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On Innovation
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Some Random Social Innovation Thoughts
Mood:  down

Just a few random thoughts on reading Seeds of Innovation.

1. Vertical integration - Companies try to control other companies that comprise supply, distribution, and sales channels for the company. Nonprofits really don’t absorb others but the basic concept seems useful - team up to coordinate efforts at all stages of addressing a social problem. The example of homelessness came to mind. The descent into homelessness sometimes get interrupted by social service nonprofits. Other nonprofits provide services to the homeless. Some nonprofits try to help people transition successfully from homelessness to a home and stable job. The nonprofits in question are all trying to do something about homelessness, just at different phases of the person’s experience.

2. Skunk works - Aerospace giant Lockheed (now Lockheed-Martin I think) developed a couple of spy planes in a dedicated research and development unit that existed apart from the organization’s normal structure. Maybe nonprofits - I’m thinking or really big organizations or networks here - could establish skunk works to develop revolutionary new programs or technologies.

3. Suggestion boxes - Generic suggestion programs are generally a waste of time and resources. Focus a suggestion program on a certain campaign or event and solicit ideas relevant to that target.

4. External collaboration - Nonprofits work together, but they might need to spend time working with “customers,” business owners, teachers, local officials, or other stakeholders. The point is to work with people who can help, hinder, or benefit from an innovation to get their input on what innovations would work.

Many of the concepts could be used in a nonprofit or an activist group. Seeds was written with business people in mind, but the language of profit, customers, and marketing that she uses should be easily translatable.

Posted by sustainabilityideas at 8:03 PM EST
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Monday, January 7, 2008
Selling Social Change: Some Components of Effective Advocacy

Advocacy efforts depend on lots of things for success - good ideas, hard work, money, effective marketing, and many other factors that are more or less controllable. This post is about four principles, the use of which can influence a campaign’s chances of success. The example of advocating for household use of solar energy technology should make these “effective advocacy principles” more concrete.

1. Facts - Facts can change perceptions or, maybe, spur people to take action. The more the facts relate to real life, the more likely people will be swayed by them. For example, you would be wrong if you think I care about a lifestyle that produces X tons of greenhouse gases a year. I do care about the potential cost savings I could realize by installing some solar power equipment.

2. Logic - Simple logic, as in avoiding common logical errors in your reasoning has to a priority. You can also use logic against your opponents. Trust me when I say it won’t be hard. But, back to the solar power example: Try to promote it through a ballot initiative (to offer a break on property taxes perhaps) that encourages people to use solar power. A logical sound argument might help make the case, once you‘ve managed to get our attention. .

3. Marketing - All advocacy is about selling. You want to sell some political action, or some lifestyle change, or something else. How do you do that? Convince people that there is something in it for them. Most of us don’t care what moral imperative you think you’ve discovered and embodied in your proposal. We might philosophically agree with , for example, the need for wider use of renewable energy. We are definitely interested in what‘s in it for us. Present a compelling case that we’ll get concrete benefits from putting solar panels on our roofs and, we’ll be (a little) more likely to do it.

4. Science - Use scientific concepts, principles, research, and theory promote your cause. Psychology’s been heavily used in advertising and in persuasive writing. Study copywriting. Dig up stuff from the natural sciences and social sciences. Use what you dig up to strengthen your idea. Use what you’ve learned to strengthen your sales pitch. Allay my fears that I won’t be able to run the microwave and TV at the same time on a cloudy winter day. Isn’t that what can happen if you depend 100% on solar power?

Posted by sustainabilityideas at 8:22 PM EST
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Friday, January 4, 2008
Be a Better Advocate for Your Cause
Mood:  blue

Activists want to sell ideas - conservative ideas, liberal ideas, environmental ideas, and many other types of ideas. Social change necessarily depends on getting ideas and selling them effectively. Promoting new beliefs, laws, lifestyle choices, policies, programs, regulations, and values could (One hopes!) be done more effectively with the right tools and techniques applied at each stage of the process. This post is about new tools and techniques that can be used at each stage of the advocacy process.

1. Defining the Problem - What problem are you addressing here? What, specifically, do you want to accomplish? Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity (both by Michael Michalko) describe some easy techniques for exploring a problem, or challenge if you like to keep things positive. Using one or two should give you a much clearer idea of what you want to do or need to do.

(If you are getting into the advocacy game after the challenge and general approach have been defined you can still use the tools and techniques referenced in the following sections.)

2. Defining a Good Idea - Take a few minutes ahead of time and think about the criteria that define a good idea. You need to at least spend a few minutes considering your audience, your resources, the social environment, and the timeframe in question.

3. Generating Ideas - Traditional, informal brainstorming could come into play at this stage. You know how to do that sort of brainstorming. You may not know about the many, many techniques that exist for generating ideas. Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity describe many brainstorming tools. Try two of them, one traditionally “creative” and one systematic.

