3 Ways Your Association Can Make Intentional Choices in Uncertain Times

Intentional Choices
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An Interview with Public Innovator Rich Harwood (Part 2)

Intentional choices can be hard in the best of times. What’s necessary as opposed to nice? How do we choose between things that are all necessary when we can’t have them all? How can we be confident about decisions? How can we explain our decisions to other people? These things are infinitely harder in the face of fear and uncertainty. We’re all experiencing them in degrees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I spoke with Rich Harwood, a Public Innovator and Founder of the Harwood Institute. It is the go-to place for people and organizations looking to fight against the conditions stifling societal progress. They coach people from all walks of life on moving society forward by building stronger communities, bridging divides, and creating a culture of shared responsibility.

Rich shared three fundamental things we have to do to make better choices in moments like this.

The first is as basic as they come: Breathe.

When we get scared, we literally, physically, stop breathing. We have to remind ourselves to breathe because it calms us. It centers and grounds us and helps us manage the anxiety we feel.

The second thing is to become more wakeful.

Opening our eyes and being more attuned. Leaning in instead of leaning away. Like children that hide under the covers from monsters, we have to pull the covers back and look around. We make good choices when we turn outward, but when faced with the pressure we instinctively hunker down and turn inward.

Finally, we need to be more intentional.

This means making discernments. Which is to say, thoughtful judgments about priorities and possibilities. The more discernments we can make, the more explicit our choices become. We become more confident that we are taking our best shot. Telling someone to be more confident is like telling someone in a panic to calm down. It only makes them panic more. What we can say is that the first step to growing your confidence is becoming more intentional and making better discernments.

To learn more about making better choices for your association in the face of uncertainty, watch the rest of my interview with Rich Harwood here:

Making it Easy: How United Way Drives Worldwide Innovation

New Image Making It Easy How United Way Drives Worldwide Innovation
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Socrates called himself the “midwife of ideas.” Since he himself knew nothing, his work was to help bring out the truths locked up in others. Fine for philosophy, but what about business? Does this attitude work to bring out good ideas and drive innovation in an organization?

I spoke with Edwin Goutier, Vice President of Innovation for United Way Worldwide about that. United Way is a far-flung organization, a network of more than 1,800 independent United Ways across the world. They work to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities. It is not a single-issue organization or a single organization at all. Innovation poses challenges, which any large, highly distributed organization can relate to.

To drive innovation, Edwin’s team does not focus on being the most innovative. Rather, they focus on equipping innovators across the network. They give them the necessary tools, space, and resources to create innovation that’s relevant for their communities. They are always exploring new technology and making sure United Way is aware of what could be coming next. Keeping a keen eye on the value that we can create in our communities, but also having a foot in the future. He is rarely the person who’s coming up with the idea. He says he is “constantly just stealing great ideas from others and trying my best to give them credit.”

The “Moon Shot” is a prime example of this. This project is helping local United Ways share data with their nonprofit partners. It seeks to build a 360-degree view of donors’ interests along with the people United Way serves. It’s creating a comprehensive view of the resources that they need in the community. United Way can use this knowledge to highlight the needs they haven’t met yet. Edwin’s team facilitated the funding and infrastructure for the United Ways bringing this to their communities.

He sees his innovation team as facilitators. He points out that the root of “facilitate” is facile, which means easy. His team makes it easier for people to be innovative. They break down cultural barriers where the risk of being wrong appears detrimental to someone’s career. They provide platforms where people can launch their ideas into a public space. They ask how innovators in the United Way world could do things differently.

Prioritization is key. Edwin’s approach is to start with the customer and focus on user experience as a prioritizing lens. Experience is concrete and a focal point for all stakeholders. Even when it is hard.

United Way is unique in its ability to collaborate and navigate competing interests to serve a greater good. There is a lot to learn from how innovation happens in that environment.

To learn more, listen to our conversation here:

Connecting in the Time of COVID-19. An Interview with Public Innovator Rich Harwood (Part 1)

Innovation For Nonprofits

Reading Time: 2 minutesSocial distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us apart. We have never been so physically distant. Does that mean disconnection is inevitable? Or does it mean we need to change the norms about how we relate to stay connected? I talked about that with Rich Harwood, founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. He has dedicated his career to supporting individuals and organizations in creating change.

Rich’s work is about helping public organizations “turn outward”. He guides them on their path to connect with their communities in a more meaningful way. He sees the virtual communications we have turned to as an opportunity for a new kind of connection. Rich shared a touching story about a funeral service in a Jewish home, held by necessity over video. 200 people attended, all in different locations, including the family. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he could support the rabbi and the people grieving. He was able to witness their heartfelt sentiments much more closely than if he’d been there in person. When they spoke, he felt he was right there with them in an intimate way.

This is one of the ways in which we have begun to pivot in how we connect with each other as a result of social distancing. He also talked about a large meeting he attended by video, with 70 some people in different locations. The digital setting completely changed the norms of the meeting. People were more focused. There was more participation, less phone checking, and closeness to whoever was speaking. In a live meeting today, there is physical proximity but social distancing. In a virtual meeting, this flips 180 degrees. People feel more attuned to each other and the work they are doing.

Most of us now have shared similar experiences. They highlight new possibilities for communication in our interpersonal relationships. We have the opportunity to be more intimate and focused, and to change the norms for how we engage with one another.

On a larger scale, the nonprofit organization Rich works with will have to reframe their methods of engagement. Organizations are facing new challenges and financial pressure. This will force them to take a “shared responsibility” approach in their communities. They pivot to an orientation more about these communities and less about themselves. Moving forward, we will need each other. Most importantly, we will have to support one another, and work together to be effective.

See excerpts from my conversation with Rich here.

The Two Best Practices for Innovation in Times of Crisis

New Image The Two Best Practices For Innovation In Times Of Crisis

Reading Time: 2 minutesThe COVID-19 pandemic has led some organizations to make pivots in how they operate. They’re doing this in ways and at a speed they never thought possible. How are such quantum leaps possible in times of crisis and what can we learn from that?

An Expert in Innovation in Nonprofit Organizations

I spoke with Dr. Peter Temes, Founder and President of The Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO). He launched the Institute in 2005 to bring together senior executives leading innovation around the world. The current ILO membership includes AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, NASA, Pfizer, and the University of Alabama, among many others. How are innovation leaders attacking this crisis?

Peter says pent up demand for innovation in some organizations is finally getting unleashed. The “thumb on the scale” to preserve old ways and hold back change is gone.

Yet the focus is shifting to innovating systems over point solutions. Most notably, the ability to match resources to needs across complex networks. Ventilators are a prime example of this in the age of COVID-19. Resource matching is an underdeveloped capacity in many organizations. This is true on the people’s side of things, too. For example, there are nurses that could operate ventilation equipment in a public health crisis but have not yet been trained to. Systems to address and anticipate those needs are now top of mind.

So how does innovation at a systems-level happen? Peter points to two enduring best practices.

Lower the cost of failure

Associations can incentivize people to experiment more at lower costs in time and money, but also reputation and brand. A crisis environment, one might suggest, changes those equations dramatically.

Focus more on discovery than prediction

Try something and expect that it might fail. If it does, treat it as an opportunity to pivot to a different way or even a new concept altogether. In times of overwhelming change, like these, it is impossible to predict what will happen. There is no time to work through the gap between what we predicted and what happened in fact. Organizations need to work more like lean startups than they ever could have before to keep up with the pace of change.

Want more of Peter’s insights on innovation in extraordinary times? Listen to excerpts from our conversation here.