Monthly Archives: October 2011


Playing Devil’s Advocate for the Greater Good

Florida National Guard Unit Deploys To Iraq, Via Fort Hood

The U.S. Army has taken steps to expand the range of options it considers in its decision making. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The U.S. Army has formalized the role of “devil’s advocate” into its decision making—a practice the United States Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have adopted in their fight to eradicate polio.

Groups are good at carrying out tasks, but they don’t make wise decisions, Greg Fontenot, a retired colonel and director of t…


The Power of ‘Power Posing’


Next-generation space suits, the collapse of Iceland’s banking system, and changing perceptions among Africans about their place in the world were among the dizzying array of ideas that charity leaders and others gathered in the small town of Camden, Me., to discuss—all as part of an effort to stimulate new thinking about social change.

PopTech, the New York nonprofit that organizes the annual conference, hopes that exposing participants to work outside their areas of expertise will lead to i…


A Star Turn for Little-Understood Banking Groups

Starbucks customers who give $5 or more to the Create Jobs for USA campaign will receive an Indivisible wristband.

Starbucks customers who give $5 or more to the Create Jobs for USA campaign will receive an Indivisible wristband.

While the Opportunity Finance Network welcomes a big donation by Starbucks to its member organizations, the network hopes the new partnership will also raise the profile of its members—nonprofit groups that provide banking services in low-income communities—and help them do a better job of explaining their missions.

The coffee giant is kicking off the Create Jobs for USA campaign w…


Applying Design Thinking to Health Care

Intrigued by last week’s post about IDEO using design thinking to fight poverty? Then you might want to check out this provocative essay on The Atlantics Web site:

When design focuses on understanding the needs and desires of customers, it has the potential to improve health care–and maybe even medical research, says David A. Shaywitz, co-founder of a the Pasteur Project at Harvard Medical School. The project focuses on improving ways to help patients.

Dr. Shaywitz writes: “Medicine has spent…


Ideas Conference Will Stream Live This Week

Each fall PopTech holds an ideas conference that brings scientists, technology experts, social entrepreneurs, and others dedicated to social change to the small town of Camden, Me.

The idea is to spark innovative ideas as people with different types of expertise come together and learn about one another’s work, says Andrew Zolli, the New York charity’s executive director.

“We think there’s a lot of genius in the white spaces, in the places between the disciplines where they converge or they div…


‘Disruptive Forces’ Face Nonprofits

With a bigger share of America’s population reaching old age and growing more diverse, social-service organizations are in for some big changes in the not-too-distant future. Adding to the challenge: the turbulence in government and private financing.

For the past six months, the Alliance for Children and Families—a membership group for human-service charities—has interviewed nonprofit leaders, gathered focus groups, and conducted surveys to  identify the emerging trends organizations must …


Get a (Project) Room

Laura Weiss is vice president for service innovation at the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that makes pro bono talent available to organizations working to improve society. Before joining Taproot, Ms. Weiss was an associate partner at the design company IDEO. She is also a former architect and educator.

A meeting in the Taproot Foundation's project room

A temporary project room at the Taproot Foundation created with foam-core board

Here’s a suggestion for getting more out of a group that’s working together on something creative: get a room.



Bill Gates’s Innovation Book Report

A lot of folks seem to be thinking about innovation right now–including, it turns out, Bill Gates.

The Microsoft co-founder-turned-philanthropist recently reviewed Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson, on his Web site, The Gates Notes.

Mr. Gates agrees with Mr. Johnson’s argument that innovation isn’t about “eureka” moments but instead taking existing ideas and putting them together in new ways.

“The decision to start Microsoft, for example, wasn’t…


Innovation: Start by Stopping

Innovation is as much about what an organization stops doing as about the new efforts that it starts, says Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute, which is dedicated to carrying on the work of the noted author and management consultant Peter Drucker.

“Every organization has a finite amount of resources,” says Mr. Wartzman. “So the first step toward innovating is what Drucker called ‘planned abandonment.’ It’s figuring out what you’re going to stop doing to free up those resou…


Taking Design Thinking to the Nonprofit World

Talking with residents in Kumasi, Ghana about sanitation

An IDEO designer talks with residents in Kumasi, Ghana, about sanitation.

For the past 20 years, the design firm IDEO has helped companies like Apple, Ford, and Bank of America develop new products and services. Now the Palo Alto, Calif., company has started a nonprofit arm to take its approach to innovation to the charitable world., the new charitable effort, officially started last week and grew out of the company’s work with nonprofits in recent years.

IDEO’s approach to design st…