4. Evaluating Ideas - An informal process of comparing your list of ideas to the criteria that define a good idea. Many ideas are rather weak in their original form. Don’t worry about that! Take promising ideas and reinforce them. offers some guidance on strengthening your ideas.

5. Deciding What to Do - Taking time to formally study a decision is usually a good idea. Some decisions are simple enough to make without much research or analysis. For the other decisions that come at you, there is a need to develop a formal method for deciding what to do. The “Decision Making” menu option at mind summarizes many decision analysis techniques.

6. Doing Something - This is the obvious last step in any advocacy effort. This is also a subject for another post. I’ll describe some principles and practices that can lead to better results.

Remember, even a small improvement (however defined) in two or three parts of the process could really make a difference! Who wants to study these techniques and apply them to a real project? I do!

Posted by sustainabilityideas at 9:16 PM EST
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Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Getting Better Social Change Results
Mood:  chillin'

The beginning of a new year brings with it a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how our social change efforts can be improved. Sustainable businesses need to innovate and advertise and promote. Nonprofits need to raise money and develop new programs or projects. Social marketing campaigns are always starting up. Activists and nonprofit managers are interested in public education and advocacy efforts, that are maximally effective.

Tools for generating ideas and solving problems can help, and there are certainly plenty of tools! That’s what this blog is about - informing the socially conscious about the tools and their applications to social betterment.

The beginning of a new year offers me the opportunity (excuse?) to change the focus of my posts. I’d been focusing on he tools and techniques. Now, I’m going to focus on goals common to social activists. This list matches those goals and common variations on them:

1. Advocacy - development of new strategies and tactics

2. Fundraising - including in-kind contributions and grants

3. Program Design - including policies and projects to implement or “sell” to an audience

4. Social Marketing - cause marketing, public education campaigns

5. Sustainable Business - process redesign, products, services

A little bit of systematic, formal problem analysis and idea generation might lead to better results - more money raised, more votes, fewer people doing (insert your favorite bad behavior). In the next few posts, I’ll focus on advocacy efforts - how to create and sell new ideas about social policy, consumerism, diet, or any other issue area.




Posted by sustainabilityideas at 9:00 PM EST
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Thursday, December 20, 2007
Brainstorming and Social Progress, Part 2
Mood:  down
Last time I wrote about brainstorming techniques that would help social innovators and activists to get better results. This post builds on that idea with some advice on what sorts of social innovation or activism tasks can be helped by using various brainstorming techniques. You’ll need to do a little homework after reading this post, and might need a reference source while you read. I suggest for information on the brainstorming techniques I’ll mention here.

Here is my brief guide to common tasks and a brainstorming technique to use with each:

1. Advocacy - random input for demonstration tactics and messages

2. Education - morphological analysis for alternatives to the usual component parts

3. Fundraising - random input for strategy and tactics; provocations

4. Policy - morphological analysis, SCAMPER

5. Program design - provocations, morphological analysis, SCAMPER

6. Social marketing - random input, morphological analysis

Provocations and random input are described in Edward De Bono’s book Serious Creativity. Random input, SCAMPER, and morphological analysis are covered in Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko.

Posted by sustainabilityideas at 9:31 PM EST
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
BRainstorming for SOcial Betterment

This post just serves to reinforce my claim that social activists could get better results by applying a few simple, but formalized, brainstorming tactics to their plans. Social marketing, advocacy, public education efforts, social programs, policies, and fundraising could always benefit from new ideas. We need new idea about how to do those things and we need new ideas to promote/sell.

Many, many formal techniques for generating ideas exist. Just read Michael Michalko’s books Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity and you‘ll learn more techniques that you ever imagined. Learning two or three of the techniques could only help any activist or nonprofit manager. With that in mind, I‘d like to suggest two techniques that are relatively powerful and easy to use:

1. Fantasy questions - There is more than one way to use “pie-in-the-sky“ thinking to generate viable ideas. I only want to draw attention to two specific questions inspired by a book called Why Not?

- How would you solve the problem if there were no practical limits on the money that you could spend? Answer that question in detail and see if some form of that idea might be implemented in the real world.

- How could people be made to absorb the full cost of their behavior?

2. Random input - State your challenge. Turn to a random page in a dictionary and pick the first noun on the page. That word should conjure up some facts, features, and associations. List them and think about each one in turn. One or more item on the list should lead to a new insight into how to solve our problem.


Posted by sustainabilityideas at 10:38 PM EST
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Designing and Selling Policies, Part 2
Mood:  happy

Last time I mentioned a few elements of creative social policy, creating one and selling it. You want to be able to identify the real problem, brainstorming, and borrowing ideas. This post includes notes on designing social policies and selling them.

Design Thinking - Before getting too deep into creating a new policy or advocating a policy consider the resources that would be available to implement the policy. Of course the most important resource is going to be money, but people are also important - will enough people be available for enough hours to actually implement the policy? When in doubt it might be wise to assume that there won’t be. What elements of the social environment need to be accounted for in thinking about this new policy we need? Consider values, beliefs, education level, technology, physical infrastructure, and general economic conditions. You will have to determine exactly what factors need to be considered in each particular situation.

