try new stuff. You do have to learn from the past. You can do both. Unfortunately, it seems that most people think it is one or the other.

The Fallacy of Common Sense

As I was waking up this morning, I saw this cartoon and it reminded of how bad the so-called “common sense” is.

from “U.S. Acres”

Many people, I would say even most people, extoll common sense as a virtue. I maintain it is not, rather it is a hindrance that holds us back and keeps us from learning and growing.

Take the above example, “everybody” knows that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, right? Except that’s wrong. In fact, almost the reverse is true. Lightning is much more likely to strike the same place twice than not. (Reference. Another reference. Yet another reference.)

It used to be common practice to treat an ulcer flare-up with milk. Milk is thick and creamy and soothing, right? Except not. Milk actually exacerbates ulcers. (Reference. You can find others.)

When Apple released the iPad, almost everyone was skeptical. Who was going to carry around a giant phone that didn’t make phone calls? Now, iPads and other tablets are ubiquitous.

Even the term “common sense” should turn you off. Who wants to be common? Why do people extoll this as a virtue? (Well, that is the subject of a different column.) But the fact is, common sense generally tells us that doing the same thing we have always done is the way to go. It worked before, it’ll probably work again.

Except, that isn’t what moves us forward. Moving forward requires throwing off common sense, doing something different and new. This is what I call “uncommon sense“, the ability to see things in different ways. The ability to question the norm and accepted. The ability to ignore what common sense is telling you and think in new and uncommon ways. This should be extolled as a virtue, being uncommon, not being common.