Redwoods underground

If you’re in San Francisco - do yourself a favor and go to the Sansome & Sutter entrance for the Bart. It’s a great example of innovation in the social impact space. It’s marketing for Save The Redwoods. #genius

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How I Discovered Design

I grew up in the 90’s in a small suburb near Albany, NY. The Hamlet of Latham was a solid place, and while beauty could be found, I wouldn’t say that Latham was beautiful. When I was 13 we moved down to Long Island. Home of strip malls, a unique flavor of social tensions, but for this story - most importantly, Tower Records. As a baby gay in the late 1990’s the magazine section of Tower Records opened the door to design for me.

Glamorous European fashion magazines hiding amongst architecture magazines featuring photoessays on Japanese architecture and all sorts of feminist propaganda. My eyes and spirit delighted in the San Serif fonts, modern stucco homes in far away places, and the faces of angsty androgynous teen models.

My penchant for highly styled images only grew when my dad, a welder, baker, artist and reiki healer exposed me to Chuck Close. His work was on display at MOMA. And I remember feeling so at home in the gallery space that I almost cried. I was a teenager, filled with emotions - but also a clarity that there was something I loved about the curation of a space. The intent in all of the things I found beautiful allowed me to fill my life with thoughtfully designed objects, spaces and experiences.

Early in my career I fell in love with designing fundraising events - I cherished my role as architect of an inspirational experience. For me, it was as much about the emotional arc of the program as it was about the color of the napkins or the height of the flower arrangements.

From events, my work evolved to building employee wellness initiatives and determining the brand treatment for a social enterprise start-up - I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection - or opportunities for intersection between design (the purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object) and social impact.

My interest in this space blossomed upon discovering the work of IDEO and the amazing offerings available for free from IDEO U. Training that allowed me to develop a more effective process for clarifying the global governance structure and board operation systems for a 50 year old market based environmental organization. And ultimately led me to try out life as a management consultant for the design and transformation firm SYPartners. The space was phenomenal, the people brilliant and the work wonderfully creative - but I longed for the meaning that I found when I was working in the social impact sector.

Design to me is about clarifying and deeply understanding who you want to serve, engaging them in a process to reveal what they need, and designing solutions to meet those needs. Solutions that are emotionally compelling, psychologically satisfying and aesthetically riveting.

And I believe that good design - whether cities, buildings or organizations - accelerates growth in the broadest sense. And that if we can apply good - or even great - design in the social sector, we can manifest a world that is much more equitable, just and sustainable.

That’s the job of design strategist - to design for good. For the best. For all of us.

Everybody Stand Up! The power of a daily team check in.

Chris Sim’s book, “Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction” was a solid introduction to agile approaches that teams can implement right away. It’s incredibly concise and practical.

The biggest takeaway that I’ve continued to use many years later is the power of a daily team check in. In a fast past and complex work environment, where new developments occur every hour - how else can you expect your team to know how to shift their priorities? Empowered employees are internal agents of change - they go above and beyond (which in the world of industrial psychology is called Organizational Citizenship Behavior).

All it takes is 15 minutes. Stand up. Make it face time. And do it every day. Keep the agenda to just three questions:

  • What are you proud of since our last meeting?

  • What are your priorities for today?

  • What if anything is getting in your way? And how can we help?

Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Strategic Planning - Have you considered conducting a pre-mortem?

Are you working on a strategic plan? I am.

Crafting a social enterprise strategic plan is a game that I find deeply satisfying. Rallying around a clear and compelling vision, determining the most transformational levers for change, and celebrating the success of a job well done. What’s not to love? What could ever get in the way of the joy of completing your strategic plan?

The dreaded I word. IMPLEMENTATION.

When I was a graduate student at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Administration, I had a professor who consistently reminded us that policy doesn’t fail in development, it fails in implementation.

So how can you prepare for the launch and implementation of your plan? By conducting a pre mortem. A conversation about what would get in the way of success. By knowing this you’ll be able to design a better planning process and hopefully succeed where many others fail.

Some templates? So happy you asked.

Performing a Project Pre-Mortem
The Pre-Mortem Technique
Conducting A Pre-Mortem

Play @ Work (infographic)

Don’t have time to read the Actionable Gamification book I mentioned? Check out this infogrohic on the case for workplace gamification.

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Could strategic plan implementation be awesome? #butI'mserious

I’ve been a geek about organizational health, development and management since I was a teenager. My dad worked for Kodak when it was the Google of the era and had a big impact on my appetite for understanding how groups of individual actors can come together to create big change. What’s always been fascinating to me is that non-profits are using corporate management strategies that are outdated. Innovations in corporate management and advancements in community organizing philosophies haven’t been incorporated at the right pace, and as such - social improvements aren’t moving as quickly as they could be or should be.

My specific curiosity currently is how The Trust for Public Land - where I serve as the Chief of Staff - can become fully realized as an equity driven design forward community. Because that’s what it means to be an “effective 21st century non-profit.”

I’m doing a lot of self-guided study - but eager to find communities of practice, muses, mentors and friends to join me on this journey. To start - here’s what I’m digesting and integrating into my thinking this weekend.

Organizational learning is a social act

Octalysis Framework — Making Everything More Playable

Three Lessons From Adrienne Maree Brown's 'Emergent Strategy'

Do You Know How to Create an Actionable Learning Strategy?

Connecting Strategy, Evaluation, and Learning in Your Organization

Experimentation is The New Planning

How Emergent Strategy Works (and how you can apply it)

Emergent Strategy: Interaction Institute for Social Change

The Big Lie of Strategic Planning

Emergent Learning: A Framework for Whole System Strategy, Learning, and Adaptation

Eyes Wide Open: Learning as Strategy Under Conditions of Complexity and Uncertainty

Design Sprint Facilitation Guide

The Game of Life: Designing a Gamification System to Increase Current Volunteer Participation and Retention in Volunteer-based Nonprofit Organizations

 

What if implementing strategic plans was fun? For every employee in your social impact organization?

The Octalysis Framework by gamification pioneer and theorist Yu-kai Chou posits that ideally gamification shifts design from function focused to human centered by activation 8 quadrants of human motivation. Another way to understand this is that he’s articulated what makes pursuit fun. And engaging. And satisfying and meaningful. While the gaming industry first led in this field, gamification is now being applied to customer engagement and the workforce development.

The non-profit sector is not a design forward sector - but what if we were. What if strategic and annual planning/evaluation weren’t forced through with emails, company intranet posts and mandates, but instead where implemented by develop inspired action pathways that led to individual and collective celebrations.

What if we gamified the implementation of non-profit strategic plans?

What i’m reading

As I work with colleagues around the country on an equity driven organizational strategy at The Trust For Public Land - I’ve been asked several times to understand what is informing my thinking.

These are my current books - and while they touch upon strategy, community building, employee engagement and shifts in the social and political landscape of America, the common theme is about how people can best come together to create change, and how we can design strong change ecosystems.