Selling ideas - Whatever the policy idea is, someone else will have to implement the policy, by voting for it, creating new regulations, or something else. You’ll invariably have to depend on selling the idea through advertising, public education efforts, demonstrations, and other means. Search various combinations of audience, location (to place ads or stage demonstrations or whatever) and medium. YouTube videos of bawdy “activist” songs might be just the thing for your particular cause and target audience.

Businesses sell things all the time, often just an image or feeling. Maybe stealing ideas from the business world (sidewalk sales, advertorials, et cetera) would work. An adversarial is a promotional essay that reads like an editorial.

Posted by sustainabilityideas at 9:44 PM EST
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Saturday, December 8, 2007
Desigining and Selling Policies, Part 1

Activists sometimes want new policies enacted. Sometimes they create a new policy idea and try to sell the idea to lawmakers or voters. The creation and selling of new policies are two undertakings that call for systematic problem solving by activist groups. 

Policy ideas are usually meant to solve a social or environmental problem. A little problem analysis can seperate symptoms from problems. Good problem analysis starts with good questions. Michael Michalko's brainstorming book Thinkertoys offers questions for studying your problem. Buy a copy and check out the section on Pheonix Questions and the chapter on exploring a challenge.

(WARNING: Sometimes the "real" problem can't be addressed by ANY policy. Human nature is one example of such a problem. The complexity of many organizations is another example. Other "problems" are invented by a political ideology: "Capitalism is the problem!"  Some problems can't be addressed because nobody knows how to solve them. Drug addiction seems to fit into this category.)

Getting an idea of what problem to address with your policy is only one step in the process. You might have an idea about the policy that's needed. It may also be true that you don't really have an idea to present and need to do some brainstorming. 

Once you've come up with a policy idea, whether by borrowing or brainstorming, you'll need to convince people that the policy needs to be adopted. The selling of your idea to politicians or voters is another opportunity for creativity. Resource shortages may force you to get creative about the advertising medium, the message itself, event he audience to target with your message.



Posted by sustainabilityideas at 11:13 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, December 12, 2007 7:08 PM EST
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Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Program Design

So, lets change subjects from talking about rasing money to the subject of program design.

"There needs to be a program for that issue in this town."
"We need to launch a project to deal with ______."

Social problems and social opportunities often get handled by new programs or projects. Some are run by the government, some by nonprofits. 

Program design calls for problem analysis, so you can be more confident that the program is going to help fix the problem, or take advantage of the opportunity. When it comes to program design there are really two options - design a new one or borrow and adapt one that alredy exists. Regardless of the approach you choose, there are a few things to do. Always state your challenge explicitely. Be aware of the available resources. Know the social environment.

Those last two steps can be facilitated with aproblem analysis technique called "Appreciation." The details are explained at, which also describes other problem analysis tools. You should  also take some time to study the problem itself. Try using the 5 Why technique, also explained at Try to framw your challenge in different ways, such as curing or selling, or marketing.

Try to maximize the number of times people DON'T need help instead of maximizing the number of people who need help and get it.



Posted by sustainabilityideas at 8:52 PM EST
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Monday, December 3, 2007
New Ideas About Fundraising
Mood:  down

Nonprofit groups sometimes need to raise money, recruit volunteers, or get in-kind contributions. All three effrots really represent different ways of getting the resources the organization needs to achieve its goals. With that in mind, I offer a few thoughts on creative fundraising. The advice could apply to soliciting in-kind contributions or to recruiting volunteers. You'll have to decide for yourself if it is true.

Some of you will have thought about getting grants for projects. Don't get too creative here! There is a formal process to be followed, and no real alternatives exist. Making your grant application into a YouTube video may qualify as creative, but it makes more sense to figure out how to write a grant proposal. I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that most grant-making organizations are very conservative. 

But, back to creative fundraising...

Take a few minutes to do nothing but think of as many techniques as possible for raising the money you need. This is brainstorming as practiced by most of us. Don't censor your ideas. Don't be afraid to get crazy. You might come up with somwthing that's both new and realistic. Expect the ideas to emerge in a raw form that calls for some refinement.

Use business tools and techniques as starting points for your brainstorming efforts. Use sidewalk sales, coupons, vending machines, white sales, and otehr marketing tools to inspire you. Start by picking the next marketing device that you see. What features and characteristics come to mind? Write them down? Look at each feature or characteristic and see if any new ideas appear.

Try to restate your challenge. The obvous challenge here is to raise X amount of money. You could think in terms of raising time, talent, or knowledge. You could go back to an old fundraising standby and solicit contributions that you can sell at a yard sale.

Try to modify or expand the usual fundraising techniques in osme way. What else could you do with a yard sale featuring donated goods? How else could you run a bake sale? Again, your initial ideas are likely to need some work before they are usable.


Posted by sustainabilityideas at 7:47 PM EST
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